The flight to Alice Springs passed without event (which for Qantus seems to be a major achievement and blog-worthy if not newspaper-worthy), with us arriving at our hostel late afternoon. Having had only the briefest of catnaps the previous night due to a great clubscene in Perth we crashed out immediately, ready for our 4am alarm the next morning, when we would be collected by Adventure Tours for our 2-day camping trip to the Outback.
Annoyingly we were sharing a bathroom with 2 hyperactive German birds who ensured that we only got 20 winks (as opposed to our usual 40) each all night, before we then woke them up through the wafer thin walls with the shrill ringing of our alarm.
We were collected at 4.45am by our tour guide Ben and driven for 5 hours deep into the outback to King's Canyon. There were 15 in our group, comprising several Northeners, a few Swiss girls, an American guy, a Thai guy and a few Japanese. We hadn't been expecting to have to make our own food (the tour wasn't cheap at 400 bucks each), but it quickly became clear that "interactive" meant "cook your own bloody meals" and we were left to reheat some manky chicken burgers and make a salad at a campsite en-route. This task was made harder for the fact that there were a million flies on us (think Ethiopian TV appeals) plus several hundred long-legged beetles all vying for our attention. This, coupled with the fact that most of the boys had never even opened a tin before, let alone cooked a meal (those northern mums have got a lot to answer for, pampering their boys like that)meant that this wasn't as much fun as it sounds.
After an early lunch our tour guide did what any sane tour guide would have done at midday...he took us on a 3.5hr hike up to King's Canyon. Well, it was only 38 degrees. No problem, eh? The walk was pretty strenuous and we were all panting like bull mastifs after about 2 minutes. The only reason I was hot-footing it (literally) uphill was that the Japanese guy behind me was wretching violently, threatening to projectile vomit his greasy chicken burger at the back of my head.
He soon had to turn back, and it wasn't long before we were all dropping like flies. Unfortunately the flies were the only things NOT dropping, and we were all going crazy with the effort of swatting them away from our faces.
The King's Canyon was well worthe all the effort and the views were amazing...red earth for as far as the eye can see, contrasted with the bluest sky imaginable. I tried to burn the image of that sky onto my memory, to be conjured up on a grey, drizzly day back in London when we get home.
We cooled off at a watering hole - amazingly there are quite a few of these, even though there is hardly any rain in the Northern Territory. The porous rock sucks up the water from underground and stores it in veins inside the rock, hence there are never any water restrictions in this dry, arid part of the world, yet in Melbourne for example hosepipe bans are commonplace. Weirdly the rivers here are all underground yet in Alice Springs they have an annual boatrace. It's the only boatrace in the world conducted on a dry river bed - entrants have to run along the river bed carrying their boat, with the winner being the one who runs fastest to the finish line!
That evening we arrived hot and exhausted at camp, covered in the red dust from the earth which had mingled with our factor 30.
But there was no rest for the wicked as we had to prepare our dinner whilst the guide conveniently slipped off to get fuel for the bus. This became a common practise of his at mealtimes. Liam and Tom ended up taking control of the food, and we emptied various boxes of unidentified meats onto the barbie which later turned out to be kangeroo and very tasty at that.
After dinner and a few Tooheys we all settled down into our "swags" (canvas sleeping bags) and slept under the stars. Well, that was the plan but there was not much sleeping going on for quite some time as we all struggled to get used to the sound of the dingoes howling and various rustling noises coming from nearby bushes. We were warned that there may be snakes and given instructions on what to do if we saw any, and after the many species of insects that we'd seen that day we were all to aware that a whole range of critters were only inches away from our heads that rested on the red ground. One guy called Richard didn't have a torch, so resorted to taking pictures in the darkness using the flash as a light source, swivelling from side to side as he attempted to capture a shot of whatever it was that was buzzing nearby, taking more snaps than your average Jap. The poor guy was absolutely terrified but I had to laugh as he kept jumping and the flash kept going off on his camera. Steve came back from the toilets absolutely freaking out that he'd just watched a huge spider munching a massive beatle as he went for a wee...and so the hysteria continued.
After about 4 hours sleep we were woken up to a breakfast of soggy cornflakes at 3.45am, before setting off to watch the sun rise over Ayers Rock.
As we approached Uluru (aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) we were all amazed by the sight...no not the luminosity of the sun rising over this massive sandstone monolith, but the hundreds of other sightseers who had beaten us to it.Damn those Japanese tourists!
It was really good to watch the sun come up and change the rock through various shades of orange and red. The rock has been given back to the indigenous people as part of the reassimilation programme by the government to build bridges between the whites and aborigines, so the rightful owners now get 25% of all revenue from the rock. The rock is sacred and the Anangu people ask that tourists do not climb the rock, since it is only permitted for elders and initiated men of a certain status. Most tourists ignore this though and there are ropes for climbing, although it is often forbidden to climb anyway due to safety reasons (if it is above 36 degrees or too windy). This day was one of the rare days that it was open for climbing, so 6 of us from the group set off to attempt the climb. I am sorry to say that I got about 15foot up the vertical face of Uluru before sliding around in my gripless Adidas and going back down. Liam and a few others did manage it however, before the entrance was closed due to the temperature reaching 36 degrees at only 8am!!
Having lost the rest of the group I walked around part of the base of the rock before meeting the others after their 350 metre climb to the top.
At this point we were all flagging despite it only being around 11am, so we visited Kata Tjuta in a daze, all attempting to focus on the tour guide but struggling due to the 40 degree heat and multitude of flies.By this point I had been flapping my Space fan so furiously for the past 2 days that it actually broke!!
It had been an amazing few days, but by now the heat was taking it's toll so Ben took us to a nearby swimming pool where we plunged our sizzling bodies into the water to cool down, before climbing back into the bus for the gruelling 5hr journey back to Alice Springs, made worse by Ben's terrible taste in music. When the birdie song came on Liam finally snapped and went up the front of the bus to have a serious word. He then got dragged into compiling a quiz for the happy campers, and ended up on the mic as the new quizmaster general.
The quiz passed the time nicely as the barren land of the outback whizzed past, and we all had a quick shower back at our hostels before agreeing to meet up at the infamous Bojangles in the centre of town for a kangaroo burger to celebrate getting another great experience under our belts. After dinner and a few drinks we were done-in, plus the DJ at the bar/club didn't have much better taste in music than our dear old tour guide (old being the operative word, hence the lack of electro on his playlist) so we headed back to Toddy's for a much-needed sleep, this time in a bed rather than on the ground in the Outback....