Team VA's Wonderings

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Boom, Shake, Shake the Room

So we're on our way to the red centre; today's mostly a travel day before tomorrow's hike up Wilpena Pound. Boom (bossman for the next week) says it'll be harder than Cradle Mountain as it's a lot hotter here than in Tasmania. In fact it feels hotter every time we stop and get out of the bus, though we've a long way to go to the 50 odd degrees of Perth. We may well top that-Boom was in Alice yesterday and it was 60! That's at the top end of my thermometer, past the line marked 'hot as fuck'.

Every bus has its own approach to getting the group to do their introductions. Amongst other things, Boom got everyone to say their favourite colour, famous person they'd like to meet, shoe size and first/last kiss. I seem to be on a bus with a load of people, who like blue, couldn't give a rats about celebrities and haven't done much kissing lately-a promising start then. Bizarrely, the shoe size provided the most entertainment. Swiss guy (not got all the names yet) proudly proclaimed his size 12 feet, confident his feet were the biggest. When the French guy joked in his intro that his feet were the biggest-size 42, the Swiss interrupts him shouting 'no, no, mine are 45 that way.' He went on and on-I never realised it was so important to some folk; my feet are big enough to stop me falling over and that's enough for me.

Yesterday's wine tour began at the Big Rocking Horse

The rocking horse was a fully equipped tourist site-it had postcards, t-shirts, magnets, a book on Big Things and signposts telling you how far you are from London, Paris, New York et al. It said we were 1350km from Alice, so both John and I took this to mean there was no way we'd be doing the advertised 2,800km. When we checked with Boom, it turned out we were right-it's a 3,500km trip. In 8 days.

After rocking we got tasting; I met some lovely American twins, who'd been to a whole heap of big things-one day I'll have to do a Big Thing tour. We did 4 tastings (including the rather-bland-for-my-taste Jacob's Creek). We'd done 3 by Lunch and predictably it was only the English who felt the need to supplement the wine intake: John and I shared a bottle, as did a quality couple from Surrey (he could easily have been the brother of Sean's mate Rich and I know no higher praise). In the evening we managed a few more drinks with the twins and Surrey's finest before I managed a Chinese and bed.

We're heading into flooding conditions-Boom can't see the mountains, so knows 'it's absolutely pissing it down' up ahead. In fact we've already had word one of the roads we need has washed away! When that happened a few weeks ago a possee of tourists got stuck for 5 days. We're hoping it'll be fixed by the time we get there.

The road was in one piece and we rolled into our first campsite. I got some pretty heavy deja vu from events in Lambert's Bay nearly 4 months ago. This time I wasn't involved in the scramble to buddy up for tents; John and I were pretty cosy-tents nabbed off the African military are a lot roomier and more robust. It'll be swags before long. Continuing the theme of African echoes, we had visitors at dinner

I'm still loving the Roos, and we also came across a rogue Emu on an evening stroll

We had a reasonably early start this morning, although I'd have preferred earlier as we were hiking up Wilpena Pound and it was plenty hot and sweaty.

Although you can get views as good without getting half dead, you can't feel as smug in the photos.

After the rough and steep descent, everyone felt we'd earned our barbecue lunch. For once. Later, in an all but deserted mine town, Boom set up a photo of classic Aussie humour.

On the way to tonight's stop we passed the extraordinary Great Wall of China

No tourist gimmick this, just a freaky natural formation.

John, Ben, Asumi and I took the option of a morning bike ride. I'd agreed to this the previous evening, or perhaps it was the wine that signed up. I was sold a half hour downhill joyride; I got 10km of rocky, undulating, creek crossed mountain biking in a lot of sun, pursued by flies on a bike with a flat tire. My water bottle fell off on the second descent. We felt abandoned at the pick up point, where we waited with no supplies or shade (but plenty of flies) for over an hour-the bus misbehaved after we took off. Naturally, it was bloody marvellous; hitting the creeks at top speed provided a most welcome cooling shower, but may force the retirement of another t-shirt.

The sights are often spread out and quite curious when you get there; cheesey to say, but much of the experience is in the getting there. We've been using some of the traditional tracks like Oodnadatta and Strzelecki, now dirt roads. The variety in the nothingness we're traversing is striking; we've seen quite a lot of green, due to recent rain, but rest assured it is overwhelmingly harsh, arid, hot and full of flies.

Hiking down to Lake Eyre had looked straightforward, but the terrain and strength of the sun made it sapping. The lake is saline and below sea level; once 1/6th of Australia was an inland sea, Lake Eyre is part of what remains. Despite the hike we saw no water; the white surface was a salty crust, which broke easily underfoot to reveal a sticky mud underneath. I broke a lot and became well acquainted with the mud, when the wind blew off my hat and I gave chase. The crust and consistency bore some similarity to a Tim Freeman fruit cake.

I have no photo of the day's best stop-a waterhole 5 feet deep and just big enough for 16 people to stand in. Beautiful after another scorchio day.

We spent the night at William Creek, since it's meant to be the fly capital, we adjourned to the pub until the flies' bedtime and then Boom rustled up a top curry, using the barbecue. Nice.

This was my first night in a swag. A swag's basically a big bag that goes over your sleeping bag, with a built in mattress; you chuck it on the floor and sleep under the stars, making sure you've left nothing lying around for the dingoes to take-they had Boom's boots last week. Rather than looking at the time when you wake up in the night, you look at the stars, think 'that's nice' and roll over and go back to sleep. I may have to get one-ace for a dry Glasto. As I was chatting with Ben, the most massive shooting star flew over-Boom was impressed, confirming it was the daddy.

When the second fly landed on me before dawn, I decided to get out of bed. Not before time; by the time I reached the showers I had about a hundred new friends. The flies are renowned and I think need to be experienced to be fully understood. They go for eyes, ears and nostrils; you almost have to admire persistence and their aggression. The longer you're in one place, the more their numbers grow; I think they have the power to drive you stark staring bonkers. The most common expression at the moment seems to be 'fucking flies'. After Angorichina the previous day, nearly everyone had bought fly nets to hang over their hats, so it was like a bee keeping convention before we set off. No breakfast was offerred, none was requested! You'd only have been eating flies (I'd had a couple on the bike ride).

Aside from the flies and the rock, the outback is arguably best known for being hot and vast. Here's a random selection of attempts to give that some context: we drove across a cattle station (population 5 people, 17,000 cows) that is the size of Belgium; coming out of a bottle shop in Coober Pedy, a hairy biker remarked to John and me that 'it's dropped back to 47'; it takes 5 and a half hours to drive from Alice to the rock.

Today we go to the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, where it's so hot they live underground. I've taken on navigating duties this meant sitting up front next to Boom and saying turn left. Once. The road network isn't too extensive; there's not a lot out here.

Coober Pedy is unusual: 70% of the 3,500 inhabitants live underground. Mining is banned in town for safety reasons, but house extensions circumvent the mining ban. There's a 42 room house and someone's got an underground squash court! All paid for by the opal found when digging new rooms.

We visited a mine and a house and stayed in an underground bunkhouse. Here's the church

They also have Big Things (see SBYS) and the surrounding area is like the moon.

After a fine pizza dinner, I had a very narrow escape at Karaoke last night-I foolishly told Catherine she looked like she could sing (being German, she said it was foolish to judge someone's singing ability by their looks). Anyway, 20 mins later, with no one from our table singing, she starts badgering me to do a duet. To no avail, I used all my standard singing avoidance counter measures-it's not fair on the dogs, people will cut their ears off, I'm much worse than the muppet who just murdered Without You. Wave after wave of request came my way, I couldn't deflect her onto any of the others and then she used her nuclear option-'come on John, you seem a fun guy'. She had challenged my honour; the very standing of the good name of John rested with me

Beaten, bloodied and incredulous, I said I'd do it. Adams thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, due to an administrative bungle/Catherine getting tired, we were never got called up; although we did make it on stage when someone else got called. The good news is that Build me up Buttercup was not defiled as it surely would have been.

Earlier, I'd had a go on the Pokies. Pokies are everywhere-one horse towns have at least 3 establishments boasting pokies; tiny pubs have a separate room for pokies. Aussies love to gamble and pokies are a poker fruit machine. Sort of. I had a dollar's worth and was thoroughly bored, despite a few hours drinking. It had been John's idea, but watching me for a bit put him off. It was so bad, I thought I must have done it wrong-I know that people in great numbers watch Eastenders, listen to Take That, read the Daily Mail and think the Godfather isn't a shit film, but surely nothing this bad could attract so many folk. So I said to Boom-'I pressed the button; when I lost I pressed it again; when I won, I could gamble by guessing if a random card would be red or black'. 'Yeah mate, that's it'. No skill, no real decision making. The Pollster verdict? Pokies=pony.

Today was a dawn start for the 800km haul to Uluru. On the road it struck me how much context influences meaning: although I don't own it, I've heard the Eagles Hotel California many, many times. This morning it had a new meaning, for we were actually 'On a dark desert highway'.

As we entered the Northern Territory it was time to cross another state line-when I reach Cairns I'll have visited all 6 states and both territories.

Bastard, I'm sure I'd turned that one round.

As I balanced on the state line, I raised an interesting constitutional question-where am I? South Australia, Northern Territory, both, neither? Those with a keen sense of history will see my t-shirt and realise that Jimmy White is going to Uluru today, which he won't be climbing. Interesting fact-the earth is red due to the iron in it.

I may well have to do some work on the tan-my zebra feet and builder's tan keeps reducing Catherine to hysterics.

The Rock

So to Uluru, home of the Ayers Rock Resort, as the septic owned 5 star gaff still calls itself. We're swagging at the campsite.

I don't think it's possible to approach Uluru fresh and without preconceptions. It's the Mona Lisa, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids-familiar and iconic. A symbol of a place, a country; a brand used to sell all manner of goods (though interestingly, I saw little evidence of this in the National Park-despite the crowds, it is left to speak for itself).

I'd spoken to too many people, who'd seen it to look on it with a clear mind, especially as only one had been unaffected by it. I was a little concerned it might leave me cold. As I partly felt it was a test of the soul, this was a striking thought.

I imagined some people must look on it and say 'It's a big rock, so what'. It IS a big rock-nearly 10km round, over 350m above the plain and a whopping 6km below the ground. It's the mother of all monoliths.

Two words-mesmerising and varied. As with many things on this trip, I could happily sit and stare at Uluru all day. This didn't surprise me, but the rock's variety did: smooth sides, caves, huge eroded images, cave paintings, the paths of the waterfalls (only furnished with water during and immediately after rain) and waterholes.
Part of your personal reaction to Uluru comes from what you see in the erosion-animals, faces, shapes.

You need to turn your screen 90 degrees again I'm afraid.

We would be honoured if you would join us, Lord Vader.

We had 2 sunrises and 2 sunsets. John and I made it a hat trick of rather cloudy sunsets, but Uluru stil looked wonderful

Although Kata Tjuta in the opposite direction stole the sunset honours.


Team photo

For strange and complex political reasons, one is still allowed to climb the rock. Inexplicably, I saw that shedloads of people still are-I'm pretty sure there were significantly more climbers than people doing the 9km perimeter walk I did. There can be only two explanations: inexplicable ignorance or arrogant disdain for the culture you're supposed to be visiting. Boom's been to the rock over 200 times. He's never climbed, blaming the Americans and Japanese as the main offenders. He showed me a spot, very near the bottom, where someone had fallen, caved in their skull and died. Painfully. I've got to say I'd no sympathy and loudly observed 'I hope they all fall off'. Near my folks at Woburn, they have a sign saying 'X deer killed so far this year. Y deer killed last year'. This is to slow motorists down as they drive through the park where the deer live; I think it could be adapted at Uluru.

It's getting on my tits too, can only apologise. 'Oi. Google. Sort it'

No one from our group climbed; although when I saw the number of climbers, I went into a loud extended rant (12 inch version), so they may just have been scared.

The second sunset was a bit of disappointment due to the cloud, but some general arsing around made up for it. We had to wave our ticket at the gate of the National Park to get back in, DJ timed this beautifully so that we did this just as Outkast were imploring us to 'shake it like a polaroid picture'. The return journey was enlivened by some mighty fine bus dancing.

The following morning Kata Tjuta had the best sunrise, sitting to our left with the rock in front. You'll have to take my word for it as I had no camera, after both my batteries went flat in no time. Despite being very close to Uluru, Kata sees significantly less visitors. It is actually a more sacred place-there areas you can't see at all (at Uluru, there's a ban on taking photos at the sacred sites). The local tribe don't even reveal the stories about the place, again in contrast to Uluru. The walk today was a lot tougher, with some scrambling climbs that needed boots rather than thongs. It was definitely worth it as we explored amongst the domes-no climbing at all allowed here and massive fines for violations, including picking plants. I wouldn't wish to pick a favourite, I found both places deeply affecting.

By the end of the day, we were cooking with gas.

The hat trick of 5 a.m. alarm calls was duly completed with Boom on digerido, the last 2 days had been 'Good Morning Vietnam'. We moved on to the majestic King's Canyon to complete the hat trick of big walks. This was where I discovered Asumi was also a tiger.

A last lunch and swim preceded journey's end

Out to party tonight, with no 5 a.m. Alarm call I dread to think what could happen.

Suffice it to say that last night was boozy, late and significantly improved the group's kissing record. Off to the airport for Cairns in half an hour, which for some reason reminds me of the strangest thing of the past week. A text from Espen to say he's coming to Australia and we meet up. Espen in Australia-sounds like a bad movie.

Oh and congratulations Jamie and Kate.


  • We were very lucky with flies and sunsets when we were in the centre (i.e. very few and some stunners), but I can confirm that it is bloody big, bloody hot and bloody amazing.

    What a stunning country. The hatrick of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King's Canyon blew me away, but so did the long drives through the nothing. Did you go up the unsealed road between the rock and king's canyon ? (the merengi loop or something) past Gosse Bluff and waving at all the wild Walers?

    Just stunning. I like your comment about soul. It's surely impossible not to visit these places and feel it stirring. Climb the rock? Not a bloody chance. Did they tell you about the ritual the locals have to do when someone dies there? It involves hitting themselves with rocks and spilling their own blood. You'd have to be an arsehole to climb it after that, but sadly there seem to be a lot of them about.

    I'm leaving for Ecuador tomorrow, and I'm still jealous.

    Look forward to seeing all the photos.


    By Blogger swisslet, at 9:22 AM  

  • We had a bus problem so missed that track but did some off road to Coober Pedy; also didn't hear about the aboriginees flagellating themselves with a stone-it just gets worse.

    I'm looking forward to Ecuador!

    By Blogger Poll Star, at 11:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home