Adventure Tours Trip from Melbourne - Alice Springs
I SURVIVED! It may come as a shock to all involved, not least myself, that I have emerged unscathed from the Outback and my Adventure Tours trip... The difference between the past 2 weeks and the East Coast tour was unbelievable - hard to believe it was all the same country! Trip format was also rather different - I think I consumed about three units of alcohol over the whole thing, in bed before midnight every night and always up before 6 am. Some would say - personal hell. Zoes?! I would probably have agreed before now. In fact, when I read over the details of the trip before I came away, I nearly wet myself. Hadn't realised what I had signed up for that day in STA at all - hiking, camping, doing dishes?! But so glad I did it - real experience and I feel like I've had a more 'balanced' Aussie experience. Really had the chance to find myself.... Ok, that bit might be bullsh*t - but I did, against all odds, really enjoy myself. Apologies in advance for the length of this - can't see it being a quick one for the length of time it covers!
My last blog entry finished with my first couple of hours as the one-man wolfpack. I survived admirably in Melbourne on my first few hours as a 'solo traveller' - largely thanks to an awesome hostel with lovely people, great weather and a familiar face... Caught up with Gary from Emma on my first night there. Managed to get the right tram and everything, even if I did forget to buy a ticket and spent the whole journey slightly past myself at the prospect of being deported for fare evasion. Had some great grub, wine and went for some drinks at Cookie which seems to be a big Melbourne hot spot. Was lovely to see him - very jealous of his time in Melbourne. Definitely a place I would like to come back to - didn't really get a proper chance to see round the CBD.
The next day I had booked onto a day tour to go to Phillip Island, primarily to see the 'Penguin Parade' which happens there every night when thousands of little 'fairy penguins' march out of the sea at sunset, up the beach, onto the footpath and home to their digs. Apparently its about a 2km walk them and they are 30 cm tall and have no knees. Mission. Joined the tour round lunchtime - a full bus consisting of me, a lovely German girl and 17 Japanese tourists. I've never seen so many pictures taken in my life - what do they do with them all?! We stopped at a animal sanctuary and fed some kangaroos. The wallabies are all well and good - very cute, an acceptable size etc. I fed them some of the food we had out of my hand - perfectly nice...
Kangaroos, on the other hand, are a little terrifying. They're bloody massive beasts that come bouncing at you like something possessed. Needless to say, I promptly dropped my tub of food and retreated. I've heard these things will stand on their back legs and use their claws to disembowel you. Didn't see any positive sightings of such behaviour on the day in question but you can never be too careful.
The penguin parade was definitely worth the trek - about 4 hours return. They are pretty gorgeous. The first ones get washed onto the shore, look around, realise they are the first and promptly turn and swim back out until there is more of a crowd assembled - real herd animals. Couldn't take any pictures because it hurts their eyes. Needless to say, some nationalities ignored this rule. Loved this sign tho...
We stopped for pizza on the way back and when I got back to the hostel, most of my roomies were in the bar so I stayed with them for a bit and had some cheeky bevvies. (Little did I know, this would be my last for a while!) Could very easily have been convinced to pack in the tour and stay with these guys in Melbourne for a bit - really landed on my feet with that hostel. By the time 1.30 came around, thought I better call it a night especially when my pickup was 6.15 am. That pick up time should have been a warning of things to come!
MELBOURNE - ADELAIDE
I was booked onto a tour from Melbourne - Alice Springs but it transpired that it was actually two seperate tours. One from Melbourne to -Adelaide, a day in Adelaide and then another tour from Adelaide - Alice Springs. The little buses they use are a far cry from our luxury coaches on Contiki and Topdeck. Tiny little things with your knees up round your ears but they got us from A to B. Which is a tough enough task when A and B may be 2500 km apart so can't really complain!
The tour group for the first part were lovely and we had plenty of free seats on the bus to spread out (unhook knees from ears). Most were European but most also spoke excellent English - put my languages to shame big style. All I could remember in German was 'I would like to go to the cinema' and 'Oh my goodness, I have no idea' (thanks Laura!) and my French was little better - Mr Lytle would have been mortified. Two girls - Kahina (French) and Alicia (Scottish) - and a lovely German family were doing the whole trip to Alice so I quickly zoned in on them! Definitely a particular skill of an only child after holidays spent eyeing up other potential 'friends' at swimming pools.
The next three nights, two days, were spent making our way along the Great Ocean Road and then through the Grampians to Adelaide. Got loads of pictures - most of it was gorgeous scenery so the pictures sort of do the talking - you will be glad to hear!
Very early on, we stopped at Bells Beach which is one of the most famous surf beaches in the world. My surfing pro gals would have been in their element after their lesson in Byron.... Or maybe a little out of their depth?! Apparently the surf was particularly good but we didn't see anyone catching a wave. Seemed to just be fannying about with their boards, chatting and generally putting on a pretty poor show for us. Think I would have been better waiting in the car park where apparently there were postive sightings of surfers getting changed....
After lunch, we headed up the start of the Great Ocean Road. The first half is known as the Surf Highway whilst the second part is the Shipwreck Coast.
It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world and don't get me wrong, I was well impressed. But the North West coast of NI could give it a run for its money any day of the week.... We stopped to do a tree top walk at Ottaway Rainforest which took us a couple of hours, giving us a chance to talk to each other a bit as we wandered round. I was much more enamoured by the 12 Apostles (or 8 and a half apostles). These are big bits of coast line which have come off the mainland and now form little islands. Not gonna lie - don't really remember the specifics... Geographers would have been in their element.
After an overnight in a tiny place - population of 8 - where we had a BBQ and watched a film, we got up at 6 am, had breakfast and headed back onto the road. Breakfast is something I have had to learn to do on this trip - when you have to get up in the middle of the night, its a bloody long time until breakfast! I think Dad (and plenty of other Houstons) would have struggled with this trip foodwise! The father in the German family suggested he was going to claim off the Health Insurance for weight loss! Don't think I was so lucky but I certainly learnt to eat when any food was offered. In the morning, we drove along the Shipwrecked Coast and it was pretty easy to see why it is so named. The big bits of rock which have come away from the coast make it a pretty hazardous place. Wouldn't have liked to be anywhere near this place in our Whitsundays boat - we would definitely have ended up in that lifeboat! We stopped at Logans Beach to do some whalewatching - unsuccessfully. Although I'm pretty sure that Blind Bartamaous here would need the whale to be beached a couple of meters away to spot it. Did our first big of proper hiking that afternoon through the Grampians. Tough enough number (most of you will know, I am not exactly the hiking type) but well worth the effort. Took about three hours to do the return 8km trip...
Stayed in a lovely cabin at Halls Gap where we were all in together. Our tour guide made some good spag bol (I was even able to help without any calamity)and we watched an Aussie Rules match. The kangaroos bounced past the windows whilst we were there - just in case we needed any reminder of where we were!
On the last day of this tour, we stopped at the McKensie falls where we walked down to the foot and back up - pretty sweet....
Stopped at a (very) pink lake - apparently because of the reaction of the salt and some bacteria and then drove solidly for the 400 km to Adelaide, only stopping for a photo op at the border of Victoria and South Australia.
Adelaide is a pretty tiny place - the Aussies have a very strange concept of 'city'! Apparently its the first Aussie city to be freely settled rather than by prisoners - knowledge. Our hostel was a bit odd - very quiet and my first encounter with an inhabitant was an old man walking around with his trousers down. Nice. Some of the group and I went for dinner and drinks on the 'nightlife' street which I have since heard described as a 'feral' place - perfect word I think! Rough as arseholes is how some would desribe it - sorry Granny....
The next day, we had a pretty impressive lie in before we headed out to take a stroll around Adelaide. It's actually a really nice place - not saying I could stay for weeks on end, but perfectly nice for a free day. Gabrielle and I went for some pub lunch and I bought some essential camping supplies for the rest of the trip - funny enough, I did not possess a sleeping bag, torch, liner etc - this is a new world to me! That evening I caught up with Danni, a friend from Contiki who lives in Adelaide. It was really lovely to see her - she drove me out to 'the Bay' area at Glenelg where she gave me a bit of a guided tour and we went for dinner. Then hot chocolate. Had a good catch up and reminisce about Contiki and had a really lovely evening. Highlight may have been sitting in the car watching The Drunkest Man In The World try to stand up. At 8pm. Epic fail.
ADELAIDE - ALICE SPRINGS
After another very early start, our next tour commenced. This time, the bus had one empty seat so it all became a very tight squeeze! Again, we had a really lovely group and a great little mountain goat of a tour guide - John. Lots of my fellow passengers were students from Europe/Canada who are on an exchange to Adelaide uni and get a couple of weeks off at this stage so do a bit of travelling. Our resident, and favourite, German family were still with us and our main mountain man, Josh, came from Arizona. Or more specifically Scottsdale, remember the goldfish racing Sarah?! On the first morning, we drove to Quorn which was to be our home for the next two nights. Kayna, Alicia, Melanie and I set up camp in a room before we had lunch. John alerted me to the presence of a fatally venemous red back spider who was camping out under the Coke machine. Thus, creating one of life's greatest dilemmas - cope without my DC fix or risk death by spider. Needless to say, the DC won out and I tried my luck with the spider. And won. Point to me.
That afternoon we went for a hike through the Flinders Range, up Dutchman Stern. Think we did about 8km at about a 10% gradient (lingo!) so it was a good enough workout. Good views from the top though. Thought I better include proof that I had made it.
On the way back, a family of kangaroos bounced past us...
Had a BBQ dinner back at Quorn and a bit of a chat in the dining room there. The place used to be Mill so there main buiding is rather nice. And they had a bloody good heater - score.
On our second day at Quorn, we drove to Wilpena Pound which is a circular mountain foundation and walked through the middle of it. Had really nice weather and the walk was all flat so the 5.30 am start was less painful. Stopped in the afternoon to check out some Aboriginal cave art
And some old sheep station ruins - which the girls model beautifully....
The next day we headed to Cobber Pedy - the world's Opal capital. This place is in the middle of nowhere. I don't understand how people live some remotely - if you wanted a night out, you would have to drive 2 days there and 2 days out. Would need to be a hell of a night out. In the Outback, you literally drive for 5/6 hours and see nothing. I've never read so much in my life. Which is quite a feat when your knees are tucked round your ears and your fellow passengers are screaming like banshees in the seats beside you! Cobber Pedy is built almost completely underground - very odd. There is very little on the surface and even if there is a small house, most of it will be built under the ground floor. Maybe Gemini Homes should consider a new venture... Although I suspect the heat is less of a problem in Portrush. We went on a tour of the Opal mines - check out my hat. Good look.
That evening, we all went out for pizza which was a bloody nice change. And then dandered down to the kangaroo orphanage run by a local couple. They take in any babies whose parents have been killed on the road etc and look after them 24/7. Get up and feed them all through the night, let them sleep in their beds - its a bit nuts. One of them took a particular liking to my hair...
After our night in an underground bunkhouse, we headed on a (ridiculously) long drive to our first night of camping. Drove most of the day, stopping now and again for various sites. Also had to stop when we ran over a dog - true story. Bit sad :-(. The Aboriginal owner asked for petrol money to take it to the vet but was last seen walking in the bush - probably to bury it. Also stopped for some picture moments - including when we crossed into the Northern Territory...
The drive was absolutely worth it though as we made it to 'Uluru' or Ayer's Rock for sunset. After all the hype about it, I thought I would find Uluru a bit of a let down but it's absolutely amazing. It's massive and made up of one single rock. And apparently it goes about 5km underground so you only see the tip. We got a great sunset as we sipped on some bubbly and ate some crackers - tough life.
That night, we lit a camp fire and slept outside in waterproof sleeping bags or 'swags'. With my extensive knowledge of all things dangerous, I was able to discuss the dingo risk at length. Reciting facts about dingo fatalities etc. But I was eventually persuaded so after some marshmallow toasting, I took my place in my swag - making sure I was sandwiched between plenty of other people.
Lo and behold, I was not eaten by a dingo. Or strangled by a snake. Or trodden on by a camel - all of which had crossed my mind. Felt like I had only just gotten into my swag, when we had to get up at 4 am and head to Uluru for sunrise. Definitely worth it...
We then did the 10km walk round the outside of the rock. You can climb the rock using ropes on a guided tour but you are asked not to. The original Aboriginal owners view the Rock as completely sacred and the only time they climb it is when the elders are performing ceremonies. As part of the government lease, however, they have to allow people to do it. Despite this, everywhere you look there are signs asking you not to and apparently 35 people have died attempting it. Needless to say, I did not attempt it! After Uluru, we drove to the sister park - Kata Tjuta where we walked through a gorge. Spotted a wild camel - apparently Oz is the only place to still have wild camels. It was completely unphased by its audience! I think I should bring one home as a companion for Bella when the inevitable happens and Poppy pops her big fat clogs. About the same size anyway.
After another long drive, we got to Kings Canyon for our last night on tour. After having ticked 'sleeping in a swag' off my list - I was quite content to sleep in a tent. My usual roomies, however, spent another night outside so I decided to move house and sleep in with Sophia and Lena. Not sure how I am going to cope with sleeping by myself again! After our pretty amazing campfire, we hit the sack for our last night.
The last morning was spent doing the most strenous walk of the trip, round the rim of Kings Canyon. The first 20 mins was hell but the other 3 hours were amazing. By the end I was actually beginning to enjoy these walks! Almost... Maybe I should have joined the Cambridge University Hillwalking Club after all.
After our last lunch tonight, we did our last big drive to Alice Springs where the tour ended. We drove past the Finke River which was flowing hard - something it apparenty does only twice every fifty years. Glad it made the effort for us. Alice Springs is a strange little place. The sign posts point to places like Adelaide and Melbourne even though they are about 2000 miles away. Just proof that there is NOTHING else in between! Crazy.
We had a nice group dinner and said some sad goodbyes...
So basically, the whole thing made me pretty hard core. Like to think of myself as a mountain climbing, camping, dish washing nature buff now. These sign were everywhere - often thought to myself that people at home would thing I should be NOWHERE NEAR the 'Explorer Highway'.
It's definitely a trip where the idiom that 'the journey is more important than the destination' rings true. Most of it was spent in the bus but it was awesome to see that side of Australia. Could I do it again next week?! No way! But really glad I did it. Back in Sydney now with Wayne and Amanda which is lovely. Currently watching TV and might even have some wine. Controversial. And I don't have to worry about death by dingo/snake/camel/spider. Leaving Aus on Tuesday to start my 7 weeks in Asia. Cannot wait but will be very sad to say goodbye to this place - it's been Pretty Dam Good. I dreamt last night that Lizzy doesn't want to come to Thailand to see me any more, so if anyone is interested, I'm taking applications. Miss and love y'all. xxxxxxxx