Isn’t it just a rock!?

Adelaide to Alice Springs – Australia

January 2008

Adelaide is possibly one of the most underrated cities on the planet which immediately makes it a great place. Anyone that goes to Australia will end up in Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast or by accident, Brisbane. As with Perth, Adelaide is less visited because really, what’s the point? Also, unlike Perth, Adelaide hasn’t had an economic boost through mining and so the city remains largely a capital city in a region dominated by sheep farmers, drought and old people. But don’t let that deter you. My experience of Adelaide was epic and admittedly it was largely in part to the awesome group of people I had been travelling with over the past few days but the city itself threw out many surprises. For a start and as one can come to accept in Australia, the city was beautiful, clean and tidy, with large open streets, parks and the hot sun bouncing off every shiny surface and back into the large open blue sky above. Obviously there was a huge, sandy beach, with as much space to lie down and relax as you could possibly dream of. The sea was as inviting as a candle lit bath. Other than the Southern Ocean, the entire city was surrounded by thousands of miles of empty space ranging from deserts, mountains, forest and farmland. For a city mocked for being a retirement home the beach was full of beautiful young women and I suppose if I had been inclined to look, handsome young men also, such as Phil and myself.

Our first full day in the city was spent catching up on sleep, getting a haircut and, shopping for a new rucksack which would ultimately end up travelling around six continents. All unassuming things but then it was a Monday in the middle of a city. Don’t be fooled by a Monday night in Adelaide though. It was open mike night down at the Grace Emily Hotel and quality band after quality band took to the stage. The bands were young, the crowd was young and we had a cracking night lasting until 3am. Maybe this was it? Maybe this was the only place where the young could hang out in the entire city but from my experience coupled with a raging headache the following day I would suggest that Adelaide is well worth a visit, even more so with friends. Being English it always seems like a great idea to sit on a beach in 36oC of blazing sunshine yet it never turns out so well. However, hangover in tow that’s exactly what we did and I learnt later that day that the pain from inside my head had moved to the outside of my head. Having a shower after burning the top of your freshly shaved skinhead is quite possibly one of the most painful things out there! And that was Adelaide. No doubt there is far more to talk about but we would always be fighting against the clock in Australia and no sooner had we arrived and sampled the treats that this city had to offer we were preparing for the next stage of our journey. The stage Phil, Laura and I were all excited about. Travelling through Australia’s vast interior.

We had once again booked onto a wee tour that would take us the 1,534km north to Alice Springs in the middle of the country where ironically Australia’s and one of the World’s most famous natural icons sits. This tour was literally a two day and one night dash but was vastly different from The Great Ocean Road trip. Firstly the group were boring and secondly our driver was a stressed out part-time dodgy geezer, in our minds at least. He regularly stopped to chain smoke, including one stop at a salt lake which he claimed to contain unexploded hydrogen bombs and when we arrived at Coober Pedy he immediately disappeared for the duration to carry out ‘errands’. To be fair on the guy the fact about hydrogen bombs could be true. Australia is full of fun facts like this including the story of a Japanese terrorist group possibly testing an atomic weapon in the middle of the desert without anyone knowing. Coober Pedy is a town exactly halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. Not so much a town in the usual sense but more of a hole in the ground. With a population of under 2000 people the town supplies up to 80% of the worlds opals and with it’s location being in the middle of one of the hottest places on earth the small mining town not only work underground but live underground as well where the temperature remains at a steady and comfortable level all year round. Our underground hostel for the night, carved out of rock was extremely impressive and even more so was the local Greek Orthodox church. Once again Australia’s ability to make the middle of nowhere appealing is unique. The only thing of note between Coober Pedy and Alice Springs was ‘The worlds longest fence’ at 5,300km long. The fence was built to stop dingoes moving south and preying on the millions of sheep farmed there but I’m not so sure you can guarantee that a fence so long running through one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth doesn’t have several hole’s in it.

We were happy to be in Alice Springs and celebrated the first night like any other night with food and plenty of beer. Also as was becoming the norm, the first day of a multi-day stopover was spent with a lie in, swimming in the pool, food, and Laura organising the next leg of our journey. We were in Alice Springs for one thing only and as such we had little idea there was more to see but thanks to our Sydney tour agent we had been booked onto another two night, three day tour that would take in everything we needed to see while at Alice Springs. On our second day we met with our new group and our tour guide, Nathan, a cross between Steve Irwin, Mick Dundee and American Pie’s Stiffler. This was a guy who took no shit but would guarantee everyone had an awesome time and maybe even learn something along the way. On one occasion flying down the highway at 100km/hr he stopped the minibus, backed up a few hundred metres, jumped out and picked up an exotic lizard that had been lounging in the sun by the side of the road. Our first destination was Kings Canyon, 320km away from Alice Springs. Arriving at 1pm we began a 6km, three hour hike around the canyon in 44oC (in the shade!). It was one of the hottest experiences of my life but as you can imagine it was simply stunning walking around the heat blasted red rocks and surprisingly a lot of green bush and trees. We had been told to carry no less than 3lt of drinking water and sure enough I drank the lot, most of it warm enough for a cup of tea. At the end of the hike we were treated to a swim in one of the cooling rock pools and then we headed off to buy the evening’s entertainment, eight cartons of beer, each holding thirty cans. Apparently the usual order was four cartons of beer and a few boxes of goon (more on this later) between twenty people. As you can imagine it was a fun group and we spent the night cooking on an open fire, drinking and sleeping in swags under the stars. A swag is a tough version of a sleeping bag that can be rolled out anywhere and immediately you have somewhere comfy to sleep. People ask about snakes but picture the scene, a warm cloudless night, the Milky Way overhead, deadly silence, in the middle of the Australian Outback. How often do you get to experience that!

Unsurprisingly 5.30am started with a headache but by 9am we had already arrived at Kata Tjuta, a site apparently more sacred to the Aborigines than our final destination and a place with Aboriginal history dating back at least 22,000 years. We were treated to a 7.5km hike around the huge rock formations and were thankful for a bit of cloud cover to keep the early morning sun off our necks. As with Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta was a place I had never heard of before but I was so happy to be visiting. Although tourist destinations in their own right there were hardly any other people around other than us but then the area is so vast it is almost impossible to form a crowd. Both places were so huge that it did’t matter where you walked you would be treated with incredible views. Kata Tjuta was no exception with huge red domed rocks rising from the earth surrounded by nothing but desert and it’s greenery thanks to the recent life giving rains. The peace and feeling of remoteness was about to come to a crashing end though as we headed to our final destination, Uluru.

Quite possibly more famous than Sydney’s harbour, Uluru is one place everyone wants to see but has the inconvenience of being thousands of miles from anywhere. For me, such places should remain inconvenient and should be rewards for people who can be bothered to put the effort into making the journey but one of the curses of air travel means that anyone can get to an awful lot more remote places in the world with little effort. Uluru is no exception. You don’t even need to fly to Alice Springs, saving a 450km drive to Uluru as you can simply fly to an airport that sits just twenty minutes drive from one of the must cultural and iconic sites on the planet. With this comes a big resort full of luxury hotels and with this comes the hoards of arrogant, ignorant and soulless hoards of tourists. Still, that didn’t stop us cooling off in one of their swimming pools! After lunch Nathan took us for a drive around Uluru and to visit the cultural centre to learn about the Aboriginal Dreamtime and their interpretation of the world around us. A short walk around the base of the rock followed before heading to a lookout point where we could capture some iconic photos during sunset with a few cans of beer and a BBQ. Uluru is one of those places that feel so familiar yet a picture is incomparable to the real thing. It is breathtaking and is made so by the vastness that surrounds it. The world’s biggest rock sticking up out of nowhere, it dominates the landscape and thus you have no option to stare at it. Up close the rock is as smooth as glass with channels carved all over it. It’s easy to forget that it does actually rain in the middle of Australia and when it does Uluru is transformed into one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the planet. This is a part of the world that demands respect, for tens of thousands of years it was respected by the Aborigines yet now we treat it as a cash cow making it ever more easier for the rich and lazy to come and erode her majesty. And so as the sun set upon a spectacular ancient wonder on the final night of an epic tour, we rolled out the swags, finished off the remaining beer from the night before, and drifted off to sleep under the stars in the controlled confines of the crowded and noisy Ayers Rock Resort.


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