Monday, September 22, 2008

days 53 - 54 mataranka to alice springs

headed toward alice from mataranka. stopped at the daly waters pub which was pretty cool. all manner of stuff hung up all over the place. the bar is covered in business cards and there's bras hanging everywhere and a thong tree (foot type thongs that is) and hats and coins and 'paper' money and licence plates and drop bears and flags. there is literally stuff hanging everywhere. outside is just as chockas with stuff as inside. a little pub, 5 kms off the main road and so worth the visit.

we continued south to the devil's marbles where we stopped for the night. they are really amazing, balancing on each other and looking like they could fall at any minute. the sunset over the marbles was very nice to see and that night the moon was nearly full and there was a great opportunity to take some night time photos of the rock formations.

next day saw us up early and off to alice springs. between the marbles and the alice we passed wycliffe well which is the unofficial 'ufo sighting' capital of australia; aileron which has a giant statue of an aboriginal man on the hill behind the roadhouse; and the tropic of capricorn. in w.a. the line of the tropic scores a very staid and proper sign. in the nt the tropic line gets a whole sculpture and rest area in its honour.

we arrived in alice in time for lunch and then got ourselves setup at the caravan park.

days 55 - 57 alice springs

by the time we got to alice springs we were all a bit natured out so it was good to spend a few days doing other stuff. we looked at art galleries and souvenier shops. we visited the alice springs cultural precinct which is made up of galleries and museums and craft works. we also visted the rfds centre and the school of the air headquarters. the kids got to go on a camel ride and we drank good coffee in cafes. it was a really nice, relaxing couple of days.
our one attempt at nature tourism was a bust. we went out to see standley chasm but it is on private property and they wanted almost $40.00 for our family to go on a 15 minute walk into the chasm. i wont rant here but needless to say it was a classic example of the exploitation of australia's natural wonders for the good of a select few. interestingly, there was nowhere that we could find that actually listed the price of entrance to the chasm. the best we could find was a listing that mentioned "a small entrance fee". methinks 40 bucks isn't small. so not only is it gonna cost money to get in, but you've also gotta drive a 100km round trip to find out just how expensive it really is....

on the other end of the scale, the cultural centre cost us $20.00 to get in for two days and had 6 different possible venues to visit, all in the one place. awesome. also, it costs to get in to both the rfds display and the school of the air display but both places state clearly that the entrance fees you pay are considered donations to the organisation. both of these places were very interesting and very well laid out. the school of the air was particularly inspiring.

we stayed at the mcdonnell range caravan park for the duration of our stay in the alice. it was very pleasant with free pancakes on sunday morning and a range of other 'entertainments' on other nights of the week. one night was a didjeridu player who was very good and liam won a cd for being the best didj player in a kids competition. we had talked about buying a didj and the show was the catalyst that finally sent us over the edge. the day after the show we went out and bought a didj which has sat in the camper, wrapped in its bubble wrap, waiting til we get back to albany to be dragged out and played.... (we hope!!!)

all in all alice springs has been one of the more enjoyable stops we've had. everyone had a good time there, we made some new friends and we saw some great stuff.

day 58 alice to yulara

in planning our trip we somehow managed to mess up the distance between alice and yulara. we thought 300kms but it is in fact closer to 500kms. so we had a longish day in front of us, particularly as dad wanted to take a detour to the henbury meteor crater site. its only 20ish kms off the main road on the road to kings canyon. it couldn't be all that bad could it??? hmmm perhaps the most corrugated and roughest road we've travelled on especially with the camper in tow. oh well, never mind. we got to the craters eventually, counted our teeth, checked all the bits that might have fallen off the car and the trailer to find everything is ok. good o. the craters are in the middle of a vast open, flat plain and are quite amazing. not as spectacular as the wolfe creek crater, but for a certified space nut like me they were still very cool. well worth the pain involved in getting there.

we arrived at yulara in time to set up the camper and then go out and do some looking around. then we drove the 20kms out to uluru to see the sunset over the rock. wow. very very special indeed.

day 59 yulara

today was driving out to kata-tjuta (karta-choota) and looking around out there. we stayed around the campsite for the early part of the day and then went out to kata-tjuta for the afternoon so we could do a few walks and then watch the sunset over the rocks here. another stunning day, seeing some of australia's most iconic landmarks up close and personal.

the work that has been done installing interpretive signs and trails around these places is great. there are lots of places to visit and heaps of information about the things you see, both from the anangu point of view as well from a western european point of view.

kata-tjuta is less well known and yet just as spectacular as uluru. i really enjoyed going out there and seeing it. from ground level it looks like a long stretch of rock formations that are strung out in one long line but in fact, it is a clump of rocky outcrops and weathered boulders that form a cluster arrangement. aerial photographs show something completely different to what you expect. btw kata-tjuta is translated to mean 'many heads'.

day 60 yulara

today i went out early to see the sunrise over uluru. i headed out in time to get to the viewing space about 20 minutes before sunrise. i should have left 30 minutes earlier because by the time i got to the viewing space there was already 100s of people and cars and buses out doing the sunrise thing. fortunately i found a quiet little spot just off to the side of the main viewing space where i could sit and take some photos and then just enjoy the view and the atmosphere without the noise and commotion of the other people.

after sunrise i headed back to the campsite, grabbed ruth and the boys and we headed out to do some shopping for provisions before having some lunch and then heading back out to uluru. we drove right round the rock, stopping to do a couple of walks and looking at the place where you can climb the rock if you want to and if the conditions allow for the climb to be open.
everywhere you go there are reminders that the traditional owners would rather that you didn't climb uluru, but they still allow you do the climb if none of about 15 different conditions occur. too hot too cold too wet too windy too dangerous too sorry etc.

we visited the cultural centre which is very interesting and has some amazing local traditional art plus a very comprehensive collection of information about the traditional owners and the role uluru plays in their spiritual and practical lives.

after the cultural centre we went back to camp and made some curry which we stuck in some boxes and took out to the sunset viewing space where we sat and ate dinner and just enjoyed the sun going down and the changes it makes to the colours of the rock. ahh yes a lovely way to finish the day.

parting is such sweet sorrow

Its been a while since i posted anything and almost as long since i really sat down to write anything. my grandma got sick very quickly and passed away after a few days of being basically comatose. while we have been expecting this for some time now, it still came as a shock and has knocked me around a fair bit. not being in a position to be able to attend grandma's funeral has also added to the weight of emotion and travel writing really hasn't held much interest for me. i'm back on the wagon again now and will hopefully be adding updates a bit more regularly.

here's something of a synopsis of where we've been and what we've done in the meantime.

purnululu lead to several days in kununurra. i was fortunate enough to be able to do a flight with slingair which took in much of the countryside around the town, as well as a significant amount of time flying over purnululu. seeing the bungle bungles from the air after seeing them from ground level just a few days before was truly amazing. the few spots you visit from the ground shrink into insignificance when you see how vast and complex the place really is from the air. i took the 6am flight which gave great views of the bungles with the sun rising over them which you don't properly experience at ground level because the sun comes up on the wrong side of the range.

whilst in kununurra we also checked out the zebra rock gallery, the diversion dam and a bunch of small galleries and the weekly markets in town. it was a pleasant stay and we managed to get a bit of rest and relaxation in as well.
as we were preparing to depart on our last day the car refused to start and that cost us a new battery and 3 hours fluffing around getting reorganised.

leaving kununurra we headed east for the border with the northern territory, advanced our watches by the hour and a half required and suddenly were nearly 5 hours behind schedule for the days plans. the day was stinking hot into the bargain, so arriving at timber creek we chickened out of camping and grabbed a night in a motel room.
mum and dad rang that night letting us know that grandma was very ill and not expected to survive the night. true to form she did survive the night and fought death off with a stick for three more nights before succumbing...

timber creek passed into katherine which was pleasant but quite hot. on arriving in katherine we went straight to the springs in town which were lovely. after a swim we headed into katherine proper and had a look around town, visiting the vistor's centre and the local library before attempting a cache (unsuccessfully at first) and then visiting a bunch of caravan parks before settling in for the night at shady lanes. we had intended to stay at edith gorge, but with news immenent regarding grandma we decided to stay in town where we could guarantee phone reception.

Kakadu and Darwin

We headed out from Katherine and stopped in at Edith Gorge on the way to Kakadu. It was amazing. the pools and gorge were ok but the grounds were all lawn and green and brick paving and fences. it looked like a resort not a gorge!!!

on to pine creek for a quick cache and then into kakadu. we stayed at the cooinda resort / lodge place which had camp grounds as well as cabins and rooms and the like plus a pool and a bar and several restaurants. all very swish... the campgrounds were ok but they did seem to have a fetish with watering everything all the time. obviously no water restrictions in kakadu.

kakadu was amazing and we only did the easy bits. ubirr (oo beer) was the highlight for me with aboriginal rock art and a view to die for. you could see for miles and the view took in everything from rainforest to swamp to rocky outcrops to dry arid land. i wrote about it in the piece we wrote for grandma's funeral. a bit of heaven here on earth. ubirr has now officially been added to my list of all time favourite places. btw there was a cache to do there too.

for the rest of our stay in kakadu we climbed things and swam in things and watched crocs swim in things and did caches and visited visitor's centres and etc etc etc.

on the morning we were leaving kakadu to head for darwin we received a call from my mum and dad to say that grandma had passed away. we did a cache on the way out of kakadu which we dedicated to grandma and then basically drove straight to darwin.

i couldn't face camping just then so we splashed out and upgraded ourselves to a cabin for 5 nights so we had a place to be on our own and quiet if we so desired.

darwin was good for us. there was plenty to do to take our minds off the sadness and we had a great time there. we visited the wildlife park, did a jumping crocs tour, went into the city and on sunday night we went to the mindil beach markets. the markets were marvellous. arts and crafts and food and junk jewellery and food and music and food and did i mention food????? and people..... there were heaps of people there - tourists and locals alike all happy and having a ball at the markets at the beach - huge!!!!! we also did a couple of caches on our last day. they were all micros and we found them all too. yay.

Darwin to mataranka was next. a quick one nighter to drop off our trailer and say gday to yvonne, the owner, who used to work at the tafe college in albany where i work (when i'm not holidaying my heart out).


Nhulunbuy (New-Lun-Boy) was a great adventure. 720kms one way, with 600 plus of gravel road, corrugations and river crossings to get there and then 4 full on days of 4wd ing, camping, boating and fishing, all the while in the company of our good friends the Walkers. We got to see dolphins herding and feeding on fish jumping from the water at Cape Arnhem, water buffalo grazing on the dunes near the coast, and long toms skipping across the bay on their tails. I caught a largish striped spanish mackeral which was a great fun catch and almost as good to eat and we spent two nights camped out at a place called Scouts lazing around a beautiful billabong, swimming and reading and sleeping and eating - very close to perfect.

Our last night in town was out at the local golf club for dinner which was incredibly busy for a sunday night even if it was fathers' day, but the food was served quickly and was very very enjoyable. i had a thai green chicken curry which was awesome.

after having spent the first 6 weeks or so of our trip being bagged by various people for having a pretend 4 wheel drive, i'd like to take this opportunity to say tthhhhhhpphhhhtt. our baby 'escape' has been to the bungle bungles, branco's lookout at el questro and the water's edge at cape arnhem. rough roads, steep high clearance tracks, miles of sand and beach and the little baby pretend 4wd never missed a beat and only ever complained once when we had to stop because the car in front got stuck first..... onward and upward i say...

after our time in nhulunbuy we headed back in to the main road and once again headed south, back to spend a few days hanging out at the territory manor as the guests of yvonne and darryl martin. yvonne used to work at great southern tafe sharing her time between external studies and the footy tipping department. our stay was great with cool nights and warm days. we spent our one whole day there swimming at the mataranka thermal springs. even liam our non-swimmer was acting like a fish. the flying foxes had been there about 4 days when we were there and the noise and the small was beginning to build. we met some people a few days later who had been at the springs three days after us and said that the smell had risen to unbearable by then so we obviously were there just at the right time.

we watched darryl doing his barramundi feeding and catching show and ate at the restaurant there. a very pleasant stay indeed.