Rock on! Kings Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta

I’m going to have to warn you straight up, there are going to be a lot of photos of rocks in this one.  A lot!  Like, seriously lots and lots.

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While travelling between the East and West McDonnell Ranges, we stopped through Alice Springs and met a Sunny Coast couple who had relocated to Alice and  taken over The Overlanders Steakhouse Restaurant. So we booked a table for the night of our reunion with The Stolls.  That booking was then expanded to include The Tafai family, who we met at Palm Valley the day before.
It was great to see The Stolls, although I was reluctant to give them a hug after five days out bush without a shower and mostly two changes of clothes (I had to layer up due to the cold). What a fun night. We laughed till our cheeks hurt, thrust our hips around to the ‘home among the gum trees’ song and tried to pass Sol Tafai off as ‘The Rock’ on social media. A few people fell for it but most saw through my bluff.

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Sunrise over King’s Canyon

We travelled to Kings Canyon Resort and took in the magnificent views from the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon. Rainer did the hard yards carrying Nathan up the steep ascent at the beginning. Craig also ended up doing some hard yards as Amelie decided to run up the climb. It could be that we’ve been watching a few Rocky films and she’s inspired to push herself or it could be that she chose to wear shorts, t-shirt and a flimsy jumper and needed to warm up! The rest of us were feeling the cold especially on the windy sections and were rugged up in puffy jackets, beanies and gloves.  As Amelie and Craig reach the top of the steep section, she turns to her slightly out of breath father who had to actually work to catch her and said “I want to be an athlete when I grow up”.  She is changing her mind about what she wants to be every week but I’m loving her choices, astronaut, teacher, doctor, scientist, veterinarian and now athlete.

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Cotterral’s lookout was worth the extra walk and rewarded us with spectacular views.  The other side trip we did was Eden’s Garden.  That place was very serene, with remnants of rainforest vegetation a stark contrast to the red rock and spinifex.  The Creek walk was blocked so we scrambled around the barricades and boulder hopped along the creek for a while.

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Kathleen Springs was just down the road so after an epic days walking already, we made the kids do some more.  It was an easy walk with cattle mustering ruins, hairy caterpillars, piggybacking bugs, “what are they doing dad?” along the way.  At the end is a small waterhole. I didn’t read the sign and was imagining how much fun it would be to jump down from the cliff into the waterhole. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT jump into the water. I was quickly put in my place by Craig who read the sign about the aboriginal legend where they believe the Dreamtime serpent lived there and if you swam in the water, the water would dry up.

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Not Uluru

We’re off to The Rock!  Craig got a little excited, as did we when he pointed out Uluru and then got on the UHF and pointed it out to the Stolls.  About 5minutes passed before it twigged that it was actually Mt Connor.  Common mistake apparently.

Uluru a.k.a ‘The Rock’ is impressive. Almost as impressive as the two backpackers in onesies, cooking pancakes for breakfast in the parking lot.  Seriously, Uluru has a feeling of ‘something’.  I don’t know if it’s the enormity of it or is there a sense of spirituality?  Okay, now for the big question – did we climb it?  No, we didn’t.  The kids really wanted to, Craig had climbed it many years ago and I was in two minds about it.  We had a healthy discussion about why the local aboriginals don’t want you to climb it and should you be able to.  On the actual day the decision was taken out of our hands as the climb was closed due to forecast rain. The small walks along the bottom were great with informative signs of how the aboriginals used the small caves and overhangs, and explained some legends and stories about the rock. The majority of the base walk did not have much info and was very restrictive about photographing certain sections.

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We all agreed Kata Tjuta was awesome! Walking in and among such large formations of rock offered great views pretty much everywhere you looked.  It was also a fun walk with steep sections and a bit of bouldering.  I don’t really know what else to say about this place that would do it justice.  If I could whisper in print I would whisper “I liked it better than Uluru”.  Shhhh.

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At the Yulara campground Laura and I headed off on the bikes to buy groceries.  Riding the fat boy bike definitely increased my street cred.  Wearing a helmet, any helmet, leaves me looking like a mushroom as I have a small head and long neck so it all evens out.  The point is, I felt cool even though I stopped and got off to ‘jump’ the gutters.  Riding along however, people were giving the fat tyres appreciative nods and smiles.  A gap toothed local gave me a massive grin and said ‘wicked!’  We met basketballer Joe Ingles who I let have a ride on the fat boy.  Didn’t know who the hell he was and as usual was being cheeky.  Laura found out he was competing at the Olympics and I said “Well, I suppose I’d better get a photo with you.  You might be famous one day.”  Laura googled him later and he earns over $2million US dollars playing for a team in the States.  That and making the Australian Olympic team… yeah he might be famous… one day!  Joe (sounds very casual), Mr Ingles (no, too formal), you know who I mean, anyway he loved the bike, so if you see any photos of him riding a fat boy, it’s because of Craig’s bike.

Laura suggested doing a dot painting class with an aboriginal elder.  I thought this was a great idea.  Alice spoke in her native language, drew and explained the art symbols in the sand while a University graduate translated for us.  Each painting pretty much tells a story.  At Hermannsberg in the Western McDonnell Ranges, we saw many paintings depicting the story of the ‘Seven Sisters‘.  We were told to tell our own story in a painting.  Now, I love playing with art but I didn’t do so well at dot painting.  I think, I tried to tell too much of a story in one painting.  Painting dots of a uniform size was a challenge and I couldn’t believe how long it took to paint dots.  The kids really enjoyed it and it was great to see everyone’s story interpretation.

Our time with The Stolls, is coming to an end.  We’ve seen so many rock formations together that it seemed fitting our last campsite together was near The Devil’s Marbles.  After a pub dinner and kids playing in the starry light display the only thing we had left to do on this adventure with The Stolls was race to see who’d leave first in the morning.  Stolls won!

We loved hanging out with those guys and while it was sad to part ways, they were looking forward to an island adventure before heading home, and we were dead keen to visit all the Top End has to offer!

Onto a town called Alice

Julia Creek was only ever intended to be a stop over. We had just enough time to set up the van and duck across the road, literally across the road, to check out the local pool. Yes the pool tour continues. Julia Creek is a pretty small place but it can boast a really lovely public pool. Clean, well maintained and great water quality. Craig knows a smart guy who grew up here and took a photo of The Knowledge Place. Now we know where he got it! I stayed well clear of it to ensure the gaffs continue.  This flat land is providing a smorgasbord of awesome sunrise and sunset photos, so just like baby pictures, prepare to be inundated with them. (Mum, I don’t know if you know this – but you can click on the pictures to have a larger view of them)

Sundays are a bane to the traveller! Especially in the smaller towns. Mount Isa fortunately has a pretty impressive info centre with the Riversleigh Display, Art Gallery, Museum and gardens all in the one centre! It’s worth stopping in to have a look especially at the Riversleigh Centre where they display ancient marsupial fossils to the modern marsupials skeletons.

My impression of Isa wasn’t great. It’s not a place that I’ve added to the list to revisit. My impression is probably tainted by setting up camp in the rainy weather in an average caravan park, reading notices on the back of toilet doors about how to minimise lead poisoning in your children, and then add to that the change from warm to cold weather.  Worst part of that is knowing it was only going to get colder. Yes, I know it was officially Winter and I shouldn’t complain.  The cold is my cryptonite.  Hate the bloody stuff.

The land here is flat. Very, very flat. As we drive away from Mount Isa, we hit the occasional small rise in the road and are treated to an almost 360 degree view of the landscape. No hills or bumps evident on the horizon, just more wide, flat land.  From beaches, to dry country, rainforests, tropical islands, gorges, waterholes, red dirt and flat land with big skies.  We’ve covered a lot of ground in Queensland.

The trek through Queensland
The trek through Queensland
Crossing the NT border from Qld
Crossing the NT border from Qld

We’ve made it into the Northern Territory!  I was very excited to come back here. I had a two year posting in Darwin about 25 years ago. It was a fond and memorable time and I was looking forward to seeing places I didn’t manage to visit the first time and revisiting some of the old places.

We caught on the news that Alice Springs and the surrounding region had a deluge of unseasonal rain. Alice Springs seemed to cop the worst of it and we saw a photo of the police station with a carpet of hailstones. When we arrived at Barkley Homestead where there was no red dirt to worry about because it was loads of red mud. It wasn’t too bad and made a nice change from the dust. The only time it did matter was when you were tip toeing your way to the ablutions block. The layout of the campsites here was great! Each site had an island where you could access power and water, large shade trees and the centre of the island had sections of AstroTurf and large gravel which got any remaining mud off and helped to keep the inside of the van fairly clean. This place even had a pool! Toes were dipped in the water and all agreed the water was probably too cold to swim in. Craig won’t let the kids say the water is freezing unless there are icebergs floating around in it. So a broader vocabulary is being used such as “very, very cold”, “invigoratingly cold” or “incredibly bloody refreshing”. A popular servo and hotel out the front means the fuel is good and so is the food. We didn’t eat there but went over at happy hour to listen to a couple of pretty decent country crooners, have a drink and take advantage of the free wifi!

The information centre at Tennant Creek had a museum that displayed what it was like to live and grow up in Tennant Creek through the eyes of a young boy during the gold rush.  It was a pretty hard life in harsh conditions.  The information presented was lightened up with some funny anecdotes from the time and it looks like they knew how to have a good time despite the circumstances.

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This pool was technically freezing
This pool was technically freezing

This stretch of the trip has a whole lot of not much. We broke up the drive by staying near Karlu Karlu or better known as The Devils Marbles. We set up camp at the Devils Marbles Hotel in Wauchope (pronounced War-cup) where a nice little beer garden complete with pool drew the kids attention. Everyone expected the water to be cold and Xavier covered his bum by bringing a piece of ice with him.  He jumped in after throwing the ice into the pool so he could confidently proclaim that it was technically freezing.  Didn’t stop my crazies from getting wet.

A quick change and we’re off to see the sunset at Karlu Karlu. It’s a pretty set of rock formations and as we walk towards them the kids are pointing out rock ‘bums’ everywhere. They did kinda look like giant rock bums. Lots of people had climbed the rocks and kids were playing around on them. Our kids fell in with another group of kids who showed them a rock cubby house and we enjoyed another lovely sunset.  Told you! Another million sunset photos.

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Just down the road is Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia.  The van park/servo is really daggy.  There is alien ‘everything’ everywhere.  Kids loved it!  All three of them.

IMG_7128Alice Springs is a place where we spent a bit of time shopping and prepping for a tent adventure to the McDonnell Ranges.  We decided to hole up at the Big4 so the kids have plenty to do while Craig and I do the boring stuff.  The kids are pretty much guaranteed a bouncing pillow and pool with waterfall or slide.  The pool was heated which made it feel all the more cold once you’re out! A long line of shivering children waited their turn along the stairwell of the spiral slide.

We managed to fit in a couple of tourist outings while we were in town.  The Alice Springs School of the Air museum was interesting.  You get a great overview of the vast area they service, how the kids on remote stations are taught and we got to sit in on a teacher teaching a kindy class.  She rocked into her ‘classroom’ wearing a neon, green wig and ended up painting a spider and web on her face.  We also picked up an excellent phrase of hers, “Don’t cry. Try!” Feel free to use this on your toddler or adult who hasn’t yet progressed out of the tantrum phase.

The highlight of The Reptile Centre was being able to handle various lizards and a python. Watching the Thorny Devils feast on ants was entertaining and trying to spot the hidden Death Adders was a little nerve wracking.  They are scary little mongrels who are experts at camouflage, and I hope I never, ever, ever meet one in the wild.

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We also spent a short time at the Desert Park. They put on an awesome bird show which showcased their skills.  Whether it was camouflage, silent approach or hunting and speed skills each bird elicited ‘Ooohs and aaahs’ from the crowd.  We raced through the remaining enclosures but spent a little time laughing at the hilarious looking Bustard. He (it could’ve been a she for all I know), reminded me of the bird from ‘Up’.  You know, Kevin!

We’ve shopped, we’ve been tourists, we voted and now we are ready.  Ready to tackle the East and West McDonnell Ranges.  In a tent.  In the freezing cold.  It’ll be alright… I think.