Outback and Back


Dec 24 2016
Escape from Alice
Posted by Karen

Ah, Alice... We came for two nights and stayed for five. You showed us your best and worst sides.

The racial divide in Alice is extremely evident and sad. Though the ordeal of getting a new windscreen for the car was difficult and stressful for us, our extra time there gave us a deeper understanding of life in Australia's Northern Territory.

We also learned we didn't have the worst car vandalism situation among the guests at the YHA Alice Springs. A fellow guest was driving on an unsealed road in the Northern Territory when he wound up with two flat tires. He hitched a ride into town to pick up replacement tires and upon his return a few hours later, he discovered his car was completely ransacked. His car has now been added to the vast number of derelict cars you see scattered around the sides of the highways here.

Though Alice was a trying experience for us, we also met many helpful and kind people. A few bonuses while here also included seeing a kangaroo up-close on our walk to the telegraph station and getting to take a step class at the local gym and discovering the step terms are the same as back home!

After not driving for several days, Chris and I returned to our newly repaired car which such zeal that Chris marched straight to the passenger's side and I went directly to the driver's side. It took both of us opening the doors to realize we were on the wrong sides of the car, so we promptly walked around to our appropriate sides with continued zeal.

After spending one final night in Alice (with a secure spot for the car!), we started our trek towards Queensland. To make up for our additional time in Alice, Chris and I drove over 2000km in two days, from Alice all the way to Townsville.

The first day of the drive was quite interesting and we saw a few fun things, including the UFO capital of Australia,

the Devil's Marbles,

and some very serious termite hills! (there are thousands of these along the highways)

For our fellow geeks: We also got to cross the Tropic of Capricorn on December 21!!!

However, the second day of driving to Townsville got a little long. After enjoying the Northern Territory's speed limits of 130km/h, Queensland's road limits of 100km/h made us feel like we were moving at a snail's pace. To pass the time, we waved in great excitement to drivers who went by us in the on-coming lane, played a game where we guessed distances between us and the radio towers we saw in the distance, counted the number of shipment containers on the road trains,

discovered the cows in Queensland are very hungry,

and came up with a song (sung to the tune of "This is the Song That Never Ends")

This is the road that never ends
Yes it goes on and on my friend
Some people started driving it not knowing where it ends
And then continued driving just to see another bend
This is the road that never ends...

Fortunately the road did end in Townsville and we spent Friday snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. No pictures of the snorkeling, but we did get to see TONS of multi-coloured fish, beautiful coral, and even a few reef sharks. Bucket list item checked!

Our next post will be after Christmas - we will likely be camping somewhere on the coast, but nothing has been decided yet. Merry Christmas everyone!!

Workout

Step class

Food

Breakfast: Peanut butter and banana sandwich with an apple

Lunch: Tuna salad sandwich

Dinner: Pizza hut pizza



Dec 18 2016
The Red Centre
Posted by Karen

We've driven over 5200km and have arrived in Alice Springs, or just Alice, as I've come to call it. When we last left off in this blog, we weren't sure where we were going to go. The red centre was so fantastic, that we wanted to take in as much as we could. The sign below showed a choice between Uluru and the King's Canyon, but we didn't want to decide, so we did both!

We camped two nights in Uluru, allowing us to take in several hikes and watch the sun set over "the rock", then camped one night in Watarrka National Park allowing us to do the King's Canyon Rim Walk. We then drove to Alice on Friday and spent the last two nights here.

Uluru was majestic, and is much more than just "the rock". While there, we visited "The Olgas" only about 40km further, which I think are at least as interesting as the red centre's famous Uluru, if not more so. While there we did an 8km hike through the Valley of the Winds. I absolutely loved this hike and the feeling of being amongst the rocks. I felt like I was a part of the valley as I ran over the rocky terrain.

I even had time to squeeze in some quick pushups...

...while the lizards looked on

Once we finished hiking the Valley of the Winds, the desert heat was still low enough to allow us to squeeze in the shorter 2km Walpa Gorge hike. I'm glad we started our hiking early though, as by the time we were done the second hike at 10:30am, the temperature had already soared into the mid-30s.

We visited Uluru close-up later that afternoon, never straying too far from the safety of our air conditioned car, then returned later in the day for the sunset, after spending the afternoon by the pool.

The next morning, Chris packed up camp while I got in a quick pole workout.

We then took a 4 hour detour from our route to Alice to spend the night in Watarrka National Park. Watarrka itself had scenic views of the rocky red ranges, however the only permitted camping in the area was at a "campsite resort" that wasn't as pleasant as what we're used to. Likely due to the driving, the extreme heat that hit over 40 degrees, and the less-than-ideal camping area, Chris and I both got a little frustrated. Fortunately, we discovered a pool on the grounds and a few other guests who made the "resort" feel less deserted, and our moods improved.

On Friday, we woke up at 5am to beat the heat and start the King's Canyon Rim Walk. The rim walk is 6km long, and starts with a 200m climb from the canyon floor right to the top. We were warned that the walk is quite difficult. Chris and I would like to thank the Grouse Grind, Sea to Summit, and the Chief, for training us to be able to climb mountains, as they made the rim walk seem short and easy (though I wouldn't have been saying the same thing if I was doing it a few hours later after the temperatures climbed another 15 degrees!).

Chris did have a close-call on the ledge at one point though...

The detour-drive to King's Canyon was definitely worth it. The hike took us over the canyon, where we were able to see the crazy rock formations made after millions of years of erosion. The rim walk also took us through the Garden of Eden, a rare place where water flows in the desert. The Garden of Eden contains plant species that existed in the time of dinosaurs, along with a watering hole that made for a relaxing break on the trek.

The Australian government is very concerned about people's safety and the high risks on some of the hikes, such as the rim walk. They go through a lot of effort by shutting the hiking trails down after 9am (to ensure people don't start hiking after it's too hot out), and by putting up signs everywhere indicating how to properly prepare, including stating that each person should carry a minimum of 3L of water on the hike. With the risks of not following the government's guidelines we couldn't believe that some people would simply ignore them. But apparently there are those that really have no idea what's going on... For example, at the end of our hike, Chris and I were relaxing at the start/end area's shaded rest spot, when we noticed a husband trying to rush his wife to start the rim walk at 9am (as the hike is about to close). Neither of them were carrying any packs or water, and she was in jeans and carrying a purse. Chris and I stopped them and said, "Do you guys have any water for the hike?", to which the husband replied, "No!...Why?". We told them about the heat and the hike, at which point the husband grudgingly agreed to go back to his car and grab a pack. He came back carrying a pack that could not have held anything near the recommended 3L of water per person, then stomped off on the hike, with his wife following him, still carrying her purse...

With the hike under our belts, we headed up to Alice. I was looking for a bit of an adrenaline rush, so we hired Frosty to take us around his 1000 sq. km cattle station on his Polaris Rzr. The ride was ridiculous!! What a rush!! Frosty knew his land and was able to take us at incredible speeds over the rock and even getting some air on the hills. Chris took a video of some of the ride, which we will post another time. We also got to see a few kangaroos, lizards, deadly red-black spiders, and of course lots of cattle. You may notice our pictures have a bit more green in them than you might expect in the red centre. This is because it rained for about 5 minutes, 3 days ago, allowing the desert to bloom.

After the ride, Frosty recommended a watering hole about an hour out of town for us to visit, so we took up his suggestion. The creek was one of those perfect places you see in pictures or on TV and wish you could be there - and this time, we actually were there!!

Now we're getting ready to head up to Tennant Creek and drive about 25 hours over to Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef.

UPDATE: It turns out we're not driving to Tennant Creek today due to the normalisation of vandalism in this town.

Workout

Pole workout and lots of hiking

Food

Breakfast: Oatmeal with banana, scrambled eggs with kale, and a kiwi

Lunch: Grilled chicken salad

Dinner: No dinner. For some reason neither of us where hungry, likely due to the heat



Dec 13 2016
Adelaide, missiles, and underground towns
Posted by Karen

Since I last blogged, we completed our trip down Great Ocean Road, stayed in the tiny town of Robe, visited Adelaide, experienced the creepy village of Woomera, and made our way to the underground town of Coober Pedy.

The last leg of Great Ocean Road was beautiful. My favourite part was getting blasted by the spray of water when the wind picked up, near London Bridge.

Once we completed Great Ocean Road, our goal was to drive to Adelaide over two days. We were entertained on the drive by "Hay Bale Art". There were dozens of these!

We weren't sure where to spend the night, but one of the ladies at a small town's visitor's centre suggested we go about an hour off-route to the beach town of Robe. We took her advice and stayed at the Caledonian Inn guest house. The town was cute and had a nice path along the water that made for a good run the next morning.

On the road the next day, we stopped for a few short hikes in the Coorong, including a crazy bush walk at 42 Mile Crossing. The bush walk was literally through the bush, which was quite scary for me. On the walk, we saw what I thought was a giant snake, but it turned out to be a large lizard. We figured that out when Chris daringly pushed aside the brush to get a closer look. (See pics in his previous blog post in the archives and hopefully you'll know what I mean!). We didn't finish the walk all the way to the beach as the brush got ridiculously thick at one point, making snake spotting almost impossible. The hike was definitely adrenaline pumping though!

Afterwards we came across some salt flats (which we're now seeing EVERYWHERE!). The salt flats are amazingly open, making them super fun to run, skip, and dance around on. There is an embarrassing video of me doing all of that….

We stopped for a picnic lunch in Lochiel where we had what looked like a beautiful view of a pink salt lake. After lunch we decided to walk a bit closer to the lake and discovered it was only beautiful from far. The entire lake felt like a giant wasteland, filled with broken glass and old tires.

As we continued on our drive, I Google searched accommodations in Adelaide while Chris drove. We settled on the Adelaide Central YHA, which proved to be quite nice. It was also walking distance from the Adelaide Central Market, where we wanted to have dinner. With so many food options to choose from, we walked around the market several times before deciding on a middle-eastern couscous bar. I ordered the spinach and black truffle couscous which was delicious. It also inspired me to want to cook, so after dinner, we walked around the market picking up goods and spices to make dinner the following night at camp. The next morning I even got in a pole workout at the park. The park also had trampolines!!! (Side question: Why don't all parks have proper poles and trampolines?)

On Saturday, we left Adelaide for the town of Port Augusta, at the start of the outback. Port Augusta itself doesn't have much in it, and it took us a while to find a place to camp that worked for us. In the end we settled on a large camping area, with a decent indoor kitchen area available to guests that allowed us to make the meal we planned the night before.

Sunday morning we left Port Augusta for Coober Pedy, the underground town. On the way to Coober Pedy, we stopped to visit the village of Woomera. Woomera started as a missile test launching site, and eventually evolved into an aerospace development site. The town is actually quite creepy. When we drove in, I felt like I was driving into the town from Stranger Things or an experimental site in the show Lost. The town was almost deserted, except for a few military trucks that went by. After visiting their historical sites, I found out the town was closed to the public until 1985, and still has over 125,000 square kilometers of land that is completely closed to the public. Despite my feeling that we were going to get abducted by some strange being, or at least be questioned by the occupants of one of the military trucks passing by, we managed to leave the town unscathed.

The drive from Woomera to Coober Pedy is several hours on flat, red terrain. To entertain ourselves, we downloaded an audio-book on Rasputin to pass the time. We're now familiar with the earlier years of Rasputin's life, if you'd like to have a conversation about that with us upon our return to Vancouver :-)

We arrived in the underground town of Coober Pedy on Sunday afternoon. The town's temperatures rise above 40 degrees in the summertime, so the entire town is built underground to stay cool. Under the ground, the homes and shops stay at a comfortable 23ish degrees, without the need for air conditioning. We decided to stay in an underground apartment to fully experience living under the hills.

Side note about how arid it is here: Our laundry dried on the clothes line in about 15 minutes.

When you drive down the main street in town, you can see vent stacks popping out of the sides of hills, indicating cave-style homes underneath. Chris and I were also surprised by the grocery store prices here. For such an isolated town with a population of less than 2000, we expected a small, expensive grocery store with limited selection. However, we found the grocery store here to be quite good, with lots of options at reasonable prices. I was able to purchase goods for 4-6 meals for under $40, including a lovely cauliflower and fresh cheese rolls. (We couldn't say the same for the restaurant selections here, so we ended up eating in for every meal. Luckily our cave apartment had a fully-equipped kitchen.)

While in Coober Pedy, we visited Crocodile Harry's and took a tour of Coober Pedy.

Crocodile Harry was the "original" crocodile hunter and believed to be who Crocodile Dundee was based on. He was an eccentric person who lived in an underground cave a few kilometers out of town. What struck me most about his home, other than the crazy network of tunnels through it, were all the things people wrote on his walls (and garments of clothing!), both during his life and after his death in 2006. He was someone who clearly made an impact on the lives of people around him.

We spent Monday on a tour of Coober Pedy. Our tour guide was excellent, and our tour group was a small group of 4 people. We were able to visit an old opal mine (70% of the world's top quality opal comes from the Coober Pedy area) and tour the underground tunnels.

Afterwards we visited Josephine's to look at Aboriginal art. Josephine's also takes in orphaned kangaroos. I fell in love with Brody, a young kangaroo who lost his mother. Once he's older, he'll be released into a sanctuary.

We also visited an underground church (all four of the churches in Coober Pedy are underground).

And an underground home, hand dug by a woman who moved to the town in the 50s.

The convenience of living underground is that you can simply dig out the wall to get your furniture to fit.

We saw the Australian "dog fence", which runs over 5000 km through Australia, separating the sheep herding farm lands from the dingos that attack them.

The end of the trip treated us to a view of the Breakaways.

On our way back into town our tour guide gave us some advice on our upcoming trip up to Alice and Uluru. He used to tour guide up there and suggested we tour King's Canyon, as his clients always liked that spot best – however it's another 4 hours from Uluru not particularly in the direction we're going. He also said that food and alcohol would be very expensive up there (e.g. $30 for a bottle of wine that would cost $10 normally) so to stock up while we're here. The only issue is that Coober Pedy has a bit of an alcohol problem, so you're only legally allowed to buy one bottle of wine or spirits per day (they scan your ID into a system and everything!). I wish I had known that yesterday because I would have planned it out a bit better. The sales person at the liquor store gave us further insight into Uluru regarding the major alcohol and drug problems that exist up there, and the car break-ins that results from those. Based on the new information about King's Canyon and thefts in Uluru, we may change our trip up a bit. I'm excited to see where we end up next and what our experiences are!

Workout

Pole workout in the park

Food

Breakfast: Fried egg sandwich

Lunch: Tuna, avocado, cucumber, and tomato pasta salad

Dinner: Curried chickpeas with spinach and rice