A Travellerspoint blog

Airlie Beach and the White Whitsundays

Yachting around the Seven Seas!

The trip to Airlie Beach was uneventful until we tried to hand back the Wicked camper. The returns guy was late back from "lunch" and a right arse as he pretty much treated like the mugs we were, having been stitched up by the Wicked agent guy in Alice. Eventually we returned the van, in as pristine a condition as its millions of travelled kilometres allowed then checked into the Base hostel up the road. The hostel was a pleasant surprise as the dorms were almost self contained flats. Settled in, we went to the tour agency office to check in for the following mornings sailing trip, cooked another chilli for supper and turned in.

Next morning it was down to the harbour for a wake up coffee and to meet our fellow sailors, 5 french (making Pierre very happy), 4 german, an austrian, Pierre de la Belgique and a strange and solitary aussie (sadly this guy, an online jewellery retailer and vegan, didn't join us for meals, photos, conversation or indeed anything - made us all wonder why he came on a group trip). Soon enough our crew turned up, Justin the deckhand (complete with last nights hangover and drunken forfeit - a crazy new hairstyle), Tina, our hostess from Germany and, on board, Mark the suave and well travelled captain from the States.
Justins new hairstyle (he was unaware until that morning)

Justins new hairstyle (he was unaware until that morning)


This was to be a two day, one night, trip aboard a former two-time Sydney to Hobart race winning yacht, the Siska, with actual open water sailing as part of the itinerary. At 80 feet long and with a single mast measuring 106 ft she is a beauty!! Once we had chugged out into deeper water and the wind was right our captain enlisted help from the landlubbers to raise some sail, no mean feat as these things are pretty large and made of heavy duty canvass. Fortunately among the first recruits were some of the french girls so we had a bit of a chuckle at their efforts on the winder while we lay on deck soaking up the views and the sun.

Raise the mainsail ye curs!

Raise the mainsail ye curs!


Our trip took us out into the ocean, skirting some of the islands and passing through Hook Passage where opposing tidal flows met head on. During the longer, less interactive periods under sail Tina plied us with snacks of fruit, nachos etc and we played a card game called Yaniv - no mean feat in the fresh breeze up on deck. We stopped off for our first snorkel opportunity and, whilst not as prolific as the reef trip, it was great to be back in the water looking at the myriad of exotic underwater fin flappers. Afterwards, whilst we lounged on deck Mon Capitaine safely negotiated us to Tongue Bay where we were ferried ashore to trek across Whitsunday Island to the fabulous Whitehaven beach. Here we spent a few hours taking snaps, swimming near the stringrays basking in the shallows and generally being blinded by the brilliant white, 98% pure silica beach (sand so pure that apparently you can polish your teeth and jewellery with it - yeah right. Also it is against the law to take any sand with you when you leave). For some reason the silica does not retain the suns heat like normal sand so it is comfortable to walk on barefoot! Unfortunately for us the tide was high so we didnt get the best view of the Hill Inlet, the spectacular picture postcard shot.
Our crew at Whitehaven Beach

Our crew at Whitehaven Beach

Simply stunning

Simply stunning


Back on the yacht we then sailed to our overnight mooring off of Hook Island ready for our next mornings departure, catching a great sunset on the way. After another fine feed courtesy of Tina's impressive galley skills we turned in on board, the berths being surprisingly adequate given that we were on board a sleek racing vessel.
Day 2 comprised a return to the Airlie Beach marina via another snorkelling spot. Sadly for all of us some passing whales deigned to swim past our boat when we were all some distance away in the dinghy!!

Making our way home using both wind and diesel power was a thrill as, at times, Siska caught the swift breeze and canted over at a decent enough angle for us to need to sit on the top side to balance the boat - just like proper yachtsmen (minus any skills or knowledge). The only slight mishap was the Fool demonstrating his lack of sea legs and stubbing the old big toe - thats a lost nail right there so follow the blog to see how long it takes for a new on to grow!!
The Fool navigates a safe passage

The Fool navigates a safe passage


Upon docking we all went our separate ways on the basis that we would meet again later, with Justin, at the Base Bar where we would get cheap booze and food. Having given our trusty german colleague, Max, all of our email addresses for him to circulate it was hugely disappointing that he failed to carry out this task later meaning that photos and experiences could not be shared - german efficiency my arse!!! The night out was good fun and a great way to bid farewell to those making immediate onward tracks.

Next day I accompanied Pierre and Xavier to the ferry to catch their flight to Sydney and so ended my road trip with my redoubtable Belgian co-driver from the Red Centre.

The following couple of days were a bit of R&R for the Fool following such a hectic schedule since leaving Melbourne. In addition to buying a telescopic fishing rod complete with reel and tackle for future relaxation along the east coast, I was also reunited with Anne, Sarah and Holly (as well as a brief chat on my last afternoon with Kathleen, the german doctor), all from Maggie Island.

Airlie Beach proved quite an important milestone in my travels. It marked the end of my epic Wicked roadtrip and association with Pierre, culminating in that great 2 day yachting experience. All in all, I think that the "Odd Couple" did a great job in squeezing so much into just 9 days!!!
Airlie Beach leaving night

Airlie Beach leaving night

The new road trip commences, courtesy of Greyhound

The new road trip commences, courtesy of Greyhound


All too soon it was time to move on, catching the Greyhound night bus to Mackay and a possible reunion with Mira Lo from the New Zealand Stray bus tour!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 04:58 Comments (0)

Townsville and Magnetic Island

Shenanigans on Maggie Island

Having rescued Mieke and Janice from their self-locking car at the Cairns campsite Pierre and I hopped aboard the trusty Wicked camper van and ate up some more miles as we hurtled south towards Townsville and the much vaunted Magnetic Island.
Mieke and Janice break into their own car!!

Mieke and Janice break into their own car!!


Arriving in the late afternoon dusk (something we seem to do every day when driving between the widely spaced places of interest in Oz) we parked up in another camping site and walked in towards the town for a bit of a gander. Passing through an area called Belgian Gardens Pierre perked up but personally I failed to see the link between this small suburban area and his homeland! The seafront near our campsite was nicely developed for pedestrians and even had a large seawater filled swimming and paddling pool although at that hour there were no brave bathers. A few eateries and some interesting birdlife were complemented by an unusual and bright moonscape but, after a few minutes we decided to head back and cook up some late supper.
Pierre celebrates our arrival in Belgian Gardens, Townsville!!

Pierre celebrates our arrival in Belgian Gardens, Townsville!!


Next day we headed through the town towards the ferry area, stopping at the very impressive lookout where we got our first glimpse of Magnetic Island, our destination for the next 2-3 days. We were also fortunate enough to see a large field-trip class of very bored American geology students who, with extensive prompting from their leader, invaded the rocky outcrop in such numbers that they resembled the barbary apes marauding over Gibraltar.
The Barbary Apes invade the Townsville Rock

The Barbary Apes invade the Townsville Rock

Magnetic Island from the Townsville Lookout - our destination

Magnetic Island from the Townsville Lookout - our destination


Having eventually negotiated the "where to park our van" conumdrum we walked to the port, boarded our ferry and shortly afterwards disembarked on Magnetic Island where, having missed the super prompt local bus, we walked to the Base Hostel at the bottom end of the town. People had mentioned the great beachside dorm huts at various stops along our journey and we were not disappointed - good sized huts, decent beds and a fabulous balcony sea view. Not bad for a 2 night inclusive package deal!!
The view from our dorm balcony

The view from our dorm balcony


Deciding not to waste our time lounging about at the hostel, which was very relaxed and comfortable, we caught a local bus to the start of the Fort walk where we were joined by another recent arrival, Kat, a german doctor no less! The walk up to the old fort was relatively easy in the hot sunshine and we were rewarded with a couple of magnificent views of the coastline and a regatta yacht race arpund the island on the way up. At the summit the oldest part of the fort was out of bounds but the more recent building afforded further great views of this little beauty of an island. We were told that koalas could been seen in the area and, once again, our luck was in as we saw a mother and recently born baby resting in the trees right by the fort.
The Fort Walk objective

The Fort Walk objective

Yachts race around the island.....

Yachts race around the island.....

... while the tankers jockey for the lead in their race

... while the tankers jockey for the lead in their race

Mum and baby relax in the trees

Mum and baby relax in the trees


Back to the hostel for a free barbeque lunch (a couple of hot dogs actually, but the price made them taste so much better) and a chill out before the Fool ventured to the bar and joined in with their weekly bar games night to win some free booze. Our team comprised Anne Thunderella (one of our dorm mates, another german architecture student doing the PADI open water course at the resort), Sarah (a gregarious Sweaty* also learning the underwater ropes), Holly Zoe Ashton from Essex (nuff said) and Jason Siegel, a Septic photographer.
The bar games consisted of things like limbo dancing, singing a well known song from your home country (difficult for us given our cultural diversity and complete lack of singing talent) and musical chairs. Somehow the competition boiled down to us versus a team of french girls for the title and drinks prize and the last game was the musical chairs with a twist - to stay in the game the loser in each round could carry on if they removed an item of clothing. Zoe represented us and, rather cunningly if not very sportingly, she donned extra layers of clothes from the rest of us. So, off we go, many drunken fools traipsing around some plastic chairs with our representative a cross between a vicious red headed elf and the goodtear blimp. There were plenty of funny moments in this game, the two highlights being 1) a useless drunken english fella who lost all of his clothes and dignity and still didnt make the final 3 and 2) the sight of Holly literally trying to wrestle the final chair from the grip of a lovely but drunk french girl almost twice her size. Holly proved that it is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. Needless to say that, with her tenacity and extra layers of clothing, Holly finally triumphed over the somewhat astonished and shell shocked larger opponent and the rest of our team gladly helped to drink the prize, even at the prospect of a thick head in the morning.
The final reckoning for the last man standing!!

The final reckoning for the last man standing!!

Holly literally wrestles the chair (and the title) from the french opposition!

Holly literally wrestles the chair (and the title) from the french opposition!

Team Victory (minus the Fool)

Team Victory (minus the Fool)


Given Pierres very limited timescale and that we had booked our Airlie Beach based yacht tour of the Whitsundays our final day on Magnetic Island consisted of an early start to complete the reverse of our journey inwards where, on arrival in Townsville, we were very pleased to find our van again, intact and ready for the continued trek southwards.
One of the locals bids us farewell!!

One of the locals bids us farewell!!


Townsville is a place with a nice, comfortable vibe and Magnetic Island an absolutely charming little gem hosting what is probably the Base Hostel chain's finest property.

  • For those not familiar with rhyming slang the following translation is provided:

Septic as in septic tank = Yank = an American
Sweaty as in sweaty sock = Jock = a Scottish person

Posted by RoystonBoyston 23:57 Comments (0)

The Great Barrier Reef

Port Douglas and the Opal Reef

Port Doulas:
Waking at a reasonably comfortable 7-something in the morning, our self cooked fried egg sandwich breakfast was followed by a quick 5 minute drive to the marina.

Our boat was one of several huge vessels in the harbour and was well populated more than 15 minutes early. We were underway pretty much on time, powering out at 45 degrees to the coast towards Opal Reef which was to play host to our trip today (albeit at 3 different dive points). Kitted out with snorkels, facemasks, wetsuits and flippers we enjoyed coffee and fruit cake aplenty during the 90 minute outward journey. Arrival at th reef signalled frenetic activity as we snorkellers competed with each other as well as the "fun" and experienced divers for some clear water.

Opal Reef:
The first snorkelling site was an impressive introduction to what the Great Barrier Reef is all about, the coral was varied (in size, shape, colour, texture and location) and plentiful, as were the fish, many of which were so brightly coloured you would have thought that they were advertising "Eat me, eat me" to any passing predators. Pierre and I had hired an underwater camera for the day and the first site saw the Fool snapping merrily away at anything that moved and many things that did not!
Up there from down here!

Up there from down here!


In between sites we were able to enjoy a very good buffet and to mingle with the numerous other flounderers on board. It was during our first transfer that I came across the Aussie Nissan Dealers competition winners who were on a 5 star beano for the week. A good number of them appeared to be recovering from the night before, a gala dinner basically lubricated with copious volumes of alcohol which was funded by their hosts, and for some reason I sparked up a conversation with their ringleader, Max. He is a typical NT guy whose life involves selling cars, many women, smokes and alcohol, living the dream in Darwin doing what all red blooded aussies should do 24 hours a day (he is also a bloody nice bloke). Seriously hung over he opted to do a fun dive rather than snorkel and, much later when we met again in Darwin, admitted to me that it wasnt a great success as he succumbed to the hurling reflex and fed the fish!!!

Meanwhile back on the reef Pierre took the camera for our second swim and, whilst I still took on water in my latest mask, he sighted the only shark to be seen on the day (and even managed to take some pictures - see below).
Shark!!

Shark!!


Our third site was visited at "low tide" which meant that some of the coral was actually above the water. To protect themselves from the sun and dehydration these coral species produce a thick dark slimy substance which looks rank and apparently smells even worse!! The coral and fish at this last site were more or less the same as the previous ones but, despite not seeing huge manta rays, whale sharks or the Nemo family around every turn, I loved this new underwater world. Its funny how peaceful and serene life becomes when you put your head in the sea and your ears fill with sound-damping water!! When I get to Thailand I will definitely do a diving course as, instead of swimming above the fishes, I now want to swin amongst them.
The stars of the day -
Some Coral:
Coral number 1

Coral number 1

Coral no 2

Coral no 2

Coral no 3

Coral no 3

Coral no 4

Coral no 4

Coral no 5

Coral no 5

Coral no 6

Coral no 6

Coral no 7

Coral no 7


Some Fish;
Fish pic 1 - Yes, I do know I have a big head!

Fish pic 1 - Yes, I do know I have a big head!

Fish pic 2 - Who are you calling Nosey?

Fish pic 2 - Who are you calling Nosey?

Fish pic 3 - Yes, my Zebra fish tattoo is still a work in progress!

Fish pic 3 - Yes, my Zebra fish tattoo is still a work in progress!

Fish pic 4 - Dont look, I'm blushing!

Fish pic 4 - Dont look, I'm blushing!

Fish pic 5 - a mated for life pair!!

Fish pic 5 - a mated for life pair!!

Fish pic 6 - I may be plain but I am right hard!!

Fish pic 6 - I may be plain but I am right hard!!

Fish pic 7 -Am I following you??  What do you think?

Fish pic 7 -Am I following you?? What do you think?

Fish pic 8 - A large parrot fish

Fish pic 8 - A large parrot fish

Fish pic 9 - Angel approaches the giant brain coral

Fish pic 9 - Angel approaches the giant brain coral


Giant Clam pics:
Giant clam pic 1

Giant clam pic 1

Giant clam pic 2

Giant clam pic 2


The only drawback to the whole days experience is that my apparently unusually shaped head proved almost impossible to fit with a mask that didnt flood as soon as I ducked under the surface and had to be constantly cleared throughout the day - a minor blip into my first foray into the exotic world under the sea.

Port Douglas:
Safely back on dry land we decided to head to the Crystal Waterfall walk we had been recommended. Arriving at dusk we were disappointed to find that it was closed to undergo some serious improvements so we headed on to Cairns and back to our previous plot, number 71, at the campsite.

Note to van travellers everywhere : In Oz there is a big camping site company called Big4 - unless you have more money than sense and drive round in a Rolls Royce don't even think of stopping at these places to enquire about the cost of a pitch. They are seriously more expensive than any other site we encountered and seem to have a snooty attitude to backpackers!! Rant over!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 09:14 Comments (0)

From Alice Springs to Airlie Beach -The Road Trip

Roy and Pierre's Wicked Adventure

Whilst not exactly a shock the change in the weather from dull, cold Adelaide to the baking heat that is Alice Springs certainly emphasises that the heartland of Australia has its own climate. From the airport the shuttle dropped me off at Alice's Secret hostel where the owner, an old saffer called Wayne, only decided if you could stay once he had seen and spoken to you. As it was I appeared to pass the test and found myself in a 6 bunk room with Belgian Pierre who had arrived shortly before me - we had that dorm exclusively for the duration of our stay, including whilst we were away on the 3 day rock tour!!

I booked the Uluru tour through Wayne and secured the last spot on the next days departure, run by Rock Tours - the three day trip is separately blogged under "Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon - come firewalk with me"

Returning from the tour Pierre and I had decided that we could get along fine together and, since we were both heading to Cairns and the east coast swing, we jointly investigated our onward travel options.

Sadly we discovered that being in Alice Springs without having made arrangements to leave in advance means that you are pretty much tied over a barrel with your trousers around your ankles while everybody (Greyhound, the airlines, the train and the van rental companies included) declares open season on your pale white butt. With all other options prohibitively expensive we plumped for hiring a pretty decrepid Wicked Camper for the remaining 10 days of Pierre's touring time on the basis that 1) sleeping in the van would save on acommodation costs and 2) we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, granting us flexibility. The only problem was that, being in the dead centre of Ozland we were about 2,500 km from Cairns so we spent the first two and a half days just driving!

During the roadtrip we visited some spectacular and/or iconic places and each of these that were noteworthy enough will get their own blog posting. In the meantime the excitement that was our road journey is summarised as follows:

Day 1 Monday: secured the van by lunchtime (special thanks to Wayne for the road atlas), topped up the petrol tank and headed north, drove 510 km, saw flat red sandy land, several dead roos and stayed overnight in Tennants Creek.
Our trusty Wicked van

Our trusty Wicked van

Pierre's first stint at the wheel

Pierre's first stint at the wheel


Day 2 Tuesday: Sharing the driving we drove for most of the day, several stops for petrol and McDonalds coffee and wifi, the terrain changed in Queensland but then went back to flat (still red), encountered several km of roadworks (well it is the ONLY road), saw many km of burnt vegetation, increased the dead roo count, saw a large cat-like creature (its hard to be more precise as we were travelling at 125 kph and not really concentrating on wildlife spotting) and clocked up over 1000 km for the day, arriving at Maxwhelton in the dark. Put the clocks forward 30 minutes (wtf - a half hour time zone change???) and had pasta for supper.
Executive class travelers at the Barkly Homestead

Executive class travelers at the Barkly Homestead

Sunrise at an overnight sleeping stop

Sunrise at an overnight sleeping stop


Day 3 Wednesday: Early start, again several stops as above, moseyed into Cairns at dusk and stayed at a campsite on the outskirts. Wildlife report - spotted 2 roos (alive), an emu and a crane. Roadwatch - another 1000 km completed, encountered mountain ranges, roadbuilding in the hills and heavy rain - the first for several days. Sausage bolognese for supper.
and finally we see mountains, and grass and rain (but not in this pic)

and finally we see mountains, and grass and rain (but not in this pic)


Day 4 Thursday: Into Peter Pan Travel, Cairns to book our passage on the Whitsunday trip, just missing out on meeting up with "click click click Marina" who was off to do a skydive, then did the Red Arrow walk as recommened to us when back in Alice. In the heat and humidity the walk was ok but the view from the "lookout point" was an absolute shocker as all you can see clearly is the airport runway and off out to sea - nothing of Cairns itself!! Afterwards we popped up to Port Douglas and booked a snorkelling trip on the barrier reef. Pasta for the 4th day running.
Pierre celebrates booking Barrier Reef snorkelig

Pierre celebrates booking Barrier Reef snorkelig

...as does the Fool with a welcome cup of tea!

...as does the Fool with a welcome cup of tea!


Day 5 Friday: All aboard the Calypso for the trip out to 3 snorkel/dive spots around Opal reef, pretty amazing corals, loads of fish, no turtles and only 1 shark sighting (Pierre saw it, the Fool did not!). Tried to do the Crystal Walk (recommended by same woman as the Red Arrow walk) on the way back to Cairns but it was shut due to major works happening. Chilli con Carne broke the pasta sequence however an accident when adding the Cayenne pepper resulted in burning lips and rings. Also Pierre retrieved his towel left during our previous visit - happy belgian bunny!!

Day 6 Saturday: Next morning at the campsite two german girls locked themselves out of their car Mieke and Janice, saved by a coat hanger. Good trip to Townsville, nice seafront, saw the Belgian Gardens in the dark. Mince & rice for dinner. Fish snaps good.
Cairns lockout for Mieke and Janice

Cairns lockout for Mieke and Janice

Arrival at Townsville's Belgian Gardens causes a little hysteria

Arrival at Townsville's Belgian Gardens causes a little hysteria


Day 7 Sunday: Townsville lookout very good, panoramic views, monkey like American students on the rocks, ferry terminal car park full, short bumpy seacat ride, missed bus so walked to Base hostel, HEAVENLY PLACE - sweet beachside dorms, weather great, snorkelling sunburn on top of head very sore then banged it on ferry, again! Met Anne Thunderella the german architect doing the 4 day PADI dive course, she got her lip pierced to help support a friend!

Day 8 Monday: Chill out day on Magnetic, did the Fort walk, saw a baby koala, met Kat the german doctor travelling south on the greyhound, probably see in Airlie beach. Free bbq hot dogs at the hostel for lunch then pasta and tuna dinner. Late night games and shennanigans with Jason (septic), Holly (essex), Sarah (sweaty) and Anne, won the bar games!! First time drinking in a while so up peeing all night.
Magnetic Island's latest resident

Magnetic Island's latest resident


Day 9 Tuesday: Early start, ferry back to Towie, loads of traffic on the Bruce Highway, MacD stop, in Airlie by 1.30, Wicked camper returns guy was an arse, Base hostel neat, boarding passes for Whitsundays collected, excitement builds! Chilli for supper, early start tomorrow on the good ship Siska. . . . .
The view at the end of our roadtrip made it all worthwhile...

The view at the end of our roadtrip made it all worthwhile...

A beautiful sunset to see off Pierre while the Fool heads to the bus stop!

A beautiful sunset to see off Pierre while the Fool heads to the bus stop!


Fiscal report:
Total mileage covered was 3360 km and petrol costs were $606.78 at about $1.52-1.60 litre average.
Total cost including campsites, food etc was just over $2100.

Summary: Despite the van being our only realistic option for leaving Alice, Pierre and I got on pretty well, saw some great places and shared some fun times. If I could speak fluent french I think Pierre's trip would have been even better but otherwise a very successful joint venture.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 10:47 Comments (0)

Ayers Rock - Uluru in The Red Centre of Down Under

The Rock Tour: Kings Canyon - Kata Tjuta - Uluru

The Rock Tour was always going to have a lot to live up to as Uluru (or Ayers Rock in old speak) has always held a sort of fascination for me what with its freaky geological creation and its mystical importance to the aboriginal people.

Up front I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip and that our group, guide and the sites themselves more than offset the boredom of so many hours spent driving into the middle of nowhere to look at some old red rock! Fitzy, our driver, taskmaster, guide, entertainer etc, etc, etc is one of those people who lives and breathes his role, not in a "tired old schoolmaster trotting out the same old stuff year in year out" way, but with knowledge, enthusiasm and, most importantly, passion.

The trip consisted of 3 days and two nights, driving for many hours on each day and sleeping in swags in open campsites under the stars. Our group of 18 comprised quite a cosmopolitan bunch with numbers from USA, Germany, Holland, Austria, 6 Brits and Pierre representing Belgium.

A sobering 6.00 am start on day one was bad enough but then Fitzy did little to raise the spirits as he announced that we would be driving for several hours each day, starting immediately! The tension was relieved somewhat by him simply giving us some felt pens and getting us to draw on the bus windows before we each shared a few facts about ourselves over the microphone.

Kings Canyon:
Following a lunch stop we eventually arrived at Kings Canyon where we began the 3 hour hike. Although it starts with fairly strenuous initial ascent we were rewarded straight away with great views of the surrounding area. Fitzy then took us through various facts about the history, flora and fauna of the place as we followed the well trodden but far from flat visitors trail. Some of the views were Jurassic Park-like and when we stopped deep in the canyon by an ever present pool a few of the more hardy souls jumped in and splashed around for a while in the near freezing water. Nearing the end of the trail Fitzy challenged us to make a leap of faith by jumping a gorge about a metre across without first looking into it to see how far it went down. Most of us took the task on only to find out afterwards that it was about 2 metres deep! On the way to our overnight stop we had to collect some wood for both nights' campfires (for cooking, sitting round drinking beer and chatting and for heat during the night). Most people had a fair go although numerous cuts and abrasions reminded us that it can be rough out there on us city dwellers.
The start of the Kings Canyon climb!

The start of the Kings Canyon climb!

Looking out from the top of the climb

Looking out from the top of the climb

The multi-coloured North face

The multi-coloured North face


Our camp site was pretty remote, indeed we were the only people there and, with Fitzy's help and organisation we cooked up an excellent meal of chilli, veg, rice and a traditional cake/bread called damper. Afterwards we hunkered down in a circle around the fire in our thick canvas swags for the night. Waking during the night (too much beer) I was struck by the brilliance and number of stars and the still brightly glowing embers in the fire.

Kata Tjuta:
Day 2 saw another rediculous 6 am start which probably caused the most bizarre incident of the trip. Having packed our swags and eaten breakfast around the fire somehow young Austrian Elisabeth managed to walk into/across some of the glowing embers in her flip flops (thongs),one of which immediately disintegrated in the intense heat. After kicking up a cascade of sparks she leapt away from the area to reveal a huge and ugly blister, the size and shape of a witchetty grub, on the top of her foot where the flip flop's plastic strap had melted. Despite the obvious pain and to her enormous credit Elisabeth made as light as possible of the injury for the rest of the trip, completing each of the various walks albeit more gingerly and slowly than before.
Elisabeth's firewalking blister aka her pet witchetty grub

Elisabeth's firewalking blister aka her pet witchetty grub


After the excitement of breaking camp we then drove to our shower facilities (some distance away) to freshen up then reboarded the funbus to continue to Kata Tjuta, sister rocks to Uluru, where we had a very different walk to the previous day, before heading to Uluru itself. Fitzy explained some of the history and importance of Uluru to the indigenous people and then took us on a short trek around part of the base, explaining some of the features and their functions in aboriginal culture and customs, including a crash course in reading the aboriginal cave drawing symbols. Afterwards we retreated to the traditional "sunset" car park to enjoy a beer or two while we waited for the iconic photo opportunity to arrive. Later on it was party bus time as we cranked up the sounds to head to our campsite, did several laps of the main roundabout there (something of a tradition amongst the drivers apparently) to the strains and actions of YMCA and set up camp alongside many other tour groups. Around the campfire the last of the beers were cracked open as we enjoyed another hearty feed and later settled in for the night. Again the late beers caused a middle of the night visit to the facilities for the Fool however, whereas the previous night had been positively balmy, this time the temperature was below freezing, another reminder of the extremes in the desert.
The birds congregate around the only tap, slaking their thirst whenever they can

The birds congregate around the only tap, slaking their thirst whenever they can

The spectacular view of the Valley of the Winds

The spectacular view of the Valley of the Winds

The first official sighting of Uluru

The first official sighting of Uluru


A walkabout initiation starting point in Uluru

A walkabout initiation starting point in Uluru

Is this the tree featured in the iconic picture at the Rock Bar back in Alice?

Is this the tree featured in the iconic picture at the Rock Bar back in Alice?

Uluru starts its daily colour change cycle

Uluru starts its daily colour change cycle

The colours deepen....

The colours deepen....

... and deepen..

... and deepen..

... until the great rock is ready for bed!

... until the great rock is ready for bed!

Party bus - YMCA

Party bus - YMCA

Uluru:
The final day we broke camp at 5.30 to head back to Uluru for breakfast before the sunrise. Fitzy took us back to the "sunset" car park where, instead of joining the throng of bussed in tourists, we were almost the only people there. Photos aplenty were taken as the rock changed through its wardrobe of ever lightening red and ochre hues before we set off to start our final walk which would, combined with the previous days trek, complete circumnavigation of Australias largest pebble. During the 9 km perambulation we passed a few places where photos are not allowed (the "womens" area for example) but there were ample other opportunities for stunning pictures, from huge areas of erosion, hidden caves and water pools (you wouldnt choose to swim in or drink the brackish contents) massive boulders and more paintings etcAfter the walk we returned to the bus to drop off Stu and Nikki at the airport (apparently there is a small one out here) before we started the long drive back towards theĀ  civilisation that is Alice Springs. The journey back was punctuated with some cool stops - viewing Atilla Mount Connor and the Amadeus Salt Flats to visiting a camel sanctuary where, in addition to actually being able to tride one of the beasts (which is a most unusual experience) we got up close and personal with other rescued residents including a cheeky pink gulaar, baby emu, wallabies and a tame dingo.
Fiona obviously dressed in the dark this morning

Fiona obviously dressed in the dark this morning


Finally back in Alice we all agreed to meet in the Rock bar for dinner and drinks where I ran into Sandra and Nicole, the german sisters from the Great Ocean Road trip, just back from a rock tour themselves - small world!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 01:57 Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 52) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 .. »