Travels without a Plan #11

Adelaide to Alice Springs
Last update I was in Melbourne considering my next plan of action, due to the lack of work (I only managed to get a week). I decided to cut my losses and head to South Australia’s capital, Adelaide.

Adelaide is a small compact city, which feels more like a country town than a provincial capital. Having met a couple in Melbourne who live in Adelaide, their response about the town was that there were a lot of churches, perhaps not the response that I was expecting from a couple of twenty year olds.

There were a couple of reasons for heading to Adelaide. Firstly, it’s in the region of the biggest wine growing areas of Australia, the Barossa Valley. Secondly, it’s an ideal place to start the journey into the centre of the continent.

I would recommend anyone with even a slight enjoyment of wine that they should visit the Barossa Valley. It’s an amazing place, with kilometer after kilometer of rich lush vineyards, whose owners who are all happy to grant free tastings. I went with the tour company Groovy Grape who specialise in showing backpackers the region.

For $50, a full day tour includes three wineries and the biggest Bar-B-Q lunch I have ever had (I was told by the meat eating crowd that the Kangaroo was particularly good!!). The tour was highly informative, very amusing and highly recommended. It’s funny to witness everyone by the end of the tour being best friends with the people who at the start were total strangers (something to do with the quantities of wine drunk, I feel!!!).

The second reason for Adelaide was the ease of getting into the Outback and the sights up the centre (although as Australia is so massive, nothing is ever very close). I had been in Adelaide for a couple of days, giving up on all hope of grabbing a ride with anyone. I had booked coach tickets and tours when an announcement came through that there would be a couple leaving in a day, heading up to Alice Springs, stopping off on the way at Coober Pedy, Uluru, the Olgas and King’s Canyon. Perfect! Just what I was wanting to see, and at a much reduced cost (always a benefit). So, having cancelled all bookings, I had a lift organised.

The campervan was a relocation from Adelaide to Alice Springs, in technically a two person van (but hey everyone is on a budget, and I don’t mind a bit of discomfort!!). First stop was Coober Pedy, the major opal mining town of Australia, which due to the harsh weather conditions is mostly buried underground. Very surreal, the hostel that I stayed in claimed that it was the first underground backpackers hostel in the world, and it’s located next to the first underground Catholic church. Even though we had to leave early the next morning the temperatures had reached well into the mid 30’s (and its not even summer yet!!!).

Coober Pedy also has appeared in various films the two most famous being Mad Max 2 and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (highly recommended).

Next was the 8-9 hour drive (just down the road in Aussie distance) to Uluru (Ayers Rock) to witness the sunset. It’s when driving that you realize quite how vast and remote most of Australia is, with its soil literally glowing red in the baking sun (the outback is sometimes referred to the Red Centre). Never before have I seen so much of nothing. On the maps you see little towns that turn out to be a Gas Station, a Pub, and a couple of buildings. Who’d want to live in such remoteness I will never know….

The first sight of Uluru literally takes the breath away. Such a vast rock in the middle of a flat, remote desert, which is possible to see over 50kms away. A truly amazing sight. Arriving half an hour before sunset, we pulled in with the rest of the crowd in the ‘Sunset Viewing Area’, to witness one of the most stunning sights that I have ever seen, the slow change of colour of a dull red, bright red to an almost grey glow. Amazing.

The sight of all the tourists is amusing as well, from coach loads of grey haired rich Americans and Japanese, backpacker coaches full of youngsters from around the world to the most beaten up camper vans and Ford Falcons with individuals who look like they haven’t seen the inside of a shower for a long time. It also appears to be tradition to drink Champagne as the sun sets. Unfortunately, we had none so we had to make do with good old cup of English Tea.

The next day was another early start to watch the sun rise, and a two hour cultural tour around the base of the rock, looking at cave paintings dated at 22,000 years old and having the significance of various sites explained by Aboriginal guides, fascinating. If you are wondering, no I did not climb the rock. The Aboriginals say that the rock is a highly religious place for them and they appreciate it if you don’t. This, however, doesn’t stop thousands of people climbing the rock, which is rather sad I feel.

Next was a quick stop at the Olgas (a collection of huge boulders which kind of look like Homer Simpson lying down, very bizarre) and then onto King’s Canyon, which provided an ideal opportunity for some serious hiking and taking on some of the most breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

Despite the desert conditions, the Canyons have some huge water holes that provide an amazing array of tropical plants with a permanent water source. So despite being well into the high 30’s we were able to walk through an amazing green Oasis at the bottom of the gorge. Beautiful.

Next was the short hop onto Alice Springs, getting the van back safely on time. In over three days we had driven over 1,500km which is quite some going, but definitely worth it. In my next stage, I’ve organised a lift with three others heading up to Darwin, stopping via The Devil’s Marbles and Katherine Gorge. It’s over 1,800km to get to Darwin so I’m not sure how long it will take, but it should be fun (and very hot)…