Published: November 21st 2011November 15th 2011
So, the 'big red centre' is one of the must-see attractions on any Australian trip, with the mighty Uluru (Ayers rock) as the country's flagship tourist destination. Great. The thing is it's a bloody long way from anywhere, so unless you catch a plane, it's a VERY long drive to get there and then a VERY long drive to get out to the next area of civilisation. No worries - we had already driven across the Kimberly, Bert was more than up for the challenge. So we got our manky driving clothes, our 10L water carriers and the ipod ready and hit the road.
We left Darwin the day before the world solar car challenge set off down the highway for Adelaide. Debs pulled her 'I'm a teacher from the UK and writing a blog for the kids' line out again and got us into backstage area, which was actually more interesting than it sounds. It's all written up on www.pe-teacherontour.blogspot.com with pictures if anyone is interested.
The drive out of Darwin was relatively dull especially as we had seen all the interesting things between there and Katherine on the way in. We were once again in four item
scenery, eg road, sky, sun, dust. Or a variation, road, clouds, scrub tree. Etc. All was going well until the end of the first full day on the road when whilst putting up the tent at a free camp by the side of the road, the pole that had been recently cracked, snapped completely. We hadn't slept in the car for ages because of the heat, and luckily it wasn't quite as hot so it was bearable. It was starting to get cloudy, and an amazing lightning storm started in the distance - great for watching while cooking.
The next day was more of the same - except for an increase in the amount of fires and smoke around - we drove through some long stretches (100km+) of haze - couldn't see very far, and the next day the highway was shut at that stretch because of poor visibility. We'd decided to aim for a roadhouse to watch the Australia v New Zealand RWC Semi-final. It seemed no one else there was interested in the rugby - we watched it with 2 french boys who were also camping, but not a single Australian, in fact, no one was interested
in much there - as shown by these encounters on our arrival in the bar:
Jo: "Will you be showing the rugby?"
Barman: "What rugby?"
Jo: "What do you have on tap please"
Apparently the place had been jumping until 3am the previous night - a little hard to believe as it's completely in the middle of nowhere. Who would go?!
Stayed in Alice for a few days and explored the MacDonnell Ranges, found out about the Flying Doctors and visited the School of Air. It was not as grotty as material would have you believe, but very tourist-y. I guess they have to entertain Uluru's half a million annual visitors. It's also worth noting at this point that Alice Springs is not so much a Gateway to Uluru, so much as somewhere that's vaguely near. Unless of course you would say that Glasgow is the gateway to Brighton, or Norwich the gateway to Dublin.
Uluru is no doubt an impressive site, but the walks at the Olgas were if anything more dramatic and very enjoyable. It is always strange to be actually looking at something you are so familiar with from photographs.
We didn't climb, given the wishes of the traditional owners, and were surprised to see a lot of people still climbing - seemed to us that it should just be closed so people don't have an opportunity to make the wrong decision. We also wandered around Kings Canyon, again as impressive as the big red rock but less 'famous' (and also a 300km round trip detour from the road out to Uluru - nothing is just up the road over here!)
Coober Pedy was the final stop on the centre drive. An opal mining town, Coober Pedy can only be described and very very remote and full of weirdos. A unique place, notable for selling extremely out of date cheese in the supermarket. No wonder we saw a lot of weird stuff.
The top part of South Australia also has the distinction of being the most boring part of the drive, very long straight roads with no distinguishing features. Fortunately there was a corresponding increase in road safety signage, which was entertaining (and dramatic) enough to stop us falling asleep.
It was a bit of a relief to get to Port Augusta, and start seeing regular towns
and shops again - and we were so excited that we went to Quorn purely because it was called Quorn - more on this in the next one!
It was a great trip to have done - 3500km of pretty much nothing, probably once is enough. The overriding review would be: Big, red centre - definitely big, but not really very red. More brown and scrubby. Not so good for the tourist brochures though.
There are more photos below