A town called Alice

This afternoon we took ourselves on a historic tour of Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia. We checked out the arid style of buildings in the planned centre of town, climbed Anzac Hill for an overview of the town and nearby Macdonnell Ranges, had a refreshing iced coffee in Todd Mall, where a ring neck parrot joined us, saw explorer Stuart’s memorial and locals chilling in the park. Finally we drove to the Telegraph Station and climbed Trig Hill behind, watched a red kangaroo grazing and photographed the view.

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Buffalo, plunge pools and picnic under a salmon gum – what more could one want?

Today a waterbuffalo wandered in front of the car and into the bushland, stopping obligingly for a photo shoot. This was after a climb to Gunlon waterfall and a magic natural plunge pool. We climbed up the escarpment after a picnic lunch under a spreading salmon gum followed by a swim in another pool at the base of the waterfall. The area is very popular with groups of chatty backpackers from overseas and we got to practice our Italian. Called in at a billabong for a spot of evening birdwatching on the way back to the campground. Barramundi for dinner at the bistro. Tomorrow we start our long return south – from latitude 12 degrees down to 38 degrees.

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The highest pub in the Northern Territory

Larrimah, on the Stuart Highway, had a role in World War II. Something to do with a planned line of retreat after the bombing of Darwin. Now it is a rambling, eccentric pub and store with paraphernalia and a shelter for rescued native birds. A bottle of whiskey was $67! I took a photo of the bar and the gyrocopter and pink panther outside.

We continued on here to Mataranka, where there is a thermal pool (improved by the troops) amid livingstonia palms with the sounds of tropical birdlife. The road photo shows the trees with clouds indicating humidity. The maximum temperature was 32′ Celsius.

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This Devil has gone troppo but hasn’t lost his marbles!

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn this morning was just the beginning. After lunch, we came to the Devils Marbles. These giant balls of granite have been shaped by, chemical leaching and the physical forces of temperature change in the Red Centre of Australia. David posed to demonstrate his strength.

We bush camped once again on a rail alignment, where the desert put on a display of Sturts Desert Rose, yellow butterfly bush and russet termite mounds amongst the straw-coloured spinifex.

Finally, for Iris and Lily, meet Grandad’s mascot, Koala Lumpur (Lumpu for short). He entertains us by swinging from the shelf.

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Springing into Alice via a dusty red shortcut

When we realised that it was over 500km to take the sealed road from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs, we were tempted to try the Earnest Giles Road, a 4WD track over an unsealed road, that would cut over 100km off the journey. Dave sealed up the rear window of the Prado with plastic sheeting to prevent stones from breaking it and covered up the drinking water tap on the caravan with something called “hundred mile an hour tape” as last time we tried an off-road caper like this, the tap came off and life giving water streamed onto the road. But this time, all went well, and we were rewarded with some new wildflowers (frilled Goodenia and pussyfoot), a series of craters left by a meteorite and lunch with a young family who had been our neighbours at Kings Canyon. We arrived at The Alice in time to stock up for our continuing journey north and spent the next 15minutes sweeping red dust from every crevice in the caravan – but it was worth it for the adventure!.

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Kings Canyon and a world trip all in two days

The 5.5km walk/clamber up and around the rim of Kings Canyon is like a mini world trip. There was a group of US uni students on an Australian Geographic tour, a bus load of Germans doing the walk barefoot to feel the warmth of the rock, a French couple, a family from Sydney. Yesterday’s walk included some of a family of five children including a three month baby from Dandenong taking a year off to do the “Big Loop” and a bus load of Chinese speakers.

The walk itself is well marked and includes staircases and footbridges and a sidewalk to the heavenly Garden of Eden permanent waterhole. Just the right degree of difficulty.

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Nearly at the state border

Yesterday we drove in the rain from Lake Hart up the Stuart Highway (Explorers Way) to Coober Pedy, the opal capital of Australia. Having spent time in Lightning Ridge last year, we didn’t feel the need to view more opal mines. We topped up our water ($1 for 40 litres), put our clothes through the washing machine and dryer, and shopped at the Miners Store ($7.99 per kg for kangaroo tail, skin on). We bought steak.

Dinner was at the Opal Inn bistro, where we chatted to a couple from Lorne who also like walking.

Today we stopped for coffee (from a Thermos flask) at an ugly roadside pull-over, but as we walked, we realised that a few metres away was a wonderland of wildflowers. I counted seventeen different types on a short walk to the Central Railway line. Lunch was another picnic stop, then on up that long, straight highway, listening to Len Beadell’s tape to Shepparton Rotary. Over several decades from the 1950s, Len had surveyed many of the roads out here in the outback for a rocket range, atomic bomb testing and general access.

We then found a side road and settled down for the night. As often happens, two other campers have pulled in nearby. After sunset drinks and dips, we barbecued sausages and had them with veg and peaches and custard for dessert as a windmill from a nearby bore cranked away. Tomorrow we begin the Northern Territory part of this trip.

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