Hope you're all well back home in Blighty.
This is our last-but-one entry for Australia, before we head off to Asia for the last part of our trip. Can't believe it's all going so quickly!
Last time we wrote, we were about to embark on our outback adventure driving the 1,595km from Adelaide to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). I say adventure, but we weren't going off the beaten track and instead sticking to a very straight, very long road North.
As far as we were concerned, the 'getting there' was as much part of the experience as actually seeing The Rock. We'd had a good stab at exploring various coastlines and cities of Australia, but had yet to travel through the real outback.
Before you're very long out of Adelaide, you're into the vast expanse of the desert with just nothing as far as the eye can see. It was still baking hot (for now!) and the brick red ground looked as parched as we'd expected, but there were more scrubby bushes and small trees than we'd anticipated so there was a bit of dusty greenery too.
We didn't see too much wildlife alive on the way up, but sadly passed a lot of roadkill – birds, cows, kangaroos and even a horse (although thankfully Roland told me to look the other way quickly enough...) As kangaroos are nocturnal, you don't see any hopping about their business in the daytime and we didn't fancy Ruby's chances coming up against them at nighttime, so we stuck to daylight driving.
With all that space, you see for miles and miles – and the sky is amazing with layers upon layers of bizarre cloud formations stretching far into the distance. We also saw columns of dust storms that looked like Wizard of Oz tornadoes; we definitely felt a long way from home.
First overnight stop was Port Augusta, our last taste of semi-civilisation for a while. Then it was back on the road again. There are very few vehicles travelling this stretch – we learnt fairly soon on that it was the done thing to wave (or at least raise a weary finger in greeting from the steering wheel) to anyone you spotted coming the opposite direction. The 'road trains' (massive lorries carrying three or four 'carriages' of cargo) that hurtle along are a wee bit intimidating - the poor 'roos wouldn't stand a chance...
Night two was spent in Coober Pedy, a very odd place indeed. It's there to support the nearby opal mining industry, which also accounts for the 44 nationalities living there (which meant that we, somewhat incongruously, had a rather tasty Greek meal in the middle of the desert.)
You can see the evidence of the opal mining around the town, with little molehills of dirt that people have dug up, fossicked through and, hopefully for them, found their fortune and got the hell out of Coober Pedy quick-smart. There are also helpful signs instructing people not to walk backwards (so that was that for the desert moonwalking) to avoid falling down mine shafts.
It was a searing 40 degrees when we arrived, so we were glad for our unconventional accommodation that night – in a hostel built totally underground, so naturally cool. Bit weird sleeping, to all intents and purposes, in a cave though...
And so finally, after the longest last stretch of nine hours, to Uluru. Thankfully, although we felt a little like battery hens after being cooped up in the car for three days, we decided that we would go and watch sunset at Uluru on our first night. (I say thankfully as the weather turned quite dramatically the day after...)
Roland had been to Uluru before with his family and still remembered being amazed by it. It certainly is very impressive and imposing against the stark desert background. Its changing colours are pretty captivating, with the setting sun really making it glow and creating shadows in all its millions of craggy nooks and crannies. Certainly a very memorable and special evening.
The following day, we went to The Olgas – a group of spherical rocks clustered together. They were good (particularly in silhouette in the evening) but no Uluru. What we did love though was unexpectedly bumping into a herd (?) of wild camels! We had no idea camels existed in the wild in Australia – we've since learnt that they were brought to help build the railways and, job done, they were left to fend for themselves which they seem to have managed quite fine.
By afternoon, although it was still boiling, a rather chippy wind had blown up. In fact, it turns out, it was actually the fringes of Cyclone Yasi which had just a few days previously battered Queensland. At the point when our tent was almost blowing itself inside out, and the fabric attaching the guy ropes to the tent was about to rip clean off, we decided that it was time for an upgrade to a cabin...
After getting up at the crack of dawn to see Uluru at sunrise (sunset wins, hands down) we decided to cut our losses as the weather was filthy, with torrential rain in the mix along with howling wind. We certainly didn't want to get stuck out there if the road got cut off because of flooding. And so we made our way back South, staying at the same stop-off points (but giving cave life a miss this time). Roland did a tremendous job of driving in the appalling conditions, through some pretty deep flooding in places. And Ruby, give her her due, was a star with not so much as a splutter. At least the dust got washed off!
On the sweltering journey up, we'd planned to stop to take some desert photos on the way back down, hoping that it would be a little cooler. What a difference a couple of days makes: there was no stopping for snaps in that rain, and besides, the desert now looked flood plains with little tufts of trees just about visible through the water. We've said it before, but the weather in Australia is just brutal. Overall though, we were really glad we did the trip and feel like we've had a much fuller experience of the hugeness of the country – but hopefully that'll be our only brush ever with a cyclone!
When we got back down to Port Augusta (the so-called Crossroads of Australia), we veered East to discover a bit more of outback life. We'll post that in our final Oz entry.
Helene and Roland xxx