Break 2 Wrap Up

Our last morning on the Kakadu tour had a more leisurely start. First off we headed to Yellow Waters. There was a lovely boardwalk through the marsh with lots of birds – but we failed to spot any crocodiles or snakes this time round.

Next we stopped at the roadside for a wander through the termite mounds. They were quite similar to the cathedral termite mounds we had seen in Litchfield park, towering up to 12 feet or more.

Then we were off to Maguk, aka Barramundi Gorge for another climbing hike and falls. We had a swim up at the top pools. This waterfall was a bit different than the others. The top pool was sort of a deep elongated river with steep walls up the edge and underwater tunnels.

Some of the group did some rock scaling along the edges, falling back into the water when their grip gave out. Patrick joined some of the group who dove into a deep pool which had an underwater tunnel into the main stream. Steve had the whole group of us lay down across the stream and block the water from the waterfall also. It was lots of fun to then jump up and run over to the edge to watch the wall of water hit the edge and push the waterfall several feet further out.

After a quick stop for some snacks, we stopped at Fog Dam. This was an interesting place where they had built a dam back in the 1950’s hoping to flood the land to grow rice. After a couple of years of limited return and several lost staff due to crocodile attacks, they finally gave up on the idea. But the dam is still there and the area is now a wonderful sanctuary for the local wildlife. The place was swarming with busloads of people. Some not so knowledged folks were wandering almost into the water where salties are rampant. Amazingly they all came out alive – especially the old guy who wandered far out into the marsh alone for bird photos. Natural selection failed on this occasion.

Our last stop was at aboriginal art store where Pat bought himself his ‘big’ souvenir – an aboriginal painting. The shop also had emus (babies running around), a baby wallaby, a pink & grey galah, a red tailed black cockatoo and lizards and snakes to entertain those who were waiting for the shoppers.

Then the exhausted bunch of us were back to Darwin to go our separate ways – and a much appreciated shower. The four of us were then off to dinner to Thailicious which fulfilled its name before an early bed.

We had one day left in Darwin – we slept in a little bit till almost 8am. We headed to Monty’s (we tried to buy one of their custom t-shirts, but no luck!) for breakfast which was just outside of the local bookstore. Patrick was in line waiting for the store to open to pick up his copy of the latest Harry Potter. He thought it would be his flight reading material, but he had it finished by mid morning the next day! While Patrick read, the rest of us went off to do some shopping. We spent the day browsing around Darwin and just relaxing around the cafes. Kyle caught up on some of his internet access with his friends and Mike and I caught up on our diary and photo editing. Sunday morning we were up and off to the airport to return to Perth.

By the time we landed, Kyle was well into Harry Potter….

2…3….4…Hello Kakadu Dreams

We rose very early the next day (5:30 am) to head out for our 2-3-4 Kakadu Dreams trip. We were going on a 2 night-3 day-4 wheel drive tour into Kakadu park. Our group consisted of Meg, Darren, and Dave who worked on an oil exploration/surveying ship. Darren and Dave were ship navigators and Meg a geophysicist. The last 2 in our group of 9 were Marian and Alexandria who were sisters from Italy. Marian is from the Italian international snowboarding team and has just retired from competition. And of course, our tour guide – who was Steve. Steve has been doing tours for about 1 ½ years and knows his stuff and seems to enjoy his work. It was enjoyable group with lots of interesting conversation over the bumpy drive (that’s a view of our trailer out the back of the vehicle – including the spare tire which we were about to use).

So by about 7:30am we were off to Kakadu. We saw wild horses on the drive into the park. Our next stop was for a flat tire. Since we were stopped anyway, we set up lunch at the roadside while Steve and some of the guys struggled with the tire. All inclusive trip – part of the fun.

After lunch we headed for the South Alligator river where we took the jumping croc tour. To start however, we were introduced to some of the local snakes. We got to hold the water python. The snake was very calming to hold. It was soft and smooth and you could feel its muscles moving very strongly under its skin.

The crocodile tour was impressive. We spotted lots of crocs – all ‘salties’. Despite being called salt water crocodiles, they in fact live much of their life in freshwater. Males can grow up to 7 metres – the average fully grown male about 6 metres. Some of the crocs were a golden colour, and others were dark and had algae growing on them. We found out later that it was due to whether they had been out to the salt water or not. They go out to the salt water to get cleaned off, and will come back lighter coloured. These are the ones which are most hunted for their skins.

There were a surprising number of missing limbs from these guys. They apparently fight a fair bit, and most were missing one or more hands, arms, feet or legs. One was missing 3 complete limbs and one foot. They do an amazing job of hiding themselves in the mud. They dig their nose in and crawl into the mud leaving only their eyes and nose exposed. They can be very hard to spot and given their acceleration and ability to jump, you really don’t want to get anywhere near them. (The jumping seen here is encouraged by hanging the food from a rod off of the side of the boat)

Similar numbers of people die of crocodile attack as shark attack (average 1 per year or so). Steve told us of one instance where some guys were out on their ATVs. They stopped for some reason. One guy was grabbed by a croc and his mates had to scramble up a tree. They were there for 48 hours as the croc walked back and forth below them slowly eating their friend. They were finally rescued by a search party. Bit of trauma there I suspect.

The black kites were also fed on the river cruise. They are well accustomed to the feeding and would swoop right in to catch the food mid air. They must have exceptional eyesight.

We stopped by the cultural centre to learn about the traditional aboriginal ways. There are still a few hundred people living off the land in Kakadu in the full traditional way, and many others still follow the traditional rules even if they don’t live in the bush.

Then to Nourlangie to see the rock art. On the walk in Steve gave us one of his many insights into local life. These green ants live in the trees and wrap the leaves into their nest. You can actually hear them working if you listen carefully. The aboriginals boil them up. The nectar that rises to the top of the pot is sweet and is medicinal for breathing and lung problems.

There were many paintings – more than we saw at Uluru. And they were a different style. Here there were many more spirit drawings. Several of the larger drawings were done by an elder in the 1960’s. He wanted to make sure the stories were captured. He drew a large image of the spirit which women must avoid. His story teaches girls not to roam into the bush alone. The second story (artwork photoed here) was related to Namondjok (a warrior in the centre here), his wife Barrginj (lower left) and Namarrgon (Lightning Man to the right). The whole story can be read here.

Then we were off to our campsite near JimJim Falls. We all chipped in to get dinner going – sausages, mixed veggies and baked potatoes. And beer. The campsite manager brought over some fresh baked damper for us – made with dried fruit, it was very good. After some impressive didgeridoo playing by Steve, we all packed in for an early bed by 9:30.

Thank you Euroflush 2000!

Our 10 days in the camper van were over. Returning the camper was quite an experience, and I have to share my comic relief from all the stress.

We got into Darwin – its suburbs and lights hitting us about 50 km out. I dropped off the 3 guys and our bags at the hostel and then headed to drop the camper. Finally finding the rental depot, I first learned that it had to be washed or pay a $300 fine. So off I went to the car wash – I had to use the self-clean wash due to the size, and it took a bit to figure out the automated soap and water dispenser car wash process. Back to the rental shop over an hour later where the boys had come looking for me by now – Mike had ordered me a beer an hour ago!

Next I learned that I had to empty the toilet or the fee was $150! So Pat & I headed to find a public toilet while Kyle went back to Mike – I was hot (it was well over 30 degrees) and tired, and my frustration was at it’s limit. We found a public toilet – the Euroflush 2000 – it was a stainless steel cube. There were 3 lights – vacant, occupied and closed. When we walked up, another couple had been waiting but gave up and left. The light said ‘closed’.

We were at a loss on what to do – reading further we read it was programmed to self clean when unoccupied. It was certainly making lots of swishing sounds. Another couple passed and we inquired if they knew anything about these toilets. They just replied “Oh no, I’m not sure you could get out” (or something like that) and wished us luck. The swishing suddenly ended and the ‘vacant’ light came on. We quickly emptied our toilet. The whole time a voice was repeating “Welcome to the Euroflush 2000. Press the button to close and lock the door.” We had entered, but had not pushed the button to close the door. As we were leaving, Pat reached in and pushed the button.

So we left the Euroflush 200 with its door closed, no one in the toilet, and the ‘occupied’ light flashing. So much for the fully automated Euroflush 2000 – Patrick was quite thrilled to have outwitted this rather elaborate and certainly expensive fixture!

This hilarity helped my mood and upon returning to Mike 2 ½ hours after having left him, I enjoyed my beer immensely and got to meet all of his new acquaintances. You can’t leave Mike alone a bar and not expect him to meet a whole new crowd of friends after all!

Pat & Kyle had a very tasty fish & chips then headed to see the Harry Potter movie. Mike & I had a nice dinner as recommended by his new mates, checked out some souvenir shops then returned to catch up on photo editing and diary. And despite my initial introduction to Darwin, I really do like it.

We all Fall Down….waterfall down that is!

Today is waterfall day. We had a quick brekkie (mostly what we do it seems!) and hit the road. We wanted to delay driving around wet as much as possible, so visited Tolmer Falls first since you can’t swim there.

You could either take the stairs in, or hike. Of course we hiked – which was well worth it. You went through a grove of cycads. These were quite different than the ones in Kings Canyon. These were feathery looking – although stiff and hard to the touch.

The areas around Tolmer falls are sensitive for native wildlife, hence no swimming. The walk took you to a lookout over the gorge. A woman was all set up with her easel and paints capturing the scene. I was able to see her work progress quite nicely as we waited for Mike to arrive (he of course stops to photo along the way), and then to finish his shots.

All of the waterfalls here are very impressive. Due to the extremes of wet season and dry season, the volume of water changes drastically. We are seeing the falls in the dry season. But most of the force which carves the landscape occurs in the wet season. The falls are basically inaccessible by roads during the wet season – you have to fly in since most of the roads are flooded. It must be incredible to see them in the wet.

Next we headed to Florence Falls – they are a twinned set of falls. We had an early lunch at Florence, then hiked in for a swim. It was not too overly crowded, but there was no where to put your stuff, which made it a bit chaotic. Kyle managed to have his shoe fall in and drift downstream, but managed to fetch it okay. The dual waterfalls were very nice, and the water was not too cold. It did get colder right up to the waterfall and the force of the water pushes you back quite noticeably. The wind is quite strong coming off of the falls also making the swim to the waterfall more challenging. We all had our turn directly under the waterfalls, and both Pat & Kyle climbed up at the base of the falls and did cannonballs into the pool (it is nice and deep where the water falls hits). We had a great time.

Next we headed back into the depths of Litchfield closer to our campsite to Wangi Falls. Kyle and I went in for a swim while Mike took some photos (Pat deferred swimming). If you open up the photo at the left here, you can spot Kyle and I under the waterfall with our hands up – Kyle in his red bathing suit. There are crocs here – freshwater for sure – which you try to avoid and ‘be nice’ to. Occasionally there have been salties here in which case you get the hell out of there! (They monitor closely and have traps set.)

All of us then took the hike over the Wangi Falls. Mike and I take the hikes with the shortest steps possible, especially on the downhills and our old knees are holding out quite nicely for us. This hike had some incredible orb spiders – they were HUGE and numerous. One of the creeks we passed over was surrounded by their webs. The one at right here is a yellow spotted orb.

We ended with a final swim together. Again this is a dual waterfall, and again we all made sure to get right under each of the falls. The one on the left (photoed here) had a natural ‘mini pool’ part way up the ledge of the fall which you could climb to. Since it is a very small pool, it is warmer than the main pool at the base of the falls. We all had a nice dip in there – although returning to the main pool to get out was less pleasant!

Then back to our campsite and after a nice curry dinner, we laid back to listen to more of Bill Bryson where I quickly fell asleep (could have been all the fresh air or perhaps the extra glass of wine at dinner!).

Break 2 Day 9 – Edith Falls & Termite Walls

We left Katherine behind and our final destination for the night was Litchfield Safari Park. First off though we stopped for a hike into Edith Falls which is up the highway, but still part of Katherine Gorge Park. We did the hike in, but did not plan on swimming even though you could. Again we did the longer hike, and then headed for Litchfield.

Thinking we had a fairly short drive ahead, I took a ‘scenic route’ detour heading north. Although it was a pretty drive, I had to keep my eyes on the road as it twisted and turned every which way with the Beast camper swaying as we went. We did manage to get ourselves in the middle of a controlled (we think) burn off of the bush though. In the Northern Territory, they are very diligent about their fire management. They burn every area of the bush once a season if possible. They do small patches at a time using natural barriers to control the spread. It is quite a complex skill to know when and where to light the fires – taking temperature, winds, ground conditions, landscape and more into consideration. But by doing controlled burns they allow new growth to flourish (which provides great feed for the wildlife) and avoid deadly forest fires which would wipe out the animal life and destroy property.

It was a long drive into the park as it turned out – the place we were staying was in the deepest depths of the park. En route we stopped to check out the termite mounds. WOW were they big (this one was not unique – there were also other bigger ones around). There are two types of termites here. The cathedral termite mounds were huge as you can see in the photo. The other mounds were interesting and more unique. The magnetic termite mounds were much smaller and looked like tombstones – thin and rectangular. And they are all oriented north / south so as to avoid the sun as much as possible. This is part of the temperature control mechanism they use. The cathedral termites migrate in and out of the folds of their mounds as the heat of the day changes. Up here it’s all about heat management – or rather cool management!

Then off to our campsite! There were several wallabies around, and Mike and I went for a walk where we spotted several more. Beyond that, our evening entertainment was to sit back and listen to another Bill Bryson book on CD – much like the old days of radio listening I suspect. Very entertaining and we all enjoy.

And just for the record – this was a photo from one of our campsites a few days earlier. We awoke to emus roaming around the grounds. Just like squirrels at home with kids running around chasing them and everything!

Break 2 Days 7 & 8 – Mataranka & Katherine Gorge

We left Daly Waters semi early to head to Mataranka hot springs. The hotsprings were more like warmish springs – apparently a constant temperature of 97degrees I think. We walked to the main swimming/dipping area which was ‘humanized’ with steps and concrete supports so that too much erosion did not occur. It was quite nice, but rather crowded and not as hot as I had hoped for. We decided to push on to Katherine and did not bother taking the longer trip into the other area you could swim in a more natural setting. The actual restaurant/bar area was quite interesting as you could see where the flood waters rise up to – half way up the walls! We are certainly in monsoon land now, no longer in the dry outback of the red centre!

After driving to Katherine, we spent the rest of the day at an internet cafe and making plans for the next day. Despite the lateness, and much to the tourist bureau staffs surprise, we managed to get 2 canoes rented for the whole next day.

We had the canoes from 8am till 4pm. Katherine Gorge consists of a series of 13 gorges. With the full day rental, you are able to make it to the end of the 3rd gorge comfortably. To go any further in requires doing overnight camping in the gorge. Unfortunately, the ‘canoes’ were not so much canoes as plastic surfboards with seats. They were closer to kayaks, but had no rudder and no keel. They were almost impossible to steer, but very stable… Mike and Pat were sterning and both had their work cut out for them. Other than the ‘crappy’ boats, the actual trip was fantastic.

The gorge rises all around you. At times it bends and is wider with interesting shoreline and birds and butterflies, at other points it narrows down and you are surrounded by perpendicular walls on both sides. There are often small water falls and caves along the walls also. Being on a small boat in the bottom enhances the experience. There are many areas along the shore which are natural sandy beaches (the sandstone rocks erode into nice sand) – but they are off limits since this is where the freshwater crocodiles lay their eggs.

At the end of the first gorge, you leave your canoe and swap it for another one rather than portage. (that’s when we managed to get the really awful boat!) At the end of the 2nd gorge, the ½ day renters turn around, and the full day renters haul their boats over to the 3rd gorge. As is the norm, there were a lot less people doing the longer haul – and we were much more secluded once into the 3rd gorge.

Near the end of the 3rd gorge is a hike into a fantastic waterfall. We hiked into Lily Ponds where we had lunch and a swim. It must be a bit wetter this year than usual, since the waterfall was still flowing and according to our map, it usually flows from January to June. We all agreed that this area should be called the Garden of Eden rather than that at the base of King’s Canyon – it was breathtakingly beautiful and remote. As we finished our lunch, some others joined us, but it was still quite secluded. The water was quite cool (early summer in Lake Minicock type temperature), but refreshing. Standing under the waterfalls you were able to see a complete circular rainbow surrounding you.

Next we paddled to the end of the 3rd gorge where the ‘vortex holes’ formed a natural barrier to the 4th gorge. The water is fairly low at this time of year, so the rapids above the vortex holes were also quite shallow – forcing those on the longer trips to portage a fair distance. It must be even more impressive to go deeper into the gorges where there are even fewer people! But for us, we puttered around the rocks for a bit then made our way back with the canoes.

It was quite a memorable day, and enjoyable to work our upper bodies rather than just our legs as we do when hiking!

Break 2 Day 5 – Drive to Barrow Creek

We were back on the road (sharing with the road trains as seen here – that’s ONE truck) with about 1500 km to drive to our drop off point in Darwin. First, off to Alice to stock up on supplies, we rose and made the boys get up too this time. We pulled into Alice just before noon and started with a visit to the camper rental shop. We had by this time accumulated quite a list of problems with the camper and we wanted to make sure they knew they were pre-existing. Two of the more concerning issues were the ‘sticky’ door lock and cracked windshield. While they waited for the windshield guy to come check it out, they gave us a loaner rental car to use. I went shopping for groceries with the boys,and Mike stayed back to deal with the camper. Turned out that they swapped vehicles for us, and we were back on the road by about 1:45 – so not much time lost even!

As expected, we filled up regularly with diesel. Not sure what the prices in Canada are at now, but here it is quite painful. We paid as much as $1.80 litre on this trip, with $1.40 being a bargain price in the bigger towns. Diesel is about the same price as regular petrol (or gas for the Canadians). Now that we are back in Mandurah, it’s anywhere from about $1.25 to $1.39 a litre – the prices here bounce around just like back in Ontario!

We had phoned ahead to see if we could get a powered site booked at Barrow Creek – but they indicated it was not really necessary to book. We made decent time and pulled into Barrow Creek around 5:00 pm. It was clear to see why pre-booking was not needed – even as roadhouses go, this was not a very luxurious spot to say the least. There was one power pole in the middle of a clearing. We were the only power site users when we arrived, although several more campers did pull in after us. The final sight was quite humorous, camper vans all huddled around the pole in an odd layout.

But fate was on our side is a weird way. As Mike filled the camper, what appeared to be smoke started coming out of the pump and our tank. Turned out the tank was empty (it was probably deisel fumes). They were out of fuel till the next morning. We were only charged $20 for the $25 which showed on the pump – and we were not charged for a campsite since they thought we were staying just for the fuel. Little did they realize we had tried to book a space, and would have stayed anyway!

The place was full of character however which made for lots of material for Mike’s favourite pastime – he had fun perusing the grounds. And as in many roadhouses, people for some strange reason like to leave things behind. The ‘bar’ (actually an extension on the cash register / grocery station) was full of memento’s even in this remote station.

None of us slept overly well that night as there were noises all night of banging metal doors. It sounded like the wind, although there did not really seem to be much of one. Perhaps it was the locals up all night…at any rate it was disruptive to the sleep. And given the circumstances, none of us used the shower facilities either (see photo 🙂

Back on the road tomorrow to see the Devil’s Marbles!

Break 2 Day 4 – King’s Canyon

Mike and I slept in till 7:30 and we hit the road with both boys still in bed. And they stayed that way till almost 11:00 when we arrived at Kings Canyon. It was a much longer drive than we had expected. We had a bite to eat at arrival – and headed out on the lengthy walk around the canyon.

The path is now marked so you do not need a guide, and again the long walk was the best route to take since the crowds were much reduced. The trail takes you all the way around the canyon (seen at left) and down into the bottom half way through. The hike is intentionally reversed now – posted signs indicate that it starts with a very strenuous vertical climb meant to ensure only suitably fit people attempt the walk (we managed to pass the test).

There were several spots which triggered memories from 18 years ago. Mike is quite certain that some of the trees he photoed were the identical trees to last trip. We will have to compare when we return home!

Both Pat & Kyle thoroughly enjoyed the hike also. It is hard not to be awed by the physical beauty of the canyon. It is the type of hiking we all enjoy – over rocks and open landscape with views abounding. The photos help to tell the visual story.

The hike takes you through the Lost City where ‘beehive domes’ cover the landscape (much like the Bungle Bungles in the north of Western Australia which we won’t get to see I suspect).

There is a wide variety of plantlife in this area which is due largely to the location. Kings Canyon is at the meeting point of 3 distinct vegetation areas: the western desert which we are more familiar with, the abundant varieties of the MacDonnell Ranges and the harsh vegetation of the Simpson Desert.

Once in the bottom of the canyon, it is a tropical oasis, aptly named The Garden of Eden. The water hole was much fuller this time, and there was now a staircase leading both down and up making the trip easier – we had to scale the rocks last time!

Once back at the van, we had a sandwich lunch and then started our drive back to Alice. We pushed darkness a bit far (luckily causing no roadkill), but managed to make it out to the Stuart Highway at Elrunda Roadhouse and even lucked out with another powered site.

I haven’t mentioned the weather as yet – although you can see from the photos the sun is shining brightly (Pat got a bit of a burn today). The daytime temperatures are comfortable, but the nights are MIGHTY COLD. It was a good thing we got a powered site since we need power to run the heater and it went down to -3c that night! Ah, but we’re headed north starting tomorrow, and we’re told once we hit the Tropic of Capricorn it will warm up nicely.

Break 2 Day 3 – Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and Olgas)

I can’t help but compare things to our last visit here. This time we spent our first night at the campsite area in Yulara . Yulara did not exist when we were here in 1988 – last time we camped in a swag on the ground. Yulara is a huge resort with accommodation for 6,000 – 3,000 camping, 3,000 hotel type rooms in a range of quality. It is basically a town with it’s own grocery stores, post offices and more. Mike & I walked over to one of the bar areas where there was some entertainment. We tried to buy a beer, but had failed to bring our campsite receipt. Yulara is on aboriginal land (leased back to the government) and is a dry zone for the locals – so you need to prove you are a guest to buy a drink here. Luckily a lady who overheard my dilemma lent me her room key to allow us to buy a drink.

But back to the days events…. We rose semi early, had a quick brekkie and headed back to Uluru (the photos of Uluru are spread through this section in no particular order). We started at the cultural centre which was a maze of rooms and spaces where we managed to lose each other several times.

From the centre we did the walk over to the rock rather drive. It is a different experience walking up to the rock rather than driving. When you are right below it, you cannot see the top and don’t get the full appreciation of the size. When you walk up slowly, it looms before you (photo at right) and you get a much better sense of it’s size as you realize how long it takes to get there, even when it seems like it is right in front of you.

The large photo at right is the view of the rock as we approached. You can see the climbers (you will probably have to click on the photo and really look closely at the tiny white specks – those are people) making their way. I had already decided that I would definitely not climb this time, but honour the aboriginal request not to (and pamper my knees which even suffered 18 years ago). I was surprised how many people were still climbing given the very strong request from the aboriginals. Patrick was debating whether to climb, although he finally decided not to – and it turned out that the climb was just closed anyway due to high winds. So we all set off for the long walk.
We have since discovered that the only real way to avoid the crowds is to do the ‘long’ walks. The bus masses do the short walks to say they’ve been there, but the long ones are only done by the independent travellers like us.

It was very nice to do the walk all the way around the rock. It was something totally different from our last visit (we only did a little bit last time), and the views as you travel around are quite varied (photos through this section). One of the features we came across looked a lot like ‘Wave Rock’ (photoed here)- a site we likely not see here in WA since it is difficult to get to.

There are numerous stories regarding different sections of the rock. The rock is believed to be the home of the Rainbow Serpent – the mother of all life to all aboriginals. Uluru is where she created all life, and the stories around the rock relate to that creation. If you want to read a bit of the aboriginal story, check out http://www.ace.net.au/darkmoon/rainbow.htm.

There are many areas where you are asked not to photograph as they are of significance to the aboriginals – and they still use them as meeting places. You are able to photo some of the paintings however as seen here. It is considered acceptable to paint over top of someone else’s art, but not to repaint it. So the areas where painting is done (such as in caves or underhangs) have become quite ‘crowded’ . The aboriginals have been here for up to 50,000 years it is believed.

It was a long walk, and took us till mid afternoon – even with the short cut over the road (when we weren’t quite sure we were going the right way). By the time we returned to the camper, had lunch and drove over to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), we did not have time for the full long walk. (remaining photos are of Kata Tjuta)

It was very interesting although crowded – and again something we had not done last time. The walk was very bumpy however and hard on the feet. Both Mike and I had throbbing feet by days end – and the boys were apparently pretty zonked too given how late they slept the next morning!


The rock at Kata Tjuta is again sedimentary, but not the same as Uluru. Uluru is homogeneous with no jointing and is made of a coarse grained sandstone with an abundance of feldspar. Here, the rock is conglomerate with a variety of basalt, and granite all mixed with a finer sandstone. As a result, the erosion has occurred differently resulting in the ‘many heads’ of Kata Tjuta.

Then it was the long drive out to Curtin Springs for our second campsite. As on the west coast, you have to be careful driving at dusk and dawn – with new dangers. En route we passed some camels eating at the road side – one male and his harem of 3 or 4 females. He was right on the road at times (we stopped), and boy was he big! We passed a solo one later on also, but that was it. At Curtin Springs we had dinner and then watched Austin Powers (bought in Alice) – at least those who could stay awake watched!

Break 2 Days 1 & 2 – Getting to Uluru

The anticipation at the start of a trip is always much more exciting to experience than to review, but for those interested, I’ll start with the back story of getting to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

Friday brought Mike & Pat home. Mike was exhausted from Country Week since he was on supervisory duties each night until all the students settled down then was up very early to head off to the games. He photoed other Pinjarra teams as well as coaching the girls basketball team, so his days were full. The girls team played very respectably, and all were pleased with their convincing 3rd place finish in a challenging division. Had they scored a single point more in the semi-final they would have been in the grand final – against a team that had met and lost to by a single point. Here are 2 (wow a record!!!) shots of Mike – one after their successful win for 3rd, and another with a fellow teacher / volleyball coach – wearing one of the gifts from the team (he also received an Aussie flag signed by the team and a basketball).

We had a bit of a scramble to get Mike a tripod on Saturday morning as Patrick had left a critical piece behind at Gingin. Mike ended up with a new tripod, which isn’t so bad since the old one was about 20 years old and missing some newer features. The scurry had us leave a little later than planned, and we arrived at the airport to extreme crowds – having to park in the 3rd or 4th level of overflow parking. Luckily the airline opened up express lanes for imminent flights and we managed to get checked in just in time for our flight to Alice Springs. No Worries!

Alice itself seemed quite similar to our last visit in 1988. Although definitely bigger, it still had the same character, and the residents were just as friendly. People seem to come here to visit and just never get around to leaving. Many people you speak to have been there for 5, 10 or 15 years and had never really had planned on staying, but they just love it there.

Saturday evening we stayed at a hostel and the hosts very kindly drove us to the ‘Overlander Steakhouse’. We are almost positive that this is the same restaurant where we shared a fantastic (for 3 of us at least) meal with Dan & Suz so many years ago (with Dan’s infamous miniature buffalo steak :-). Although witchetty grub soup is no longer available, we did share an appetizer plate of Emu (quite good – bit oily), Crocodile (bit fishy), Kangaroo (better than WA roo we thought) and Camel (the least favourite for all of us, but still tasty). We all had beef of varying cuts. The portions were large and the accompaniments superb, however each of the 4 different cuts were a bit disappointing given the reputation of Aussie beef. Apparently the very best cuts now are exported, especially to Japan since they can draw such huge profits. Too bad since the beef we had here last time was superb.

We then headed to Coles to do our groceries for the trip to Uluru in the morning. In the morning Mike & I rose early to go get the camper van while the boys were spoiled with a late lie. Mike managed to drive back to the hostel very smoothly despite the size of the beast. It was a bit older than we had hoped for and showing it’s age, but very roomy with a cooktop, microwave, fridge, TV with DVD, 2 indoor tables, toilet/shower/sink, toaster, kettle and running hot & cold water. It was a bit later than we hoped by the time we set off, and it was a long drive, so off we headed to try to catch the sunset at Uluru!

The drive was long, but with a speed limit of 130km per hour, we could travel as fast as we wished (which was NOT 130km in Beast). This area is not full out desert, but covered in sparse scrubby vegetation as you can see by a shot from the window.

The first giant formation you come to is not in fact Uluru, but Mount Conner (859m). It is substantially larger than Uluru (348m), but not as much of an attraction. Uluru is more interesting due to it’s changing vision in the light, and it’s monolithic presence.

We made it to sunset over Uluru just in time. We ate our dinner watching the subtle colour changes. If you peek through to see the colour of Uluru in our family photo here, you can see the difference of the rock colour from the other photo here.

Then it was off to Yulara to check into our campsite for the night before returning for a true visit to the Rock tomorrow.