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Australia

>Don’t ask me why, but if you want to fly from Perth to Alice Springs, which is approximately 2000 km, it’s much cheaper to fly from Perth to Darwin (approx 4000 km) then Darwin to Alice Springs (another 2400 km). So we’re talking in excess of 6000 km instead of 2000 km. Like I said, don’t ask me why, but it’s half the cost.

That said, let me tell you what I did when I got to Alice Springs and beyond.

Alice Springs itself is not much to speak of in my humble opinion, but it’s as good a place as any to start your central Australia (‘Centralia’ I am told) visit. I wasn’t there long before jumping on a five day tour with a great bunch of people. Together we saw Mt Connor from a distance on day one and continued on to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Again, we didn’t really stop there but travelled on to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It was here that we did the pretty short Walpa Gorge walk in something like 45 degree heat. Pretty warm as you can imagine. The longer walk through the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta was in fact closed due to the extreme heat, which is fair enough. It’s no point us passing out and making fools of ourselves. I make a fool out of myself quite often enough without more opportunities. We finished up day one watching the sunset at Uluru. I hear there was champagne and cheese and crackers, but by the time I got back from taking my photos, my ‘great bunch of people’ had scoffed the lot. Apart from the left over champagne that Fran was giddily holding onto (g’day Fran ). That night we stayed at the Uluru campsite. My first night ever in a swag (now I’m a true Australian).

Day two and we were up at 3.30 am for the Uluru sunrise. Now I’m a morning person but strangely enough I don’t really remember an awful lot of that morning (tired, not hungover thanks). I wrote in my journal that “It was lovely to see it again” so I think I enjoyed the view. Next stop was the Uluru base walk. 9.4 km and bloody hot. I hear you say “that’s not far”, and I say back some choice words about it being hotter than the previous day and I walked for more than two hours … including running out of water. By the time I finished, I was quite stressed from the heat, which probably would have put me amongst the majority. Luckily from this point onwards we were back on our truck and cooling down (so long as you weren’t in the heated front cabin). From here we drove on to Kings Canyon, with a short stop somewhere for a quick helicopter flight (Jenn, Mel … where was this again? I’m sure my VISA statement will remind me ). Ten minutes for $60 and it was a particularly enjoyable ten minutes I think. Especially when the pilot let me fly it in and out of the Canyons … ok, so that part didn’t happen. But it was fun anyway. That night we stayed at the Kings Canyon resort … there was a pool … yay!

On the third day we entertained ourselves with a hike through Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park for four hours. We ordered cooler weather and it was delivered so I’m sure we all thoroughly enjoyed this walk. The sights were all so beautiful. The Garden of Eden is here, which is a smaller gorge with a refreshing water hole specifically placed millions of years ago for tourists to swim in. I didn’t have my bathers with me so I opted to jump in with all clothes on … they were in desperate need of a wash anyway. Fellow tourer, Bruce, didn’t have bathers with him either (does he ever?) … his clothes were obviously clean though, as he went in without. This is the way I will think of Canadians for the rest of my life … just kidding! If you swim just a little way, climb over a few rocks and hold onto your fear of heights, you can peer down through an opening far below the highest cliff in the canyon (136 metres?) and see the bottom of the gorge below. That was yet another amazing sight in Centralia. In fact, throughout the walk, I’m sure my mouth was gaping open, staring at the beauty everywhere around me. Definitely my favourite place to date (until the tie with Palm Valley tomorrow).

Ok, the writing in my journal gets scrappy now so I remember the rest of day three must have been four wheel driving. We drove to Hermannsburg but found our destination (museum?) closed for the festive season so instead we went to the grocery store for ice cream. Mine was consumed by one of the camp dogs that inhabit the area. These poor dogs were so skinny. One of them didn’t even need to squeeze through the fence pailings, she just walked right through them! Unfortunately this dampened my spirits. That night, we headed to the dry Finke riverbed near Palm Valley where we set up a bush camp for our overnight stay.

Shortly after arriving, a few of us crossed the river bed and headed up a rocky outcrop from where we could quietly watch a herd of about 20 (perhaps more) brumby. Some new foals, a beautiful black horse with a white stripe down her nose, heaps of chestnuts, a few greys and some mixed horses as well. My stealth techniques are obviously lacking though, as I’m sure we disturbed them. Half of them ran off across our path, the sound of their hooves striking the ground was altogether threatening and beautiful. We stayed longer to watch the rest of the herd cautiously grazing below. At one moment, six of them lined up and faced us, all watching either with curiosity or fear. I left shortly afterwards. For the rest of the evening we sat around a campfire even though it was probably still hotter than 30 degrees.

The next morning we awoke at fly time. There’s no need to set an alarm because the flies will come in and drive you absolutely crazy as soon as the mozzies have left. It’s like a tag team thing that I’m sure they enjoy. I wrapped my head up in a towel, ninja style, which mostly kept the flies away from my face … but much better than that, I couldn’t hear the buggers buzzing around. I don’t think there are any photos of this … I sort of hope not as I wasn’t looking very glamorous.

Sorry all, I’m still babbling on and I hope at least some of you are still awake. There’s only a little more to tell.

Palm Valley was the next stop, which is truly an oasis. Permanent water, beautiful palms, ghost gums, fuchsia, figs and wildlife including Wallaroo, birds, lizards, tadpoles and grown frogs the size of your fingernail. You don’t just look around, you feel yourself there. This had definitely become my favourite place in Centralia along with Kings Canyon.

That evening we stopped in at the campgrounds of Glen Helen Gorge, where we stared in wonder as a cicada shed its shell (well we left a little early so we didn’t see it shed the whole thing). I hadn’t seen this happen before so it was interesting for me … don’t knock it until you see it. It’s quite amazing. We headed off for a beautiful swim at Ormiston Gorge and watched the sunset at Mt Sonder where two glasses of champagne was at least one too many for me. It started what may perhaps become folklore at Glen Helen Gorge. We returned to the campsite, scoffed some food, drank some wine, had a rotten shot of something, more wine, another shot of something worse, and again, some water, probably more wine, plenty of singing (including a familiar rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” by Cheryl Downes on stage, with mic and an audience in single figures), then there was dag dancing and rap dancing (including photos I am told – Jenn, I’ll pay you to be discreet with those). Needless to say it was a great night. Oh it didn’t end there. There was enough entertainment in the campground to keep me laughing for many hours but you probably had to be there to appreciate it. If I told you you’d probably think it wasn’t funny but it was incredibly so. Particularly when …

The next day was our last day together on tour. Many of us weren’t really up for much so we swam for a little while at Glen Helen Gorge and did a few other things on route to Alice Springs. My mood was sombre as I knew this was the end of the journey and I had such a great time … the people and places will stay with me.

The rest of my time in NT was spent saying goodbye to people, which is always hard. I tried to entertain myself seeing movies and ballooning, none of which were terribly entertaining but I was happy to give them a go. The hot air balloon ride meant a 3.15 am wake up yet we didn’t leave the ground until after 6 am so I’m baffled why it’s all organised so early. Even more baffled by the people who work there and do that every day. The most interesting thing about ballooning is that passenger participation is encouraged. In other words, you get to help fold up the balloon afterwards. At one stage I sort of felt myself getting sucked up and folded into it. I emerged covered in red dirt but otherwise ok.

Finally it was time to fly home to Melbourne for two days (Christmas Day and Boxing Day). The flight was full, so cattle class was as grand as ever. My vegetarian meal was half a sandwich. Does that seem strange to anyone else? I entertained myself with some dag dancing (you can never practice this sort of thing enough). Dag dancing in your plane seat is kind of difficult but I have mastered a new move. Basically it’s just thrusting one shoulder out and then back in. Looks pretty cool in the limited space. I did try swinging my neck a bit too, but that hurt so I gave up. Mark my words, dag dancing will take off one day.

I am just about to leave you, but only for a little while. I still have some tales to tell of my journey to Tasmania so expect to hear from me again soon. I apologise if you’re not interested … I have to do it.

If you haven’t checked out my photos online yet, here’s the link:

http://community.webshots.com/user/cdownes71

I’ve uploaded quite a lot recently so even if you have been there, you might want to go back and look again. New Albums include Cambodia, China, Vietnam, plus additions to other albums.

I wish you all the very best for 2003

Cheers

Cheryl

PS I hope you have at least vaguely enjoyed reading this.

Many of you I haven’t heard from in a while so I will continue to spam you until such time as you reply and request otherwise.

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