In May 2008, I went travelling on my own for the first time and was out of England for a month. Along the way I took in Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand before coming home. I kept a journal of my time on the road, so here’s a day by day account of my trials and tribulations that has the undeserved title of Dave’s Odyssey.
Day 20 – Alice Springs – Western McDonnell Ranges
Alex arranged a 7.15 a.m. wake-up call for those of us on the Western McDonnell Ranges tour, but I was up and at breakfast before then! We set off at 8.20 and our tour guide – John – was the stereotypical Aussie although his hat was missing those corks on strings. He was one of the best tour guides yet; knowledgeable, enthusiastic, friendly and had a cold supply of water for us and didn’t charge a single cent. Top bloke.
We started the tour at Anzac Hill, which our tour group had seen already, but the other tourists were given a great view of Alice Springs. After that we had a drive through the town and John pointed out some interesting landmarks and surprised us by pointing out the seemingly dry riverbed has an ample supply of water underground and is aptly named ‘an upside down river’ by the locals.
Outside Alice Springs we stopped off at the John Flynn Memorial. Flynn was the founder of the Flying Doctors Service and had specified on his death that he wanted a particular kind of stone to adorn his grave. This was at a time when the Aussies didn’t understand the Aborigine culture and customs, and the stone they used for Flynn’s grave was known as a ‘dreamstone,’ sacred to the Aborigines. They, of course, wanted it back and for years the debate raged on about ownership. Eventually the courts interfered and a compromise was reached. The original stone was returned to the Aborigines who agreed on another stone to be used for the memorial.
Next up we headed for Simpson’s Gap. The original settlers named this landmark but left no explanation as to who Simpson was. It was formed by a river that over time forced its way between the mountains to create the huge gap of today. Our approach was through a dry river bed of sand and sediment that dusted my shoes and found a way inside as well. The odd patch of the bed was deep enough to reveal small puddles but generally it was dry in the early stages of the walk.
The highlight of Simpson’s Gap came in the form of a group of rock wallabies that hopped along the mountainsides. With a careful approach and lots of patience I was fortunate enough to photograph a couple of them. While the group continued to be distracted by the camera-shy residents I headed through the Gap and found a body of water towards the end. The red mountainsides were amazing and it was tempting to keep on photographing the Gap but there was still a lot to see in Australia.
Our next stop was at Standley Chasm. This was christened by the Aborigines in recognition of the first European teacher in the Northern Territory that built a school nearby and educated dozens of children. Miss Standley was well-respected by the Aborigines who paid the ultimate tribute to her in the naming of this chasm.
John sent us on our way while he prepared a barbecue lunch for us which he promised would be ready within an hour. I pressed ahead along the path to the chasm. The walkway began fairly flat and even but soon rocks became boulders and the path proved too much for some of the older members of the group. There were a few different walks throughout Standley Chasm but at least one was restricted to experienced walkers and considered quite dangerous. I somehow resisted the challenge!
I eventually reached the chasm and found that we were situated at the very bottom rather than looking down into the depths. A few tourists made decent photos tricky but I still managed some worthwhile snaps. I would have liked to venture further but the path ahead involved a spot of climbing and I didn’t want to stray too far ahead.
Back at the coach park we enjoyed a small lunch prepared by John. The barbecue was actually his boiling water in a pot so we could enjoy tea or coffee. He’d brought along sandwiches, biscuits and fruit cake for us to savour with our hot drink. It was great to have dinner in the Outback, thankfully in the shade as the day had grown steadily warm and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.
After lunch our group had to split up. Some had paid only for a half-day tour while the rest of us still had the afternoon to go. John dropped my group off at the Alice Springs Desert Park while he took the rest back to town.
The Desert Park was a pleasant walk through the varying terrain and wildlife of the Northern Territory. Bird houses dominated the park and our group quipped that most seemed to be empty, or that the birds had simply got wise to tourists and stayed out of sight. The highlights were the Nocturnal House containing lizards, scorpions, snakes etc and also the kangaroo enclosure. The latter was pretty bizarre as you wandered a winding path inside the actual enclosure. The kangaroos, had they not been snoozing, could have hopped right up to us. The poor fellows are nocturnal so were sleeping it off when I wandered by but they were just about visible on the outskirts.
It was late afternoon when a coach with a different driver picked us up. It didn’t take long to get back to Alice Springs and we were soon at the hotel. Tomorrow we would leave the town and begin the long drive to Ayers Rock. Along the way we would get to see camels from Afghanistan and even get the chance to ride them if we wish. I don’t think I will. They always look like they’re up to something and don’t seem trustworthy. Ayers Rock promised be a unique experience. We were set to get there before dusk to get the obligatory sunset photo. After Ayers Rock we only had Cairns and Sydney left. Australia seemed to be flying by quicker than New Zealand!
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