Kings Canyon

IMG_1846

We set off for Kings Canyon, leaving some the majesty of Uluru behind us. On the way, we got stuck behind some very slow nomads, even by our standards. My impatience got the better of me and when they stopped for a fuel stop, I kept going with the idea of getting fuel at the next stop. I’d forgotten though that we took an earlier turnoff to get to Kings Canyon and had to make use of our handy jerry cans! When I finally stopped for fuel we also stopped for lunch and I ended up paying more for lunch than I did to fill the car and jerry can with fuel!
The caravan park had a pool and playground so after setting up I took the kids there with some crazy notion that I might get to read some of my book. With a few other families with young children at the pool it was all playing and no reading for me. It’s great the way Miss6 can make friends with other young children so easily and how Master14 can talk to other adults with such confidence.


We headed to the sunset viewing platform with the hoards of others and had the privilege of not only watching the sunset but also watch the full moon rise over the canyon, which, in my opinion was more impressive than the sunset. Miss6 saw a few of the Japanese tourists taking novelty ‘holding up the moon’ photos and thought that was the best thing ever so we had to do a few of those for good measure.

IMG_1760
The next day Miss6 and I were lucky enough to have our bed facing the canyon so it was a matter of unzipping our window to watch the sunrise over the canyon. After watching the canyon at sunrise it was time to climb it and do the rim walk.

IMG_1769
The walk was rocky and steep in parts and at the top of the steepest section at the start we were faced with a defrib machine – I thought this was quite funny until I saw the average age of the other climbers but luckily they were fit enough and saw the funny side of the machine. Miss6 stopped frequently to draw her travel adventures in the sand using the traditional Aboriginal symbols she’d learnt at Yulara. Despite the frequent stopping we kept catching up to the other larger group of older walkers and enjoyed their company for the walk. There were some interesting shaped rocks on the walk and some spectacular views when you braved the edges. For all the jokes of pushing partners over the edge I surprisingly had no urges to or daydream fantasies of pushing the kids over…yet!

IMG_1790IMG_1812
Our older walking company encouraged us to do the additional off shoot walks with them however, halfway through the 1.2km trek we looked back to find that they’d given up! We caught up with them at the Garden of Eden and this was truly a beautiful site to behold. We spent some time here enjoying the greenery before making the final hike back to the car. In the final 2kms Master14 rolled his ankle coming down a hill so I asked Miss6 to take the backpack so I could support him. As he began walking properly again, Miss6 fell flat on her face and grazed her knees so I ended up with the backpack on the front of me, Miss6 on my back and Master14 limping slowly behind me as we descended down the steep hill back to the carpark. By the time we got to the car I had the beginnings of a migraine so when I got back to camp to find our Coober Pedy friends offering to help with the kids while I dealt with my migraine and Zoe the dog camped right next to us to keep Miss6 busy, I was grateful for the lovely travelling friends that we’d made.
After a few hours of sleeping and pain killers I was well enough to take the kids to the outback BBQ for dinner and some live music. Dinner was delicious and the live music to accompany it was also great with Miss6 taking her coins to the stage to put in the tips pot. Rod Dowsett had a very raw vocal and moving lyrics that we all enjoyed listening to, so much so that Miss6 wanted to use her pocket money to buy one of his CDs. After listening to the CD though I don’t think it does his vocal abilities the justice that a live performance does. While we were sitting at our table a gentlemen came over to say hi – at first I thought it was one of our fellow walkers from the Canyon Rim walk that I’d forgotten but it turned out to be a tour bus driver from Alice Springs just saying hello. We were heading to Alice next so it was great to hear about Alice from a friendly local – he even offered to show us around town when we got there and take us out for pizza one night – knowing how much Master14 could eat, how could I say no? Our bus tour friend also convinced us to take the Ernest Giles dirt road to Alice Springs tomorrow, it would save us around 150km and wasn’t too bad at the moment apparently, despite the recent rains. Armed with all of this information, ideas and a new friend for our next stop, we went to bed excited for the next leg of our great adventure.

IMG_1841

Advertisements

Yulara 


We finally hit the NT and it felt familiar to see the landscape beside the road and the 130km/h speed signs from days gone by, visiting my sister in Darwin. It did feel pretty sad to have gone from doing 5-10km/h under the limit to over 30 under the limit though and even more so when we hit the ‘open speed’ sections of highway!
Before heading to Yulara we stopped overnight at Kulgera – I wasn’t going to get much further in daylight hours. It was a brief stopover but enough to refuel the car and recharge the batteries before the drive to the rock.

We’d heard enough about the trip to Yulara to not be fooled by Mount Connor on the way in – as big and impressive as it looked. It was surprising that the lookout didn’t include much information about the mountain or it’s Aboriginal heritage. 
It was here we not only stopped for a token selfie but also a quick loo break at the drop toilet. In the words of Kenny himself, the smell coming from those toilets would outlast religion itself. I think I could actually feel my eyeballs burning from the ammonia! 


After setting up our camp for our four night stay we headed to the information centre to book some of our ‘must do’ activities. Miss6 was nearly jumping out of her skin for a camel ride but we missed out on the sunset tour so instead booked sunrise – this will be a rare occasion where I can get her out of bed in the morning with any sort of enthusiasm! 
Up at 5am for our sunrise camel trek through the bush land of the camel farm, set between Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The colours of the environment, let alone the changing colours of the sky against the two formidable structures of nature, were just spectacular. Two hours later and we were enjoying some freshly baked beer bread, a tour around the farm and Miss6 even got to brush one of the camels to her delight (apparently I need to buy a farm when we get home so we can get a pet camel). We watched a few practice runs by a number of the resident camels in preparation for next weekend’s Uluru Camel Cup – if the practice run is anything to go by, the big day should be a lot of fun.


We managed to drag Miss6 away from the camels to go and do a traditional dot painting workshop with a local Anangu woman. The kids and I really enjoyed this and have a much better understanding of Aboriginal artwork made this way. We got to create our own story using dot painting and the kids did a great job of not only creating an artwork but also standing in front of other participants explaining the story behind their artwork too.
Master14 I think was looking forward to our evening astronomy workshop the most but all of us had a great night in the end. Our host and resident astronomer had a laser to trace the constellations out, which is more than any well-meaning nomad has been able to do and really brought the stars to life. It also helps to have a very powerful telescope to see things like stars, planets and even the full moon!


The next morning we headed to the national park to see Uluru. As we drove in, the rock loomed ahead and it was breathtaking. The sheer enormity of it and the patterns, water marks and large open spaces in the rock face brought an overwhelming sense of emotion and connectedness to the place.
We met a couple of the Rangers for the Mala walk which took us to a number of ancient places used by the Anangu people. We didn’t need to go to the cultural centre (though we did later on) to understand the significance of the rock and its water holes and other spaces, just being there we could sense a significance and tranquility of place.


As an ancient monolith, the geology is almost as impressive as its cultural significance. With around 500 metres above ground and 5kms below ground, permanent water holes and rusty veneer, it really is a sight to behold.
After the walk we thought we’d continue to walk the remainder of the 10km base but Miss6 was too tired after our big day previously so we thought we’d hire bikes and ride around instead. The trailer bike for Miss6 and I was too wobbly and a tad scary for her so Master14 took a ride on his own while Miss6 and I drove to the other waterhole to meet him there. It was supposed to take him 20-30 minutes to arrive at that waterhole riding anticlockwise around the rock. After 40 minutes he finally arrived and had actually ridden clockwise nearly completing the full 10km in that time. Our bike hire was 3 hours so I told him to ride to the carpark and meet me so I could have a ride while he hung out with his sister. His honest subconscious must’ve got the better of him though as he ended up riding the bike back to the hire place instead!


We took one last walk to the waterhole together and enjoyed the serenity and Tjukurpa (traditional law and dream time story). Miss6 also took great delight in telling the story of this place and pointing out marks in the rock to the other tourists. 
Back to camp before we got to see the Field of Light by sunset. Pity the information centre gave us the wrong bus pick up time so we missed sunset and only got a second bus there in time for a very rushed walk through. It was a vast and beautiful installation and we were very disappointed to have been herded through it so quickly. 


Miss6 and I were in the showers later that night and a group of high school girls on school camp were also showering in the booths next to us when one of the girls broke out in song. I was impressed she’d chosen an old 80’s number though her singing wasn’t the best and her friends had a laugh at her expense. Not to be deterred she repeated her verse, only this time I helped her out by belting out the next verse. She seemed happy about someone else wanted to sing with her and Miss6 wanted to join in so she asked if we could sing her favourite song. Together we belted out ‘I wish I was a punk rocker’ as we finished up and got our pj’s on. The girls on camp thought it was great with one commenting we should be on The Voice – Miss6 was very happy with the whole experience!


The next day it was off to see Kata Tjuta for the Valley of the Winds 7km walk. Though the ancient rocks are strong and have stood the test of time I think our camping neighbours description of it as ethereal is still fitting. This rock formation seemed to keep Miss6 energised as she happily walked the rocky and sometimes steep walking tracks (with the exception of about 1km that I piggy-backed her!).


The toilets here were much like those at Mount Connor and even caused a couple of German backpackers to walk straight out without using them, eyes watering and lots of screwed up faces. We did bump into our friends from Coober Pedy on the hike and even made some new hiking friends enroute. One of the best parts of travelling is the people you meet and unofficially take the same journey with. 
We had managed to make a few new friends at camp, all of whom had dogs that Miss6 couldn’t resist patting. She even got to take Zoe the dog for a walk, wearing her little hand held UHF radio to stay in contact with me if she got lost. Those radios are one of the best investments I’ve made – allowing Miss6 some independence around caravan parks and helping me to be in two virtual places at once. They’re also handy while driving to communicate with other drivers.


Our last night at Yulara and I was hoping for a good nights sleep but some nearby late night loud talkers and another lot of distant party goers made it hard to get to sleep. At around 4.30am the van was bouncing around and it woke me up. I thought it was Master14 stomping around the van like an elephant (why do teenagers need to stomp everywhere?) so I yelled at him to cut it out. He woke up confused so I figured it was our drunk party goers and when one of them yelled “earthquake!” I’d had enough. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a morning person and loathe being woken early, especially by drunks, so I opened the window and yelled “shut up!” and the campground went quiet.
Next morning Zoe’s owner asked if I’d felt the earthquake last night?! Oops, turns out Master14 and an innocent drunk copped the wrath of my tired grumpiness when in fact it was a 6.4 tremor in Alice Springs that shook the van and woke me up! Quite the eventful end to our time at the rock.

Life underground

IMG_1145

We got to Coober Pedy at about 3pm and had to compete with the grey nomads ‘holding’ spots in the shade for their friends with tables and chairs. I’d found a spot that I thought would be good for us but an old lady told me she was holding it for her friends – I couldn’t be bothered arguing so I moved to another shady spot and set up camp.

I remembered as we were setting up that the front boot of the van was locked shut so I began unscrewing the frame to break into it. Before breaking the seal of glue around the edge I thought I’d give it one last crack by spraying some WD40 on the handle and using a towel to grip and some brute force I got it open! By the time I finished setting everything up I couldn’t be bothered putting all of the screws back in so I put it on the ‘to do later’ list and headed to the camp kitchen for some dinner and a bit of TV (we haven’t brought our TV with us so neither me nor the kids have seen much in the way of the news or any entertainment on screen).

IMG_1150

Turns out it was a good thing we didn’t get that first camp spot – five camps got broken into overnight (with people in them) including the little old lady that wouldn’t let me camp next to her… Karma?? After hearing the news about the break-ins it was off to the information centre to figure out some sort of itinerary while we were here. It was here that we met an older couple from Griffith and helped them out booking accommodation at Uluru – they soon became valuable friends that we have continued to travel the same route with for many stops since.

IMG_1175

The kids and I spent the day checking out the orphan kangaroos, old timers mine for some underground exploring and a go of sucking big rocks up an old blower. If I had one of these at home I reckon I could cut my vacuuming schedule down to an annual event! After lunch it was off to Faye’s house for some more underground adventures – it was a pretty impressive place considering it was all hand dug by three women! The kids and I tried our hand at noodling in the dirt mounds outside the house but alas, we couldn’t find a stone worthy of funding some extra time on the road – just some pieces of grey opal.

IMG_1192

In the arvo we took a drive out to Harry’s Nest – an old cave that once belonged to Harry the Crocodile Hunter and used in the filming of Mad Max III – it was a pretty cool place lined with paintings, hand written messages, old t-shirts and bras signed by past travellers and the remnants of an old bar. I could easily imagine myself sitting here enjoying a cold beer or bourbon back in its hey day. We left our own message on the wall then it was back to camp via the ‘greens’ of the golf course and some take away ‘Coat of Arms’ pizza from John’s famous pizza shop – the kids are really getting into eating native animals on this trip!

The following morning I checked with the office if the road to the Breakaways had opened yet (recent rain had closed the road) but it was going to remain closed for the next day or two while the Council decided whether or not to spend the money to grade it. We made a snap decision to head off, giving ourselves the physical challenge (aka Double Dare TV game show) of packing up camp in 30 minutes! Challenge accepted! Quick stop at the much talked about underground Serbian Church which I found a little underwhelming before heading to our next stop – Kulgera and Yulara. Must admit there’s a bit of Big Kev excitement in the air at the thought of hitting the NT tomorrow!