Ayers Rock (Uluru)
Once upon a time I used to work for Ansett the now defunct airline. In the early 80’s we spent 9 months in the basement of their long demolished city headquarters turning it into a high tec computer centre. We would rock up in the dark, leave in the dark, and spend all day in the dark. The only reason I mention this is that on the wall of our basement smoko room was one lonely poster of Ayres Rock. In-between whinging about the job, boss, and a myriad of other things over a cuppa, we’d look up at the big red monolith glaring down on us. One day Pete looked up and announced “when this jobs finished I’m going there”. I said Me too, and thus my first trip to Central Australia was organised. I’ve been there many times since and it’s still one of my favourite road trips. Up the Stuart Highway, through the empty desert, past abandoned rocket bases, opal mines, side trip to the rock, then on to Alice Springs. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Thirty years ago we took a 4 wheel drive, lots of beer, and a .303 jungle carbine, not much trouble you can’t get out of with that combo. This time things would be different.
My companions would be one 40 year old female, and her cat. Well the cremated remains of her cat at least. Sal had been planning a major expedition but only ended up with a week off between contracts, so I said I’d go with her and share the driving in the volkswagon. I worked till lunch time, told the guy’s I was leaving a bit early, and forgot to mention that I would not be back for a while. Race back home grab a couple of swags, socks and jocks, were off. The whole trip nearly started as a disaster as Sally left Frizzy on the roof of the car as we were taking off from home. He nearly ended up being unceremoniously spread up and down the western highway by a thousand truck tyres. By that night we were in Adelaide drinking espresso martinis. Thanks Charlotte, day one,700km down.
The next morning, after breakfast at the central market, we started north. Quick stop at Ray’s tent city, to pick up a few bits we had forgotten. Lunch at Snowtown, perhaps I should of packed the .303, then to Port Au Gutter, for food and the last cheap fuel $1.06/litre. Here at a fairly innocuous intersection the road splits, and the real trip starts. Go straight Perth 2400 KM, go right Darwin 2800 KM, either way it’s going to be a long time before you see civilisation again. The road so far has run through wheat country, it’s been a wet winter and the crops all are looking good. After the turn you’re straight into the outback, no more wheat. Not much of anything actually, just 200km of two lane blacktop till Pimba, population not many. I spent three days here once at Spud’s road house. I blew up a water pump on my car, and spent the extra day waiting for some useless idiot to actually send the part I ordered. There isn’t much to do here, but Spuds has a bar, and a one armed mechanic who’s actually pretty good. Just down the road five clicks away is Woomera, Australia’s own version of Cape Canaveral. In the 80’s it had just stopped being a closed town, and still had a pretty sizable population. Now it has a huge pub/motel, museum, and a rocket park, the place is just missing people. Quick photo stop, click, hit the road. Fortunately our next stop is only 400 KM away.
Coober Pedy is the self proclaimed opal capital of the world. You know you’re getting close when you start seeing 100,000 mole hills of dirt randomly placed in the desert. If you walked over to check one you would probably fall down an open mine shaft. It’s a great place to disappear permanently. Unusually it’s raining, a rare event around here. Instead of pulling out the swags we take a room in the underground motel. It’s underground to beat the summer heat, not the rain. Apart from the rock walls and no windows it’s pretty much like any other hotel room. Kilometres for the day 880, diesel $1.48/litre.
The next morning we fill up and head to Ayres Rock, its only eight hours drive and another state away. A couple of nature stops, a photo on the Territory border, we’re there just before sunset. Its still raining on and off, and the desert is as sea of wild flowers, and not the usual red dust. The last time I was here it was 1983. There was 500km of corrugated red dirt road to the boarder, and another 200 to the rock. We camped under the rock, and spent the evening spotlighting the dingo’s looking for dinner around the campsite. The next day we climbed it. It took an hour and a half in the heat, and I remember it as bloody hard yakka. A bloke asked us how much for one of the beers from a six pack we carted to the top. “You don’t have enough mate”. Life this time is a bit different. It’s still raining so we book into the nearest camp, the $470 a night 5 Star Uluru resort a mere 15km from the rock. We jump in the car, spend $50 at the park gate so we can drive 5km to the spot everyone takes their rock sunset photos from, stand there with 500 others snapping away for an hour while the sun sets. Been happening every night for the last 50 years. My effort is here. Only disappoint the resort buffet was booked out, we had 2 min noodles instead. Total clicks for the day 750, diesel $1.78 a litre so I fill up from the jerry can I’ve bought with me.
The next morning its off to the Olgas, circle of the rock, look at the climb. To bloody hard. Fritz comes out for a photo, then a lazy 320 km drive to Kings Canyon. This is now a sealed road, and you can get a red at resort near the canyon. The place is full of Grey Nomads and their $100,000 4WD camper combos. Unfortunately the canyon now includes a new Euro experience style interpretive shelter and a barrier that prevents you seeing the most interesting bit of it unless you want to do an hour and a half walk around the rim. We just walked around the barrier, don’t know what the nomads did. Canyon Tick. Alice is only 330 km via the shortcut. The short cut is 100km of dirt called the Ernest Giles road. At the start there is the standard 4WD recommended sign, then a few more. No worries. My friend looks very worried. Can’t say you have really been to the territory without doing some dirt. An hour and a half later it’s back to the bitumen and 130 kmh. We meet my mate at the Gap hotel. He’s been kicked out temporally by the girlfriend, so we book into the casino. Only 4.5 stars bummer, but a good buffet breaky. 680km for the day, diesel $1.18/l.
Saturday is domestic day, buffet, Target for some board shorts, pool therapy, bit of washing, Todd Mall for the market. Wait till two to buy beer, barbie , and then back to the Gap for dinner. 0 km and a few beers. Diesel, who needs it.
Sunday is a relaxed 270km drive, almost a picnic. Glen Helen return , via the scenic West McDonnell ranges. Along the way we check out the swimming holes at Ellery Creek and Ormiston Gorge. At the height of summer they’re cold, it’s not summer, but I go for a swim anyhow. Against my friends wishes, I stop and help out the obligatory group of black fellas with a busted commodore. Their car now has 7 litres of sparkling spring water cooling it. That should get them another 30km. We do Standley Chasm for an ice cream on the way home. My friend rings her work on the way back and finds out she has to be home in four days, three days early. I fill the car back in town. $1.16/l. Not a bad curry for dinner.
You can drive Alice Springs to Melbourne in 2 days, it’s only 2300km. Frankfurt to Athens without borders. The basic theory is this, you point the nose of the car south and you drive as fast as you can, as long as you can. Originally I was going to return through Oodnadatta and Marie but the rain had closed the roads in South Australia so it was back the way we came, straight down the Stuart Hwy. We have been carrying Swags and I was determined we were going to spend at least one night camping under the stars in the desert. By sunset we had got 900km to Glendambo. They had a fire, beer and a bed. Outside it was raining, and freezing. So much for the desert, but the road house was barely two stars with no breakfast. Almost roughing it. The next morning I put $20 of diesel in the car just to make sure I got to Port Augusta. $1.48/l
The last Day. The Territorians are smart, some places they have no speed limits, otherwise it’s 130kmh. South Australia is 110kmh, Victorians are retarded to 100kmh. That was pretty much the day, the closer I got to home the slower I had to drive, and the more it rained. We go back at 11.30pm. Total 5800km in a six and a half days. Diesel $1.04/l. Sal and Fritz drove back to Canberra the next day. 7126km in 9 days. That’s London to Kabul. The Rock tick.
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