15 August, 2012

Unexpected treasures

(Sunday 22nd July)

Well, we did get a solid night’s sleep and it made the world of difference today. We were almost all up and about before 7.30: sunrise. So we went up to the campsite viewing point and watched the sun rise on Uluru. Beautiful. Just seeing a sun rise over the horizon is beautiful, let alone having Uluru as part of the context. In Tokyo we rarely see the horizon. Out here you can see the horizon in all directions. It is magnificent.

Not the most popular view of Kata Djuta.
We had pancakes for breakfast and then eventually ventured out to Kata Tjuta (previously known as the Olgas). It is another 45km on from Uluru, and it is pretty obvious that it isn’t the main attraction. It is more remote and less resourced. One toilet block is all there is. There are less signs, smaller car parks etc. 

But Kata Djuta itself is not “less” in any way. It is actually quite a different experience. The same orange-red rock and blue sky — but not just one big rock that you walk around, but lots of domes that invite you to explore. We found we were surprised around several corners of the walks we took, unexpected sights abounded. It wasn’t an easy walk, however, and now my knees are protesting the punishment I meted out to them.

Again, the three contrasting colours.
We didn’t quite complete all that we wanted too, partly because we lingered over lunch. The reason being is that we ended up sharing a large picnic table with two cyclists who are riding all over the place out here. I’m not sure what their final destination is, but they’d come from Mt Isa so far. What surprised me was that they weren’t young, they had grey beards, I suspect in their 60s. And they didn’t seem to be ‘mad’, they didn’t boast of their achievements (and this isn’t the first or even third outback biking journey they’ve undertaken). They just seemed to enjoy the life on the road, the freedom that being on bikes gave them, and the companionship of travellers along the road. They answered our questions and returned with questions of their own for us. One of them has lived in Japan and speaks some Japanese.

Around each corner was another stunning facet
of the rocks.
Fascinating people that you meet along the road. We’ve been in such a rush to get here, that we haven’t had time to sit and chat with people who are also on the road. Our time has been consumed with getting from here to there as well as organising the boys to get the essentials done (teeth, showers, dressed, and if we’re lucky: exercise etc.) and getting all the necessary things done ourselves (like laundry, petrol stops, and grocery shopping).

This looks a little like a lunar landscape.
But of course one the first questions people ask is, “Where are you from?” Twice today I’ve answered that, “We’re from Brisbane, but we live in Tokyo most of the time.” Which provokes interesting responses, especially if you don’t identify yourself as a missionary (which tends to produce an uncomfortable  silence).

The other reason we didn’t do as much as we’d hoped at Kata Tjuta is that we wanted to allow the boys to have a short camel ride near our campground, and that shut early. The boys were grateful for the interesting experience of riding on a camel, but in total agreement that a short ride was best, and that a longer ride might indeed induce motion sickness.

A young camel saying, "G'day".
After that we stopped at the resort/town shopping centre for just a few groceries, to avoid having to waste time in Alice Springs tomorrow as we try to get as far north as we can on the Stuart Highway.

The shopping centre was a fascinating place, mostly because it services a fairly unique community. The whole town is pretty much based on tourism and servicing the tourists. The town is hidden from view of most tourists, but there are, I’ve heard, at least 1,100 workers out here, and many of them are young.

I couldn't get enough of these beautiful
gums and the blue skies. This one was
inside the campground.
At the shopping centre I stopped to look at the Community Bulletin, which in a small town like this can give insights into the community. There was a list of regular activities, including touch footy on Monday night, non-denominational Christian meeting on Saturdays, a meeting at the library. I didn’t linger long, but noticed a list of visiting medical professionals to the medical centre, job vacancies, various rugged vehicles for sale, and further education training opportunities with Charles Darwin University, etc. It is fascinating to imagine what it would be like to live in such a specialised community so far from anywhere else (Alice Springs, the nearest big town, is over 400km away).

After we got “home” the boys dashed off to see if the giant chess board was free for use. It was busy, so they watched someone else play for a while. Later they had a go themselves and enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately they ran out of time and had to call it quits before they were done (but we did take photos of the board, so they could finish the game somewhere else on a different board). It WAS pretty cool!

These pieces came up to mid-thigh on the boys.
After dinner we went to the campground’s public campfire where there was someone singing with his guitar and free marshmallows for cooking. The boys just love fire and I had trouble getting them home, even after the fire was put out.

But we’ve eventually all hopped into bed in preparation for three large days of driving and then two, only slightly less driving days. David has been busy calculating and recalculating distances, but in the end we’ll see how we go. Our only ‘booking’ between now and Mackay on Thursday night is at Mt Isa; we’ll be free camping in-between. The beauty of free camping is that it means you can camp when you’re done with driving for the day, rather than stick to a set schedule or get to the next town that has a caravan park or motel in it. It is also a faster set-up and pack-up as there is less to do outside the van (read no electricity to connect, or water, or grey water hose). No laundry to do either!

But for now I’m heading for the horizontal position!

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