Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gorges, gaps, valleys, canyons, chasms, big holes and a big red rock

Our first month on the road has concluded with a frenetic tour of the MacDonnell ranges (East and West of Alice Springs), down to Kings Canyon and then to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). We've found some beaut camping spots which we've had mostly to ourselves (apart of course from the wildlife). As an aside despite the birdlife on Dangar I don't think I'd ever really appreciated how beautiful magpie songs can be.

The MacDonnell ranges are essentially red sandstone mountains with stunning cut throughs from water erosion every 10-15kms (although each seems to have it's own elaborate aboriginal creation story attached to it). We've walked into almost all of the gorges, canyons etc. Some like Ellery Creek (left) have wonderful cool waterholes at the end. Most unfortunately however do not at the moment. With the shade temperature up around 40C most days we've now learned the hard way to try and get the walking done early or late each day or not at all. In one day we covered I think 7 gorges between 10am-5pm, walking conservatively around 15km (with me in the thongs I've had on since we left Sydney) on fairly stony dry creek beds. The outcome for me was pretty damaged heels - a bit like the SCG wicket on day 5 with plenty of room for Tony Greig to get the keys in - and a sunday slab of coopers green headache. Some moisturiser and utilisation of my walking shoes has thankfully fixed things up over the last week. There goes my no shoes challenge for the year.

The highlights really for me apart from the beauty of the surrounds have been the wonderful bush campsites we've found or been tipped off about and some of the people we've met. At Owen Springs we basically drove around 20kms on a roughish track past a ruined homestead and camped in a creek bed. This was the debut for our new mosquito dome tent which we picked up at Barbeques Galore Alice Springs for the knock down and incorrect price of $99. It worked a treat. There was also plenty of wood around in the creek bed so I was able to maintain a decent fire til almost midnight which was my latest night of the trip. Palm Springs was a similar distance off the bitumen south of Hermannsburg and was wonderfully quiet one night (with just a pair of adventurous poms Peter and Tracey for company) and very noisy the second night, but well worth it if you ever make it up this way. Being on a bit of a tourist trail now we've since caught up with Peter & Tracey at Kings Canyon and now also at Uluru. They've been great company and we'll both miss them when they make their way over to Cairns and we turn back south for the Flinders.

On the way to Palm Valley we stopped at Gosse Bluff, site of a meteorite explosion around 140m years ago. This picture is taken from a nearby lookout. It was absolutely stunning and I'm looking forward to taking in some more over our trip (including Henbury which we'll be at tomorrow). The aboriginal story about it's creation involved ladies dancing across the milky way and knocking over a baby in it's carriage which fell to earth causing the crater - which is pretty close to the mark.

The rim walk at Kings Canyon was a real treat. We started around 7am and finished around 9.30am before it got too hot. The walk climbed steeply up out of the valley and we basically walked along the top of the Canyon walls which had bungle bungle like sandstone domes all over them and in places ripples in the flat section floors from the dunes which were originally crushed by the inland sea to form the sandstone.

Yulara is a much nicer resort than Kings Canyon resort which is just as well as it has an effective monopoly in serving tourists wishing to see Uluru at sunset or sunrise. While certainly not cheap relative to most of our stays (beer is extortionate) the facilities are good and we've been able to relax by a pool during the hot parts of the day. Our first attempt to see Uluru at sunset was foiled by a storm coming in - lightning and rain with a windstorm - pretty exciting as we'd already decided to sleep in the truck rather than on top of it so we could make an early start in the morning.

Last night was more successful and today we got up at 4.30 to see the sun rise and walk around the base.

We have now travelled something like 6,400kms (which on our general 1:1,000,000 scale map means we've travelled 6.4m of map). The most we've paid for diesel so far is $2.22 at Mount Dare (in hindsight fairly reasonable as it is South Australia's most remote pub). Generally though it's been under $2.00 which at our 8km/l works out around 25c/km. What has been of more concern has been the extortionate price of beer in NT in particular. Generally we've been able to pick up mid strength XXXX Gold for about $35/case but lately the going rate has been $62/case. Perhaps we could redirect FuelWatch efforts to a BeerWatch initiative? Here at Yulara you can only buy 6 take out bottles per day at a ridiculous $5.60 per bottle. $67 for 12 bottles is a national disgrace, although I did get RBTd coming back from the Uluru sunset last night and would have been a lot closer to the 0.05 if we weren't on such a tight budget.

We farewell Uluru and au revoir Peter and Tracey tomorrow and it's back off the beaten track - a fairly round about way down south to the Flinders via the Painted Desert (more gibber I expect), a big night at the awesome William Creek hotel, and hopefully avoiding another visit to Adam at the Pink Roadhouse (as we've ascertained now that ARB have misfitted the back step so it's impossible to get to our second spare from under the vehicle without some major work - something they'll have to sort at Christmas but leaves us a little bit exposed in the meantime). Love to all and if you want to just see pictures rather than read my crap I've put a load on facebook.

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