Tag Archives: Holiday

2011 Christmas Vacation – Day 8

Today is one of those rare days where I know I am going to scratch something off of my bucket list.  This trip has two such moments, and today’s excursion is the first.  Today I am going to visit Ayers Rock…or Uluru.  In my heart I am very excited.  Living 12 years away from Australia gave me an enormous appreciation of the place I am lucky enough to call home, and I think I have a greater spiritual connection to my homeland because of it.

I used to see images of places like Uluru and almost take for granted the fact that I lived here.  Seeing those images while living abroad removes the apathy, and fills you with a sense of pride.  So much so, that when you return, that love for your land and it’s gifts are even stronger.  It never interested me in the past, to visit a place so out of the way, to see a rock, it made no sense.  Today it does, and I have to admit that I am feeling a little emotional about the whole thing.

I hope I am not disappointed.

We pack the car up and pull out of Alice Springs at 10:30.  Actually about 30 minutes earlier than we really expected, and make good time heading south.  Why is it that I am the only one wanting to do the speed limit?  I’m not complaining, the road is in good shape and overtaking opportunities are endless, but it just feels odd to be the only one belting down the road at 130kph.

It has to be said that the NT has been nothing that I expected.  My vision was of a wide brown land, with dried spinifex, endless heat waves, and rolling red dunes.  We have been so lucky with recent rains, that we have probably witnessed the region in a beauty that is rarely seen.  Green grasses, and trees covered in vibrant green leaves.  Creeks and channels with water, and billabongs crying out with the calls of frogs.  Even the topography, with the rugged rocky outcrops and ranges are not what I expected to see.  It’s a stunning place, and one that you have to visit in your lifetime.

About 2 hours south of Alice Springs we turn off of the Stuart Highway and onto the Lassiter.  Named after a historical figure who was searching the outback for a legendary gold strike, the highway is the only way to get into the National Park.

About 140km out of Uluru we crest a hill to see a square top mountain in the distance, and like the rookie I am I announce “look kids, it’s Ayers Rock”.  It doesn’t take long to get a better view and see that the shape broadens at the base with an unfamiliar trapezoidal formation, and we realize that it is not Uluru, but it is in fact Mount Conner (well, the signs say it’s Mount Conner).  We decide not to stop at the lookout to get a photo…i’ll do that on the return trip tomorrow.

Onward we press toward the West, and we finally reach Uluru at about 2:30pm, and what a sight it is.  I feel a sense of definite reverence…a profound spiritual perception that is both humbling and inspiring.  Interestingly enough, the Anangu (Aboriginal people who are the caretakers of the area) have signs posted explaining that their mandate is to “teach” the way to behave, and to share the stories of their history, and it’s connection to the lands and it’s co-inhabitants, and all of this seems to make sense.  They rely on you respecting the Rock as a being, and you just get a sense of not wanting to let them down.  You don’t see any signs telling you what to do, or what not to do, other than those placed by the government (speeding, no standing, etc).  Instead there are requests with explanations.  It’s an unusual concept that opens up a debate amongst ourselves.

It is almost poetic that Midnight Oil is playing as we enter the Park.  I had loaded about 2000 songs and they were on random, so it wasn’t a planned selection of Artist.  We decide to turn back around and check into the Caravan Park, before we explore deeper.  It’s a good plan to get unpacked and eat a lunch, then we can take the rest of the afternoon to experience the place uninterrupted.

After an uneventful lunch, we return to the National Park and pull over at the Sunset Viewing Parking area to take in our first view outside of a moving vehicle, and to get some photographs.  The car park is empty except for an older Toyota Hilux (with Victorian license plates), parked across the parking bays, with 2 men taking photo’s.  Their chat amongst themselves marks them as German, and I am immediately irritated by them for some reason.  Maybe their mannerisms, certainly for the way they have just abandoned their car.

Uluru / Ayers Rock

We press on to the cultural centre and spend a good hour and half learning about the area and it’s significance to the indigenous locals.  They have really taken an active role in managing the Park, and their involvement is a breath of fresh air after experiencing the issues in Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.  The cultural centre is really well laid out, and the art work and stories beautifully done.  The Aboriginals seem to have a palpable relationship with the land and it’s flora and fauna that is intertwined with their own sense of being, and a modern lifestyle is at odds with that relationship.  We see these things as resources to use to our own ends, while they see them as puzzle pieces that complete a whole picture, a picture that needs to be complete or it means a calamitous ecological shift that results in a sickness for all of the inhabitants.

The visitors centre also has some great information on the various animals and plant life found in the area, and videos and story boards on what each of these means to the lives of the Aboriginals who lived off of the land for tens of thousands of years.  All the while there are lessons of respect.

Of course the cente has a gift shop, as well as a nice Art Gallery, selling beautiful pieces painted and sculpted by locals.  We buy a few things from the souvenir shop, and head back to the car to explore the Rock proper.

Along the road there are several places that offer stunning views of Uluru close up, showing it’s blemishes and faultlines that are smoothed away by the distance of an all encompassing view.  Many of these features are central to various stories told about the earliest arrivals of Aboriginals to the area.  A horizontal slash here is is the result of an angry tail swish by a mother python in her battles against the poison snakes, while holes dotted along the rock are spear marks from another ancient battle.

Life clings to the rock, creating an Oasis in the desert

We pull over at one particular sight and see along the rock face that a person is about 1/3 of the way up the rock, despite it being closed to climbing.  I take several photos of the view, and a Park Ranger drives by and notices the scene.  He pulls over and commences to take some of his own pictures.  My pictures are called memories, his, it seems, are called evidence.  It’s a $5,500 fine to climb the rock (we find out later) and he may have just paid his wages for the next few weeks.  As we pull out I recognize the familiar Hilux from the parking lot, and only one of the occupants sitting in the ute.  It looks as though one of my German friends is going to contribute more money to the local economy than he anticipated.  I drive off with a smug sense of satisfaction.

Idiot German climbing Uluru

We approach the area that is typically used as the launch for the climb up the rock.  Being the summer season, the walk is closed for safety reasons.  38 people have died climbing the rock, and I guess the Government does not want many more.  From that parking lot we take a stroll north along the western face.  The micro climates are amazing, with small fissures and caves opening up to isolated oasis in the shadow of the rock itself.  Some of the areas have specific significance as sacred sites for secret men’s business, while others are areas traditionally used by the women.  For some reason, it is only the men’s areas that are off limits to photography.   Most of the caves are decorated with aboriginal paintings, and the caves used as traditional class rooms are particularly covered.

Wave formation in the rock at Uluru / Ayers Rock

Aboriginal paintings in cave at Uluru / Ayers Rock

Bailey feels the energy from Uluru / Ayers Rock

After walking for about an hour, the track ends at a beautiful water hole that holds water all year round.  Only during times of severe drought does the waterhole run dry, but with recent rains it is full and teaming with life.  The clear cool water is very inviting in the afternoon heat, but the waterhole is off limits unfortunately.  The presence of reliable water as turned this corner into a small oasis, and the tree canopy provides a very nice shelter from the heat around us.  After enjoying it for about 20 minutes, we head back to the car.  On the way back I partake in a little bush tucker, pulling a few small plums from a shrub.  They are sweet, with a bitter after taste, and something the boys definitely don’t appreciate.  At least they tried them, I guess.

Beautiful oasis at Uluru / Ayers Rock

We drive all around the park to the south western corner, and visit another perennial waterhole.  This one gets more sun exposure, and is a bit more open to the elements, but the sound of the water trickling off of the rock provides a serene soundtrack to a spiritual place.

Another tranquil oasis at Uluru / Ayers Rock

With the sun starting it’s final descent to the western horizon, I hurry back to the car to get a nice spot at the viewing area, and off we race…only to find we are beaten by about 200 other cars!  I find a really nice spot with a tree in the near foreground to provide some nice composition, and we watch the sun set over Ayers Rock…truly a magnificent sight, and one I am hoping I did justice with the photographs.

The sun sets on Uluru / Ayers Rock

We follow a convoy back to the accommodation, and spend the rest of the evening just relaxing, knowing tomorrow we leave the Northern Territory behind us.

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2011 Christmas Vacation – Day 7

Day 7 is our last full day in Alice Springs, and the plan is to re-supply for the next major driving stint, and to explore the downtown a bit.  Ok, it really doesn’t take too long to explore downtown Alice Springs, but I will try to make it sound interesting.

The day begins with another visit to the Ford Dealer at 7:30 in the morning.  Just where I wanted to spend a couple of hours.  Apparently Ford wants them to change the fuel filter in case there is some crap built up in there.  Two hours of waiting patiently in the dealership and they are none the wiser.  Oh well, the check engine light hasn’t returned, and lord willing (and the creek don’t rise), we’ll not see that issue ever again.

I drive back to the house, and decide to whip up a big breakfast.  Just to be different, I fry up a few “Camel and Date” sausages.  I’ve never eaten Camel before, so I was excited to give it a try.  It was gamier than I expected, but the combination of Dates with the gamey flavour worked well.  For my taste, it was a little sweet, but they were really good sausages.  I’d certainly eat them again, though maybe next time I’ll spring for a Camel steak.

After catching up on some work emails, we head downtown for a nice stroll and a spending spree at the grocery store.

Given our next journey is to Uluru, we needed to find some hats.  Jeri and I forgot to bring ours (actually, I lost mine in an unfortunate boat sinking 18 months ago, but the scars are still to raw to elaborate on that little episode), so the hunt was on.  And what a hunt it was.  Jeri and I both suffer from a genetic condition called Biggus Headus.  It turns out that One Size Fits All certainly does not “Fit All”.  We must have walked into a dozen stores that sell hats of one kind or another.  The search was so taxing, we had to stop for a beer along the way at one of the downtown cafes.

Side note:  Coopers is a popular option in the NT.  I guess with South Aus just down the track, it makes sense.  In Queensland you cannot find a decent beer on tap in most places.  Ale?  Whats that?  It’s a nice change to actually want to go into a pub for a drink.  Coopers makes the best mass produced beers in this country, in my opinion.  Anyhow…

We walk into a Safari Souvenir place, and it has a big sale on, given we are now in the off season.  I guess people just don’t want to travel to the Alice in the middle of Summer.  Pussies.  Jeri and I both find a couple of really nice hats, kangaroo leather, and walk out comforted by the fact that we have potentially avoided a heatstroke fatality in the future.  Yay for us.

Narrowly avoiding a parking fine for over extending our 3 hour limit in the grocery parking lot, an infraction vigorously enforced by a crack team of Council Parking Officers…come to think of it, Alice Springs has a lot of Crack Council Teams.  I saw one team proudly protecting a public toilet, and extracting a 50 cent toll from all who wanted to enjoy the facilities therein…but I digress.  Jeri and I head back to the house and start the sorting and packing for the trip in the morning.

As night falls, the two families (Crumps and Hills) head off to a restaurant that Cousin Andy has been wanting to try (Monte’s).  Apparently the owners are known to both Andy and Andrea, and Andy has helped him with some shipping of large props in the past (namely an 8′ Nutcracker, and a life-sized rocking horse…if by life-sized you mean the size of a large Shetland Pony).  Look for my food review for Monte’s shortly.  The meal was really good, and thanks to Andy and Andrea for picking up the bill…it really was not necessary.

Back at the house, I end the evening spending about 3 hours trying to load up the Touchpad with some music to stream to the car stereo…tomorrow is going to be epic.

2011 Christmas Vacation – Day 6

Another beautiful day in Alice Springs and I’m up early to get the car off the Ford Dealer to have the error codes looked at (remember the check engine light?).

It seems as though the Sheep statues have been up to some shennanigans overnight.  Not much to do in Alice it seems, even the lawn ornaments try to spice life up.

Sheep shennanigans

Even the lawn ornaments are looking to spice things up

I spend the morning driving around with Cousin Andy in his big Western Star Prime Mover, delivering some of the precious commodities that keeps Alice Springs going.  Biggest delivery was to the Carlton United Brewery distributor.  I know security has always been important to beer distribution points, my Railroad experience has taught me that, but this place was like Shawshank.  I was truly surprised when Morgan Freeman failed to appear.  Snipers on guard towers might have been appropriate, but could also have been just a tad overkill.

After a couple of hours running errands and deliveries, Andrea (Andy’s better half) and I hit the local shopping centre for lunch and groceries for tonight’s dinner (Taco’s, fyi).  While enjoying lunch, we come across happy singing girl again.  Who’d have thunk it!  I grabbed some extra sushi for Jeri, including a central Australian sushi fusion…Kangaroo Sushi.  Interesting concept.

The Ford dealer calls, and Andrea drops me off to grab the Territory.  They’re stumped, and have run all sorts of tests, but the error codes clear and do not return.  They can’t find the problem (of course) and ask me to come back if the Check Engine light reappears (of course).

I fuel up with diesel, and head back to the house.  On the way into town, we come across an accident scene where some cyclist has been hit by a car…I’m assuming that is what happened, as we see a cyclist being supported on the centre median strip, and his bike lying on the street with the front wheel all mangled.  Hopefully he’s ok.   Alice Springs is not a town to be struck by a car.  I’d say big 4×4’s outnumber cars 3 to 1 here, and the bull bar is an unforgiving adversary.

Jeri and I bundle the boys up, and decide to drive to a couple of spots around Alice to break up the day, and be able to say we looked around a bit.

We drove to Emily’s Gap, which is about 10k out of town.  It marks a spot where a dried river bed is carved through the surrounding range.  The landscape is spectacular, and like most beautiful locations, it is of some cultural significance to the Aboriginals.  It even has some paintings that depict various caterpillars (some how).

Aboriginal Paintings at Emily's Gap

Aboriginal Paintings at Emily's gap

You can see the layers of rock laid down hundreds of millions of years ago, and can just imagine the forces necessary to push the whole thing up from the former sea floor into a mountain range.  The fault lines run at about 45 degrees and provide the boys some great hand holds for a bit of rock climbing.  I swear these kids are part mountain goat.  If you look closely at the picture you can see the boys.

Garan and Bailey climbing on the rocks at Emily's Gap

After Emily’s Gap, we drive just down the road to Jessie’s Gap, and it’s more of the same.  Another set of paintings tell part of the story of the Emu.  The amazing thing for my mind is the trees clinging to a tough existence in the middle of the desert, finding root holds amongst the crags and crevices that gather whatever rare water falls.  Stunted eucalypts sprout along the cliff faces almost in spite of the harsh conditions.  If you are in the area, definitely visit these little viewed wonders along the Ross Highway.

Rock formations at Jessie's Gap.

After a hot afternoon walking around the rock formations, the kids decide that a dip in the pool is just the way to unwind.  They even do a passable impression of 2 brothers enjoying each others company!  Cannon balls and flips ensue, with the kids trying to replenish the water in desert using the water from the pool.

Garan and Bailey splashing around to cool off

As night falls, we enjoy a nice dinner of Taco’s, courtesy of the chef (me), and finish the evening with a few drinks under the patio…or do we?

No we don’t, after our hosts go to bed, Jeri and I sneak off to the Casino for a bit of a look see.  We check out the Poker action, and see a single table open with about 5 players.  Buy-in is $100 to $200, with a $2.50/$5.00 blind, so we decide to give it a miss.  The blackjack table offers action with a $10 minimum bet, so we decide to pass on this also.  We’re trying to minimize our expenditures here as the trip ahead is long.   Jeri sees the Caribbean Stud table offering $5 action, so she joins the table.  Only to find out that the actual cost to play a hand is $15 (by the time she makes the bet to play).  She folds her first hand, and Ace high, only to find she would have crushed the dealers Queen high, and then bets the $10 (plus original $5 stake) on pocket 5’s, to be beat by queens.  In disgust, she leaves the table, $20 poorer.

“Where’s Miss Kitty” she proclaims loudly.  “Let me play Miss Kitty for a bit, then we’ll leave.”

Miss Kitty is Jeri’s favourite pokie machine.  She seems to think this one is her pay off machine, so I humour her for 20 minutes or so.  In goes the $20, and bugger me if she doesn’t turn it into a quick $50.  We leave the casino $10 up, with a couple of $1 chips as souvenirs.  Maybe we’ll collect a couple from each Casino on our travels, and create some kind of a display out of them.

We end the evening hitting the McDonalds drive-through, buying the kids each a chocolate sundae, and a gut bomb (read Big Mac) for Jeri.  Another great day in Alice, but we only have 1 more full day to go.