On Tuesday 7th December we flew from Cairns to Alice Springs. The flight took us almost two and a half hours and, after leaving the Atherton Tableland behind us, we saw no other settlements. The only signs of civilisation were long, straight, empty roads disappearing into the distance.
At Alice we transferred to a Backpackers hostel, had a wander round the town, including crossing the Todd River, and had supper. We had to be at the roadside, ready to go, at 5! We had booked an overland trek to Adelaide with Australian Adventure Tours and we were going to see “The Centre”.
And at 5 we were picked up by “Doc” our group leader, guide, cook, expert on Aborigines, raconteur and “animateur”. We toured round various other hostel and hotels till we had got all our fellow travellers. Then we set off for Uluru via King’s Canyon.
Despite looking close together on any map of Australia, Alice and Uluru are over 200 miles apart. And if you go via Kings Canyon, the journey is over 500 miles. And most of the way is through featureless scrub. So there was a lot of sitting in the bus, dozing, waking with a start and finding the scenery had not changed.
Stops were for refuelling – you need to know how far to the next petrol station – and toilet stops. And lunch stops. At various places you would find barbecue facilities – places for food preparation and gas powered barbecues. And here Doc’s expertise would come into play. He would have us organised cutting up salad, cooking, slicing etc. And afterwards doing the washing up.
At King’s Canyon Chris walked along the canyon while I went up to the canyon rim. The temperature was in the high 30’s and early 40’s, the trail was steep, so we all suffered. Plenty of drinking water and sunscreen were essential.
The rocks are Sandstones and Shales 350 million years old and show many signs of shallow water deposition. And there are even desert dunes. I think a creationist had preceded us up the trail – all the dates on the explanatory signs had been scratched out! The views are wonderful with the strong reds of the rocks, the deep blue of the sky and the green of the vegetation.
Generally it would be the grey and yellow of the vegetation, but we were continually reminded that this had been an unusually wet season with lots of rain. Doc told us that to be called a local in Alice Springs you needed to have seen the Todd flow three times. It had taken him three and a half years to see this. But this year it had flowed 8 times!
While on the top of the canyon we had heard thunder and while driving back to the Uluru main road we crossed several water splashes. Rain is so infrequent that rather than build bridges over creeks, they let the creek flow over the road. This is fine if the water is shallow but sometimes a road can be closed for days.
We got back on the Uluru road and got to our camp in time to see a Uluru sunset and also KataTjuta (previously the Olgas, looking very like Homer Simpson). Uluru used to be Ayer’s Rock.
Our camp was a permanent one with a kitchen and dining hut and tent-like huts with bunks. But many people slept outside looking at the stars which are amazingly bright. You get all the bright stars which you can see in town but, in addition a host of less bright one filling the spaces in between.
We were up before 4 in order to see our Uluru sunrise. This was rather impressive as some of my photos may show.
Then we went for a walk around the base of the rock. This is mainly a coarse sandstone. Various parts are sacred to the local people and therefore should not be photographed. I think all my photos are legitimate, but it is very difficult to be sure. Much of the culture of the locals seems to be explanations of how the rocks look as they do.
Then we went to Kata Tjuta to walk into Walpa Gorge. The rock here is a very coarse, polymictic conglomerate. I thought I was back at Dunottar Castle in the Old Red Sandstone!
Back to the camp for lunch and rest. Aborigine Culture Centre and walk round another part of the rock where we got to look at various caves and waterholes.
And finally our final Uluru sunset.
We travelled to Coober Pedy, a distance of about 460 miles, passing nothing of any great interest – mile and miles of bugger all – as one of our companions described it.
But Coober Pedy was worth looking at. It is the centre of opal mining and if it were not for opals it would not exist. It is bleak, dry and hot. So if you can, you live underground where temperatures stay stable at about 25 degrees. Our bunkhouse was underground and very comfortable too.
We were taken round an old mine which had an underground house at an upper level. And which happened to have an opal selling shop attached. Christine succumbed to an opalised belemnite pendant. And there were various other temptations which we managed to reject.
We travelled to Quorn in the Flinders Range – a journey of 400 miles. And we did pass some things of interest. I was able to photograph a road train in all its glory – usually they just flash past, making the bus rock. And we walked down to Lake Hart, a salt lake. And a T-junction in the middle of nowhere.
Quorn is a town of faded splendour which used to be on the Ghan railway to Alice Springs, but the new Ghan bypasses it. But it is surrounded by the Flinders Range which provides it with a backdrop infinitely more interesting than Coober Pedy
This was another early start as we were off to look at Wilpena Pound which is a plunging syncline of Ediacarian age – just before the Cambrian. These rocks contain some very early fossils of which I would see more in the South Australia Museum in Adelaide. But none were observed by me at the Pound.
The area of Wilpena Pound is very scenic with lots of kangaroo and emu.
We made our way back to Quorn by way of Yourambulla Caves where there are lots of aborigine paintings.
We travelled to Adelaide, a total of 237 miles, but we started by walking up Dutchman’s Stern, a mountain near Quorn. Its name refers to a perceived resemblance to the stern of a Dutch ship, not to anyone’s anatomy. And it had to be an early start as we had to see the sunrise.
The sunrise was quite good and the view from the top was magnificent. And it was a very nice walk. There were lots of kangaroo on the lower slopes.
The drive down to Adelaide was in strong contrast to our journeys along the Stuart Highway. There were farms everywhere and we were never very far from a village. And the Adelaide suburbs stretch a long way north.
And so, very soon, we were saying goodbye to our travelling companions and settling in to our Hotel in Adelaide. Together we had travelled 3000km – not bad for six days!