Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Penultimate Perambulations

After the varied attractions of Alice a day's drive south saw us settling for the night in a roadside free camping area before continuing on and then heading west to Kings Creek Station en route to the eponymous Canyon. 800,000 acres of barren land are used to raise cattle and camels although the accommodation now provided to travellers is the more lucrative enterprise. Friendly staff welcomed us and a Canadian guy on a quad took a lot of trouble to find us a quiet pitch in the thoughtfully laid out and spacious camp area. We walked up at sunset to watch the camels collect at a waterhole and enjoyed a peaceful night with hook up courtesy of the station generator.

King's Canyon was a geological marvel and was enjoyed over a four hour walk which enabled us to see its finer features from both close up and across the dramatic chasm.

We lingered an extra day to enjoy the surroundings before another journey through the arid but far from barren landscape brought us to Yulara the central settlement for visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta - known to most as Ayers Rock and the Olgas.

The camping was not as busy as we had expected and we decided to delay our entry in to the Park itself to get the full benefit of the 3 day ticket validity so walked in to the resort to nose at the accommodation, shops and galleries - amazing to think that all this relates solely to the existence of a large rock.

Our first proper views were under a cloudy sky which failed to reveal the true splendour of the monolith so we decided to visit the cultural centre during which time the winter sun broke through. A walk up to the Mutitjulu waterhole gave us a chance to experience the rock itself close up and the perimeter road took us round to the starting point for the ascent. I decided to tackle the steep climb as it may be closed indefinitely in the future and arrived with bursting lungs on the rolling summit rocks to eventually arrive at a plaque giving distances to the various mountains visible way out on the horizons - I felt that seeing the land laid out below in such an awe inspiring way justified the climb as it really hammered home the generations of skill and knowledge required by indigenous people to live in such a harsh landscape.

The Olgas are an equally fascinating feature with 36 large domes (once thought to comprise a monolith 10 times larger then present day Uluru) providing more unforgettable views, two good walks and a photographer's dream.

The chance to watch Uluru change colour and character as the sun set provided the perfect ending to a remarkable few weeks in the Red Centre which we have found far more diverse and captivating than we had expected - whilst it must be challenging in the heat of summer the almost endless blue skies, warm days and comfortably cold nights of winter have suited us well.

The SA border is a few hours drive away after which Coober Pedy beckons and then we turn west once more to complete the final chapter of what has been a wonderful trip.

Photos of this remarkable area lie here and our locations here - the recent glitch may have been down to user error although I am not fully convinced.

Slides top right look back at our first visit to Perth

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

East and West of Alice

After the spectacle of the camel races we headed in to the East Macdonnell Ranges which stretch seemingly for ever towards Queensland. Trephina Gorge provided good bush camping from which to enjoy excellent walks in the area with the long Ridge walk a particular favourite.

Arltunga further on was a short lived gold town where the extremes of climate and its isolation made the extraction of gold at a rate of 1oz per ton seem a particularly poor return. The lonely graves, abandoned buildings and harsh landscape made for a thought provoking visit with even today the rough access track making it a bit of an epic to get there.

Back in Alice an unusual spell of cloudy grey weather with some light rain put Ozzie campers in to the camp site chalets and cabins whilst we enjoyed the Ghan and Road Transport Museums.

The West Macdonnell Ranges provided a number of highlights with deep chasms and gorges scything through the dramatic ridges. Serpentine and Ormiston Gorges were particularly good and at Red Bank Gorge we found excellent bush camping at the Woodlands. From here with the weather back to sunny days and clear chilly nights we climbed Mt. Sonders in perfect conditions to enjoy the dramatic desert landscape spread out below us.

Back towards Alice the bush camping at Serpentine Chalet provided three memorably starry nights with solar showers, meals cooked on a fire and a good walk to Counts Point for some of the best views we have seen in the area across rocky ranges, dry desert valleys and endless red plains.

Returning to Alice we visited the impressive Desert Park conservation project which imaginatively described and displayed many of the habitats and creatures we have seen over the last couple of weeks.

We now head south to rather more touristy attractions and have attended to a few of the tasks related to our return home in little over a month.

Some pictures lie here and SPOT locations here - although a temporary glitch has meant that some check ins have not been transmitted, watch this space.

Slides are from NSW and the Alps late last year.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Red Centre

Following our long loop out to the coast we headed south through Tennants Creek towards Alice Springs. The Devil's Marbles provided an interesting break before we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived in the town of Alice Springs. With a population of around 30,000 it provides a central services hub for a vast area of the outback and also acts as a Flying Doctor base and the centre for the School of the Air which provides education to the 120 children spread across 1.2m square kilometres that cannot access conventional schooling.
The logistics facing these two facilities really brought home to us the reality of living in central Australia. More locally the problems faced or self inflicted by indigenous people were reflected by the large numbers hanging listlessly around town and the large amount of alcohol related debris strewn across the parks, Todd river bed and other public spaces. Civic and tribal leaders face a huge task in bridging the gulf between the two Australia's and recently introduced curbs on the sale of booze may be the start of a better future.
The old gaol housed the informative Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame in buildings used until recent times for their original purpose and down at the station the famous Ghan was in town for the day breaking its multi day journey from Darwin to Adelaide.
We enjoyed using the bikes to get around and celebrated Sarah's birthday with a meal out and some light retail therapy leaving the van to rest at the quiet campsite which one evening provided an excellent slideshow by a local expert on the flora and fauna of the area's various habitats.
We return to Alice in a couple of days after heading in to the McDonnell Ranges - the days are still warm but night time temepratures fall to around zero which suits us fine!

Pictorial highlights here and positions here

Back to NZ and the top of South Island for the slideshow

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Kakadu Done - Alice Next

The Kakadu National Park provided a few days of memorable walking in hot sunshine and very warm nights mostly in basic bush campsites. At Cahill's Crossing the road led in to Arnhemland a vast (91,000 square kilometre) Aboriginal reserve that extends out to the coast with some 12,000 people carrying on a largely traditional lifestyle. We enjoyed the rock paintings nearby at Ubirr and further on at Nourlangie - the latter incorporated in to a long walk through remarkable sandstone formations.

Returning to Katherine for Territory Day gave us an evening of fireworks and a chance to restock before the long drive south through the Red Centre.

The Daly Waters pub provided a memorable stop over with a T-shirt donated to their multinational display : the now disused aerodrome used to provide refuelling facilities for Qantas flights to Singapore. We headed east out to Cape Crawford on a virtually deserted road eventually reaching the King Bay Fishing Club camp site which amazingly had several hundred campers in residence mostly intent on catching the famous barramundi from the maze of waterways that led out to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Back at Cape Crawford the even more deserted Tablelands Highway took us over 240 miles south with not a sign of habitation as we passed through a dry flat landscape most notable for a wide variety of birds. An hour was spent helping a couple with a live in bus suffering from water in the tank after a river crossing after which we joined them in a roadside rest area for the evening for a drink and a yarn.

The Barkly Highway returned us to the Stuart Highway where we are now spending the night in Tennants Creek after visiting the excellent museum and mineral display. Perth is some 2500 miles away so we have a bit to do over the remaining six weeks and our list of pre home coming jobs grows daily - Alice beckons and should be much cooler which will be welcome.

The people we meet are very often the highlight of the day - many are also on long trips and are tuned in to our way of thinking with lots of helpful advice and friendly tips.

Photos and locations lie at these links and for slides its down to WA the first time round some 12000 miles but only 3 months ago - the loop round has been a very long but enjoyable way.