Uluru from the Park HQ
Well, it has been a month since we arrived in Australia and about half our time here has passed. It has been a wonderful month… an awesome month.
One thing that you realize once you are on the same road for over 600km and seen road signs advertising rest areas 500km ahead, a road where you can see a car approaching from the opposite direction more than 50k away or the horizon which is so far away is that this country is very, very big. There were times when we did not see a car for an hour! It does make you feel lonely and it makes you wonder what will happen if the car breaks down or there is another emergency. The distances between inhabited places are between 90k-250k! Imagine that is like going from Philadelphia to Washington DC or from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt and not see a town, a sealed road or any structure that resembles civilization. Sure you may see the occasional car on the road and you wave at them, you really do. It is maybe because we are the only humans for many kilometers around or because it breaks
The way up The Rock
the monotonous drive or may just be that Aussies are just very friendly to each other, who knows but you do it nonetheless. There are many ways to greet drivers I found the one where you lift the index finger to be the most popular although the “V” sign is a close second.
On the day that we arrived in Australia we flew straight through the center of Australia. As the sun was coming up I gazed down and all I could see is reddish brown earth with some white spots -I later found out that those are dry lakes. There was nothing else as far as the eye could reach from 30 thousnad feet up. I have travelled the Route 66 and the American West and I do not remember it to be that remote; the only place that resembles this experience was a couple years ago in a country that is far bigger than Australia, when we drove from Perm to Solikamsk in Russia albeit on horrific roads. Then when you are about to reach one of these stops, even Coober Pedy, if you blink you will miss them, they go by so fast. Coober Pedy is a town of about 2500 people but when you
Standing in the shade of the Rock
approach it it only has two exits, very close to each other. The town spreads to the right (east) of the highway (when driving north) and not along the highway. The cellular reception is also very localized, a few kilometers out of town and there is no reception at all. A town like Marla with 50 people goes by even faster.
One thing that I though to take with me is our iPods and that has helped with the entertainment in the car. I always wondered when I will listen through 36 days worth of music, well this trip has certainly helped to get through a good chunk of that. There is something eerie about turning the radion on and not being able to get any station.
Along the road there are some peculiarities that most people are not used too, even many Australians. First and foremost are the road trains, these are trucks that can be up to about 60 meters long! Passing one of them takes a while, although the risk is negated by the fact that most of the highway has great visibility although not always to the left or right where wild life lurks to make the drive interesting to say the least. The road is so monotonous that you slowly drift with your thoughts in different places and that is where it
Doing the base walk, 10.6km in 40C and with a stroller!
becomes very dangerous. All along the highway there are skid marks, farther evidence to the dangers of the highway are the wrecks on both sides of the highway. People just plainly fall asleep on the wheel or drink and drive. The only kangaroos that we saw were splattered on both sides of the pavement,
The reason for the stupid nets!
along with other wildlife like lizards, birds, etc. On the way to Uluru, we actually did hit a bird (πιάσαμε πουλιά στον αέρα! sorry it cannot be translated in English) and it must have escaped unscathed and there were no scratches on the hired car.
On the way to Uluru we stopped in Woomera, a must see for military buffs and surprise, surprise in the visitors center that doubles also as a museum, a coffee place, a restaurant, a bank and a gift shop we came across two German military officers. Ben flashed his charming smile to them and when we talked to them in German they pretended not to be there, I guess there are some secretive stuff happening around this place or they were just fed up with Germans, it is unbelievable how many we met on our trip to the Red Center. The town seemed deserted, up to the mid 80’s this town was off limits and it somehow feels that it has been forgotten, to rust away like the exhibits of its glorious past in the center of the town.
Farther north we stopped overnight at Cooper Pedy. We stayed at the Stuart Caravan Park, which is owned by friends of Beth’s grandparents from Greece.
Another view of The Rock
This town had many more Greeks in the past, well over 1000 at some point. Their dwindling numbers are now down to less than 400. Nevertheless, as we were shopping in the general store, I came upon a face that looked Greek and so I tried my luck. It turned out that it was Jimmy from Greece, a miner for over 40 years that emigrated to Australia as a kid with his parents. In Greek fashion we were also immediately invited to his home for dinner with friends, it would have been interesting to meet these people and hear about their lives in this town that looked so out of place in the middle of the Outback. Ben had to be showered, fed and then put to sleep so we had to refuse Jimmy’s offer. At the caravan park we rented rooms (with linen!?!), as many of you know I love meeting people so I started to chat with the guy that pulled with his Land Cruiser next to our puny Jetta. Turns out Rodney was on his way back to his farm of 5000 sq miles, yup that is about as big as the state of Connecticut. As soon as his wife and son disappeared in their room he opened the back lid and a there from a huge cooler he pulled out a couple cans of beer and offered me one. Beth got mad at me for forgetting that we had to get Ben and other things ready but I love these chance encounters. It turns out
Rodney is a real cowboy, that was educated with School of the Air, and has spend most of his life in the outdoors. He was also very helpful by giving us the a fly net for Ben’s stroller, he just handed it to me although I had offered to pay for it. Without it we would not be able to make the base walk in Uluru.
Around Coober Pedy we saw the Dingo Fence, which is the longest fence on earth and it goes a long way (literally….) to show the love Aussies have with fences. I am amazed that people live in fenced properties down here. I am not talking about a fence that somehow is pleasant to the eye, fitting to the environment or whatever, I am talking about fences that are up 2m in height and look as they were originally part of the Folsom prison. I remember looking at some friend’s places on Google Earth and when I saw the fence on street view I was sure we had the wrong address, it looked more like an industrial zone but it actually is that way. I am not sure what they have to hide or if it gives them a false sense of security but what it actually does is keep any neighborhood
It's an easy flat walk around the base
contact to an absolute minimum and for ugly housing. We wanted to head of to the Breakaway Ranges but the road did not seem to be in good condition due to the heavy rainfalls of the past few days. We then came across a jeep with four Germans that were actually had decided to head back due to the bad condition of the road. They told us of other 4WD that were bogged down out there. This chance encounter was interesting for two reasons, one that we again came across Germans, the Outback is full of them and German is enough to actually get by out there. The other one is that this group has been on a world trip for the past six years by boat. They always travel on land to wait out the hurricane/typhoon/etc season. In the Outback we also met a Spanish traveller who is circling the world in his jeep, his wife joins him on parts of the trip as she has to work in Barcelona. The guy has been on the road for well over two years. We met many people and that has been a big part of this trip, it has enriched it and made it more interesting. In Coober Pedy we saw the underground Serbian church and of course we visited a mine, an underground home and the underground hotel. The town has been used as a filming location for many movies and we saw props
The Valley of the winds, The Olgas
left behind from the movie “Pitch Black”. Here I would also like to mention the Stuart Caravan Park, it is where we stayed for three nights in total and the hospitality was great, what would one expect, it is owned by Mr. Yianni and his family. They also make a great Pizza.
After 1600 km we finally reached our destination. We drove 1600 km for a rock. This is about the distance from Philadelphia to St. Louis or from Wuppertal to Barcelona and the destination is a huge rock surrounded by lots of dry red earth. The earth in the outback is so red, it is actually more the color of rust as it actually is rusted (oxidized) iron. The rock which is called Uluru but to most it still know as Ayer’s Rock sits there like a giant turtle, recognizable from miles away it is a fantastic and formidable sandstone formation. I cannot really describe the awe one feels when we first laid our eyes upon this quintessential Australian icon. Supposedly this rock is all that is left from a mountain range. We did the base walk which about 10.5 km in about 40C, we were exhausted after we finished and I believe that we had a mild sun stroke on that day despite the hats and the water that we made sure we drunk. Oh, yes baby Ben was with us all the way. He complained towards the end as he got bored and very hot but by that time he had learned
to drink lots of water and we made sure that he did not dehydrate. Everyone knows about Uluru but not many people know that in the same park, not far away there is another wonderful rock formation. A rock formation that supposedly many years ago was similar in shape to Uluru, only 6 times bigger. This rock formation is called Kata-Tjuta or as it used to be called the Olgas, named after its tallest peak Mt. Olga. Mt. Olga was named after Queen Olga of Würrtemberg, Germany (Olga Nikolaevna of Russia, daughter of Nikolas I of Russia). This group of domed shaped formations is more interesting to explore as there are gorges and valleys that you can hike into. Of course we did not miss the opportunity and we did hike part of the Valley of the Winds. With Ben carried by Beth on her back it was dangerous to do the whole hike. What we saw though was a wonderful and unique landscape that took our breath away. Ben slept most of the way and there is something to be said about a baby sleeping like that on his mum’s back. We enjoyed it immensely and love to take him around to see as much as possible even if he will not consciously remember much. The winds were quite strong and it was a cooler day to hike, the wind sounded like whispers, and weird sounds emanated from
Sunset at Uluru!
the wind whipping the rocks. I am not sure why the Olgas are not well known, maybe it is because the sunrises and sunsets are not as awe inspiring as in Uluru or maybe it is just lack of marketing.
The Serbian Orthodox Underground church
One thing that we really missed though, the national park is a world heritage site for it, is the cultural aspect. We did see some aborigines driving by and one lady in the park HQ but there was nothing that else. There was no chance to get close to their villages and see how they live or learn about their history, their culture. In that sense the trip to Uluru left some weird after taste. This land is new for us but it is very old for the aborigines who have lived here for thousands of years. They know how to live here with the bare minimum. Most aborigines that we saw where in Coober Pedy and it was not a pretty sight. They were drunks, bums that seem not to care about themselves or anybody else. It is a stark difference to what I experienced in the American West, where there is much more to see and do in the Indian lands and the India reservations.
We stayed in Yulara, which is a town just outside the park. This town is actually a resort and nothing else. There are many types of accommodation and a town center with a supermarket, restaurants, souvenir shops, a bank and a post office. Everything is overpriced, which I kind of understand but then there was that thing with the service and the quality of the food. I understand that it takes extra cost to haul tomatoes and minced meat from Alice Springs or wherever to the middle of nowhere, one should expect a better level of service though. The resort
Another day in the Outback!
employs about 1000 people on site during low season, which in Australia is during their summer. This country is so different and hot that the winter is the high season! There are 2000 people on site during high season all to service about 800 rooms, and a caravan park. If you really think about it is a bit crazy but the resort at least does a good job in being as eco friendly as possible and by blending well in its surroundings. Interesting was the mix of the staff, most where not from Australia.
The trip took us about 7 days, we crossed half a continent, that also means half a country to see a rock. But as always with any trip it is not only the destination but the experiences that you gain while you travel there. That was one of the main reasons that we did not want to just fly there. It was mainly me that wanted to see and experience The Bush. I wanted to have a beer in bar together with many other locals and travellers, a bar that in a town of 30 people. A town where every road in every direction is dirt road and the next stop is a few hundred kilometers. You got to see that, feel it and converse with the people. It is the only way to
The Dingo fence
understand, at least a little bit. Flying to Uluru from Melbourne or Adelaide and then back is half the experience. It is an experience that will remain with us for a long time to come. With Ben this trip has also some special significance as we literally spend every hour of every day together by forming our own little world for him. We were not sure how he will take it but looking back at the experience and the pictures are proof he had a heck of a time. He has become a world traveller before he turned 10 months. His smile in the morning was priceless and despite the fact that we could not always make it comfortable for him he never complained, he took it at a stride and we can only learn from that.
We have spend a month in Adelaide and South Australia, we have seen so many people and so many places. It is now time to move on as we have to see so many more places. We are now moving into the second phase of our trip, in this second phase we will travel even greater distances but this time most of it will be by plane. We are going to move to Melbourne by car and we will base ourselves there.
Can you see his teeth?
6000 plus km in that capsule!
Overlooking Coober Pedy
Ben in our motel room in Coober Pedy
Props left behind from Pitch Black