Friday 21st August

The speed of the night had effected the required result and by 7.00 we had made up speed and were back on track for time and our ETA was back to 11.30.

Just time for a leisurely breakfast with a very nice lady from Adelaide, rather helpfully sporting a beautiful turquoise/green opal ring, very much of the shade I might like if I were lucky enough to have one….. (?!) She was lovely and recommended a lot of places to visit that I could not quite grasp – nevertheless I made play of making lots of notes in order that she felt helpful. She was apparently a regular Ghan traveller as she had daughters in both Darwin and Adelaide and travelled between the two locations several times a year. It all seemed very satisfactory.

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Breakfast over it was back to the blog as I was still trying to catch up from two lost days when my IPad had died, but I was nearly there. It is quite difficult to have an experience and then reflect on it, while at the same time having the next experience – if you know what I mean!

At 11.30, prompt, we pulled into Adelaide. It was an enormous goods yard, with containers and
defunct engines and general railway detritus standing around the place with grass growing around the rusting wheels and ironwork.

Eventually the doors opened and we emerged into the Adelaide sunshine.  There was general milling while people were met by friends, stowed luggage was found and taxi’s gradually cleared the area of the Ghan’s cargo of people

We found ourselves whisked the short distance to our Hindley Street apartment. We were in the centre of the student area and very close to everything it seemed. Adelaide appeared perhaps less sophisticated than Brisbane but far more so than Darwin, our two previous big city experiences in Australia so far.  Some of the buildings in Adelaide still show signs of a sort of lacy ironwork on overhead verandahs and shop fronts, evidence of an earlier era. It also seems  to have lots of bars and eating places, grazing seems to be a favourite Australian pastime.  No wonder they grow so tall!

We ventured out to find the place bustling with Friday lunchtime people. We eventually tracked down the information centre, rather unhelpfully tucked away up a side street, but very helpfully manned (that is man embracing woman) by a lovely lady who found us maps, directed us to the ‘Vroom’ (?!?) website for hire cars and even gave advice on a good opal buying place……

It would have been rude not to take up her offer to escort us to it. So we did. And now (well I will be when it is my birthday) I am to be the owner of a beautiful black opal ring courtesy of my lovely Husband. It is all sealed up to go through customs. Boo! But how lucky am I?!

After The Purchase it was back to the room for publishing the, by now more or less, up to date blog and some rest time before we ventured out on to the streets of Adelaide again. It was at this juncture that a rather serious (for me) tragedy occurred in that Air Dropping some pictures in to my blog ( serves me right for showing off!)  I lost four days diary!!!!!! I sobbed (literally!).

After blowing my nose and going to the toilet as my dear friend Lesley’s mother would have recommended, I vowed never to blog again.

However as you can see, I did eventually get back on my horse…… As it were.

Later in the afternoon, and still snivelling, we went off to find the much famed Adelaide Central Market. We found it, after visiting a most amazing map shop and then dropping in to a very upmarket hostelry (2 drinks £13), where the ‘in’ crowd of Adelaide were partaking of post working week thirst quenchers of very exotic variety. The market was excellent. Stalls of every type of food, both in its natural state and cooked, was available. We opted for a bowl of excellent Algerian lamb stew with Harissa, served by a flamboyant Algerian who wielded his mint tea pot with great panache. We got into conversation with several lovely locals. A great find and jolly evening.

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We adjourned ‘home’ to pack for our two day tour of Kangaroo Island. Picking up time 6.30. On went the alarm again!

Thursday 20th August

There were clouds on the horizon! Almost the first we have seen in Australia. It was still warm enough to sit outside for breakfast and watched as birds swooped and called.  Helen has got some interesting plants…..

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We were to set off for the next leg of the Ghan and the girls were to take a flight just after midday to Sydney. Our sojourn in middle Australia was nearing and end, but was a sojourn it has been!

Before we left we decided to have a walk around Helen’s ‘estate’. In addition to the indigenous trees there were some amazing plants with very odd protuberances and appendages. There was also a very well established full sized lemon tree – with giant lemons. It really must be a lot of work with a constant battle with buffel grass to keep any fires away from the house. There was evidence of a lot of hard work to keep the buffel grass at bay.  Even greater evidence of the battle with the environment was her red Massey Fergusson tractor. It was huge! Helen is not a great deal bigger than me – how she deals with that and it’s various appliances I am not quite sure but what I do know is that it makes me feel very whimpish!!

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Our stroll over, we set off for the airport – armed with two large rubbish bags. Helen does not have a dustbin collection she is too far out of town……

The girls dropped us off at the Ghan station. They have been the best travelling companions and we are looking forward to seeing them again in Sydney. We joined the gathering passengers for the train. Things were much more organised here than in Darwin and are steed luggage was whisked away. The train sat large in the sunshine awaiting its cargo of travellers. The sculpture of the afghan camel driver watched over the activity with one eye constantly on the horizon……

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Having boarded the train and finding our Car Assistant cane from Sheffield we dashed off to lunch. One of our table partners proved particularly dour which made the meal quite hard wok conversationally, although very good from a food perspective. One positive outcome from the experience was that that we now know a lot more about opals – useful in that it is my birthstone and I have a birthday coming up……..

The train was not exactly thundering through the afternoon. In fact it was moving very slowly indeed – to the extent that by early evening we were running 1.5 hours late! We had whiled away the time trying to recognise the De Rose estate where we had stayed as vast swathes of the outback trundled past. We failed! It all looked very similar.

The train was not exactly thundering through the afternoon. In fact it was moving very slowly indeed – to the extent that by early evening we were running 1.5 hours late! We had whiled away the time trying to recognise the De Rose estate where we had stayed as vast swathes of the outback trundled past. We failed! It all looked very similar………

luckily for us we had different dining companions in the evening and had a jolly meal, but it was not long before I was tucked up in my top bunk and it was time for bed.  Given that the train was so behind in its travelling schedule it was quite a noisy night as we hurtled through the Australian outback as the train made up for its lost time.  The gentle rocking of the first leg of our Ghan experienced was superceded by something more like a shaking – not exactly conducive to a good nights sleep!

Wednesday 19th August

Despite the decision to lie in we were not too decadent and by 9.00 am we were having breakfast outside in the warm sunshine, looking out over Helen’s yard.

Breakfast over and washing out, we headed off to town for a bit of retail therapy. There are a number of galleries showing some amazing aboriginal art. Luckily space and beams limit the size of purchases for us, but we did find a couple of pieces that we really liked as a reminder of a wonderful few days in the area. We also had great fun helping Wendy and Sarah choose two yarn and wire sculpture creatures. They were lovely in bright colours. We can’t wait to see them !n situ in Sydney!

Sarah had identified a good place to grab a snack lunch, so we all dined royally on Mexican tortilla wraps – a new experience for me!

We then returned home with that happy glow you get when you had a bit of a purchase and for Keith and I a lazy afternoon ensued  – the first time we have stopped  since we arrived in Brisbane on the 6th August!  What a kaleidoscope of experience we have had since then.

We had a quick chat with Helen on the telephone during the afternoon.  She is still in Melbourne with, frustratingly for all concerned, still no sign of the baby that prevented her joining us on our trip! Who was to know? We are just so lucky that she has been so generous in lending us her car and home and providing the expertise and connections to enable us to have done so much during our time here. Extraordinary.

Supper was made up of the leftovers from yesterday with some interesting additions and we had a hearty last supper in Alice Springs. It was then a matter of getting the bags together again – no easy task as things seem to have expanded somewhat!! Funny that!

Tuesday 18th August the Kings Canyon and return to Alice Springs

7.30 saw us en route to the start of the Kings Canyon Rim walk. Sarah had decided the walk was not for her and that she would stay back and do some shorter walks when it got light. Sensible girl! Keith, Wendy and I set off. We were more or less the first in the car park, although there was a group being briefed we noticed in the gloom as we passed by the information board. We were certainly the first to start the ascent.

A steep start we had been told……… It proved to be only one step down from rock climbing requiring string!! The ‘path’ was a clamber up the only slightly off the vertical rock face! It was starting to get light fortunately so we could vaguely see where we were climbing. At points the next step was about waist high – a bit daunting to someone somewhat challenged in the leg length department!!! Nevertheless it was onward and upward and in an amazingly short space of time we were looking down over the plain at the bottom of the valley. Our route took us up and up until we eventually arrived at a rock strewn plateau at the top.

Somewhat breathless (!) we peered back down and along the rocky outcrop we had seen the sun set upon the previous evening, just in time to see a sliver of sunlight pierce its upper edge. Perfect timing!

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The well flagged path initially took us along a fairly flat but rock strewn pavement, occasionally intercepted by vast fissures in the rock bed where palm trees and rock plants were flourishing. There were in fact an amazing number of trees up there, rooted in nothing more than sandy rubble, but hanging on tenaciously to life. There was even one of the amazing ghost gum trees that apparently take hundreds of years to grow. It was looking quite smart with a sort of. jumper arrangement on – we were not sure whether this was for warmth or to protect it from people scratching their name on its ancient bark, as one couple had done.

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Our route twisted and turned, sometimes taking us to the rock face for another glimpse of the valley stretching out to the horizon below us, sometimes taking us through curtains of rock. At one point we crossed a ravine by a wooden bridge, below us was the lush vegetation of the tropical rain forest. Later we came across slabs of rock underfoot with ripples on their surface, apparently evidence of the water that had flowed over them in times long past – there was even a poem inspired by the ripples and recorded on an information board nearby.

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It was a lovely walk with beautiful views but providing some hairier moments. Once or twice we were reduced to bottom shuffling to get over difficult terrain! I describe all this to enable you to share our awe and respect when a chap came jogging by – very reminiscent of the fell runners of the Lake District. Is it just old age that brings with it the worry about the potential for sprained ankles and broken legs and the lack of telephone reception?!

We passed through a gate of apparently no return, presumably there to prevent people walking the wrong way round the rim. Once passed this we looked over a significant ravine with a sheer cliff face on the opposite side that looked as though someone had taken a cheese wire to it, it was so smooth. Silhouetted on the opposite cliff top were the party we had seen at the information board when we had started out, looking like Lowry”s matchstick men in the distance!

After this the route started to descend. Eventually the car park came into view, now bristling with vehicles but at this distance even the large tourist buses looked like specks on the landscape. However, before long we had reached ground level. It had taken 2 hours 45 minutes to cover just 6 kilometres ( the recommended time is 3.5 hours). We had done well.

We found Sarah who had had a good wander on the lower levels of the Canyon and after a short pit stop we started out on the four hour journey back to Alice Springs. I drove the first leg.  It is amazingly easy driving but the occasional upturned husk of a vehicle by the side of the road is a testament to how easy it would be to just fall asleep or be mesmerised by the shimmering pathway ahead of you.

We arrived back in Alice Springs and headed straight off to the local Woolworths (apparently no relation to our defunct store) to get supplies for supper and replenish our wine and. beer stocks. We then headed back to Helen’s place. Beers were definitely in order when we got back.
Sarah and Keith set to to make a wonderful vegetarian mezze which we all fell upon with relish!
Yummee!!

After more or less constant early morning rises since we arrived in Australia we all agreed on a lie in on the morrow – great stuff!

Monday 17th August

We were up at 5.45 and left the accommodarion at 6.30. It was just light as Wendy drove Keith and I to the Mala car park to start our walk around the base of Uluru. The yellow glow on the horizon gave us the wonderful silhouettes of the trees and bushes as we passed that we have become used to during our early morning risings. Wendy dropped us off  – the girls were to join us later for a guided waterfall from the same spot. The car park was empty, no-one had arrived to climb the mountain.   All was silent and still.  We had the place to ourselves. It was magical. The rising sun made long shadows as we set off. The mountain stood in dark shadow and loomed high above us

I found no difficulty at all in walking the route for a second time – I saw different things, and it was lovely to do the route with Keith. It is an extraordinary place.  We loitered over trees and rock formations and Keith had a happy interlude communicating with a bird who responded happily to his mimicry.  The extent of the bushes around the mountain’s base ebbed and flowed, obviously dependent on the amount of water that could be reached

There seemed fewer people even when the time had moved on and the day had heated up,  so we had a really lovely meander   We chatted and were silent , just happy in each other’s company in the presence of the mountain

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At 10.00 am we were back at the car park with the large group who had gathered to do the guided tour.  I was concerned that we would not be able to hear all that was said, but my concerns proved unfounded.

The guide had aboriginal ancestry and talked fondly of his grandparents who had lived in the old ways and instilled in him a need to learn more about his ancestry.  He told us of the creation stories of the aboriginal culture and how Uluru plays an important part.  The aboriginal culture is thought to be the oldest in the world with evidence going back 35,000 years. It seems to have been a society of clearly defined roles – the men hunting and teaching the young men and the women foraging for ‘bush tucker’ with their digging sticks, raising the children and teaching the girls.  At first glance there seems little evidence of food in the area but there are seeds that can be ground to make flour, bush plums that grow whenever it rains rather than on an annual seasonal basis and desert figs, as well as the game brought down by the men. The boys were separated from the women’s area at 12 and then went to live with the men when, by means of stories, drawings and dance,  they were taught morale codes and responsibilities.  We saw evidence of their drawings – age unknown

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We were  shown a ‘Piti’, a shallow dish made of tree bark which the women used to carry their foraged food.  This they would carry on their head on a bun shaped pad made out of human hair. The aborigines have foraged and cooked food in the same way since the beginning of time. These tales of a principled and proud people seem a long way from the troubled relationship between them and the white population of Australia that we have heard about from everyone we have met here. Equally frequently,  we have heard people say that there seems no solution to the aboriginal ‘problem’  despite the initiatives that have been made to resolve the situation.

Our guide also told us about the geological history of the Uluru mountain itself.  It stands in what was once an inland sea and was the result of a tremendous earthquake.  Further earthquakes after the initial upheaval turned the rock 90 degrees to its current position   It now stands 398 metres high and iits base is buried several kilometres deep into the earth. The ‘red’ colour of the rock is caused by the oxidisation of water running over it

We ended the walk at the base of what is a very large waterfall.  When it rains the water cascades down into a hollowed out pool at the mountain’s base

Our brief insight into the mountain complete, we adjourned to the cultural centre for an early lunch prior to wetting off to Kings Canyon

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We arrived late afternoon and in time to watch the sun go down on the Canyon from the ubiquitous platform strategically placed for this purpose..

It was an awesome sight – particularly as we had been warned the  climb to get up to the ‘rim’ was somewhat challenging.  Ann from the cattle station had said we must not ‘shirk it’ as there were great rewards for sticking with it. it was against  this background that we took advice from a member of the resort staff in terms of timing and our onward journey to Glen Helen planned for the next day. . As usual the advice was to walk early (another dawn walk in prospect!) leaving no later than 6.30  am. We also asked about the route to Glan Helen, the next place on our itinerary   We knew that this was reached by a dirt road.  However  on enquiry we were advised that the dirt road was deeply rutted and was likely to be dangerous, so after a brief board meeting we decided that we would return to Alice Springs directly by via the highway and miss Glen Helen on this trip.  Although disappointing, it would provide an opportunity that we would not otherwise have of visiting the town of Alice Springs

This decided and an unexpectedly good meal consumed it was another early night in readiness for another early morning!