Richard's Travels

Tales from the Southern hemisphere

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Melbourne to Alice Springs

Thursday: Rugby 7s

As the commonwealth games were on in town, it seemed like a good thing to do to go and watch something. I didn't really fancy watching badminton or table tennis, but the rugby 7s sounded like it might be interesting. So at 5:30, I headed back up to my original hostel (I'd had to move to a much worse one, All Nations, due to there not being any space available at Friendly for my last night) to meet Nicky and go to the Telstra Dome, conveniently located just behind our hostels.

The Telstra dome is a huge arena, fortunately covered. After queuing up for ages to get to the security checkpoint, I opened my bag showing my camera and was told I'd have to go to a different checkpoint "so they could give me advice on using my camera". Grr. Went to the second checkpoint and didn't bother opening my bag, the guy didn't even notice the bottom section of my bag full of cameras, my ipod etc! Anyway, I eventually found my seat to watch the end of South Africa thrashing Uganda. Prior to this holiday, I didn't really know anything about Rugby 7s. Basically it is like rugby with only 7 minute halves and 7 men per team, making it very quick. I was surprised that the scores were so high in such a short period of time! There were a few matches with good teams in our session, including England, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. However, many of these were obviously unmatched (Fiji-Scotland for example, watching the scottish bounce off the big Fijians!). The most entertaining games were the ones between two smaller countries, like Tonga & Uganda. Until the final game of course, England-Australia! Australia scored one try in the first half, but we were able to come back with 2 in the second half. In the last seconds of the game, Australia managed one final try, making it 14-12 to us, all resting on the final conversion. Which was missed :) That shut up the noisy australians sitting next to us :)

After making it out through the huge crowds at the end, popped into a bar next to the hostel for a few drinks.

Friday: Melbourne to Alice Springs

I had an early start in order to catch the Airport shuttle today, which ended up being an entire minibus just for me. Obviously noone else would be silly enough to leave Melbourne that early in the morning! Upon arriving in Alice Springs (which is in a wierd time zone, 9h30 ahead of England, quite confusing!) I was greeted by lots of heat, and a few flies. I'd been warned about the flies beforehand, and this was immediately obvious why. The temperature was about 35C, and there are always flies buzzing around you when you're outside. I found the hostel minibus and went to check in. Other things I'd heard about Alice Springs - there is nothing there apart from a dry river and lots of aboriginees drinking. This turned out to be true. Once checked into the hostel, I went for a walk into town, finding nothing apart from tourist shops, bars and places to eat. I was trying to find the supermarket, and this was made easier by the regular aboriginees walking towards me carrying boxes of cheap wine!

Didn't do much for the rest of the day, as there wasn't much to do! Dinner in the hostel was surprisingly good for $5, and I sat in the bar trying to watch the rugby finals. Unfortunately, after showing Australia lose out on the bronze to Fiji, they decided to show some local rugby instead of the England v NZ final. Got an early night as next day was an early start (again!).

Saturday: To Kings Canyon

Today I was beginning a tour of the Uluru area with Wayoutback safaris. This meant being picked up at 5:45, way too early! However, I would find out later that this was a lie in! Two of us from my hostel were collected (both of us Richards!). Upon getting into the minibus I was glad that it was fairly comfortable, as we would be spending a lot of time on the road. After picking everyone up, we drove up to Anzac hill to watch sunrise and sort out payments etc. The lady there strongly suggested that we buy some fly nets, so an extra stop was made to pick up some of these. Then we headed off towards Kings Canyon - a long drive, including a 100km long dirt road. Fun for the first 5 minutes, but gets a bit boring after a while! I was glad to be back on sealed roads so I could read more. We reached our campsite at about midday, when we made some lunch. And hundreds of flies descended on us. I am not normally too bothered by flies, as long as they don't try and fly in my eyes, mouth or ears. Which they did of course, so we had to resort to wearing our fly nets. This became a very common practice over the next few days! The afternoon was spent walking around Kings Canyon, in the heat of the afternoon (36C on the thermometer at the base of the canyon). Kings Canyon is part of the central australian desert, but it was still covered with plant life, that has adapted to the environment. This was more obvious when we got to a sheltered part called the garden of eden, full of plants and with a large rock pool, which we went for a swim in. And the good part about this was that when you are in water, the flies aren't interested in you!

When we got back to the campsite shortly before sunset, our guide started cooking dinner and we sat around with some beers. We slept under the stars, in swags (like big sleeping bags with mattresses and pillows). Fortunately the flies all disappear as soon as the sun went down.

Sunday: Uluru

Another early start (5:30am) today so that we could get to Uluru quickly. It was still dark by the time we'd finished breakfast, and we were on the road for sunrise. With a couple of stops on the way, we reached Uluru by midday. First we walked around the cultural centre, which seemed to be more full of signs telling you not to take photos or videos and signs saying please don't climb uluru than cultural stuff. Can't say I think too much of the aboriginal art, which seems to be predominantly made of dot patterns. Not that it's bad, just that they seem to try and sell it for extremely large amounts of money!

After this, we walked around the base of Uluru. Even though I wasn't planning on climbing Uluru (not for cultural reasons, more because I didn't think there would be much of a view from the top!), we couldn't anyway as there was a rescue in progress. The walk around the base was still good enough, and seemed a lot easier. There were also considerably fewer flies around today, which made it a lot more comfortable.

We got back to the campsite well before sunset, so that we could walk up a hill to a lookout over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). We had some champagne and nibbles to take up with us too. I got up there early and set my tripod up with the camera pointing at Uluru, mainly to reserve a spot. Unfortunately, the few clouds that were around decided to get between the sun and Uluru, meaning that it didn't go the brilliant red it was supposed to. The sunset over Kata Tjuta was more impressive, and eventually I had to move to take pictures of that. Oh well, we were going to get to see sunrise too!

Once it got dark, we went back for dinner, and had an even earlier night, as we were having an even earlier start!

Monday: Kata Tjuta

Worst start of the trip so far - 4:45am wakeup call! This was in order that we could reach a lookout at Kata Tjuta for sunrise, which we did. There were considerably fewer people at this lookout than the sunset one (rightly so, most of them were probably still in bed!). This time, there was nothing in the way, and the sunrise over Uluru was spectacular.

When we got to Kata Tjuta, it became obvious that yesterday's reprieve from the flies was only temporary. However, the walk we did was through the Valley of the Winds, around some of rocks making up Kata Tjuta. Today we found out how both Uluru and Kata Tjuta were formed - movements of the earth forced the rock to rotate up out of the earth. This is more obvious in Uluru, where lines of sediment are almost vertical. At Kata Tjuta, the lines were only about 20 degrees. Both of these rock structures extend below the earth some considerable distance.

At the end of the walk, we got back on the bus to begin the long journey back to Alice Springs. I was a little troubled to hear that Cairns was currently being battered by a cyclone, as that is where I'm flying to tomorrow! When we eventually got back, everyone from the tour went out for dinner and drinks in town.

Tuesday: Alice Springs to Cairns

I'm sitting at the hostel waiting for my shuttle bus to the airport - although Cairns has been battered by a cyclone, flights are still on, and I'm going to be mainly doing diving up there anyway, so will see what happens when I get there. There isn't much else I can do without having to buy extra flights anyway. Hopefully everything should be settling down, and the areas I want to visit might be unaffected anyway. However, there's another cyclone that might be heading that way - I may have to move once I get there!


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