Wednesday, September 23, 2009
A lake that has been dry for thousands of years, the highlight of Lake Mungo is the lunette on its eastern shore. (It's also known as the Walls of China, but we feel it doesn't quite live up to that moniker.) Formed from years of west blowing winds, the lunette is impressive both scenically and archaelogically. Whilst walking through the clay outcrops rising up from the dunes, I look carefully for any remains of bones (the ancient remains of Mungo Woman and Man were found here), but I'm not sure if I spot anything.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Wilpena Pound is the jewel of the Flinders Ranges. After meandering for a few days through the northern and central Flinders Ranges down to the pound, our first glimpses inside of it come during our ascent of Mount Ohlssen Bagge. Our quick ascent of the steep climb whets our appetite for the grand tour we have of the pound on the St Mary Peak Loop Route the next day, climbing to the top of the Flinders Range's tallest peak and taking in its breathtaking views, before returning through the flat expanse inside of the pound.
After being very bored the previous day driving down the endless bitumen of the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, we decided to take a different type of route to the Flinders Ranges: going along the Oodnadatta Track. After heading across to William Creek, it was a slow, scenic trip down the eastern 200km section of the track to Maree, as we followed the historic route of the Overland Telegraph and the original Ghan Railway, with its barren desert and artesian springs. The old outback pubs of William Creek and Maree at either end of the stretch provided some welcome refreshments on the hot, windy day.
Whilst Coober Pedy mightn't be a place you'd choose to live (unless you like the allure of striking it rich mining opal, perhaps one day), it is a visually stunning town. In addition to the eeriness of the tailings around the town, there is also the broken away range of coloured hills known as The Breakaways located to the north of the town. Looking oddly alien and surrounded by a pale barren plain known as the Moon Plain, it is easy to see why the location has been used in many movies and commercials.
Today was the day of the rock. It started with the silhouette of Uluru against the growing pre-dawn light on the way to the sunrise viewing area, before we embarked upon climbing the rock. (I would've skipped this based on the current don't climb requests and the fact that I'd climbed it as a kid, but David naturally couldn't resist the temptation, and I head along too.) After a rest back at the resort, we headed back out in the afternoon heat to encircle the rock on foot on the Base Walk, which offers views of the artwork on the rock and close-ups of the weathered patterns on its different sides. Finally, we wrapped up the day at the sunset viewing area. As Uluru changed to red in the last sunshine of the day, I felt we'd seen it from every angle possible.
Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, are an impressive group of massive domed rocks located 50km from Uluru. Whilst none are individually as large as Uluru, the overall group is bigger and some of the individual domes are taller. Also impressive is that the rocks were formed differently geologically to Uluru, despite their proximity. Whilst walking through the Valley of the Winds in the afternoon I was continually being wowed, looking up at the domes rising above my head. We also visited the Gorge walk, prior to capping off a day devoted to Kata Tjuta at it's sunset viewing area.
Whilst Uluru receives all of the attention, Kings Canyon located a few hundred kilometres to the north is an equally spectacular location to visit in the Red Centre. The main attraction is the Rim Walk - a hike around the rim of the canyon. With views of the sheer red sandstone cliffs, beehive rock formations like the Bungle Bungles and its own "Garden of Eden" (sadly rather dry when we visited), it was an unfortunate place for David to run out of battery life on his aging camera battery. Luckily, we managed to squeeze a touch more life out of it, and get a shot taken of ourselves on the hike.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
To the west of Alice Springs lie the West MacDonnell Ranges (the range continuing right through the south side of the town to continue as the East MacDonnell Ranges to the east). Some of the most well known sights to see in the ranges are Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, which are both located quite close to Alice Springs. However, if you continue out to the western end of the range, whether by road or by foot on the 200km plus Larapinta Trail, you will reach Mount Sonder, which is a beautiful sight to see, especially at sunset and sunrise. It is easy to see where the colours of the painters from Hermannsburg, such as Albert Namatjira, come from.
It was only 130km out of our destination of Alice Springs and we had no intention of stopping at Aileron, a station and roadhouse, but then we saw the Aileron "Big Man". Located on top of a hill behind the outcrop of buildings, next to a Hollywood-esque sign, he certainly grabbed our attention and led to us stopping for a short while.
The Devils Marbles are a field of granite boulders, the weathered remains of part of an expanse of granite that is still mainly located underground, and of special significance to a number of local Aboriginal tribes. On the other hand, they are also located conveniently close to the Stuart Highway, and make for a welcome rest stop to take some photos and do some skylarking, on which is for most people a long expanse of empty highway.
Daly Waters Pub is the quintessential outback Australian pub. Reputedly the oldest remaining pub in the NT (built in 1893), this is no heritage-listed building to wander about admiring the architecture. Rather, there is the memorbilia to admire, such as the vast collection of underwear, which I guess you could look through to determine which is the oldest item...
Kakadu and the surrounding areas include a huge expanse of wetlands, beautiful spots to visit to both bird watch and enjoy the scenery. Over a few days we witness the serenity of Yellow Water during a misty dawn (until some buffalo start bellowing), the large numbers of whistling ducks and magpie geese from the hide at Marmakala, the waterlilies of Fogg Dam and a pair of Jabirus frolicking at Arnbangbang Billabong.
After viewing the rock art at Ubirr, we walk up on top of the rock to view a Top End sunset over the wetlands. It's such a serene spot (especially given the numbers of people also gathered around us) and a wonderful way to end a hot day. Just be quick to leave after sunset when all the mosquitoes come looking for prey...
One of the must-do things of any trip to Kakadu is to see some Aboriginal rock art. We had sadly not seen much so far on the trip (many sites in northern WA being off the main route), but at Kakadu we went to both Ubirr and Nourlangie. It's amazing to view the layers of paintings painted over each other - the act of painting being more important than the actual painting. Some of the art has stories behind it, whilst other paintings such as the ones of barramundi are the ancient Aboriginal form of those noticeboards of big fish photos at popular fishing spots.
Well, I'd been on peaceful crocodile tours before on the Daintree River and Yellow Water at Kakadu, so on this trip we opted for one of the jumping crocodile tours on the Adelaide River. The commentator on the boat assured us that it was all natural behaviour, although being rather lazy creatures and meat not often being proferred to them just above the surface of the water, I guess there's not too much danger of the crocodiles starting to do this to wary boaters and tourists. It's a pretty action packed tour, with numerous crocodiles being fed (the females are the most agile), plus some baby crocodiles spotted on the banks and the local kites also given a snack, whilst swooping down around the boat.
My favourite place in Darwin was the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. The range of food available to buy is pretty amazing. We started with some oysters au natural, before tasting some mini spring rolls, tempura prawn and skewered camel, having a main course of some East Timorese dishes and a massive squid spring roll, and wrapping up with some Dutch mini pancakes with berries. And after our earlyish dinner we joined everyone on the beach to watch a beautiful tropical sunset.