Fabulous contrasts in Australia
06.09.2010 - 28.09.2010 13 °C
I had an uncomplicated flight to Alice Springs, the true heart of Australia. Treated myself to a taxi so that I got to the hostel in good time, ready for an early night. The town of Alice is quite desolate - I witnessed a number of Aboriginal people drunk in the streets. I hope that this is not too much of a stereotypical perception but it was indeed true. I learned that I had sadly just missed the annual 'Henley on Todd' boat race which consists of guys in no-bottomed boats, running the river course as there is rarely any water in the River Todd! What a fabulously excentric, Australian thing to do each year - and of course, beer is involved. While out buying supper, I walked past the old 'Governor's House' with a plaque which proudly stated that Prince Charles had suffered food poisoning whilst staying there - shame.
The tour bus picked me up at 5:00am for my two day trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon and The Olgas. Wayne, the tour guide, drove for 500Km to reach the first stop of Kings Canyon. We walked 7Km around the rim of the canyon - very steep in places but well worth the climb to see the dramatic scenery across the desert and down into the canyon. We then drove another 500Km along the Stuart Highway, through the real outback to our night camp at Yulara. It rained during the night and also in the morning while we were preparing to drive to Uluru for our sunrise walk! Rain is quite a rare event in this part of the world and not very welcomed by us when getting up at 4:30am. Despite the rain, seven of us walked the 10.6Km around the base of Uluru, walking through rivers which are very rarely present. We also witnessed waterfalls coming from the rock and beautiful rainbows when the sun finally peeped out. Because of the adverse weather, the rock climb was closed but anyway, we had all agreed that we would not climb in deference to the local Aboriginal tribes who believe that it is their responsibility if anybody is injured on the rock. After more than five hours in this breathtaking place, we then travelled to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and walked into Walpa Gorge, another sacred site of the Aboriginals. The 800Km drive back to Alice was very tiring for us all, especially Wayne who had to keep awake and cheery for the entire two days!
Next day, I was picked up in Alice and driven out to the Ooraminna Homestead where I was working for a week. What a fabulous place - only 22Km outside Alice but you could be on the moon. Bill and Jan organise corporate functions in and around the Homestead which resembles a film set from a cowboy western. Due to the wet weather, both events that I should have helped with had to be relocated to town as the dirt roads were too boggy for any coaches. So, I spent the week doing a bit of housekeeping in the cabins and not much else but had a great time in the wilderness, watching the kangaroos and 'yabbying' with some guests and the homestead caretaker. Yabbying is catching freshwater crayfish in a creek with lumps of fresh meat on a pole. We then cooked them in a billy over the open fire, along with bush tea - real outback stuff. The only thing missing was the damper bread. The guys were laughing because I had walked to the guest cabins instead of jumping in a 'ute' and driving. We had so much rain during my week at Ooraminna that it was possible that I wouldn't be able to get out for my flight to Adelaide but the ute made it with time to spare - a wonderful week with the most lovely, interesting people.
Salli, who I had met on a train in Vietnam, met me at Adelaide airport and we drove to McLaren Vale, a luscious wine area south of Adelaide. We had arranged to stay with John and Sue and help with their small, but perfectly formed, vineyard at Blewitt Springs. John is very knowledgeable about wines and he and Salli had in depth discussions about noses, fruit, soil and all that stuff - I just drank! It turns out that, in 1996, Salli had worked at a vineyard in France, just 20Km from me - quelle coincidence. John took us on a wine tasing tour on Sunday afternoon as a reward from raking out all the prunings from between the vines - really hard work but when we stopped for a rest, the scenery through the valley was lovely. We also had a trip to Woolunga Market on Saturday morning - very alternative and hippy. The week flew by, mainly because I was in an alcoholic haze for most of it! As well as being a great cook, John was more than happy to share his wines with us. Adelaide didn't have a lot to offer except Glenelg where Salli and I went after an afternoon in the city. On our last night, we all went to Sellicks Beach for supper - again, very alcoholic but also lovely food.
Sad farewells to Blewitt Springs and we then drove to Hansdorf, an ancient (by Australian standards) settlement town and then on to the Barossa Valley, just north east of Adelaide, where famous wines such as Jacob's Creek come from. An afternoon of wine tasting for Salli while I cheered from the sidelines. Next day, we headed south through country much like the York Moors and then on to a place called Tailem Bend where a man, Peter Squires, has collected more than 100 pioneer buildings and arranged them like a village. We met Peter as he cycled down the high street and he told us the history and how the place was used in various films such as 'Australia' with Nicole Kidman - a lovely, excentric man. We then started our coast drive for our first night stop at Robe with a lovely beach where we saw (or think we did) seals close to the shore.
Now we have sobered up from all the lovely Australian wine, we have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of The Great Ocean Road, along with the Blue Lake at Mount Gambier. Salli trusted me to do some of the driving on the way to our second night stop at Port Campbell - what a lovely little fishing village with a beautiful, sheltered cove. We dashed to The Twelve Apostles for a stormy sunset. The rock formations on this part of coastline are awesome (aaah!) the only word I can think of. Very similar to Pacific Coast Highway in California with the wild surf breaking against the cliffs and rocks. It was a good job we had made the effort to get to the cliffs that night because, next day we awoke to driving rain. However, this made the best setting for visiting the site of the Loch Ard Gorge where a ship was wrecked on its way to Melbourne and only two survived - you could certainly see how a sailing vessel would not have much of a chance if it got too close to the treacherous rocks.
After driving through the Otway forest, we had a surfside lunch at Lorne then on to Bells Beach which, I am reliably informed, is a World Famous Surf Beach. We spent some time watching a few intrepid surfers attempting the waves, with not much success as the sea was still pretty stormy. Dedication is definitely needed to perfect the sport - it looked pretty cold to me! We then drove into the south west suburbs of Melbourne where Salli's parents live. They're on a Pacific Cruise so Salli and I used the place as a base for two days of Melbourne sightseeing which I'll tell you about next time.