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Andy’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 05 Jul 2006

Location: Red Centre, Australia

MapCAIRNS TO ALICE SPRINGS
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Instead of taking the usual option of flying the vast distances to Alice Springs which is dead in the centre of Australia i decided to join a trip with Desert Venturer. Its not a tour exactly, more like a road trip with 30 odd other people. Am so glad i chose this option.

The company blurb (”You get to see the real Australia”) was spot on. Although i dislike totalizing any particular part of a country or aspect of its culture as the “real deal” i saw areas of the country that mirrored many of my preconceptions of Australia.

The trip is essentially just a means to get to the centre of the continent rather than see many of the sites along the way, though on our first day we did manage to see some of the ‘highlights’ of the route including the widest waterfall in Oz (unspectacular due to low rainfall), Australia’s smallest bar (a cupboard) and Porcupine Gorge (Australia’s mini Grand Canyon: very enjoyable to see how a small river over millions of years - or 6000 years if you are a creationist and happen to stand against the vast multitude of scientific fields of enquiry - has cut through different coloured rock, from reds to ochres, ashes, oranges and browns. It reminded me of of layered cake.

Our journey started in lush, muggy rainforest. By that evening the landscape had changed dramatically as it would continue to do throughout the three day journey. We were, after all traversing half the distance of the entire continent! Rainforest had morphed into lush grass, volcanic soil and the dairy farms of the Atherton Tablelands, after which eucalypt forests began to dominate.

Our first night was spent in Hughenden. A small outback town. We stayed in the Great Wester hotel i think. Just what was great about it i do not know. Though we had dinner on the veranda i try not to use such sophisticated words lest people get the impression of high tea at the Ritz. This was a motel through and through. The bar was heaving as it was friday night; the Hughenden glitterati were out in force. Alas shampoo has still not permeated this area of the country. Likewise moral values banning sexual relations with a close members of your family have steered well clear from the town. As Bill Bryson so aptly puts it, this was a town that had clearly witnessed “generations of unbiblical sex”. I’m being overly judgemental though. We chatted to many of them after a thrilling game of Killer Pool (i was the last tour person in the tournament, which was eventually won by a local, and so won a stubby holder!) and they were all very amiable including two aboriginal guys who me and my new friend Alison got on with very well.

Next day was an early start so we could catch the sunrise over the outback. Quite stunning. It was now clear how deep into the continent we were. The terrain was flat and drier with much shorter shrisb and trees peppering the landscape. Stopped in Winton which was the birthplace of Australia’s unofficial national anthem: Waltzing Matilda.

Our next stop was Carrisbrook station, a cattle farm - though farm is not the correct term for these establishments. This particular station was 50 000 acres, and that is not particularly large. Some of the biggest dwarf many European states. The size of this country never ceases to amaze.

The owner of the station was Charlie and he showed us around 3 high lookouts which offered spectacular panoramic views of 2000 square km of dusty, red, flat outback country. While the driver prepared an Aussie BBQ for lunch he took us to see some aboriginal cave painting.

Next leg of the journey took us to Middleton Pub, the sole building for hundreds of miles. Population? 6 - including pets!

Second days accomodation was Wirrelyena station, another cattle and sheep ranch. We all sat around a log fire drinking, eating a hearty meal prepared by our hosts, and playing with the pet kangaroo, puppies and pigs. The only downside was the hosts son. I kept trying to see if he had 666 on his head or if his name was Damian. I’ve never met a more obnoxious, rude or plain nasty boy. At one point, when he was kneeling over the fire i wanted to give him a short sharp kick in the butt and do everyone a favour.

Day 3 and we were now in the heart of Australia. Dead bushes and stoney desert gave way to nothingness. Just dust. We all got out and did a ‘nothingness’ walk, laughing nervously about how funny it would be if we broke down - but how unlikely it would be.

One hour later we had broken down. The back tyre blew. Stranded in the outback - well, for a good hour at least. Was kind fo exciting actually. we had provisions to last us days if necessary.

Once we got underway we amused ourselves with a game of ten pin bowling down the coach aisle using water bottles and an orange, a quiz in which i came third (i won a toy koala bear) and stopped to admire a five metre high termite mound.

The trip was brilliant. We all had a great time. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of flying. You don’t get up to much, you don’t see the most amazing sites in Oz, but it is fun and very sociable (and cheaper than flying).

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Song of the Week:
Waltzing Matilda - The driver clearly loved this song, he played it practically non stop. He even gave out the words and we all sang our little hearts out!

(Most annoying) animal of the week:
Outback flies. For all that is good and true in this world, if i could have snapped my fingers and killed every last one of these critters i would have. This coming from a person that increasingly dislikes killing anything (I’m on the road to vegetarianism at the moment, when i get home at least). They were incessant. 50 would land on you all at once. At first it was kid of funny - "oh look a fly on your lip", "haha there's one on your forehead". But when you have one on each tooth, some happily vomitting on your eyeball to see if its edible, a dozen or so vying to be the first insect to penetrate your inner earlobe - well it becomes ever so slightly annoying. Every time you took a bite of lunch you inadvertently swallowed more protein than your food offered you. I started to look increasingly like a crazy person, arms flapping in the air, head twisting violently from side to side and eventually perfecting these techniques by running around in a small circle.

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Best moment of the trip:
Watching two kangaroos hop across the outback as we listened to a didgeredoo being played on some tribal dance music. Could not have been staged better.