Where else can you sleep under the stars, drink in an underground bar, and sit and watch the longest coal train trundle past? Australia, that’s where!
My original plan was to tour the Great Ocean Road before ending up with my relatives in Adelaide, but having been to Australia before and not gone to Uluru I forwent my initial plan and booked a trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide with Adventure Tours. I am so glad I changed my mind.
Upon arrival in Alice Springs I was picked up by a guy from Melankas, the hostel I was staying at for the night. I settled into the dorm, which I was sharing with two other girls. Two other people? It wasn’t big enough to swing a cat, let alone two other humans. Never mind, it was only for one night. After dinner and a couple of beers I went to bed early in preparation for my trip, but was abruptly awoken when my dorm companions came back sometime in the early hours- light on, chatting loudly. Obviously they didn’t know I had to be up a couple of hours later but, please, some consideration would have been nice. I tried to replace my annoyance with excitement as I remembered seeing Uluru from the plane. I managed to drift off back to sleep looking forward to the day ahead.
I was up at 4.30am to meet the guide, whose name was Bullfrog. Not because he was reminiscent of a bull frog, but because he had a very husky, very sexy voice. I can neither confirm nor deny this because I have never had privy to what a bull frog sounds like, or if I have I can’t remember, but I took his word for it, and relished in listening to his sexy vocalisation.
That very first morning when I met Bullfrog I knew we would be friends. He had me on his list as Gillian, and I pointed out that I prefer Gill. He said afterwards that he thought I was a bit feisty. Who me?! But I love it when I meet someone for the first time and I feel like I have known them a lot longer, that’s how it was with us. Constant banter from day one and I am very pleased to say we are still good friends today. He is just one of those people that is very easy to get along with and we hit it off straight away. He wouldn’t tell us his real name at first and we spent one night trying to guess it. Oh, the things you do in the middle of the Australian Outback! In the end he told us it was Mark. Just so you know.
Anyway, no sooner as we had said hello, we were off on a two hour drive to our first stop at Kings Canyon.
Now, I am mostly a very sociable person and like to meet new people, and so I enjoyed chatting with a lovely girl that I met on the bus. She was really nice but by the end of the first day, she was really doing my head in. She kept asking:
“Where are we going now?”
I thought: I don’t bloody know, I haven’t been here before, ask the bloody guide.
“Why is the bus stopping?”
“Because there is a f****** great big camel in the middle of road!” (Actually, I didn’t say that to her, I thought it.)
Honestly, open your bloody eyes girl. Thinking back it is rather amusing but at the time I wanted to strangle her.
When we arrived at Kings Canyon, I was a little disappointed when we found out that we couldn’t walk up to the top of the canyon, one of the three walks possible in this area, but at the same time I didn’t want to die of heat exhaustion- it was only 8 am and already 40 degrees where we stood at the bottom, 50 at the top. But, am happy to report, that we managed to do a shorter walk around the Canyon.
Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory. The red sandstone walls are over 100 metres high, and they stand tall on either side as you walk the trails below. There are pockets of lush vegetation but don’t expect any forests here due to the little rain and high temperatures. Nevertheless, the plants and animals have adapted very well to the extreme weather conditions.
After tramping around Kings Canyon for a while we were back on the road for a 3 hour trip to Uluru. This area is right smack bang in outback desert country. The scenery is gorgeous but relentless; the red sand looks as if it should belong on another planet and, due to the high levels of iron oxide, is the reason the area is called the Red Centre.
We got to our first camp at Ayers Rock Resort, unloaded the bus and then went to the lookout point to watch the sunset over Uluru. I find every sunset amazing, but this one wasn’t as amazing as I have seen in pictures. Even Bullfrog said it wasn’t that good. But hey, not to put a downer on things, we were sitting in the middle of the Australian Outback with Uluru in the distance. No-one could complain at that. It was awesome. And to top the first day off we got to sleep in a SWAG- a typical Aussie bush sleeping bag or “Sleep With A Guide?” That guide, Bullfrog, was very funny. We laid there in our swags with the whole sky above us, stars twinkling and not a sound-just our silent admiration.
Another 4 am start. This time to watch the sunrise. Again it wasn’t that spectacular. Come on, where were the brilliant red colours and azure skies when you need them.
The next part of the day’s itinerary was a walk around Uluru’s base. Just a short morning stroll of 9.4 km! Just the thing to wake you up.
It was only 9.30 am once we got back. That’s the thing about doing stuff like this in Australia. It’s so bloody hot during the day, that you have to start the day’s activities at “ridiculous” o’clock. But I am not complaining. I love getting out and seeing stuff, whatever time of the day it is.
Uluru looks smooth and featureless from a distance, but when you get up close and personal the face of the rock is weather beaten and there are loads of holes and gorges, springs and rock caves. Uluru is said to be over 600 million years old, and it is steeped in Aboriginal history and culture. Some places are sacred so you can’t take photos directly of the site. It is really interesting stuff and our lovely guide was very knowledgeable.
In the evening we returned to camp and had dinner, after which we had a few drinks and attempted to play the didgeridoo. I was completely rubbish- I didn’t have enough puff in me to make even the slightest sound. We had such a laugh and I realised that I had made some very good friends in that short space of time. So much so that we became inseparable for the rest of the week.
The following morning we began our journey to South Australia. When you cross the border, the time goes forward one hour- only in Australia do they have three different time zones. So Mark drove into South Australia, then back again into the Northern Territory. Four times he drove round in a circle, just for laughs. Everyone in the car park thought we were mad. It was hilarious. You had to be there though to appreciate the madness!
We drove to Coober Pedy- a town 846 km north of Adelaide. It’s known for its “dugouts”- underground residences that keep people safe from the scorching daytime temperatures.
It’s also known as the opal capital of the world because of the quantity of opals that are mined there. Opal was found in Coober Pedy in 1915, and since then the town has been supplying most of the world’s opal.
The landscape is rather bare, with hardly any plant life. Because of the interesting terrain filmmakers have used this area to film movies such as Pitch Black and Mad Max.
We had a little tour of the town and checked into our underground motel. All the accommodation was really basic but it was so much fun, sleeping outdoors and now, underground. We had dinner and drinks at the world’s only underground bar. How cool is that?
Rawnsley Park Station was the next port of call- a cattle station nestled in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. On the way we stopped to look at Lake Hart, a massive salt lake forming part of the Lake Eyre Basin which covers around 1,200,000 square kilometres.
When we got to Rawnsley Park, we cracked open a couple of cold beers, and walked up the nearest hill to watch the sunset. It was awesome. We saw some kangaroos and spent a good hour up at the top watching the sun disappear behind the horizon. That night we slept outside in our swags again, even though there were comfy air-conditioned rooms. We had become true bush-men.
After a welcome lay-in until 7am, we were on our way. We drove through the Flinders Ranges to Wilpena Pound to do some hiking. Bullfrog gave us a choice of two walks to do and we chose to do the hard one (of course)- climb Mount Ohlssen Bagge.
It was hard going. The terrain was very rocky and loose stones made it slippy. It was quite steep in places but it was more than worth the effort for the views at the top.
We started the walk very tentatively because Mark had told us that this is snake territory, and if we saw one we were to stand still to allow the snake to slither across our hiking boots. Like that was going to happen. We didn’t see any, but am sure the snake would have heard us a mile away and kept out of sight.
The view from the summit was spectacular overlooking the natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound. For me it was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
From there we travelled through Bunyeroo Gorge, through sweeping plains covered in native pine trees and rugged gorges, and the home to kangaroos and yellow-footed rock wallabies.
We reached our last nights accommodation in Parachilna. Mark told us how busy the roads are in this area but we soon realised he was making a joke. There are only two people that live there, and a few buildings- the Prairie Hotel, the railway station, and the airstrip. The Prairie Hotel is owned by the Fargher family, and it is famous for their Fargher lagers and their F.M.G. dish- Feral Mixed Grill made up of kangaroo fillet, emu fillet mignon, and camel sausage.
We had a few drinks at the Prairie and at 10.30pm we all congregated by the railway line. With beer in hand we waited for the coal train. Believe me, this was the highlight of our stay in Parachilna. The train travels from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta and back again, picking up and delivering the coal. And what makes it the highlight? This train is the longest coal train in the world- 3 km and it took about 8 minutes to pass. It was thrilling because we got quite close to it (maybe not such a good idea, thinking back, we had been drinking), and we squealed with delight when the train driver sounded his horn as he passed us.
The next morning we were getting ready to leave and I saw everyone running out of the hostel. The train was on its way back to Leigh Creek. We watched it go passed again. One of the guys counted the carriages-165. It is amazing to see. The simple pleasures in life are the best ones and this was definitely another highlight of the trip. Easily pleased!
We travelled further south to Clare, where we went to a winery. Interestingly, the town’s road system was designed by a draughtsman from Adelaide who had no knowledge of the local geography. There are several roads in Clare that end dead on a cliff face, and continue again at the top of the cliff. I know! Nothing to do with the winery, so back to the wine tasting. Not everyone liked their wine! What? I don’t think I understand? Are they mad? It’s wine! They kept pouring it in my glass. My love of wine has always been there, and even back then my reputation for liking it preceded me.
All that wine and several sheets to the wind later, we finally arrived in Adelaide. I had such a fantastic time with everyone I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. So we had one last night together. I spoke to Mark a few days later before he made the trip back from Adelaide to Alice Springs. He told me that the whole of central Australia was under a monsoon and all the Flinders Ranges and Alice Springs was flooded so they couldn’t get to some of the places that we had been to. I couldn’t believe how lucky we had been.
I am so glad I changed my plans and did this trip. I made some very good friends along the way, and I saw and did some amazing things in such a short amount of time. I will always remember my trip from Alice to Adelaide. The Great Ocean Road will have to wait for another time.
A little song about that little town called Parachilna for you to enjoy 🙂