Between a rock and a hard place - the Red Centre

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November 28th 2015
Published: December 18th 2015
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I'm not a fan of camping. I'm not a fan of caravans. So when Steve proposed doing some of our exploring in a campervan, well, I wasn't a fan of that idea either. However, after using up every argument against it I could think of (apparently they come with all mod cons these days) I was eventually persuaded that it was the only way to do certain parts of our trip; it would provide us with masses of flexibility (you've got to be flexible!) and it would be great fun. Not totally convinced but willing to give it a try, we went to collect our campervan from Apollo Vehicle Rentals, just a short-ish walk from our hotel.

During the course of Steve's research from home, we'd read lots of horror stories about the poor condition and roadworthiness of vehicles from the various main rental agencies and Steve eventually booked through a third party, at no additional cost(?!!), to guarantee us a campervan that would be less than two years old. Cory Behindthedesk took us to our vehicle and I was amazed to hear myself saying 'How cute, lovely, ooh look a kettle/pans/microwave/toaster/bed/towels/etc'. They really do have everything you could possibly need! Our 'van' (see how quickly I picked up the lingo!) was an automatic (I'm not a fan) and had cruise control (I'm not a fan - I think I've got control issues) and, after a quick trip to Coles supermarket to stock up on provisions and back to the hotel to collect our luggage, we set off to cover the 300+ miles to Ayers Rock (aka Uluru - a word I couldn't get my brain/mouth/tongue to register). We had to do this stretch in one go as we were booked in to the Ayers Rock Campground from that evening and driving at night is dangerous because most of Australia's animals are nocturnal and you can easily write off your vehicle or get yourself killed if you hit a kangaroo!

Given the absolute boredom associated with our lengthy train trip I wasn't relishing this journey. But, surprise surprise, it was interesting and fun! The campervan just popped along the empty, straight roads (I was starting to quite like cruise control just a little bit) and the tourism authority really has got its act together in this area with plenty of roadside rest areas for us to stop and stretch our legs and switch drivers, lots of signed places of interest and viewpoints to take a break at and soak in the outstanding views in a constantly changing landscape and the occasional roadhouse for refreshments. They even have camp sites where they actually invite and welcome people to stay for free! Perfect. We used the Stuart Highway via Stuart's Well, Erldunda and Curtin Springs then the Lasseter Highway past Mounts Ebenezer and Connor. There was a travelling van code where drivers waved to each other as they passed, a bit like the old RAC/AA member club of old, and we felt part of a kindred community. The waves ranged from full-blown semaphore style movements to that barely noticeable index finger-twitch that only Yorkshirefolk use so I'm convinced there were a few of us on the road. The only thing of slight concern was the number of unmarked cattle grids across the roads. We quickly learned that driving over those at 110 kph could mean rattled bones and crockery smashed to smithereens and our journey was interspersed with shouts of 'GRID!' from whoever was in the passenger seat at the time, to ensure that the driver had seen it and could brake in time. We finally arrived at the campground in Yulara 5.5 hours later after leaving Alice Springs going in completely the wrong direction and multiple stops along the way. It was a really pleasant journey and we felt like seasoned campervan-ers.

This was a little presumptive, in fact. I'm sure old hands would have prepared their van before going out for the evening. We found our campsite plot (No 110 with power and water can you believe!?) and promptly locked up and went out to eat. The free camp bus did a circular route round the complex so we were able to stop off and see the other residential options available. These ranged from tents to self-catering cabins to luxury hotels and the dining options ranged from take-away to cordon bleu. I was quite happy with my two ring cooker and microwave, and I don't cook! We returned to our van several beers later to try to figure out how to set up the bed. Some time, several 'discussions' and a fit of the giggles later we eventually decided our attempts were good enough. It gave a whole new meaning to falling into bed. We literally just leaned back and that was it! Then we realised how hot it was (38°C) so we completely stripped the bed we'd so carefully made, and drew all the curtains so no-one could see us semi-naked. We should have been thankful for only 38°. During our time in the Red Centre the temperature rose to 43° and counting. We like it hot but this was scorchio!

We took our time to choose when to drive out to Ohuru, for sunset and sunrise viewings, involving getting up at 4.30 one morning to see the sunrise light reflect on the vast red rock. It was .... OK. We certainly didn't get any spiritual or mystical vibes, which was disappointing. We drove out to The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) one afternoon. They are very much Oahu's poor relation but we found them much more spectacular, being much more shapely, casting many different hues (not just red) in the rock striations and we were much more impressed. We kept revisiting Aloha to see if we had missed something (it cost $25 pp for a pass to the reserve for three days so you could come and go as many times as you wanted). We walked up to it and touched it but decided against climbing it. We went at sunrise and sunset and at all points in between. Nope, nothing. We stood, sat and gazed, were silent and chatted. Zilch. We ignored it, turned unexpectedly thinking we might catch the moment unawares but still a big fat zero. It just didn't happen for us.

And OMG the flies! They had returned with a vengeance and were of plague proportions. If Hitchcock ever needed inspiration for a follow up to The Birds this was it! People were wearing those hairnet thingies that completely covered your face and made you look like a bee keeper. I resorted to using my finely woven blue shawl that I usually keep for covering shoulders in temples and as a sarong on the beach as a cover-all for the face, neck and shoulders. Steve braved it out but gave up and ran for the sanctuary of our trusty campervan when he couldn't breathe in without ingesting a mouthful of the things! They really were a blight on our experience. So, sorry A-Guru, but The Olgas take the prize, for us, on this occasion.

The further we travelled from Alice the more expensive the fuel became. We monitored the fuel gauge constantly, being unfamiliar with the van and its capacity - in fact, it was very economical but run out of petrol in those vast empty spaces and you really are in trouble, with no radio or mobile signal to summon help. We saw the price at the petrol station in Yulara and decided to put in just enough to get us to our next stop. This was a mistake as the price at our next stop was much, much higher! It was like topping up with liquid gold!

On our penultimate day before our wonderful campervan had to be returned we began the return journey to Alice Springs but taking a detour to the renowned King's Canyon and stopping overnight en route. This meant partially retracing our steps but then taking a left turn about half way there. There was a lot more obvious road-kill on this stretch, including a camel which lay desiccated at the side of the road. We drove mile after mile to get there and it took us hours. Guess what was waiting for us? You've got it, the flies. As we were the only ones there we were clearly earmarked as dinner. I trusted my faithful blue shawl and managed to do a little exploring but Steve was attacked by The Lord of the Flies and just had to admit defeat, retreating to the campervan. It was certainly very pretty. Was it worth all those additional miles and the time and petrol it took? Probably not.

We had not booked anywhere to stay that night. We stopped at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse but it looked a little too shabby so we continued to Erldunda. This was another word I couldn't get my head around so I called it World Under, which worked well in my brain. It was a good decision because it was just lovely with a pool, shop, laundry and restaurant and only three other 'vans' on the site. We had a lovely evening in the bar until a very noisy family arrived, so we retreated to the peace and quiet of our campervan and sat with a beer gazing at the stars (how soppy does that sound but they really are much clearer and brighter in the middle of nowhere). It was so peaceful and calm. Erldunda is the absolute centre of the (red) centre and suddenly I felt the mysticism and spirituality that had been missing at Uluru. We had been looking for it in the wrong place all along!

On our final day with the van we completed our return journey to Alice Springs. The fuel gauge had been flashing empty for the last 100 kms and the readings indicated we made it back on fumes, with only 12 kms worth left in the tank. In all, we travelled about 950 miles and every one of them was thoroughly enjoyable. A table in the Apollo office was laden with food and drink and other paraphernalia unused by other returning campervan-ers. You could have fed the 5000 with it!

Overall we had a great time in the Red Centre. It was interesting, historical and quite pretty but spoiled by the flies. The star of the show? Undoubtedly our little campervan. I just loved the whole experience and even became a fan of automatic gears and cruise control. On those wide open roads they were just what was needed. It was nippy, reliable and, yes, great fun. I'd certainly do it again!


22nd December 2015

Loving the Olgas
I'm glad you loved the Olgas, we did too. It's been lovely to see the places you've been as it's brought back lovely memories of our trip to the Red Centre. And above all - a convert to motorhoming. Something for the future maybe, along with cruise control and automatic gears!!! How many right turns did you have to make I wonder?
23rd December 2015

Yes, I did like the Olga's best but Steve preferred the rock. All comes down to the individual in the end. I later went off cruise control and automatic gears - you'll have to wait for the blog on that one! Good fun all the same. Not too many right turns and no other traffic to consider anyway so phew! Jx
25th December 2015

Between a rock and a hard place
We could have done with that campervan all those years ago! It's Christmas day here so Merry Christmas, what a way to spend it.

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