Friday, 18 July 2008

The Red Centre

Crossing the border into the Northern Territory we had to adjust our watches by one and a half hours to the strangest time zone we have been to – now we are nine and a half hours ahead of GMT, and we have to remember to listen to the World Service news at half past the hour. Just before the end of our journey down the Tanami Road we again crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn, so are once again out of the tropics. The night time temperatures have fallen dramatically to suit – the other night it was 0.2ºC, so at least it wasn’t freezing. The weather reports on the radio seem to constantly remind us that the temperature in Darwin is double that around Alice Springs.

Our visit to Alice Springs just happened to coincide with the annual “Camel Cup” held in town. It started a few years back when two locals raced camels down the dry riverbed in the middle of town and has carried on ever since as a local fundraiser. It seems that it has become quite popular, and people come from all over Australia to see it. We could see people looking at our Land Rover with the big Camel Trophy stickers on the doors, and a couple of our neighbours at the campsite even came over and asked if we were involved in the racing – they all looked a bit disappointed when we told them we weren’t. We didn’t end up going to the races, but by all accounts it was a great day, except for the rider who fell off and broke her leg. It’s a long way down…

We only spent just over 24 hours in Alice Springs, but there were busy hours. As Catkin mentioned we headed into Repco to see about our punctured shock absorber, and that took a while to get nowhere. We also stocked up on groceries, filled up with diesel, caught up on emails, picked up a parcel from the UK that had arrived at the Post Office that very day, spent a couple of hours on Skype talking to family in New York, New Zealand and England and even had time to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service headquarters. With all that done we made our way out of town into the West MacDonnell National Park and found a spot to camp. This park has lots of scenic water holes and gorges to visit, plus loads of bush camping sites. We spent a couple of days making our way through the park.

At one water hole that we stopped at we started talking to an Australian couple who were on their way to Darwin to visit friends. They were regaling us with stories of the places they had visited so far, and insisted that we visit Ayers Rock. The lady got out her camera and started showing me all her photos, asking if we had even seen such red sand. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that actually we’ve seen loads of it, both here and in Africa, but just nodded and complimented her photography.

At Glen Helen Resort we purchased a permit (for $2.20) to allow us to travel around the Mereenie Loop to King’s Canyon. The road was another rough, corrugated gravel road, so again we had a nice slow afternoon, taking in all the scenery. We have noticed that four wheel drive is recommended for any gravel roads here – the only reason seems to be for the corrugations. No bush camping allowed around this area, so we had to fork out $27 for an unpowered campsite in a dust bowl. At least it was another chance for a shower and to do some laundry.

King’s Canyon was pretty spectacular, and we had a good look around on the 6km canyon rim walk, which, as you may have guessed, circumnavigates the rim of the canyon’s towering cliffs.

From there, we headed to Australia’s tourist mecca, Uluru or Ayers Rock. It’s really noticeable that the numbers of overseas tourists here is far greater than in other areas we have been. Road signs are shown in a number of languages, and there are big signs reminding you to drive on the left. This seemed a bit odd in the middle of the country (how did you get this far if you didn’t know to drive on the left?) but lots of people fly in and pick up their rental car here I suppose.

The town of Yulara was purpose-built as a resort to host visitors to Uluru. The visitor’s centre had a great display on the history of the area and the flora and fauna found locally. You are allowed to walk to the top of Uluru, although the indigenous people prefer it if you don’t.

Further along the road are the domes of Kata Tjuta, which are in themselves quite impressive. You could probably sit there and take photos all day.

The favourite times for viewing are by far sunrise and sunset, and big viewing areas have been built at both for these times. We were at Uluru for sunset, just as the almost-full moon was rising.

So, our whistle-stop tour of the Red Centre is all but complete, and now we turn our attention more directly eastward, and closer to our final destination. It sounds like we cannot take any fruit or vegetables across the border into South Australia, so we may have to camp out for a day our two on the way to consume all our oranges, potatoes and butternut pumpkin.