We have just spent an absolutely amazing two weeks in the centre of Australia, seeing Alice Springs, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges.
We headed there after leaving Coober Pedy, and the drive there alone was breathtaking. Expecting to see desert, as in dry dusty country, we were surprised to see the opposite. They have apparently had quite a bit of rain out here lately, so everything was green, and there were plants everywhere. Then there were the mountain ranges, spectacular as they popped up from flat land, with the deepest reds and oranges highlighted by the deep blue sky.
At Alice Springs we stayed in a caravan park right at the base of a huge rugged rocky red mountain range. There were several huge boulders sitting precariously just above us, it was comforting to be told by our host that none of them have fallen now for at least 15 years.
Caravan Park @ Alice Springs
The kids were bursting with excitement by this stage as we were due to pick up Nona and Nono the next day. They haven’t seen Nona since March, and Nono since we left on the trip last October. At this point I should explain, for those of you who do not know my father, he is a little Italian man, with a rather heavy accent, he does not stop talking and he can’t pronounce half the letters in the English alphabet, particularly his ‘R’s, which is astounding seeing as he called me Robert.
We spent the first few days exploring Alice. It is a great town. Well laid out, clean and easy to find your way around. We did the touristy things like the Botanical Gardens, Museum, Todd Mall and a place called Desert Park. Desert Park was a great day out, showing how vast the Desert can change in only a few short meters, there was a great bird show and some informative Aboriginal talks.
The view of Alice from Anzac Hill
By this stage, Jade had spent three days with the grand-folks, and seeing as she is now half educated and learning to read, she picked up on the fact, more than usual, that her Nono didn’t quite pronounce things the same way as she did. Instead of being diplomatic about this, she was straight on his case, imitating him on any of the words he failed to pronounce correctly. She wanted to know why he called mum, ‘Arlen’ instead of ‘Eileen’. Then she wanted to know why he said ‘Hairs Rock’ instead of ‘Ayres Rock’. She then tried to tell him that it was now called ‘Uluru’ but when he said, ‘Ealla roo’ instead she did not let him forget it. By the end of three days, poor dad had a complex, barley game to say a word in front of her. He said he was now embarrassed to talk to other people as he didn’t realise his accent was so bad.
After Alice we headed out to Uluru. The drive out was over 460km so we broke the trip up with a stop at Curtin Springs on the way. It is a One Million Acre cattle property. Our friends have just got a job there, so it was a chance to stop and catch up with them.
Curtain Springs – Definitely worth a stop over
In the morning we left early for Uluru. We were all quite excited as we have been anticipating seeing the rock for some time now. Especially Jade. We were still 50km out when we got our first glimpse. I don’t think we will ever forget it, even though it was still so far away, it was so majestic.
Uluru – Spectacular no matter what time of the day
We got into things straight off, with our first event being a talk given by a local indigenous tribe on Aboriginal weapons, it was then off to some dance lessons. Yes, Aboriginal dance lessons. Why? I have no idea, but apparently it was going to be fun. It was so popular that we were the only ones there. We were soon told we would be taught a dance that we would then be performing live, with the Aboriginal dancers, to the public in an hours’ time. I don’t know how I get roped into these things.
As with Aboriginal traditions, things are different between men and women, and so the girls were up first. They were taught how to be Emus and take part in the Emu Dance. Michelle and Jade both got into it, and even convinced poor old Nona to join in the fun. By the end of it, the three of them were imitating the emus well, and had a ton of fun. It was the boys turn next, but Nono refused to join in, so it was a solo show for yours truly. My dance was the Dance of the Kangaroos. Apparently depicting a mob of Kangaroos that are scared away by a Dingo. The aboriginal dancers were so graceful at the dance and the motions imitated the Kangaroo to perfection. Me on the other hand, quite a different story. I think I looked more like the love child born from a crossing of the Kangaroo and the Dingo. Hopping when I should be running, and running when I should have been hopping. I fumbled my way through, looking like the most petrified Kangaroo in the mob.
Traditional & un-traditional dancing
The practice session went well for everyone except me, and now we were all waiting in anticipation of the actual show. We thought it would be good as we were the only ones at rehearsal, surely no one would turn up to the show! But we were wrong, there was quite a crowd gathered, almost 50 people. Fear turned to panic when I saw the dance troupe come out, all semi-naked and painted. Things have not been the same for me since my chest collapsed and gave way to an oversized belly. I had visions of being up on stage topless with painted man-boobs on display. Thankfully that was not the case and they let us remain dressed for the performance.
The following morning we headed out to the rock early to explore as much of it as we could. It turned out to be a rainy day, but we weren’t that disappointed. As John Williamson sings, ‘It’s raining on the rock, what an almighty sight to see.’ And he is right, it was beyond description, it really is something that you have to see and feel. The rock itself is huge, and it has a feeling about it that makes it feel like it is a living thing, not just a rock. I have heard it said that it is the heart of Australia, and it felt like it was actually pulsating.
Raining on the Rock
Even though it was raining, we still decided to go for a walk to some parts of the rock. We headed for a water hole just at the base of the rock, but we got there at the same time as a bus load of Japanese tourists. We could barely fit on the platform, that is until Dad strolls in. With his pink umbrella in one hand, and in his loudest voice, he starts rattling off something that faintly resembled a Japanese man speaking in an Italian accent. I don’t know if it was the umbrella or what he said, but the deck was soon cleared and we now had an unobstructed view of the water hole.
Dad and his pink umbrella
His next effort was with the park ranger, who was explaining to Jade his role as a park ranger, and how he often educated the local Aboriginal Children on the different types of animals in the area, and the different types of foods to eat. Not to be outdone, Dad had to chirp in and educate us all on the fact that he also had identified some edible plants. ‘Koshi Vechi’ (Old Ladies Thighs) they are a plant that they had in Italy as he was growing up, but to most of us they look and taste like a weed. So the park ranger was now educated on the joys of eating Italian weeds that grow in the desert, and Jade was totally confused.
We spent quite a bit of time out at the rock, seeing it at Sunrise and Sunset, and enjoyed dinner perched at the base of it and watching it turn bright red as the sun went down, only to have my camera battery go flat after the third shot. But by far, the highlight for me was climbing it. I know they say they prefer you not to climb it, but I just had to do it. It was calling for me to do it. But I am glad I did, it was amazing. It was one of the hardest climbs I have ever done, but incredible. It took over an hour to climb to the peak, but when I got there I was alone, in total silence, looking out over 200km in every direction. It was one of the most incredible things I have done.
We also went out to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and went on another great walk there. They are another spectacular rock formation. Made up of millions of small rocks and fused together by what appears to be lava. We had dinner just in front of them as the sun set. Spectacular.
Kata Tjuta @ Sunset
We went to Kings Canyon and were totally amazed with that also. Every place we went to out here was more beautiful than the previous. But, there was some walking involved I tell you.
10km around the Rock, 7km at Kata Tjuta, and 6km at Kings Canyon. They were supposed to be moderate walks, but poor mum has short stumpy legs, so it was a huge challenge for her. There were places where it was rock climbing hands and all. But to mums credit, she did them all and loved it.
Kings Canyon was a killer and after that we promised her no more hard walks. That was until the West MacDonnell Ranges. There was a walk there which was supposed to be a mild 20 minutes. And it was, to the lookout at least, but then we saw a track beyond it, and decided to take it. An hour later, we were in the middle of a gorge, clambering over rocks, almost carrying Nona over a few of them. At one point she was wedged between two rocks, leaning on me for support, with the two of us in fits of laughter knowing what the results would be should I give way.
Trekking Kings Canyon – A steep climb
We all thought Mum was a bit of a hero, as we worked out she walked over 30km in about a week, which isn’t bad considering her age. She even got to ride a camel. It was also a mammoth effort for Jade who walked the whole way on her own, and Henry managed about half of it. We had to carry him the rest of the way.
We spent the last few days back in Alice Springs and took it easy after some huge, but memorable days.
And of course to finish off this blog, I cannot go without mentioning the unavoidable toilet humour. It appears that I can’t seem to tell a story without it.
As we were getting on in the trip, Dad’s confidence with the motorhome was also increasing. It got to the stage where he was able to empty the toilet on his own. Or so we thought. On the way back from Uluru we were going to stop through Alice Springs and get some quick supplies, top up with fuel and empty the toilet, before going onto the MacDonnell Ranges. To speed things up, it was decided Michelle would go with Dad to do this, while Mum came in Honky with me and the kids.
So here they were, Laurel & Hardy, neither of them had emptied the toilet in the past, so it was bound to be an event in the making. For those of you that don’t know, some toilets in mobile homes use a cassette to store about two days’ worth of waste. Chemicals are added to it so it all dissolves, then it must be tipped into a dump point.
Now, I wasn’t there to witness this first hand, but from the way I was told, I can only imagine.
Apparently they rocked up to the dump point and at this point they were the only ones there, the first issue arose when they tried to remove the cassette. Dad had only watched me do it in the past and could not remember exactly how to remove it.
Wearing a pair of bright orange washing up gloves he wrestles with the cassette, cursing that he cannot remember if the lid should be up or down. Finally Michelle has a go, and works out he is pushing the leaver up instead of down.
So they get it out, Laurel (Dad) the designated dumper, and Hardy (Michelle) designated Water-Girl.
Too much ‘presha’
Dad manages to unscrew the cap and empties the contents down the waste pipe, which is quite large. Water-girl then activates the hose, but doesn’t know her strength and turns it on at full pressure, the splashback narrowly missing the old man by millimeters as he yells to her to turn it down.
Finally satisfied he is empty and now clean, he double checks by giving what he thinks is an empty cassette a good shake. He hears something rattling inside, and his curiosity gets the better of him, so he shakes even harder when without notice two long hard objects drop from the container and land not in the waste pipe but beside it some distance away.
Bewildered, he stands there, frozen in time, eyes fixed on the fallen objects with the look of a small boy caught doing something he was clearly not supposed to be doing. He then mumbles, “Oh No!” loud enough for Water-Girl to hear.
Apparently the combination of ‘Oh No’ and the look on his face prompts Water-Girl to go over and see what the problem is. She is soon advised that “Two Teds fell out.” (Turds, you have to remember he cannot pronounce his ‘R’s)
This immediately causes her to break into hysterics as she sees the evidence sitting on the pavement. Both of them are now puzzled as to how they are going to get these two ‘Teds’ down the hole.
But, prior to moving them, it was obviously more important to analyse the ‘Teds’. First, blame was given to the hire company for not supplying chemicals strong enough to dissolve the ‘Teds’, then blame was given to someone else for possibly eating glue not allowing them to dissolve, but at no point was blame given to the possible creator of the two ‘Teds’ who was most probably standing beside them.
So, here they are, by this stage both in uncontrollable fits of laughter with tears rolling down their faces, looking, pointing and analysing these two ‘Teds’. By this stage, unbeknownst to them, two other caravans pull up behind them to empty their waste, and are left to watch an old man with orange gloves and a younger woman doubled over laughing.
Now, realising they had an audience, it was decided that the hose would do the trick, but this time, Water-Girl didn’t turn the tap on enough, and the two ‘Teds’ wouldn’t budge. Dad yells at her, “More Presha,” Finally dislodging the two ‘Teds’ and sending them on their way.
Having finally succeeded they both sheepishly clambered back into the motorhome, still laughing, and drove off. The newcomers, waving goodbye, with smiles on their faces, obviously glad that two people could find such fun out of emptying a toilet.
So that brings an end to our time in Central Australia, it has certainly been two of the best weeks we have had on our trip, and we have seen places we will never forget. We could highly recommend anyone seeing this part of Australia.