CAMPSITE # 91 - Tom's Gap

Before the trip, Tom had this brilliant idea - that we would stop and take photos of us alongside places, creeks or things that shared our surnames. While that's all well and good in theory, I'm pretty sure this one's the first.

Welcome to "Simpsons Gap". Thank God there were people around otherwise I'm pretty sure Tom would have happily had his photo taken of him stood alongside a "Simpsons Gap" sign revealing himself enough to reveal two Simpson's Gaps in the photo. To which I told him there would be no point anyhow cause I certainly wasn't going  to scare everyone off by broadcasting it on the blog.

I'll give him credit where credit is due though, "Simpsons Gap" is definitely the best gap I've seen so far.

We were headed East from Alice Springs, once again along the MacDonnell Ranges - just on the other side this time. We were wanting to explore the Gorges and the waterholes a little bit more and then eventually make our way down to Uluru via Kings Canyon and Gosses Bluff. We were about to do a lot of appreciating nature (which inevitably means a whole heap of walking!) We had to get the energy levels up cause we had a decent amount of sunrises & elevated lookouts to reach over the next few days. That'll boost the fitness & health regime (and make up for our few little lapses here and there! :)

Site : West MacDonnell Ranges Lookout
Rating : 11 / 20
Facilities : No facilities but one hell of a view!! 360 degrees of the ranges, a fantastic sunset!!

And for dinner? Ticking both boxes, we enjoyed a very healthy & cheap... garlic prawns and vegie stirfry...

And for the delicacy.. marinated prawn head.. yum yum!! 

CAMPSITE # 90 - Dundee Territory

I was really intrigued by Alice Springs considering it was a huge town damn smack in the middle of big old Australia. 
I like to think of it as the kind of town that makes you want to go rush to the video store to hire out a copy of "Crocodile Dundee". We tried but apparently so had 3 others in the town and they were all out!! It seems that perhaps we weren't the only one in the mood for some Dundee action. Alice Springs would have been the biggest place Mick Dundee ever ventured to - before he scooted of to the big apple with Linda of course.

The town is surrounded by the MacDonnell Ranges. To enter, you drive through a pass in the ranges alongside the river which was flowing with a very high volume of water thanks to the recent down pour. We even spotted a few local kids enjoying a dip in the usually dry, empty stone creekbed. 
Overlooking Alice Springs from lookout

The Ghan was kind enough to pass us just as we sat, first cab off the rank at the crossing.

Tom quoted "Now, this is Australia" to me at least 4 or 5 times that day. And he was right. Could our visit possibly have been any more Aussie? Well just in case, we checked ourselves into the "G'Day Mate Caravan Park"... we figured that would certainly seal the deal. 

Site : "G'Day Mate Caravan Park"
Rating : 10 / 20
Facilities : Well manicured sites. Good facilities at no extra charge. Icing on the cake - it has a swimming pool!!

As we planned to stay at "G'day Mate" for two nights, we took a day trip over to have a look at the East MacDonnell Ranges. We saw some of the most beautiful gorges we will most likely see in our lifetime. Once again, Tom found himself repeating a very cheesy line but this time it was "isn't this Gorge-ous?" Damn he's original but once again, he was right. 

Aboriginal Rock Art of "Catepillars"

Ductile Deformation...

The Trephina Gorge was simply breathtaking. We took a 45 minute walk along the top of the cliffs and then made our way down towards the walking track that was supposedly along the creekbed. Only, once we had reached the creekbed, we realised that the 'walkway' was fully submerged. So, we took off our boots and waded through ankle deep crystal clear water all of the way back to the car.

I know I'm about to say this for the umpteenth time but we are SO lucky!! To experience these gorge-ous gorges with so much water and the surroundings being so green and alive... it was simply magnificent.

A Desert Pea

 4WD only access roads all of the way out to the Gorges.  One guess why...

But there is always a sacrifice. While a trip like this is a once in a lifetime experience, we are also missing out on things back home. Tom's mum's birthday back in the UK and my little nephews first birthday party. At times like these, I know both of us wish we had some magical button that we could just press and teleport ourselves back to our loved ones. Either way, there is never a good time to go on a trip like this. I guess we just had to bite the  bullet and remind ourselves why we're here.

All of the way from Alice Springs, Central Australia - Chrissie and Angus - we wish you both a very happy birthday, we miss you both dearly and will see you both again sometime soon.

CAMPSITE # 89 - Welcome to NT

One more stopover along the Stuart Highway until we would (finally) reach Alice Springs. After analysing the spendings the week beforehand, we realised that we were heavily over budget in the Campsite fee section, having paid for a 6 out of 7 nights in one week. It was time to stay at a free camp and have a full day of zero spendings.

Rest Areas generally aren't that flash, just a piece of concrete alongside the highway. So, to have found one with a toilet (even if it was a drop dunny), amongst shady trees next to the river - we thought we were pretty lucky.

Site : Fincke River Rest Area
Rating : 6/20
Facilities : Right next to the highway so prepare yourself for a noisy nights sleep. 

Once we had setup camp, we had a number of 'visitors' pull up at the Rest Area to check out the Fincke River - it very rarely has water in it. One of the guys that appeared sparked up a brief chat with Tom, Doug was an aboriginal tour leader in the area and he'd been conducting tours for as long as he could remember. According to Doug, he hasn't seen the Fincke so full in over 40 years!! We wouldn't have known any different... what a treat to see it like this!

It's always a nice addition to any campsite when you park up next to a group of other campers who are very friendly and keen for a chat. Tom spent the afternoon in search of firewood and just as the sun went down, the flames went up. Twelve of us gathered around the fire, under the stars, for most of the night.

For anyone travelling from Eastern and Southern Australia, as all twelve of us were, coming to the Northern Territory can be quite an eye opener into how some of the aboriginal communities live in the larger towns. I cringed when someone brought up an experience they had with an indigenous Australian, it was as if it was opens-lather from there on in.

When somebody begins a sentence with "I'm not racist BUT..." usually what they say proceeding will most certainly be a racist comment. But they think they've excused themselves just by saying it in advance. Tom and I sat there silently and in shock from what was coming out of their mouths as they relayed to each other the stories of their indigenous encounters. We didn't oppose or walk away, we just sat there as they laughed at whoever had the better story to tell.

Where we just as bad as them for doing nothing and tolerating it all? As I lay awake in bed that night, I kept thinking about the conversations that went on around the fireplace. Was the UN  right when they called Australia a racist country? Could we really be a racist nation?

 We're still looking for a wild camel but none to date :(

If only...

CAMPSITE # 88 - Desert Country

Close your eyes and think of the "Red Centre". What colour are you predominately picturing? Well, surely that's an easy one, right?

Wrong!! More like "The Reddish Green Centre". Deserts aren't supposed to be flooded with an abundance of flora, with rivers rushing at thousands of litres a second and dozens of roads closed due to the severe washouts.

This isn't Desert Land, it's certainly not the red centre I had pictured. I selfishly was initially disappointed by how green it had become. I was looking forward to the dirt and dry conditions. But I quickly reminded myself however that this area is only a Reddish Green once in a lifetime. And we were lucky enough to be there and experience it with our very own eyes.

Cadney Park Roadhouse is pretty much just buildings tastelessly erected in the middle of nowhere. Once again ludicrously expensive. Upon our arrival, we stepped inside for a very well earned $6 stubbie of the South Australian local brew, West End. 

As we sat in the oversized canteen area, I looked around and hoped to god that this wasn't what Mungerannie would be like. It wasn't the remoteness of it all, it was the emptiness. It must be so hard, being out there in the middle of nowhere... trying to run a business, finding good staff and a decent price on delivered goods. But Cadney Park had zero character or atmosphere and was on a major highway, the Birdsville Track is far from a major highway, I'm so excited and intrigued to see what it will be like during our 3 weeks at Mungerannie and to find out how it will compare.

Site : Cadney Homestead Caravan Park
Rating : 7 / 20
Facilities : Swimming Pool!! Extremely clean bathrooms in very good condition. Good sheltered area with BBQ. No extra cost or time restrictions for water .

CAMPSITE # 87 - The Opal Capital of the World

When someone told me I was about to visit a town where most of its people live underground, I don’t think I really took a moment to even consider what it would have been like.

Coober Pedy truly is a town like no other. It’s a highly populated town where you are guaranteed to be paying top dollar for everyday goods – 600ml of milk was $4.40, diesel was 30c more expensive than the price 300km down the road and water was extremely difficult to come by. 
But considering how remote Coober Pedy is from civilisation, you can only expect to pay a premium price for everyday goods. So, what drags thousands of people to live underground in the stinking heat, damn smack in the middle of nowhere? Opals.

Coober Pedy’s claim to fame is that it is internationally recognised as the Opal Capital of the World.

Generally, once an area has been mined for opals, it’s left with man-made caves and underground shafts which the townspeople then convert into their homes. Considering the temperature often exceeds 50degrees during summer, their homes are a stabilised and a cool temp of 21 – 25 degrees celsius.

Driving into the town, you’re met by an incredible number of ‘mullock piles’ as far as the eye can see. They just look like giant sandy ant hills... and they’re EVERYWHERE!! To mine for opals, they drill a hole usually between 12 – 30 feet deep and then suck the rubble up to the surface via a large tube which is connected to a custom built vacuum-cleaner-like device hoisted on the back of a truck called “A Blower”, then leaving the extracted dirt on the ground called “mullock piles”. As opals aren’t magnetic or dense or light enough to use any settling techniques to extract the gems, the only way to retrieve the opals is by manually sifting through the rubble. Because of this process, a lot of valuable opals can often be missed and left lying amongst the rubble.

Just outside of town, there are, what they call, “Public Noodling Areas”. These are pretty well left over rubble for the public to ‘noodle’ through in search of their very own opals. We had a little go and to no great surprise, to no success.

We then went on a self guided tour through an open and working opal mine and educated ourselves further on the retrieval process. 

The Geologists' Lunge

 How to make a bomb...
At the end of quite a bizarre day in quite a bizarre town, we set about finding camp for the night. While there were free camps available just on the outskirts of town, we weren't given many reasons to feel very safe camped up beside the highway.

The town centre is actually quite eerie. If all of the sudden all opals just disappeared off the face of the earth, this rather disjointed town would no doubt fall to pieces in a matter of weeks. Sadly, there’s a large number of aboriginal people homeless and roaming the streets throughout the day, gathering at the shadiest place in town. It was our first snippet into what I assume it will be like, more magnified, throughout parts of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It seems that “The White People” turn a blind eye as if their fellow Australians simply don’t exist. The Aborigines seemed to only interact with each other, giving this town a very segregated and somewhat hostile feeling to it. 

We made a choice, no doubt similar to many other travellers visiting Coober Pedy – to find the most secure caravan park in town and lock ourselves away in our own little bubble, away from the uneasiness in the town centre.

Site : Sturt Range Caravan Park
Rating : 6 / 20
Facilities : Nothing flash but at $20 for a powered site, it was certainly very reasonably priced. Showers were 20c for 3 minutes and you can expect to pay 20c for 40litres of water should you wish to top up your tanks.

 I figured Tom The Geologist must have been quite disappointed at the idea of searching high & low (literally) for a particular rock and being unsuccessful. He just sat at our camping site with his head in his hands staring at the floor. While I was busy pitying him, he was busy sifting through the gravel on the ground. After just 20 minutes and a very sore back, Tom had found himself a large handful of opalised rock amongst the gravel driveway. When they first laid the gravel on the driveway, one guess where they got their free gravel from, why the public noodling piles of course!! 

N.B. it is extremely difficult to take a photo of an opal sparkling in the sunshine

It was incredible! He then got out his little “I’m a Geologist” kit and started working on the little fellas, turning them into very well shaped pendant sized opals. Some of which are extremely colourful and beautiful to look at. We didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for opals without any sentimental value. Nope, all we needed was a Geologist with a keen eye to the floor.
The next day, we patrolled the local service stations in search of the cheapest fuel in town. $1.61 per litre (it’s quickly climbing!!). While refuelling, we had a little over-the-bowzer chat with a local tour bus driver. As he began to list off all of the “you have to see’s” one in particular stood out – “Crocodile Harry’s”. Apparently, Crocodile Harry used to catch crocs with just himself, his dog, a tinnie and a handcrafted wooden spear. ‘He was wrestling crocs that made Steve Irwin’s look like babies.’ Old Harry was quite the lady’s man too apparently the tour bus operator just couldn’t understand how he ‘had a different bird for everyday of the year”.

Sadly, Crocodile Harry died 4 years ago at the age of 82. His home had since been open for viewing. Harry's best mate and neighbour of over 30 years, Tim, inherited Harry's place. He tidied it up a little and opened it as a tribute to his mate.
I felt sorry for Tim because after listening to the stories he told us about the BBQ that lasted 30 years, I realised that he was still really hurting and grieving over the loss of his dear fri
end. And quite a character he was too!

Harry's home was extraordinary. Those 365 women had left their bras & panties hanging on the wall with a little love note left for it's owner. Tim told us that Harry's front door was never closed and he used to open his home to backpackers and travellers to come party, share stories and then paint his walls, leaving their own unique mark amongst thousands of others.

In years to come, when I think of Coober Pedy I'll always think of Crocodile Harry and the electric life he must have led, living his own very colourful life not bothered by the goings on in everyday life but rather paving his own route and living a life few would ever even dream of living.