November 10th – on the way to civilisation

Agnese writes:
Yesterday we noticed that both our paper maps show 100km stretch of the route along gravel road (or dirt road as it’s being called here). There were 2 similar options – either to continue all the way to the coast and then go up to Cairns, or turn left in Cloncurry and take a parallel road 400km North. We decided to ask at the hostel. The nightguard was very talkative and told us much about flood and other weather conditions. He said the north road is closed sometimes 12 weeks a year due to flood. He hadn’t heard that it might be closed today, but it had rained a bit recently, and if we get till it and it’s closed, we’ll need to come all the 400km back.

I told him I was surprised about the 2m flood meter marks in many places along the road. I just couldn’t believe that the flood can be that high. He said 2 meters are normal. Apparently once a town north from Mt Isa, near the bay (Burketown?) got flooded by 7m of water – the whole town was evacuated.

We woke up at 5:30 as usual – there’s a long way ahead of us again. Quick breakfast with musli an yogurts and off we are. First to a hill in the middle of the town where we can see a nice scenery and many factories. This is a mining town – mines for silver, zinc, copper and lead can be found here and are the largest in Australia.

The road out of Mt Isa is not that boring anymore – ups and downs, winds and besides that road trains going to the opposite direction quite often. The town of Cloncurry holds the heat record of Australia – 53.1 Celsius degrees in shadow. After Cloncurry the road gets worse. Still a sealed road, but with many patches – quite like in Latvia :D

We spot 3 emu on the roadside – live ones! Lunch in a town of Richmond – for some reason it has been decorated with dinosaur pictures and models. Very boring road till the next town. One can notice we are driving towards more civilized part of this country due to petrol prices which get cheaper. Fueling up in Hughenden.

We arrive at our campsite soon after a beautiful sunset. At the entrance there’s a plate with a warning of crocodiles living in the nearby waters. The river is quite close, but it has very high banks, so the campsite is safe. There are toilets and showers here and a picnic table which we reserve for our dinner. Many other campervans are parked here, but the area is big so nobody disturbs others. The camel steak for the dinner is juicy and nice.

We are back in civilisation now – there’s phone coverage in our campsite! There hasn’t been such luck since long time!

There are also many stars, but a couple of clouds as well, so we don’t find everything we have seen previously.

November 6th – From Uluru through storm and rainbows to Alice Springs

Agnese writes:
The sunrise is expected at 5:50, but we are many kilometers from Uluru, so we need to get up early to be on time. The stars are still visible at 4:30am and Venus is shining above the fires near horizon. Those are smaller than last night. No breakfast yet – we will eat it later near Uluru after the sunrise.

The closer we come to the national park, the more clouds there are above. We are a bit late, but we don’t miss anything – there’s a long band of clouds stretching over sky with one side right in that place where the Sun should be. When we are heading to the viewing platforms, crowds of disappointed people are already leaving.

We don’t have any rush. The guided walk which we’re going to join starts at 8am, so almost 2 hours time. Toilets are good and after refreshing ourselves we start to prepare breakfast. Emīls is the man today – he’s preparing scrambled eggs. Tasty! By this time the Sun has appeared and gradually starts shining on Uluru as well. Beautiful!
We also need to make some sandwiches for the lunch, so I give a cutting board with a piece of salami to Anders so he can cut it in slices at some moment. Guna finds him few minutes later with a cup of coffee in one hand, cutting board and sausage in the other, peacefully contemplating at the colour changes on Uluru.

At 8am we meet our guide for Mala walk – he is a ranger in this national park and knows lots of facts about Aborigenal people. The 2 hour walk flies by very fast. It maybe seemed like 30 minutes – so interesting were his stories. The Aborigenal peoples’ ways of gathering food are incredible. They got honey by cutting of the belly of honey ant and they knew how to find the places where to dig for these ants. They use the tiny (less than 1mm in diameter) seeds of grass to make flour, they grind them with stones. The bowls where to put all the gathered food are oval and brought on the heads. They are supported by a ring of grass and human hair that is put between the bowl and the head. Sometimes babies are carried in them as well.

We also got a surprising information about burning the desert – apparently Aborigens have created a system on artificial burning over thousands of years. Around 50ties in last century the government had taken the land from them and didn’t listen to them, and no artificial burning was happening. In 70ties a huge fire burned around 80% of the desert and Australia lost 3 creature species. A bit later the land was given back to Aborigens and now it is managed together with Aborigen elders.
In the rain season Uluru gets some showers and then the water is flowing down as many waterfalls. Even though it rained yesterday, that was only half-a-milimeter. Before that they hadn’t had any rain since March.

Last sights of the pale orange Uluru and we leave for Alice Springs. On our way – Henbury meteorite craters. Those are accessible by a 15km gravel road. Our cars are not supposed to go on unsealed roads and I don’t want to risk with both cars, so one car will be going twice. Not far from the turn to the craters a heavy rain starts. By the time we arrive to the junction, the rain has diminished, but not stopped. The road doesn’t look very bad, so we decide to try. The surface is slippery but bearable, however, just for first 4km. It looks really bad after, so we decide to turn back. In case we really want to, we can come back in 2 days while the conditioner and electricity for the other car is being fixed.

The surroundings get more interesting as we are approaching Alice Springs. Some hills, some winds on the road. At one point rain gets very strong and hale follows soon after. A bit scary, so we reduce the speed, but no issues. Once we are through the hale and the heavy rain, a very bright rainbow appears on the right side. The purple colour is well visible. After a while the 2nd rainbow appears above it with reversed colours. The rainbows follow as the road winds through the hills, at some moments we can see the start of the main one – right in front of our car. Beautiful! We also stop to take some pictures.

I have told the hostel that we’ll arrive around 8pm when the reception is closed already, so they are surprised when I call and announce our arrival at around 6pm. The hostel – Alice’s secret – is better than I expected. We have booked 5 and 3 people dorms, but get 6 person one instead of 5. Very nice – more space and air. Guna, Gunta and Evija will be sleeping in the 3 bed one, the rest in the other.

Shower after the 3 nights in tents are very welcomed. We decide to go to the town after. Guys have put clothes in washing machine. While we are waiting for the laundry to be finished, heavy rain starts. No, in such rain we will eat dinner in the hostel. Couscous with sausages for dinner and then time to sleep – at least for those who don’t try to get the stories in the online blog. The speed of internet upload is so slow that I cannot upload anything between the connection resets. (Next morning is much better.) The rain stops only after midnight when almost everyone is sound asleep.