Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back out in the outback!

After travelling from Sydney to Melbourne, around Tasmania and then the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide, it was time for us to join another bus tour. This time we were heading north from Adelaide to Alice Springs. We joined our bus before 7am outside the hostel in Adelaide and met our new bus buddies. Anne from Germany, Helen from France a couple of Australian travel agents and two other blokes made up most of the group, led by Sam, our new bus driver and guide.

The first day of 'The Groovy Grape' (Daft name for a tour company, but I suppose they had to call it something!) was a drive from Adelaide to The Flinders Ranges – a mountain range a couple of hundred kilometres north. We stopped for lunch at Port Germein, which boats it has the longest wooden jetty in Australia – at just over 1500metres, it was pretty long, but we spent an hour walking to the end and back, chatting to our new mates and also the fishermen that gathered at the end of the pier. After a spot of lunch, we continued towards Flinders, stopping for a walk through Alligator Gorge (Named by Englishmen, who saw a lizard and thought it was an alligator) before heading towards our camp site. On this final leg, we stopped in the middle of nowhere, when we spotted a few old railway sleepers – Sam, who like me loves a good fire, decided no one would mind if we nicked a few to burn, so shortly after we were driving with 4 of them on the floor of the bus and a big pile of firewood on the roof of the trailer.

The bush cam we stayed at was really good – even though it was just a fire pit an a shed with a roof, it had power sockets, so I was able to charge up my stuff and build a great big fire which we cooked on and then slept around. It started to 'spit', a few minutes after we had got into our swags, so everyone but me, Buffy and Helen, wimped out and slept under the shed roof. Bloody big fannies!! It didn’t rain for long and we slept really well under the outback stars.

In the morning, we were up at 6am, in the dark and after toast cooked on the fire, we packed up and headed off towards Coober Pedy, after being visited by an early morning, curious kangaroo, who came right into the camp to have his photograph taken. On the journey we stopped a couple of times. First, as we saw another Groovy Grape bus coming towards us – Sam had arranged to meet another driver and gram some cooking stoves from him. So we stopped and spent 15 minutes taking photos of the scenery and 'The Ghan', railway track which was just 20 metres from the road. Secondly, we stopped at a viewpoint, where there is a rock in the car park, that has traditionally been drawn over with Graffiti – We added our names and continued onwards, still 300km away from Coober Pedy. On the way we really hit the outback and could tell by the flies that started attacking us whenever we stopped and the dead carcasses of cows lying by the roadside – We even saw one minus its head. Who knows where that went!!

After arriving in Coober Pedy (Where 80% of the worlds opals come from and most people live underground) we had the same tour of the Opal mine I had done last November and even stayed in the same dorm room I had slept in with Ozbus. Before bed however we went for a pizza – in the same Pizza restaurant as Ozbus!! The whole reason I am travelling with Groovy Grape instead of a bigger company is because we met a Groovy Grape tour in Coober Pedy when we passed through in November!

I was up at 1am to see United seal the premier league with victory over Chelsea. It was weird to get up out of a cave and watch football live on the internet from sunny Manchester. I went back to bed about 3am and after a good sleep we left with our new driver 'Steve',. Heading north towards The Northern Territory and our next stop at Uluru (Ayers Rock Resort) The only exciting thing to happen on the way was when a massive eagle nearly flew into the front of the bus, but luckily it missed by a few inches and flew off. We went down to the rock for sunset with a beer and then in the evening it was the normal camp fire and beers after which we all piled into our swags and got some sleep.


The next morning we were up at 6 and down at Uluru again soon after. It was a freezing morning and the wind was biting. I spent most of the time watching the sunrise whilst my sleeping bag was wrapped around my shoulders, keeping me warm. However, in my mind I was just thinking about the wind and the fact that the climb up Uluru, was usually closed if there was any wind at all or chance of rain or if it is too hot. We were sure that the climb would be closed and as that is the main reason I was back here, I was hoping that it would calm down. Just after 8am when we drove alongside Uluru, I looked out to see signs of anyone climbing and I was really happy to see small figures making their way up!! It is really lucky as the climb is closed randomly about 7 out of every 8 days. Me and Buffy got out stuff together and left the group behind to walk around the rock , whilst we went up it. It is something I have always wanted to do since I was a kid at school learning about Australia, so I was really chuffed to be able to get the chance to finally climb it on my 2nd time here.

It is a great climb, sometimes reasonably easy at other times you are scrambling up at about 75degrees. It took us about an hour to reach the top and find the marker at the highest point. The pace is very very alien. Red rock, with peaks and troughs running all across from one side to the other. Some of these are just 2 or 3 feet deep whilst others are 5 or 6 metres deep with near vertical walls to climb up and clamber down. It took us another hour or so to get about a mile across the top of Uluru to where we found some rock piles and added our own rocks to the top, then another hour and a half to get back down to ground level. It was a really special day and a great feeling to have done something I dreamed about when I was at primary school. I think Uluru now ranks alongside the volcano at Mt Bromo as my favourite places.

A lazy afternoon followed – lunch a snooze in the warm shade and a drive into the outback for a different view of Uluru at sunset, before dinner and sleep around the camp-fire again.

The next morning , we headed back into the National Park to visit and walk the Olgas – Another massive rock formation, but unlike Uluru you can take a walk between the massive rocks along 'The Valley of the Winds'. This allows you to walk through a green oasis beneath the rocks that tower hundreds of feet to your sides. It was a great walk taking about 3 hours hours and after we had finished we had lunch and headed off. The one thing I forgot about the outback though ar ethe bloody flies. They get everywhere – in your nose, eyes, ears and all over your face and body. I wont ever wear a net over my face, but I do want to kill all the flies!!
Relaxing on the Ghan Railway

Sunset at Uluru

The view from on top of Uluru

The highest point on top of Uluru

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