More Week Two – King’s Canyon, Uluru and the Kata Tjutas – Outback

After the first 20-minute climb, (see previous post), the King’s Canyon hike was fairly straightforward.

That little bridge we have to cross . . . no worries!

Neil on that little bridge we have to cross . . . no worries!

Oh, there was a swaying little bridge walk over a very deep part of the canyon, but it looked sturdy to me, and after all, these places have to have liability insurance, right?

The 6+ kilometer hike ambled a bit up and down, round the curves and up and down again, but negotiating it only took patience, and not much in the way of superior hiking skills.  I had water, my walking stick, camera, and three companions.  The day was beautiful and the camera captured only a bit of the spectacular red surroundings.

King's Canyon walls

King’s Canyon walls

Some fooling around out on the overhangs, but you notice I didn’t walk out there!  The kids and Neil seemed to have less caution than I generally do in high places.  So I had an opportunity to snap a few of these crazy climbers!

We finished the hike by 11:00 a.m., returned to our ‘resort” and grabbed Kindles, towels and fresh water before we headed to the pool for a few hours of refreshing relaxation.  Tomorrow, we will head out to Uluru and the next part of our Outback adventure!

Neil . . . hanging out at King's Canyon

Neil . . . hanging out at King’s Canyon

Ashley and Justin out on a rock limb . . .

Ashley and Justin out on a rock limb . . .

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Week Two– Palms, Camels, Wild Horses and A Long Dirt Road

On the way to King’s Canyon, we met a red dirt road that went forever.  With diversions such as Palm Valley, “just a bit off the main track”, it took us about 10 hours to go from Alice to King’s Canyon Resort, 50% owned by Aboriginal shareholders.  The Palm Valley side-trip was only 22 km.  How bad could it be?

But when our 4-wheel drive vehicle was challenged on a barely-a-road full of rocks, hardly a dirt path at all in some places, that 22 km. took forever.  Well, only much of the afternoon.  The twelve-mile equivalent times two for the round trip reqired about three hours of very careful navigation through the rocks, dips and mud holes.

The beginnings of Palm Valley

The beginnings of Palm Valley

Soft sand turns out to be as hazardous as deep snow, and though my 4WD skills are quite good, we spent a good hour before the first palm showed up in our line of vision.

Short story was that we arrived at the trail head mid-afternoon, when the temperature was about 40 degrees Centigrade . . . perhaps 104 degrees, and the short, fairly easy hike became a sunstroke threat for this woman.  Neil, Ashley and Justin completed the walk, while I retreated halfway through, found the car, and practically plunged my face into our water-soaked washcloths.

Once recovered, having collected my companions, we headed back up the rutted trail toward the “main road” if one can call it that.  The permit-required Mereenie Loop.  Fortunately there were no permit checkers on the way, but there were groups of camels on the sides of the road, along with the wild horses and foals running back and forth in front of our car, all headed to the potholes filled with rainwater from occasional showers as we moved down the Loop.  The photo at the header of this website was taken on this part of our journey.  It was actually quite exciting!  I hadn’t considered sharing an Australian road with camels . . .

As the sun hung lower in the sky, our collective nerves began to rattle a bit.  There was NOTHING out here . . . absolutely nothing.  No streetlights, no houses, huts, tents, no gas stations, no cars, nothing but us, and beyond us a continuous show of sheet lightening with surprise instant rain showers.  And when the dark came, we were plunged into the black, but for the now inadequate light from the front of our car.  “Trusting the process” took on a whole new meaning.  We were on the red moon, or Mars, and though we knew we couldn’t get lost, because there was no other road, King’s Canyon might as well have been weeks away.

By about 9:00 p.m., we arrived at our destination, checked in, got to our room in the darkness and took turns learning our way down the path to the communal bathrooms.  Getting ready for an early hike the next day was our first priority after we settled in, because the heat of today’s hike let us know we did not want to be away from heat shelter by noon.

The beginning of our "little day hike" . . . King's Canyon.

The beginning of our “little day hike” . . . King’s Canyon.

The next morning, we were out by 7:00 a.m., headed toward King’s Canyon for our hike.  The drive to the trailhead was only about a ten-minute one, and we parked in a large lot, along with the other cars and tour busses.

A fairly easy hike, said the book, but for the first 20 minute climb.  Again, I asked myself, “How bad could that be?”

November 2-9, 2012, Week Two continued – The Red Centre – We WANTED to buy the permit, truly . . .

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Well, are any of you wondering about the camel photo at the top of this website?  Yes, that was a photo I took this week, the week in which we felt like we were in the Twilight Zone on Mars (the red planet, yes?).  More about that in my next post.

Our first and last nights in the Outback were spent at Toddy’s Backpacker Lodge in Alice Springs, separate rooms the first night, sharing a room the rest of our time in the Outback, cooking in the hostel kitchens of our various lodging locations.  Good training for the Camino next year . . . and excellent relief for our wallets, with outrageous restaurant costs all through Australia.  This is NOT what we remembered from eight years ago on Oz’s east coast.  But we weren’t on the east coast yet.  We were in the middle of the desert, surrounded by heat and red dust.

We awoke on Day Two, excited to head for King’s Canyon.  Since I’m the 4WD driver in most situations, I took the wheel.  Remember, our driving time in Oz was focused and on the lookout to make sure the driver, sitting in the passenger seat, turned left onto the left side of the road, and turned right onto the . . . left side of the road.  We also got to laugh at whoever was in the “driver’s seat” every time he or she used the windshield wiper rather than the turn signal, also situated on the wrong side of the steering wheel.  It was a twisted brain exercise each day, re-learning to turn ourselves backwards and inside out.  Anything to get to the reverse orientation.  And the passengers cheered and counted all the right and wrong actions of the driver as we made our way down the dirt road.

So . . . I drove.  We were to go by way of the Mereenie Loop Road to King’s Canyon, but needed a permit to drive on the Aboriginal property. My instructions were to drive to Hermannsburg to a gas station there, buy a permit, and be on my way with my three red-dirt companions.

Anxiously on the lookout for Hermannsburg, we saw it rolling up into our line of sight like a strange tumbleweed . . . in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was the “gas station”.  Hmmm . . . dust, old cars, lots of Outback mutts gathering around and a battered building with a caged front door..  I got out of the car, and walked into the “store”, greeted by a goofy white guy, perhaps in his mid-twenties.  When I asked to buy a permit for the Mereenie Loop Road, the guy guffawed, stopped, put his hand to his mouth, guffawed again, and told me he was “real sorry” but they were out of permits.  Yep, he had just started working there a week ago, and he had run out of permits about three days into his new stint. (Chortle, chortle, sideways look, silly grin . . . )

“But hey, if they stop you”, he advised, “just tell them you WANTED to buy a permit, but we just (guffaw, guffaw) ran OUT!”

I’m not sure what he was smoking, but I would like to have tried some of it.

Week Two – The Outback, Northern Territories – November 2-9, 2012

The heat is not at all my favorite thing, a fact to which those who know me even slightly can attest.  However, when I had set my sights on seeing the 2012 total solar eclipse from nearly the only land location from which it would be visible, I also knew that going to Australia for a few days or a week would be foolish.  Any destination that takes nearly twenty-four hours from portal to portal deserves at least three weeks or more.

So it was with relish that I planned our trip to Oz.  One week in Western Australia at Neil’s request because the Margaret River Valley is known for . . . what else?  Wine!  A week in the Outback, so I could visit Uluru, the sacred red rock of the Aboriginal people.  A third week at the Great Barrier Reef, scene of the total solar eclipse if we planned it right (and of course we did), and a five-day wrap-up in Sydney before heading back to Colorado.

From the air, we could see absolutely no sign of civilization.

Week Two began with a flight from Perth to Alice Springs, in the dead center of the Outback.  Once we had been whisked away from the e civilization that was Perth and its surrounds, I began to see the complete desolation that is the landscape of the middle of this continent.

I used my iPhone to shoot photos out the airplane window.  First completely abandoned red dirt, seen through a screen of puffy clouds.

The “folded over” mountains from our plane.

Then the “folded over mountains” as Neil called them, a sort of long ridge with vertical creases, such as one would make in a long loaf of bread.

The long and zigzagged road . . . the only one visible from the air.

At one point, halfway through my flight, I spotted a thin red line zigging one way and then zagging another, perhaps the only road for a thousand miles.  Or perhaps not a road at all.  If that’s not it, there IS no “it” through this section of Oz.

Finally we arrived at the Alice Springs airport, and after about 45 minutes at the Hertz counter and numerous errors kindly and frantically corrected by the only employee in the booth, the four of us lugged our bags and backpacks to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a honking big 4WD vehicle suitable for our Outback explorations during this next week.

Our Toyota “Camel” for travel during Week Two

This was the first rental car for which we were given a 100 km. daily limit for our travel.  We thought it a bit strange, but as they say in Australia, “No worries!”   After all, we wouldn’t drive more than 700 kilometres in a week, would we?

To be continued . . .

Week One – Busselton, Western Australia – October 26 – November 2, 2012

Wine tasting . . . that is what brings us to this little town, not a bustling one, despite its name.  But Busselton, nearly four hours south of Perth, “in the West”, as they say, is the gateway to the wineries of the Margaret River Valley.  It’s also a perfect spot from which to launch oneself onto the rocky coastline of the southwestern part of this continent.

Busselton Grand Mercure Resort

One of the best parts for us is that we managed to snag a three-bedroom time share condo right on the Busselton beach . . . the only cost was the $150 Interval International exchange fee.  Now THAT speaks to some strange convergence of planets, grapes, sand, and our best intentions for our Eclipse 2012 trip.  More on that plan later.

Morning Beach Walks

So launch ourselves we did, indeed.  Each morning we walked on the beach. Nearly each day we lined up three wineries to visit, interspersing our tasting with a picnic at the nearest set of coastal rocks, or a burger in Margaret River itself, or a paired food and wine tasting at one of the fancier wineries (Leeuwin Vineyards for that one).

Leeuwin Tastings

Traveling with Ashley and Justin was a real lesson in meal efficiency, and we enjoyed most of our dinners at our condo, grilling steaks one night, stuffing ourselves with Justin’s tacos another, pasta on two different evenings, and always, always . . . some of the wine we had purchased after our daily tastings.

Wine tasting in Nannup at a food festival . . .

Not that we were only enologically focused . . . we did visit one brewery, where I, the non-beer drinker, began my soon-to-be-habit of ordering hard cider (YUM!).  We also set out one day to see only galleries . . . no wineries.  However, when we got to the Happ’s Pottery Gallery, we discovered that a tiny tasting room was tucked away across the entry from the artwork, and there we had some of the tastiest varieties of the week!

Happy campers are we . . . always a great beach with crashing waves against the surrounding rocks, always a beautiful sunset dipping below the blue waters, always a great glass of wine awaiting us, and always a decent bed to crash into when the day is done.

Sunset at Busselton Beach

So goes Week One in Australia 2012 . . .

Australia – October 24-November 20, 2012

Over the western seas to Oz

We begin our trip on United Airlines, in First Class to San Francisco and Business Class to Sydney.  We are delighted with our seats, the ones that turn into beds for the travel over the water.  I’d go in Economy and just suck it up, but Neil, my tall person, the last best one, really needs the room for those long legs of his, and I had 300,000 United Miles just begging to be used, so with his coach ticket and upgrade and my mileage bonuses, we snagged a much more comfortable situation, so as we embarked, we settled into the front section for the flight . . . Kindles, knitting, my Bucky neck pillow and the softest eye mask I’ve ever found – one I carry with me on all long trips.

After a fabulous filet mignon dinner, we each took an Ambien and settled into a very long sleep.  Waking up two days later by the calendar is always disconcerting when I travel in this direction, but it is what it is.  And time goes so swiftly in any case . . .

The flight approach to Sydney

In Sydney, we grabbed our flight to Perth, picked up our rental car, and drove to the International terminal to meet my daughter Ashley and her husband Justin, who will join us for the entire month of the trip.  They’ve been traveling the lower part of the world for the past year and are arriving from Bali, where they’ve spent the last month.  We haven’t seen them since my mother’s funeral in Chicago in early June, so we can’t wait!  I only wish my other two children, Tanner and Morgan, could accompany us as well, but that was impossible for them.  Another year . . .