The Outback leg of my tour was, by far, the craziest leg, and could also be referred to as ‘the 4am leg’ or ‘the plague of locusts leg’, but we’ll get onto that. The Outback proper starts just after the town of Quorn and we were all pretty excited when we rolled over that invisible but oh-so-important line, even though I’m pretty sure this happened prior to sunrise, which is really far too early to be excited about anything. If you look at a map of Australia you’ll realise that, relatively speaking, the distance from Melbourne to Adelaide is tiny, while Adelaide up to Alice Springs, known as the centre of the Outback (although it actually isn’t quite in the middle) is massive, so seeing as it took three days with solid hours of driving to do the first bit you can imagine how long the second part took. And we did have some very long driving days. After staying for one night in the lovely, but stupidly isolated, sheep and cattle station of Beltana we were supposed to drive up a dirt track to William Creek, past the giant salt flat of Lake Eyrie, but due to the uncommon amount of rain in the area we ended up having to go back the way we’d come to detour up to Coober Pedy, a nice little 10 hour round trip. We did get to see a salt lake, Lake Hart, on our detour and completely failed to take cool salt lake perspective pictures, no matter how hard we tried. Despite the painfully long detour it was well worth spending an extra night in Coober.
Known as the opal mining capital of the world Coober Pedy is a town in the absolute middle of nowhere, filled with fugitives from the law and millionaires driving beaten up old cars (if you find opal in Coober you don’t need to declare it so you can make a lot of money, if you’re willing to look. The outback also seems to pretty much have its own law, so it’s kind of like the modern day wild west). It’s also pretty unique because, being in the middle of the desert it can get pretty hot in summer and pretty cold in winter, so the first people to seriously mine the area, who just happened to be veterans returning from WWI, and who therefore knew a fair bit about digging, decided to dig their homes into the ground to better regulate heat. So the vast majority of homes in Coober are quite literally built underground. It’s very strange staying in a house with rooms like grottoes and no windows in a town that looks like a massive building site. Touring an old opal mine was also fascinating, as it gives you the chance to see the change from miners who lived basically in dugouts to the modern day inhabitants who build whole, complex houses underground. Coober also has some pretty random sights, like the noodling pit which is where all the dirt dug up in the mines is dumped, and where anyone can go scouring for opal (unsurprisingly I didn’t find any), and The Big Winch, which is exactly what it says it is.
The Outback is also known as The Red Centre, thanks to the red sand that covers pretty much everything. It was still pretty red, but due to some weird weather the area has had it’s annual rainfall for 2017 already (less than a month into the year), so it’s probably better known as the green and red centre right now as it is ridiculously green. But being green does not mean it was any cooler, and thanks to the fact that the mercury was creeping towards 40 by lunchtime most days we ended up with a lot of early mornings. Normally the thought of getting up at 4am would fill me with dread, and it definitely did when we left Coober Pedy, straight after a night of drinking and partying, but strangely not so much when we were camping. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “camping isn’t that bad!” Well, normal camping isn’t, but we were doing something called swag camping which, despite its name, isn’t fancy camping. It is in fact camping out under the stars in ‘swags’, or bedrolls made up of a foam mattress inside a canvas bag that you can zip yourself up in. I know this doesn’t sound that bad, and by night 3, even though the ridiculous heat made it impossible to sleep zipped up in a big canvas sack, it was actually pretty fun. But allow me to paint you a picture of night one. On night one we were camping in Yulara, the resort town just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and were getting up at 4 to do a sunrise walk around Uluru. Night one also happened to be Australia Day, so we were going to have a lovely time watching sunset over Uluru (complete with champagne and nibbles), and then a big Australia Day BBQ. The sunset was lovely, and the food from the BBQ was also great, but what was not great were the bugs. And I’m not talking one or two bugs. Firstly, our kitchen was overrun with an insane number of ants who really liked to bite, and pretty much went to work on all our feet. Secondly, our dinner was beset by more bugs and creepy crawlies than I’ve ever seen in my life. We were dive-bombed by locusts, had crickets drop from the ceiling into our food and were pretty much constantly besieged by a mob of various critters who loved the idea of partying with us. Add to the obvious horror that comes from this situation the fact that we were all about to sleep outside, unprotected from our attackers, and you can see why the first night of swag camping was pretty stressful, and punctuated by the occasional scream. Oh yeah, and also there are a crazy number of flies in the outback, and they just love flying straight into your ears.
The three days we spent at Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon were, bugs aside, the absolute highlight of my time in Australia. If you’re planning on visiting the land down under, or if you’re trying to come up with a reason to go, make it Uluru. We did some amazing hikes, even though the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta culminated in a horrific hill climb in 35 degree heat, and the beautiful Kings Canyon rim walk started with a climb up ‘heart attack hill’, which doesn’t really deserve the name of hill, being basically a cliff face with some conveniently carved rocks that could, with a little imagination, be steps. But then again I’m not much of a fan of hiking, so me praising two long walks, both of which I started before sunrise, is quite something. Oh, and I also jumped out of a plane at Uluru. I’m not sure why I agreed to it, and it worries me that I did so when I was 100% sober, but for some reason, while we were in Adelaide, four of us decided to skydive together at Uluru. It was maybe the craziest decision I’ve ever made, and there was definitely a point in the aeroplane, cruising 14,000 feet above the outback, when I thought “what the hell have I got myself into?” but it was actually a ridiculously crazy-amazing experience. I’m not entirely certain I’d do it again, and for some reason I got the giggles and laughed hysterically for about 80% of the jump, but I’m so glad I did it, and driving the parachute was stupidly good fun. While in the aeroplane I also got to learn that, thousands of years ago, there was a vast inland sea where The Outback now sits and lots of the landscape was once coral reefs, so the land is really intricately patterned. Uluru is amazingly beautiful, both from the land and from the sky.
As well as being attacked by bugs and falling out of planes, while at Uluru I had the chance to visit the Field of Lights. This is an art installation set up in the middle of the desert and made of thousands of coloured lights joined together by cables. Now that I’ve written it down it sounds super weird, but it was actually really cool, and amazing to watch the sun go down and see the lights twinkle on before walking in darkness through a sea of colours. Me being me I stupidly didn’t go to the toilet before we got to the Field, and so spent the whole time half distracted by the fact that I was desperate for a wee. Although, in my defence, I did ask a man who worked there if they had a toilet, and he said yes, which turned out to be a lie. So whose fault is it now, field of lights man?!
I have a feeling that part 3 is going to be shorter, so I’ll leave this glorious exploration of my Outback adventure here and leave you with the cliffhanger that the next part will begin with a plague of locusts.
Leah Out X