Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cairns to Alice Springs

(This is a long post, I'm writing it at home as I use my travel journal to catch up with my Australia blog posts, more will follow).

After 6 days in Cairns it was time to start my journey back to Sydney. Of course while other people did sensible things like fly, I had decided it would be cool to do the whole journey over land by bus. I mean Australia is just one country, how big can it be... ;-).

The first stage of the journey was to get from Cairns to Alice Springs. I think my first idea that this was not going to be a run of the mill trip down the motorway was when I saw the bus. At first glance it looked like a standard bus, but closer inspection revealed it to be 4 wheel drive and have front body work that looked like less like bull bars and more like elephant bars. Still it was a pretty comfortable bus as they had taken out some rows of seats to give everyone more space. Plus there was a DVD player and TV screens so we would have something to watch when the landscape became boring.

The first day leaving Cairns we stopped at several tourist attractions like Milla Milla Falls and Millstreet Falls. We were still in the tropics so there was actually water in these water falls. For lunch we stopped at a little rest stop whose claim to fame was that it has Australia's Smallest Pub. Of course I suspect that every few hundred miles in Australia you can find a pub claiming to be Australia's Smallest Pub. This one was impressively small however and had there been 3 people in it at the same time two of them would have to be getting very up close and personal while the other leaned over the bar to order a pint.

After this point we hit the dirt roads. Long straight roads through the outback which are just gravel tracks down which jeeps, road trains and buses travel. But don't think we were on side roads, at one point one of these dirt tracks is called the Plenty Highway. Even in 4WD vehicles these are still tricky roads as they can tear a tire to bits in seconds as we learned the hard way. Driving along the passengers on the bus could hear a strange tapping noise, but since this was day one of the trip none of us were concerned enough to put our hand up and inform the driver.

It was only when we hit a metal cattle grid that the driver himself realised we had a problem. One of the tires had burst or just gone flat earlier and had been shredded as we drove along the dusty rocky road. The next two hours were spent trying to get the old tire off the bus and put on one of our two spares. One of the passengers, Sharky, obviously trying to be helpful and impress the ladies decided to take control help the driver undo the wheel nuts. We would have been there even longer if it was not for the driver of a road train that showed up after half an hour informed the guys that they were actually twisting the nuts the wrong way and had just tightened them all. Still no serious harm was done and we eventually got back on the road to Porcupine Gorge and from there on to our hostel for the night in a place whose name sounded like Hugbemden.

Day 2 started early, as all days on tour in Australia seem to. We had breakfast and then headed down the dirt roads again. There was an early stop in the town of Milton where Waltzing Matilda was written. They are really proud of this and have statues and displays all along the one street in town repeating the song. Unfortunately since it was around 8am on a Sunday there was little open, apart from one little shop which I presume knows the bus schedule and opens just for the thirsty tourists. For lunch we had a BBQ on a cliff top overlooking the desert and three rocks called Mary Maude and Kate. A search under the cliffs for Aborigine art revealed a few small drawings and several spooked kangaroos who hopped away as we approached passing quite close in the confined spaces.

We then went to a sheep station to use the toilets and fill up the water tanks on the bus. The property is 40,000 acres and is run by a man called Charlie and his family. This year is tough for them since they have only had 60% of their usual rainfall (12 inches) and it has been light rain so it doesn't really help break the drought. Still Charlie gave us water from his rain water tanks so we wouldn't yet have to drink water from the Great Artesian Basin, as we would later, the water in the basin is 2 million years old, was safe to drink but tasted awful. We then moved onto the town of Midleton and the cattle station of Wirrilgerna for the night Some of us slept on camp beds outside under the stars which were amazingly clear since there were no man made lights for miles around.

Day 3 we were up to watch the sun rise and then we headed into the Simpson Desert. This is a really barren place. It's been a desert for so long the sand has blown away and now its just a rocky plain with scrubby grass and a few small trees somehow managing to survive in that way that Australian plants seem to survive where nothing else could. Finally after 2 full days of travel we crossed into the Northern Territory. It's strange to think you can drive solidly for 2 days and still be in the same state, this country is HUGE. Another weird thing is the Northern Territory has a 1/2 hour time difference from Queensland. Typically the Australians just figured a full hour was too much so they just change the time by 30 minutes.

One of the highlights of this day was seeing a 5 meter high termite mound. After 3 days on a bus it could have been a 5 meter high dung mound and we would still all have gotten off the bus, walked around and took photographs. Still something about this mound seemed very alien. We stopped at an Aboriginal dry settlement where no alcohol is allowed. We basically just stopped to refuel the bus and pay a quick visit to the shop. Next I passed the tropic of Capricorn again, this time heading South and finally got to Alice Springs.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Declan said...

Hi Andrew, I've deleted your comment because your email address was in it and blogger wouldnt let me edit the comment. I have emailed a reponse to your questions about busses, let me know if you dont get it or email me on the address under Contact Me. If you have any more questions feel free to ask and enjoy your trip.