Walshies Down Under

Walshies Down Under
Living in: Box Hill South, Australia
  • Day22

    There's No Place Like Home

    July 14, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    As we leave Adelaide on the highway in the cold and wet early hours of a Sunday morning bound for Melbourne, a rainbow magically appears ahead and yes, being in the land of OZ, we live somewhere over it...

    DRIVE: Adelaide to Melbourne (727km).

    Finally after 5 months (151 Days) on the road exploring Australia and a total distance of 22,507 kilometres travelled including five states and two territories, we are home.

    It’s been an epic adventure travelling around Australia with many memories to cherish and a great appreciation of this diverse land - the contrasting wilderness, the magnificent sunsets, the understanding of culture and dreamtime, the remoteness and dryness of an ancient land, the distant horizons and the unique wildlife.

    We hope you have enjoyed following the “Walshies Down Under” and our Penguin footprints of Australia and remember, regardless of the road less travelled, there’s no place like home.

    Steve & Jen x
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  • Day20

    Down Hill All The Way To Adelaide

    July 12, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Stuart Highway runs 2,834km from Darwin In the Northern territory to Port Augusta, South Australia. Seeing as we have passed the geographical centre of Australia and have now left Coober Pedy, we are at the tipping point and are now on the down hill stretch all the way to Adelaide.

    DRIVE: Coober Pedy to Adelaide (844km).

    It’s a long drive with nothing but desert landscape and spinifex for miles and miles. The brilliant morning sun rises and the light is perfect making for a clear view of the distant horizon. We pass a few eagles on the side of the highway feasting on a dead kangaroo, unfazed by our passing car. Nothing goes to waste out here and the birds are opportunistic feeding on a regular supply of road kill.

    Reaching approximately half way on our drive, we pass close to Woomera and a number of restricted area signs on the side of the road. Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) is a globally unique military testing range. It covers 122 188 square kilometres, 450km north west of South Australia. Its the largest land testing range in the world held under a veil of secrecy and used to test missiles, rockets, planes and other defence technology. It’s like area 51 in the Nevada desert of USA.

    The place is so secretive that as we approach, on the horizon is what looks like huge dark mountains and we realise that we are driving into a weather front which suddenly engulfs our car and we are surrounded by fog...! The contrast from blue sky to white fog and dark clouds reminds us that we are in winter and getting closer to the southern lands.

    Reaching the end of the Stuart Highway at Port Augusta at midday so it’s about 300km more to Adelaide stopping at Locheil for lunch. Locheil has its own Loch Ness Monster all be it made out of old tyres sitting up in the shallow lake.

    The wind and the rain has set in as we approach the outskirts of Adelaide so we both shiver with fright.

    Adelaide is the capital of South Australia and amongst many things, it’s renowned for its diversity of wine regions, Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills.

    We are excited to be catching up with our fabulous Adelaide friends, Kathy, Manny & Bev and staying with Kathy & Manny (the Hatzi’s) for a couple of nights. So we park up the campervan to enjoy homely five star treatment including a real bed, shower, fine wine and a three course dinner. They take pity on two tired, smelly and nearly lost travellers, which is greatly appreciated. It’s always great to catch up with them and we basically laugh the night away.

    Now Adelaide is known as the City of Churches and was firstly and foremostly a Christian State established by Christians for the free proclamation of the gospel to all who would live here. There’s no shortage of churches on many a tree lined street and the original stone buildings and victorian style architecture in and around the city is well preserved.

    The city was founded and proclaimed as a British settlement in 1836 and was named in honour of Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, queen consort to King William IV, The area around Adelaide was originally inhabited by the indigenous Kaurna people, one of many Aboriginal nations in South Australia.

    There are two rival footie teams here, Adelaide and Port Adelaide but according to Kathy Hatzi a devoted Port supporter, there’s only one.
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  • Day19

    There's 30 Million Holes In Coober Pedy

    July 11, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    As we walk around Coober Pedy, there’s signs everywhere saying “don’t walk backwards”.

    Why you may well ask?

    Well due to the Giant South Australian Desert Mole which was originally introduced here during British colonisation and has run rampant ever since, there are millions of mole holes everywhere.

    I kid you not, there’s very little water in Coober Pedy but 40 metres underground lies the Great Artesian Basin and the remainder of a vast inland sea millions of years ago. So as the mole has an acute sense of smell and can detect water from above ground, he digs a hole prospecting in search of liquid gold. He scratches away at the gypsum sandstone walls with his long dagger like claws, and his diamond edged teeth. the perfect tunnelling tool for the job. He pushes the dirt between his back legs with such ferocity that the dirt shoots up through the hole behind him.

    All this digging leaves a large mound of dry dirt on top of the desert floor as you can see in the profile photo and many of the holes are just abandoned as he moves on thinking that the next hole will be the one.

    Being highly territorial, the mole claims his patch and no other mole can dig in his allotment of land and often moles can be seen and even heard fighting in dispute over a claim.

    He’s not always successful, but persistent to the extent that he becomes addicted to digging as the mere thought of striking water sends him mad with desire. Just like water divining rods, the mole is accurate about 10% of the time so that’s 10 holes for every one success. Even so, the promised big strike of a reservoir full of water can often allude him so he digs and digs and digs.

    So that’s why there are millions of holes in Cooper Pedy... in fact 30 million to be precise and that’s why we don’t walk backwards. That’s truly amazing!

    Now Coober Pedy is also famous for Opals and it has the biggest opal seams and the best source of opals in the world. The process of extracting them is quite similar to that of the mole so no need to delve deeper...! However, the process on which an opal is created is a natural phenomenon that produces vibrant and colourful translucent gems.

    The sand from the inland sea millions of years ago was rich in silica and unique to Australia. The sea water with the silica in it seaps through the sandstone. As the climate changed, the water evaporated and left behind the silica and over time, droplets of the silica containing a small amount of water were deposited to form opal. The water is a key ingredient as inside the opal, the water content reflects light to provide thousands of variations of colour.

    With all the prospecting for Opals and all the digging of holes and tunnels, the majority of folk living in town live underground. In fact 70% of homes in Coober Pedy are underground, ventilated from above via shafts and providing a consistent climate and temperature of 24-26 degrees. This is perfect as the temperature here can vary from 40+ degrees in summer to negative degrees at night in winter.

    As we we explore town, we soon realise that this place is a bit wacko! Its just like mad max, dry, desolate and harsh yet exciting, interesting and full of signs of ingenuity and survival. We find many a monument to the boom/bust opal industry plus rusty cars, machines, mechanical diggers, dated rusty signs from an era gone by, and other vehicles abandoned, Its certainly eye catching and quirky.

    Even the famous bus from the movie Pricilla, Queen of the Desert has its final resting place here.

    Jen visits a few underground churches and we both visit the opal museum for a tour and a historical movie about the opal and the pioneers who moved here to dig for them and seek their fortunes.

    Although Coober Pedy town centre has stopped digging for opals and is now heritage listed, on the outskirts, we can still apply for a permit to dig, find a patch of land and go prospecting.

    So with a pair of water diviners which suppose to pick up the trace elements of water in an opal seam, and a mole in hand, sorry... a shovel in hand, we head off to find some dirt.

    “The Walshies are makin a claim”
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  • Day18

    Driving South To Coober Pedy

    July 10, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    We are heading south today to the wacky, weird and wonderful OPAL mining town of Coober Pedy.

    We basically packed up most of our stuff around us last night so that we can hit the road early and before sunrise. No matter how quiet you try to be not to wake the neighbours, it’s like coming home drunk and trying to make the stairs to bed without making any noise. Impossible!

    DRIVE: Kings Canyon Resort to Coober Pedy (762km).

    After driving the road out of Kings Canyon to Lassiter Highway, We stop at a sculpture celebrating the red centre of Australia. From here we are in fact 422km from the official centre of Australia at The Lambeth Centre, Ghan NT and will pass as close as 139.5km as we go through Kulgera on the Stuart Highway.

    There have been several methods employed to find such a centre, but only one is named for Dr. Bruce Lambert, one of the nation’s top cartographers. The Lambert Centre of Australia was calculated in 1988 by the Royal Geographical Society of Australia to commemorate the Bicentennial of Federation, and to honor the late Dr. Lambert.

    So imagine for a moment you can hold your finger up in the air and balance Australia on the tip. That’s it, keep visualising it, a bit to the right, keep still, there, you’ve got it. Well that’s almost the centre of Australia. You need to allow for the curvature of the earth and voila, the centre of Australia.

    Similar to what’s known as the “gravitational method,” the Geographical Society’s calculation did with math what had been done with geometry, weights, and physical models. The centre of a land mass is determined as the spot at which the shape, balanced on a single point, manages to balance.

    The coordinates are:
    25 degrees 36 minutes 36.4 seconds south latitude, 134 degrees 21 minutes 17.3 seconds east longitude (25°36′36.4″S 134°21′17.3″E); position on SG53-06 Finke 1:250 000 and 5746 Beddome 1:100 000 scale maps

    Back up a bit. Reaching Eldunda Station, a vital junction between north and south, we queue up like everyone else for petrol. This place takes north of $100 per refuel and the line of cars is long and never ending. Whilst waiting, I be efficient and go and grab two bacon and egg toasties, a coffee and a hot chocolate from the roadhouse.

    There’s nothing like a bacon and egg toastie to get you going and the remaining 487km to Coober Pedy will be a breeze so we hope to get there by 3.00pm. Jen phones ahead and books a caravan park and they can just squeeze us in.

    So as we leave Eldunda, there’s a sign saying north Alice Springs or south Coober Pedy. It’s tempting to turn left and flip a coin to turn right and head for home and it’s all down hill from here... well not literally!

    We soon cross the border into South Australia which means we have been in every state and territory in Australia on our trip with the exception of Tasmania. The desert’s flat, the horizon is distant, the road is straight and even the road surface in South Australia is an ocre/orange colour to match the desert.

    Jen reckons the blue sky is getting paler the more we head south but I reckon it’s just us getting a little closer to the winter southern states. Still no clouds though and it’s officially 8 weeks since we have experienced a single droplet of rain. In fact, we can probably count the number of day we have had any rain in the five months of travel on one hand. Likewise, we can count the number of days we haven’t had sunshine on the the other hand. I think the lowest daytime temperature we have experienced is 23 degrees in Alice Springs and the vast majority of days have been 30 degrees.

    Everything’s extreme in the outback. For a start the distances between places is far with not much in between. Jen spots a freight train parked up in the desert by a roadhouse which is over two kilometres long. I think the train driver has stopped for a pee! We see signs to slow down as there’s unfenced cattle roaming ahead from a cattle station thousands of hectares in size but as dry and barren as can be. Oh and the cost of a Mars Bar is pretty extreme too!

    We arrive at Coober Pedy, the Opal centre of Australia and have been transported back to 1979 when the first Mad Max movie was filmed. It’s a one of a kind place. As we approach on the highway, a rampant mole has been busy digging up the earth and creating miniature mountains of dirt, literally hundreds and hundreds of them just off the highway. (see tomorrow’s footprint for explanation).

    CAMP: Oasis Caravan Park, Coober Pedy / 2 Nights

    I mentioned that the caravan park can squeeze us in. Well this is the tiniest piece of real estate we have been on and my campervan is sideways on an angle to let the gentleman’s car out next door. No worries, we are thankful and grateful that we at least have a spot. We have power even though our lead is going through the fence to another area and surprisingly the showers and amenities at this place are great and now rank in the top three toilet blocks on our 5 month trip. Now that’s pretty good to get on our top three list.

    All set up and starving, we take a drive 100 metre or so into town then drive 400 more and we are at the edge of town. The Outback Bar and Grill is calling us in so we dine there tonight. Simple enough food, a tasty beef burgers and seafood basket with beer and cider.

    Coober Pedy has a character about it and many an Opal mining story to tell. So we are both a little excited to explore the place tomorrow, do a tour, find some opals and meet some local folk.
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  • Day17

    The Colours Of Kings Canyon

    July 9, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Ok, today I could give you a talk about the amazing geological formation of Kings Canyon over millions of years and delve in deep to explore the spiritual connection of the Luritja People, but instead, It’s nice to just give you a feeling for the colours of this place.

    We did the iconic 6km Kings Canyon rim walk starting at about 9.00am. The track sign says it takes about 4 hours with steep sections. It’s not really difficult to walk and the point of this place is to take the time and enjoy and appreciate the spectacular canyon views from above and below.

    Being morning, the sun is providing plenty of shade below inside the canyon so as the sun rises, each view is different as the canyon comes alive. It’s a peaceful place especially up on top of the rim navigating through the sandstone formations.

    On top of a ridge, Jen decides to practice her base jumping skills. I check the wind with my finger and with a slight south easterly wind, unfortunately we had to abort the jump...

    As ever, the dominant colours are the vivid blue sky absent of clouds that gets lighter on the horizon, the brilliant yellow sun tinged with orange, the deep ocre, orange and red of the sandstone, the copper and rusty browns of the dirt, the blackness of the shade across the canyon walls, the contrasting red river gum trees with their ivory and golden trunks and bright green leaves, every shade of green and amber bushes with their darkened branches that are dark purple and black, and the bluey yellow grey and wheat spinifex grasses that tie everything together like a patchwork quilt.

    These essential living colours represent the essence of the outback and capture the spirit of the red centre’s arid lands. Although it’s dry desert, there’s no shortage of colourful foliage, trees and grasses. What is absent out here though are wildlife and water. They go hand in hand. Other than a black crow, we haven’t seen a Kite or any other bird life and no kangaroos or wallabies., not even a sound and the river beds and creeks are all dry.

    The colours are a precious memory that we will take with us as we start to head further south and back home to civilisation.
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  • Day16

    Kings Canyon, A Last Resort!

    July 8, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Before we pack up and leave Ayers Rock Resort Campground this morning, we manage to get up early, put as many layers of clothes on as possible and walk to a lookout hill to watch the sunrise over Uluru. Sunrise is 7.25am although daylight slowly kicks in about 30 mins before then.

    It’s a nice way to start the day and I capture one panoramic shot with the sun just peaking up from the East. This is our farewell for now to Uluru and the Anangu people.

    Ayers Rock Campground to Kings Canyon Resort (330km).

    We’re only going down the road and around a corner, a 330km drive to Kings Canyon Resort and our base for two nights to explore Kings Canyon.

    CAMP: Kings Canyon Resort Campground / 2 Nights.

    We are on the road by 8.30am and aim to reach the resort campground around midday to secure a site before the masses arrive. School holidays is manic and on arrival its already busy but with eagle eye, we manage to find an unpowered site underneath a shady tree so happy with that.

    So this is our last resort before we start heading further south on the long way home. And why are we driving south...? because it’s too bloody far to walk... doh!

    When I say resort, I mean a campground with some cabin accommodation, shared toilets, a petrol station, a pub and a swimming pool. That’s as good as it gets in the outback to cater for us travelling folk.

    The campground itself is fine red sand so we feel like we are on a beach other than the fact that the nearest coastline is well... far, far away. Regardless, the kids at the campground are busy making sand castles and there’s a vibrant family atmosphere here which is code for loud children having fun. All good.

    I open the fridge freezer and we are down to a choice between chicken schnitzels, a chicken breast fillet and oh an ice block. On my deserted Island, I will have unlimited supply of chickens so I can’t really say... “not chicken again”. Schnitz it is with tomato rice replicating a memorable meal we had with Lloydes back in the Bungle Bungles. It seems a long time ago now and they are making good tracks down the coast of Western Australia.

    Being unpowered means we don’t have any heating in the campervan so although the day temperature is fine, out comes the dooner and the hot water bottles as the night can be cold.

    Tomorrow we will explore Kings Canyon but for now, it’s good night.

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  • Day15

    The Olgas And The Field Of Lights

    July 7, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    We had intended getting up early before sunrise and driving out to The Olgas but a few things put us off the idea.

    1. It’s dark and freezing this morning and bed is too cozy to get out of.
    2. We are a bit ginger from last night’s Sound of Silence Dinner so a lie in is in order.
    3. It’s 50km to the sunrise spot and that equates to 40 minutes of precious sleep time.

    You get the idea...

    Never the less, we are up and about not long after 9.00am. So we load up the fridge cooler with roast chicken, a loaf of bread and some salad and drinks and hit the road for the drive to The Olgas.

    Like Uluru, we can see The Olgas in the distance and being 50km away, they look impressive already. As we approach a lookout still 10km away, we stop to admire a full view of the front taking in the whole width with the bush desert in front of them.

    It’s not until we approach the carpark and the start of a couple of walking trails that we realise these boulder shaped formations are on an epic scale, more like giant sculptures than mere rock.

    Anangu call this extraordinary landscape feature Kata Tjuta meaning “many heads”. The Anangu people believe it was made in the Tjukurpa (creation time) back in the beginning so it’s a very sacred place.

    Unlike Uluru which is one solid structure and a base to walk around (monolith), The Olgas are a series of independent sandstone structures that have pathways in and around them which lead to hidden valleys and lookouts. The valleys and landscapes in between the boulders showcase a range of vegetation due to the variations in sunlight and shady areas.

    As we walk up and between two rocks, the wind whips through the Olgas like someone’s just turned the air conditioning on. At this time of the year, even though it’s warm and sunny, the whirling wind is quite crisp.

    We decide to do the 7.4km wind valley hike. Most people just do a couple of lookouts then head back but for an extra few km, the reward is worth it. It doesn’t sound much of a challenge but the terrain is rocky on foot and for hotter days, there’s warning signs requesting that hikers don’t attempt the circuit if it’s above 36 degrees. Well its 10.00am and I don’t think we will get past 27 degrees today and we have tackled some tougher terrain on this trip so we are good to go.

    We follow the rocky pathway which leads up hill towards two giant boulder formations and it seems there’s no way through. However, the path snakes around and in between the formations to expose a small green valley floor surrounded by towering boulder rocks on every side. There’s a steep wider section that runs up between two Olgas and the deep blue of the sky at the top of the hill is inviting us up.

    Traversing the rocks, we reach the top to be greeted with a stunning aerial view of a wider lush green valley below defined by sheer sandstone walls on either side of us and more bright orange Olgas in the distance. The view, I would say is one of the best I have seen on this trip as it’s so ancient and remote, yet vibrant, green and alive. Surely dinosaurs are roaming about down there. Its got that feel about it. My photos don’t do it justice but they give an idea of how epic the view is.

    We follow the trail down into the valley below which opens up with desert sands and green bush trees dotting the landscape as far as the horizon. It’s not a difficult hike and for the most part the valley is flat or slightly undulating.

    I like the feel of this place and unlike walking the base of Uluru, it feels like you can get easily lost here between the giant boulders so it adds a bit of excitement to the mix.

    After completing the circuit, we are back at the carpark before midday and car loads of people have turned up. We are a little hungry so drive to a picnic area with views of The Olgas. There’s a long wooden picnic bench set up under a shelter where a large group of folk are preparing communal lunch. There’s so many flies, just everywhere that the group are getting fly sandwiches for lunch and it’s hopeless. So we head back to the car, turn on the air con and make our chicken and salad sandwiches in isolation, and eat them away from the pesky flies.

    On he way back to Yulara, we visit the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the foot of Uluru. Two senior Aboriginal women are sat on the floor in the art gallery doing dot paintings. What strikes me is that apart from two young girls working at the camp ground reception, the artist women are the first indigenous people we have come across at Uluru. We haven’t seen any tour guides or workers, they’re all white fella, and we haven’t seen any indigenous folk promoting their culture.

    Back at camp by 2.00pm, it’s siesta time and we really do need the rest before our evenings activity, The Field Of Lights.

    when Jen booked the Field Of Lights, they only had a star pass left which means we have to suffer pre drinks and canapés whilst taking in another Uluru sunset in an exclusive desert location before the light show begins. It’s hard work indulging in champagne and Kangaroo sliders watching the sun go down on one of the great natural wonders of the world.

    So what are The Field Of Lights. There you go, it’s basically “a field full of lights” or in this case, a remote desert bush full of thousands of glittering lights that change colour to reflect the outback and create a mood map on the landscape.

    The Field Of Lights came about from a vision and an idea that the now internationally celebrated artist Bruce Munro had many years ago when visiting this region. He was attracted by the changing colours of the landscape and wanted to interpret this though art and light.

    The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara covers more than seven football fields with 50,000 spindles of light, the stems breathing and swaying through a desert spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white.

    Jen’s favourite colour is purple and as we slowly walks through the field of lights, each time we are nearing a purple section, it changes colour. Someone’s pushing a button, I swear... No, they’re just random lights that change colours creating what looks like a living work of art.

    Bruce Munro has many installations around the world but this one is by far the biggest and the only one that is completely self sufficient as it runs on solar.

    The Field of Lights is running until the end of 2020 and is a popular attraction that is often booked out for weeks in advance. With the closure of the walk up Uluru from October this year, they should keep this colourful and unique attraction going permanently as another draw card for the area.

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  • Day14

    Sounds Of Silence Sunset Uluru

    July 6, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    For a change, we are polished and clean and wearing smart casual clothes, a few steps above our normal attire of shorts and teeshirts stained with red dirt.

    Tonight we are experiencing The Sound Of Silence Sunset Dinner at Uluru. It’s a must do thing if you are visiting the rock and wanting a bit of outback candlelight indulgence.

    Jen has packed her thermal gear just in case and lots of layers as it does get cold once the sun sets.

    The AAT Kings coach picks us up outside the campground at 4.50pm and we are taken to a private location, not too far from Yulara centre but down a dirt track that is off limits unless you are on the tour. Like every night, the coach is full and there are other combined tours too that will experience the Sounds of Silence.

    We arrive at our private location and are directed up a a small hill by our hosts to a viewing area and immediately provided with a glass of champagne.

    In the distance sits Uluru and behind us, the sun is starting to set. It’s a fairly cloudy night tonight but there are a thousand shades of colour reaching over the landscape and into the sky. Everywhere is so vibrant and full of life. Blink and the colours change. We can also see The Olga’s on the far right hand horizon which are a good 50km away.

    Normally the sunset lights up Ayres Rock before it disappears but tonight, the clouds obscure the light but never the less it create an impressive backdrop. We are quickly into more champagne, then beer and a glass of red before our hosts welcome us to the Sounds of Silence and invite us down the hill to the sounds of a didgeridoo to our outdoor candlelit tables.

    We join a family from Brisbane who have settled in Australia from America. They still have a soft American accent but they have adopted the lifestyle of the Aussie with gusto.

    There’s one natural born Aussie in the family, Jasmine (Jazz) who is priceless and is married to one of the brothers, James with a crazy moustache. Sam is the younger brother at 22 and then there’s mum and dad. They are fun and although there are others on our table, myself and Jen latch onto them as they do to us and I don’t think we stopped having a laugh all the way through the evening. It supposed to be the Sounds of Silence dinner but after a few more glasses or red, our table was by far the loudest group and it quickly became the Sounds of Laughter.

    Our host, Daniel was a tall handsome man with a well groomed beard from New York. He’s a musician so we encourage him to serenade our table with a soulful classic.

    The food tonight is Australian bush inspired and laid on as a buffet. There’s crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi and everyone’s favourite, lamb chops plus plenty of salads and bush vegetables. It’s a plate full but everything is super tasty with subtle hints of Australian bush tucker flavours infused through each dish.

    The shiraz seems to be flowing quicker on our table than any other and I think we are all a bit merry. It’s not even that cold tonight so no need to wrap up.

    Before dessert, the candlelight’s go out and we look up to the dark sky for some star gazing. It’s not very clear but with a laser torch beaming into the sky, our host points out Jupiter, Saturn Orion’s Belt and and of course the Southern Cross. Where’s Leo The Lion shouts Jen with a slightly slurred speech. So the host point his lazer beam to a place in the sky at a cloud where Leo The Lion would be. Jen’s happy now.

    Lights back on and dessert is served. We are treated to an assortment of treats finished with subtle hints of bush fruit and by this stage it was way too difficult to name them... hick!

    All over too soon, we board the coach for our return to camp, everyone singing silly classics like “We are the champions” as we go.

    it’s a great night and something very unique and different to add to our memories of this trip.
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  • Day13

    To Climb Uluru (Ayers Rock) Or Not

    July 5, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    After a 440km drive from Alice Springs, we arrive at Yulara, which is home to the Ayers Rock Resort and the camp ground, our base for three nights to explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Being school holidays, the camp ground is the busiest place ever with a procession of cars and caravans lined up to check in or to try and get a spot. Every spot is pretty much taken with caravans and tents claiming there patch of land.

    Before we arrived, I kept trying the resorts website which was full, looking for an upgrade from our one night in an unpowered van site and two nights in our freezing cold tent. Voila, three nights powered site came up so I grabbed it and at least we can put the heater on. Winter daytime temperatures here can still be warm and always sunny but it can drop to 0 degrees at night.

    We finally get to visit Uluru (Ayres Rock), up close and personal. We are both excited and the rock just draws you in as it’s such an awe inspiring and spiritual place.

    Uluru is a massive 550 million year old sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid red centre. It’s a sacred place to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara cultures collectively known as the Anangu people who are the traditional owners. Uluru sits within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

    Now jointly named Ayres Rock, Uluru since 1985, the British surveyor William Gosse was the first European to discover the monolith in 1872. He named it Ayers Rock after the former South Australia Premier, Sir Henry Ayers. The name is iconic but like many other places of interest and cultural significance in Australia, Ayres Rock is named after someone’s surname just because of their nobility. William Goose must have owed him a favour or two, big time!

    Many places however are slowly acknowledging the aboriginal heritage and are either being renamed their rightful aboriginal name or have dual names like Ayers Rock Uluru. I suppose Goose Rock doesn’t have the same ring to it but if the Premier of South Australia’s name would have been Walsh, I guess I would be proudly calling it Walsh Rock instead.

    As we drive the road in, the rock is even bigger and more amazing than we had ever imagined and we are still 13km away from the base. We reach the entrance to the National Park and pay the $50 for a three day pass.

    The dirt is real red out here and such a contrast to the spinifex and the bush flora. Jen has been collecting dirt on our travels so she adds a handful to her collection. I have plenty of dirt on my clothes she can have!

    The colours of the rock change constantly and stand out imposingly against the blue sky with sections of contrasting sun and shade from every angle. It feels like the rock is alive. You just get the sense that this is a special place and being desert country, we are remote as can be in the middle of Australia.

    I have been thinking about the climbing of Ayres Rock and whether or not I should do it. Jen had made up her mind not to climb a long time ago out of respect for the wishes of the Anangu People. I however wanted to first dig a bit deeper and understand the reasons why people choose to climb it or not.

    From 26th October 2019 the climb to the top of Uluru will be banned once and for all to respect the Anangu people’s wishes. So during this peak holiday season, everyone is turning up with FOMO (fear of missing out) to climb the rock. It’s apparently a high priority bucket list item and the procession of climbers are like a colony of ants making their way up the rock face. It makes for one busy resort too and the line for the showers is almost as long as the line to climb the rock.

    The Anangu people have long requested that visitors not clamber over their sacred site and the signs at the base of Uluru urge visitors to do the right thing, show respect and don’t climb the rock. People read the signs, then do it anyway. More than 30 people have passed away whilst climbing Ayers Rock and the Anangu people get extremely sad when a death occurs on their sacred land.

    The story of Wati Lungkata teaches not to disrespect the rock. (Wati Lungkata the blue-tongue lizard man was greedy and dishonest. He camped in a cave on the rock and stole a wounded emu from hunters. The hunters set a fire that burned Wati Lungkata up. Gulp, we don’t want to be burnt alive!!!

    Increasingly, travellers have been paying attention and in 2015, only 16 per cent of visitors climbed the rock. That is a significant change from the 1990s, when 75 per cent of visitors took it on. We are experiencing a surge at the moment as it seems most people are going up as the last chance to climb it comes to an end. We all have our choices and in the end, it’s a test of respect vs self fulfilment.

    So I turned to the 2013 film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and a scene that captured my imagination. You need to check out the scene or even the movie to better get the idea.


    Now Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a Negative Asset Manager For LIFE magazine and is searching for a missing photographic negative for the front cover of the magazine. He eventually tracks down the photographer Sean O'Connell (SEAN Penn) in the Himalayas, and finds him quietly waiting for days for a chance to see and photograph an extremely rare snow leopard.

    On finally sighting the leopard in his zoom lens, this rare moment in life has arrived, but he doesn’t take the shot and simply appreciates the beauty of the animal in the moment.

    That’s kinda how I feel about climbing Ayres rock
    and why in the end I am happy not to do it.

    Its a good thing to Respect the Anangu People’s wishes. So I sit quietly away from the tourist lines, take in the energy and beauty of the rock and appreciate Uluru in the moment. Not everything in life needs to be conquered just because we can.

    Well what does all this mean? It means we’re bloody walking around Uluru instead and its a long 10km hike but we enjoy seeing the many aspects of the rock including the sacred cultural sites. Hey there goes a segway group riding past. That looks a fun way to do it.

    As we start in a clockwise direction, we find a rock overhang that displays rock art on the wall like a chalkboard in a clasroom. Its a place for learning where the aboriginal children essentially went to school to learn about their culture. Now that an old school!

    Close by, there’s different cave like formations that provided separate areas for the aboriginal men, women, elders and children. Although the Aboriginal culture is integrated though traditions and culture, the different gender and age groups have important distinctive roles within their tribe.

    It takes a couple of hours to walk the base of the Uluru but it’s peaceful especially on the back side of the rock where the cooler shade and shadows on the rock dominate. There are fewer tourists here too.

    We are back at the camp ground and whilst everyone is queuing up to climb the rock, we take advantage of no queues at the showers. Apparently last night there were queues for the showers at 11.30pm.
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