Marjan and I made it as far north as Townsville, where sadly we said goodbye to Kat:( She took us out to dinner on our last night, which was a nice end to our time together. The next morning I had to head to a walk-in clinic to get treated for a middle-ear infection, which I got scuba diving in the Whitsundays (totally worth it). Then I had lunch with Dana’s parents and brother/sister-in-law. (Thanks again for lunch Teri and Kevin!) When lunch was over, I met up with Marjan, Camilla from Italy and Ainav from Israel, who were going to travel with us through the “Red Centre” and down to Adelaide. The original plan was to get as close to Mt. Isa as we could the first night, then Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, Uluru, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy and finally Adelaide.
We made it as far as Cloncurry the first night. In true backpacker fashion, we spent the night in a campervan park, in which we didn’t get into until midnight. We left by 6:30 am, so as not to have to pay for our night (I know, we’re going to hell, but I would pay a few weeks later to stay in the same park). We made it to the Stuart Highway and subsequently Tennant Creek early that afternoon. We had planned to spend the night in Tennant Creek, but the place scared the crap out of us, so we decided to go straight on to Alice Springs. We made a stop off at Devil’s Marbles and Wycliffe Well, the UFO Capital of Australia. Our time there was marred by a group of Aboriginals getting into a massive fight near our car, so we stuck around there about as long as we stayed in Tennant Creek. After a night in Alice Springs, we made our way to Uluru and got there just in time for the sunset.
Now a little bit about Uluru. It used to be known as Ayers Rock, but has since gone back to its Aboriginal name. It is a striking red monolith that is roughly 400 yards high. It is considered sacred to the Aboriginal tribes, and it is asked that you don’t climb the rock out of respect. You can still choose to climb if you so desire. It takes about an hour to climb to the summit, but it’s strenuous and roughly a tourist a year dies attempting the climb, mainly from a heart attack. In the Cultural Center, there is a book of letters from people that have taken a rock from Uluru and then suffered bad luck, so they sent the rocks back. I had already decided before I left the States that I would not climb Uluru, rather, I would do the 3 hour walk around. Honestly, Uluru really does impress you when you see it. It’s surrounded by open land and in the distance you can see Kata Tjuta. However, about half way to three-quarters away around the rock, you get to a point where you just say to yourself, “It really is just a rock.” It was probably around that realization that I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my right leg. I have no idea how; I just know that eventually my left knee started to hurt because it was overcompensating for my right leg. It would eventually prevent me from doing the full trek at Kata Tjuta and I wouldn’t do Kings Canyon at all (which is ok, because it would lead me on another roadtrip later).
About a half an hour away from Uluru is Kata Tjuta, which used to be known as the Olgas. Supposedly it is thought that Kata Tjuta was once a monolith 10 times the size of Uluru. Today though, it is broken down into 36 dome shaped, connected red rock. There are 3 lookouts you can walk to. If you opt to do the full trek, it’s about 4.5 miles. I only walked a couple though and returned back to the car after the 2nd lookout since my leg was killing me. Overall though, I liked the hike and view of Kata Tjuta moreso than that of Uluru.
We headed to Kings Canyon after 2 days at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We had gotten in a sunset and sunrise at Uluru, which is when you’re supposed to be able to see the rock change colors. Pretty much it went from red to brown, none of the cool purple hues that you get sometimes. Sunset viewing is definitely better than sunrise. Of course though, I won’t find anything too interesting when I have to get up at 6am. Just saying. At Kings Canyon, you have two walks to choose from: one is a short walk to a look out at the bottom of the gorge, the other, you walk up the side of canyon and atop the rim. I managed to make it to the lookout, but there was no way I was making it up the side of the canyon.
We still had 5 days left to get to Warnambool and we made our way to Coober Pedy next after Kings Canyon. We figured a day or so though and then Adelaide for a couple days before ending our trip. Coober Pedy is a popular stop off, since it’s about half way between Uluru and Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. The town is also famous for its opal mines and the fact that a lot of businesses are underground. By being underground, it keeps temperatures inside cooler in summer and warmer in winter since Coober Pedy experiences Wisconsin-like extremes, temperature-wise, each season. Even though a lot of businesses are underground, it’s not that you get into town and see nothing, it looks like a normal town, and it’s just that when you walk into some places, you head downstairs. Our hostel was a couple floors below ground level. Essentially it was just enough room carved out of the rock to accommodate 2 bunk beds. No doors, no outlets, just a couple beds in each carved out area. I found it pretty cool, it did suck though that it cost $32 a night, but when you’re staying in obscure, out of the way places, you just have to understand that basic costs are much more expensive for them, and they have to make ends meet.
It was on our way to Coober Pedy that I found out that my Dad had had a stroke back home. Katie assured me that he was fine and that I didn’t have to fly home, but I was extremely shaken and upset. I was anxious to get back to Bendigo by Dana just in case I would have to fly home. I didn’t like being in the middle of nowhere with limited phone reception. I just wanted to get to Adelaide as soon as possible in case I decided to fly to Melbourne to get back to Dana’s. We ended up leaving Coober Pedy after one night and only spent one night in Adelaide. We said goodbye to Camilla in Adelaide and Ainav and I headed to Warnambool with Marjan to catch a train to Melbourne. In one day I went from Adelaide, to Warnambool, to Melbourne and then Bendigo. I spent about 15 hours travelling that day, but was thankful to see Dana that night. It wasn’t the ideal way to end a month-long road trip and I’m sorry that it was so rushed at the end. But now that I have had the time to reflect on it, it was a really good start to my travels of Australia and I really enjoyed the girls I had traveled with. A huge thanks goes out to Marjan for responding to my ad on Gumtree and providing the car:)
UPDATE: It’s been a few months since my Dad has had his stroke and he is doing well. After 5 weeks in the hospital he headed home and doing really well. It’s been tough being a world away, but flying home didn’t make sense while he was still in the hospital. I have told my family though that if they felt it would be better to have an extra hand at home, let me know and I’d be on the next plane. Love you Dad!!!