Published: January 3rd 2006January 2nd 2006
Breaky at the hotel on Christmas
We did a lot in the past week. Probably as much in one week as Les and I did in our first month here. As a result, and since this blog is first and foremost my way of recording our time down here, these will be some LONG blogs. I’ll be posting three in all, but I’ll caption them. So if you feel like you’d like to read about Flinders Ranges, you can skip to that section, or you can skip it altogether. I hope this way those of you who read in five minute breaks here and there will have some nice ‘break length’ snippets. Adelaide
Our flight to Adelaide took place in two parts, and both went about as you’d expect given we were flying with a toddler. The only exception was that on our Melbourne to Adelaide leg, we had “Elder Malcolm” sitting next to us. More specifically, next to Les. Elder Malcolm was a twenty something Mormon on his way home from his two year mission trip and he had lots to say. But instead of being annoying, Abby fell asleep in my arms, and Les was able to have an interesting chat with him about
The Baby balcony in Adelaide
This is a pic taken from my parents glassed in balcony looking at ours as Les put Abby to bed in her pack-n-play. It was the perfect hotel set up!
the differences in our respective beliefs. All the while I was whispering, “Ask him this . . .but what about this . . “ until Les had to explain, “she’s in seminary.”
We had rented a Nissan XTrail for the upcoming trip and had been nervous about how well we’d all fit given all the paraphernalia one needs when traveling with a baby. So we were relieved to find that everything fit with room to spare. Well perhaps there wasn’t really much room to spare, but we fit.
We only spent the evening in Adelaide but we still had time to stroll thru the city and get the basic layout. Adelaide is a small city compared to Sydney and the people seem way less glammed out and type A. It felt slower and less global. At any given spot in Sydney you might feel that you are in New York or London or Chicago. In Adelaide you were sure you were in Australia. There is some lovely old Australian architecture with gardens and pavilions and parks landscaped throughout but also a more faded and sort of dingy air than Sydney. The city feels older, but with a nice
understated elegance that I liked.
At one point during our stroll we started to hear some chanting or singing. Soon the sound grew so loud that we were compelled to check it out. As we rounded the corner we saw an entire city avenue full of The Sudanese Christian Choir marching, ever so slowly, in an impossibly long column, down the street. They were all dressed in either pure white, or black and yellow. The women were the color of the darkest ebony and wore long white skirts with white head coverings in a very striking contrast. The couple hundred marchers all had bells in their hands and with each marching step the bells would ring to the swing of their arms. Their singsong chant was both haunting and powerful and the city buildings around us created a canyon that echoed up and through the city.
We stayed that night at the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel, and we loved it! It was a totally new, modern hotel with the added bonus of having a glass enclosed balcony in each room. Normally a glass enclosed balcony might be annoying since balconies are generally for sitting outside in the fresh
Christmas Dinner in Wilpena Pound
We dressed up, but I'm not sure the roos really cared.
air, but with a baby, a glass enclosed balcony becomes the free “baby room." Abby loved her little balcony room and we loved the hotel on that merit alone.
It also, as the name suggested, had a nice roof-top garden complete with little tables, a huge wide slab wooden table, and most importantly, a fish pond. The fish pond had your regular run of the mill bulgy-eyed orange fish in it, and Dad started to point them out to Abby when Les said (for reasons that might never fully be understood), "I bet you can't catch one of them in under 5 minutes."
Of course Dad thought otherwise.
But fish are fast, and wet, and the pond was long and deep. Dad kept almost catching one, but then it would swim away . . .as small little slippery fish do. Abby got bored and Mom, Les and I went off to play with her on the table.
Remarkabley, a few minutes later, we heard "Aha!" And sure enough, Dad had caught one. Les looked at his watch and it was about 5 minutes and 20 seconds! Not bad, but gross. Goldfish out of the water are not very
appealing, so Dad quicly put it back in.
Christmas day saw us down at the wonderful breakfast buffet and then off into the wild blue yonder into the true outback (or at least the closest we’d get to it) of Australia. Driving to Flinders Ranges Through Australian Wilderness
To begin with, the true Australian Outback is a huge, huge place and most of it was far north of where we ever got to. Our little adventure into some wilderness really only scratched the surface of what Australia has to offer in the “nothing at all is here” department. But even this sort of easy, cushy bit of the outback was way bigger and vaster, not to mention hotter, than anything we’d ever experienced even in the western states of America.
The drive from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges took about five hours. We took a route that went up the coast a bit and then veered in to never never land. But even though we stayed fairly close to civilization, once outside of Adelaide it was like we fell through a time warp. Each time we’d look at a map and say, “this town must be pretty
Roos by our cabin
Mom pointing to some roos outside our cabins
big, it has a big yellow dot as opposed to a small white one,” we’d get there only to find maybe one gas station and if we were lucky a small grocery store. Mostly we were not lucky.
In between the towns was shallow, rolling, yellow hill after shallow, rolling, yellow hill of nothing. The hills stretched as far as we could see, and were only punctuated by the occasional flat yellow field. The yellow scrub was a prickly nasty grass and other than that there was . . . . not much.
To illustrate the point of just how big and empty this place is, we saw a sign for a McDonalds and got all excited (because we literally hadn’t found a single open place to get a Coke or a snack since we’d left Adelaide) only to see that it said, “McDonalds, only 47 Kilometers ahead in Quorn.” But it was Christmas day, so when we got to Quorn even Mackie’s was closed.
We did find a small park in Port Pirie (a town with basically no port a few miles from the ocean) and stopped for a brief break to let Abby loose and
Roos by the terrace
Mom holding Abby just outside our cabin
to stretch our legs. I’ll give Port Pirie, and all other Australian small towns this, they have some great public restrooms. In the middle of every town there was always some sort of park next to immaculate public restrooms that always included a politically correct Parent’s Room for all your diapering needs.
Finally as we neared Flinders Ranges the landscape became craggy and more ‘outbacky’ in feel. Or perhaps we just began to feel outbacky because of all the dead kangaroos and wallabies by the side of the road.
Our rental car had strict limitations on driving during dusk and dawn in the outback and on Kangaroo Island simply because it was too much of a liability to allow drivers out at that time given the high probability of a Roo-to-Car encounter. The ever increasing numbers roadside confirmed this as a real possibility.
Thankfully we were in one hundred percent daylight and we were easily able to find the Wilpena Pound Resort. Given that it is the only hotel or camping facility in the southern Flinders Ranges, it wasn’t that hard to find, but still, we were happy to have successfully completed our first major drive.
Wilpena Pound Resort at Flinders Ranges
Burnt out gum tree
This is an example of a tree that was burnt out over a hundred years or so.
First off, let me explain a few names and locations. Flinders Ranges is a mountain range that pops up in the middle part of the state of South Australia. It’s divided between the North Flinders Ranges and the South Flinders Ranges.
In the South Flinders Ranges, there is a very unusual formation where the mountains come together to form a large ring. From the air it looks like a giant oval crater, and from the sides it looks like a large circular wall of mountains that, but for a few exceptions, are a pretty tidy enclosure keeping whatever is in, in, and vice versa. Early settlers found that it formed something of a corral, or what is called a pound down here. Throw into that mix the fact that the nearest town is named Wilpena, and you have the name of the range, the Wilpena Pound.
The Aborigines have a different version and tell the story of two snakes who chased a Kookaburra but, after a series of events, the two snakes lay down to die forming the two sides of the enclosure. Given the realities of all things poisonous and
Hiking into the Pound
slithery down under, I think their story probably hits a bit closer to home!
We stayed at the Wilpena Pound Resort. While, ‘resort’ is a slightly misleading term, it was perfect for our family. They cater to pretty much any budget from the throw a sleeping bag down under this tree, to ‘here’s a tent you can borrow’, to how about a little hotel room, all the way up to our cabin units with little kitchens in them. They had a pool, bar, and restaurant and offered a nice range of outback activities. That said, everything that far away from everything else is easily weathered and seemingly hard to maintain. So our cabins were clean and neat, but worn and losing the never ending battle with the flying/crawling variety of wildlife just outside each window.
The best part about the Wilpena Pound was the larger wildlife. There were kangaroos outside our cabins, on the pathways, and grazing by our tables as we ate. Not to mention the birds. Never mind anything I’ve said about the birds in Bondi. You haven’t heard loud birds until you live next to a couple hundred parrots of three of four varieties. We
Princess Abby In Her Caravan
It was either leave Abby behind, wake her up (NOT an option!) or, sigh, carry her up this uh, trail, in her stroller.
had Corollas, Majestic Cockatoos, Green Parrots and all sorts of blue, green, yellow and white parrot type birds. They were so numerous, and so loud, that it was almost deafening at times….but in a really cool sort of way. Hiking Into the Pound and Getting Left Behind
We took a few hikes while we were in Flinders. Of course with Abby we only stuck to the well graded paths with minimal climbing. The reception desk recommended we take the ‘free shuttle’ into the Pound where there was just the ‘briefest of hikes’. They said that they thought the stroller would roll along the path quite nicely so that we could make our way up to a wonderful view of the whole range circling us.
We thought this sounded about our speed and signed up for the 8:30 am departure on December 26th. As I mentioned when describing Adelaide, life seems a lot slower down in South Australia than back in the eastern part where we live.
So at about 8:45 am a ranger came out of the office and casually said, “G’day, the shuttle bus is not really starting but no worries, it’ll be up and running
The Pound from a lookout
Looking towards the Pound from a lookout.
Around 9:15 am the ranger drove up in a 4WD tour jeep and said, “Well I guess we’ll just have to improvise with this.”
Since we were the only people taking the shuttle we had the whole tour bus to ourselves and the ranger peppered us with bits of information as we drove through the forest to the foot of the trail.
At first you wouldn’t think that there would be much vegetation in the outback. But near the mountains and along the various creek beds there was actually a forest setting. The main occupant being the gum tree. These trees grow to be huge, tall giants. As we walked and drove by them we noticed that many of them had incredibly wide trunks that looked as if they’d been burnt out forming almost a cave.
We learned from our ranger that that was in fact what had happened. Over the course of hundreds of years, the Aborigines who lived in the land until driven out, would light fires up against the trees. The goal was twofold, first it was to burn out a place where their coals could stay hot, and then at night it provided
a shelter protecting them from the gum tree limbs.
Apparently even foliage likes to get in on the things-that-can-kill-you-in-Australia game. As our guide said, “Oh yes, the gum tree limbs just fall completely off the tree for no apparent reason. They weigh tons and kill a few campers each year.”
We all looked up above us at the virtual maze of gum tree limbs over our heads and he then added casually. “We call them widow-makers.”
He dropped us off at the foot of a craggy, rocky hill and pointed to a nice wide trail.
“It’s just about a 20 min walk with one little staircase you’ll need to carry the pram over.”
We thanked him and asked when we should plan to be back for our pick-up. He said he’d be back in two hours at 11:30, and that he’d make sure someone would be there.
So we set off. The trail did prove to be fairly doable with the stroller and took us right through a gap in the mountain range. It was like walking through a rain forest, except that it was in the high 90s, with zero, and I mean zero humidity. Still
there were parrots every which way and signs that wallabies or roos had recently been around. The predominant color was red. Red soil, red rocks and lots of red dust.
We came out to a large clearing with a nicely preserved historic homestead from those crazy pioneering Europeans who thought for kicks they’d haul themselves up into the middle of nowhere and have a go at it. There was an interesting little display called ‘Jessie’s Story’ that told of the life of 12 year old Jessie who went to live with her ‘Pa and brothers’ to ‘keep house’.
The sum of her little story was, “it was hot, our livestock kept dying from starvation, it was nearly impossible to get timber out of the Pound down to the nearest town about a billion miles away and there were dingoes outside my window chewing bones.” Jessie ended up leaving and going to live with her “Ma”.
Just above the homestead was the look-out that provided a view to the whole vast ring of mountains. This was what we’d come for and so we set off past Jessie’s little dingo infested bedroom window towards the hill. At that point,
Majestic Cockatoos (Rosellas)
These were beautiful white birds with a red breast and underwing.
there was clearly a break down in understanding between us and the Wilpena Pound reception desk about what exactly a stroller can do, or perhaps what the laws of physics allow for.
To get to the lookout we had to climb a steep rock path full of boulders and ankle-turning sized rocks. Abby had just fallen asleep and so taking her out of her stroller was not a viable option. So Abby rode royalty style (we carried her stroller!!) up to the lookout and Les and I muttered under our breath about well graded pathways.
It was a great view though - it’s hard to really understand what the Pound is until you can see the full view of it. It’s pretty impressive. And with the humidity levels so low that you could see forever, it was easy to take it all in as well as spot some roos bouncing on the Pound floor below.
The descent down was a bit easier since Abby was awake, and the hike back was pleasant enough. We got to our pick-up point early and just relaxed in the baking sun. Dad and Les tried to make arrow heads out of the easily chippable rock that covered the ground. But the flies were back and we all had our own personal swarms beginning to form with only Dad owning an actual fly-hat. We were ready for our ranger to show up.
Only he didn’t. I was certain he’d come since we had a baby and were with limited water, in the desert-like heat, in the middle of a gum-tree killing forest. But I was wrong. Finally, 30 minutes later we collected ourselves and headed back to the cabins on foot.
Despite the fact that I was incredulous (and increasingly cranky just on the principle of it) that we’d been forgotten, it ended up being a fairly pleasant walk. Mostly shaded, we followed the creek bed past a herd of feral goats, some little pools, and tons of the burnt out trees. Occasionally we’d pass fellow hikers, but nary a glance of our ranger.
Finally, about a half mile from our cabins he drove down the road towards us. I was fuming. I was so mad I could spit. I’d ranted and raved most of the walk.
“Yes, I agree this is a nice walk, but that’s not the point!” I’d splutter. “He left us! We have a baby in a stroller!”
Even the normally easily riled Les was cool with the situation, but I was not.
“I’m going to demand a free dinner and free bottles of wine for each of us! What if we’d needed to be back by a certain time? What if Abby ran out of water! What if . . . .”
But when our ranger stepped out of the van he smiled and said in his calm and quiet accent, “Hey there, how ya going? Enjoying your walk?”
He smiled at us as if we were his best friends and he was so happy for us that we’d been able to have such a nice stroll. “Sorry I’m a little late, but it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”
He stood by the side of the car fumbling with his keys and gazing out at the limb-dropping gum trees as if they were family members. He clearly loved this place. He obviously would never harm a soul or intentionally cause an ounce of stress, but he might sort of lose himself in his love of staring at rocks and trees and oh, say, forget to pick up a family.
Inexplicably I suddenly felt so guilty that I might even cause him the slightest bit of discomfort and I became the biggest advocate of the whole episode.
Dad let out a big, “No worries, it’s a great walk.”
I chimed in. “Yep, we were waiting but this has been sooooo nice.”
The ranger looked around and pointed out a few things to us, flora, fauna, what have you.
Then Dad and Les said politely, “You know at this point we’ve basically walked the whole way so maybe we’ll just continue back to our cabins.”
I nodded like I couldn’t be more tickled with being stranded and forced to walk through the outback to my cabin. But the thing was, I was happy about it.
“Oh yes,” he agreed. “Your cabins are right around the bend, really nice little walk isn’t it? I’m so glad you had the chance to make it.”
So thank you, anonymous and laid back, or perhaps just a bit bush-bedazzled, Mr. Ranger for giving us that ‘chance’.
We took a few other little jaunts around the area. One was to Sacred Canyon where we saw some Aboriginal Engravings and the other was a drive to some great lookouts giving us pure unobstructed views, with zero signs of civilization, for hundreds of miles in any direction. It’s a big, big place. It’s hard to even describe how big it is. It’s also a hot, dry place. But it’s lovely and it gets into your bones. Goodnight Wilpena!
A really great feature of the cabins we had, was that they were within baby-monitor range of the restaurant. So once Abby was down, we were able to have a normal adult dinner in a real restaurant without having to worry about how loud we were or paying a sitter. We could just flip our monitor on every so often and get back to eating next to the roos. As a result we had great dinners and then would hang out on my parent’s terrace waiting for it to get dark.
It doesn’t get truly dark till about 10pm. But when it does - the stars are amazing. Truly. It even topped Lake George if I’m honest. We could see the Magellanic Clouds - just gassy old clouds up there light years away as well as the Southern Cross and an upside down Orion. Our second evening, we took turns driving the car (not that the rental company need know of this) out into the outback away from the resort and its few lights, so that we were in utter blackness. There were so many stars you could literally see by them. It was the quietest place I’ve ever been and a sky bigger than any planetarium.
Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges were a wonderful way to get a taste of the outback and we were really sad to leave all the roos and parrots and ancient trees. But on the 27th we had our breakkie and hopped in the trusty Nissan heading back down to Adelaide and - - just to get you excited for the next blog posting, our hotel in Glenelg called - - The Atlantic Tower Motor Inn.
Trust me, it was as bad as it sounds!