November 7th – West MacDonnel Ranges and Tnorala

Ilgonis writes:
Today is a nice day, few clouds, not very hot. At last no thunderstorm and heavy rain! Today we relax. We visit objects “near” Alice Springs, at West Mcdonnell range, only 200 km to drive in one direction. The first one is Tnorala (Gosses Bluff), remnant of old metorite crater. Crater itself was 20 km in diameter, but now is not visible because of erosion during millions of years. Five kilometer wide center hill Tnorala is all that is left. But nevertheless its huge and impressive. We cannot drive close to it because of water on road, so our group decide to walk.

Later we visit two gorges, Glenn Helen and Ellery Creek. Nice view and warm water. We swim with pleasure. We are back at AS at sunset and watch beautiful clouds illuminated by setting sun. Strange phenomena, rays that stretch from sunset point to opposite point in the sky are visible. They are called crepuscular and anti crepuscular rays.

Major part of our group decides to have dinner in town but is shocked by high prices.
And yes, one more kangaroo crossed our road today. We also saw one camel, one wild cow and several lizards.

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.

November 5th – to Uluru

Guna writes:
The alarm goes of at 5.30am, but since we had a very restless night and it’s still quite dark, I continue sleeping wondering how are our friends doing in the tent as the wind is still howling, as the storm has seemingly moved on. Luckily the rain has stopped and lightning can be seen only far away near horizon. After half an hour consciousness kicks in and I get up, wake up Gunta and Evija and after a while also Agnese and the others.

At first we decide to make fried eggs but as we all get to assess the situation outside, we opt against any cooking as the wind is so strong that it would classify as storm in Latvia. So the breakfast turn out to be exclusive yoghurt, musli, banana and rock melon. Still the food is flying straight into Emils’ mouth when facing the wind.

Despite the late start we manage to leave our campsite at 8am and a little bit later cross the SA/NA border where the time zone is +9.30 so we have even saved an extra hour.
We decided against going to Kings canyon so that at least one day could be spent in a more leisurely manner. And we were right :)
Finally the day has come when we manage to see real, close-up emus… in a petrol station, in captive…. still some baby emus and grown-ups. Very beautiful and majestic birds though I don’t quite get it, why they are kept there.

We turn to Uluru and after some 240km, false sightings and spotting of the Ayer’s rock… twice… we arrive at the national park, which belongs to the Anangu people. By the way one of the false Uluru mountains is supposed to be the most photographed mountain in Australia after Uluru. Exactly for the same reason. Unfortunately we were not exception and got excited as soon as we saw it. The real Uluru hides behind the national park border. The entrance fee is for whole 3 days which might justify its price – 25$.
First stop in the national park is Mt Olgas [Kata Tjuta] where despite the heat we manage to eat some lunch at the same time as getting 360 degrees view on the mountains.
It’s hot, some 39 degrees in the sun. So it’s cooler than the day before.

We hope the heat would stop as a walk into the Olgas would be quite hot. But we get lucky because the nearby and never ceasing storm is getting nearer and the day becomes pleasantly cloudy.
The mountains and gorge is of course spectacular and enormous (approx 500m high). However probably the best experience is on our leaving when finally a kangaroo (probably the big red one) crosses our way. We’re lucky and everybody is only happily surprised.

The weather worsens and clouds are impenetrable with occasional rain droplets when we arrive at Uluru. We have abandoned any hopes to see Uluru in sunset and settle for information center and drive around the rock. However the weather surprises us again and presents us with almost wonderful sunset which we watch reflected against the Ayer’s red rock.
We are ready to leave the national park and planning to return tomorrow and witness also the sunrise.

Our camp site again is located some place on the way back in the middle of no where but as we approach the place the sky on the horizon is weirdly sunset colors but the direction is wrong. There is again another fire, a much bigger from the looks of it and directly towards the place we need to camp.

We decide to stay on a side of the road but and watch out for the fire. The site is much nicer than the last one with some water proved.
Beef steak with pasta and salads is arranged as very satisfying dinner and at 10 pm we’re ready to go to sleep in order to get up early and see the sunrise over Uluru.

November 4th: around Coober Pedy

Gunta writes:
Waking up at 5:30, the morning is calm. Sunrise at 6:22, the guys are preparing breakfast. The porridge made by Ilgonis is tasty, just one pot gets burnt a bit. Two crows are chatting to each other, looks great, maybe they are discussing pans for the day. Breakfast. Leaving at 7:50, destination for today – Agnes’ creek. The first stop – at a stand with information about railway building from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. Along the road desert plants, the scenery changes from dried grasslands to bush in red soil. Salt bushes and eucalypti are growing here. On the sides of road it looks like there are thrown out some kind of yellow balls in piles. Later we find out that the yellow fruits are camel melons which are poisonous for humans.

We arrive at Coober Pedy. It is very hot. We visit the underground Orthodox church. Then entrance is for donations and some of us are paying. Guna and I put a candle for the living souls. Then we go further to see the Big Winch. The one displayed is a replica because the old one was twisted and broken during a storm. The houses are mostly underground. Next we go to the Old Timer’s Mine opal museum and shop. The exposition is big. The temperature in shade is 39 degrees Celsius. The local shopkeeper says such temperature is usually in February (i.e. in spring). The normal temperature in November is around 20 degrees Celsius or a little bit more.
There are no people outside, only us. Some of us buy some opal jewelry. We eat our lunch in shade. The wind in sun almost burns our feet. We watch the demonstration of rock blower machine and have the opportunity to try it out ourselves – the force is so strong that one can see its skin rippling.
Coober Pedy is small town or a big village with many houses. Everything is sandy and dusty.

Afterwards with one car because of dirt road 4km long we are going to Crocodile Harry. The dwelling looks like a cave at the basis of the mountain, the entrance is at the ground level. There are many rooms – living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small library. Women’s underwear hangs everywhere. The walls are covered with greetings from all over the world, also from Latvia. We find a photo album with a photo taken in Dundaga [town in Latvia] and the little Harry on a donkey in Culture and Leisure park. Next to it is a photo of Harry – all grown up in Coober Pedy – big bearded, long haired man. It is a strange feeling and it evokes thoughts about time and Harry’s destiny.

We are going to the camp site. There’s lightning all the time near horizon. The lightning strikes straight into the ground. Emīls is waiting rain for it to wash the car. Some raindrops occasionally fall on the windshield. There are no kangaroos on the road, not counting the dead ones.

We stop at Marla and some run to the sprinkler to freshen up. We meet travelers from England who are renting campers from the same Spaceship company. So we exchange DVDs, suggestions and impressions with them.
Later on the way we encounter strong wind but not so strong rain, dry spinifex (desert grass) balls are rolling over the road.
A radio conversation occurs between the two cars – [Optimus Prime (the girls’ car)]: how many kilometers are left? [Hawk (the guys’ car)]: we don’t know. [OP]: But you have GPS! [H]: just a minute, we’ll turn it on.

At camp site we prepare dinner – a kangaroo steak and potatoes, plus salads. Very tasty. There’s a bush fire in the distance. Our scouts come back with some good and bad news. The good news is that the fire is not very big, and the bad news is that it is only approximately 2 km away. So we decide to go to the next camp site 35km further. There is also an emergency phone. On the way we find that the bushfire is bigger and also further – around 15 km away.

We stay in our new campsite.There’s storm during night. Rain comes down in huge drops but the average rainfall is small. The car sways and it feels like it will be lifted up by the strong winds. We think how the ones sleeping in tents are feeling and whether they also won’t be blown away into desert.

Greetings to all reading my entry!

Agnese: I should add here that on this day we noticed that the conditioner of the OP car is not working properly. In Coober Pedy we sent an e-mail to Spaceships office and asked to organize us someone to see to that in Alice Springs besides the failed cigarette lighter/electricity pug with a hope that we’ll still be alive by then. Occasionally we are switching the cars so that the others get the coolness of Hawk as well. But I don’t switch – I still have the cough that I got in London, and I don’t want to get cold.

November 3rd – No expectations and be open!

Evija writes:
The stay at home of Adelaide’s Latvians, Jānis Priedkalns and Ilga [Agnese adds – the others were staying in other places] is nice, especially the breakfast – Latvian style pancakes with Pure [a town in Latvia] jam! Wow! :) I cannot find the koala in the eucalyptus tree of their house garden, but the green car – fantastic!

The meeting with honorary consul, the leader of Adelaide’s Latvians and others is cozy, lovey, people are interested. Latvians here are very friendly. In the Latvian museum it seems to me that the collection of folk costumes are even bigger than in Latvia Etnographic Open-air museum.

Woomera rocket base is not too interesting for me, but Ilgonis [Agnese adds – definitely also Agnese and Emīls] is excited! Tonight we are staying in rest area 225km before Coober Pedy, tomorrow full speed forward! After dinner Emīls shows and tells about stars – he is very good at it. Sky is full of stars and the Milky Way so beautiful! And them the sleep gradually takes me over and I curl up in the car.

November 2nd – catching up

Rūdolfs writes:
I wake up with my alarm which rings at 5:15. I put many alarms and I also know that not all people get up in same time. Morning is very cold around 5C. In sleeping bag was quite cold even with clothes on and also it’s not suited for low temperature. Everyone slowly gets out of bed and some of us start making breakfast. Some of us are going to take morning photo view around site. It’s already bright but still can’t see sunrise because it’s happening behind small hill. I’m making a film of fog above water and around it and also our camp place.

Now it’s breakfast time and we start to eat. While we are eating the Sun is starting to get above hill. Ilgonis and Emīls was already there before it’s risen above hill. Meanwhile some of us are starting to make sandwiches for lunch.

Soon we start packing the car and washing dishes to get ready to start the journey. Today it was planned to drive around 685km but yesterday we didn’t reach our goal because it was planned 723km, but we did only around 320km. So today we need to drive around 1085km. Now it’s Ilgonis turn to drive. I guess it is the first time for him to drive the other side of road and automatic gear. I explain him.

We start to drive and follow girls car. I start setting up navigation system and looking where we are. Our boy’s navigation system from Ilgonis Garmin nuvi GPS can’t search by name. My Marble software doesn’t want to recognize my Magellan anymore but in map I can follow route where we need to be and I also have Route66 Chicago GPS but there isn’t this road inside it, and last one is HTC Desire Android software Navfree which also uses OSM map but for address search it requires internet. It will be a long way to drive. We talk and listen to music. Time by time we change driver to let the previous driver rest.

Australia’s nature is different. In some area there are only small bush and grass around knee level and in some areas like poor forest and it looks not higher than 6-8m.
In one rest area Agnes asks for hot water and I suggest her to take my kettle to boil how many they need and we start drive forward. At next rest area Agnese told me that kettle knocked out the DC of their car. Nature changes time by time and we see a lot of dead kangaroos at side of road. I fall asleep at some point.

We are approaching Adelaide. Ilgonis drove into a rest area and asked to replace him. I suggest that I can drive and Anders take care about navigation. At the same time girls’ car didn’t stop but drive forward, because we are quite late already. I know that they don’t drive more than 100km/h even you can drive up to 110km/h because at one rest area I asked Agnese why they don’t drive more than 100km/h and she told me that is because at 110km/h rpm are 2,9 which one eat more fuel instead of 100km/h at 2,5 rpm but our car at 110km/h take 2,7 rpm. I didn’t see big difference because you also gain more km. So I speed up to 110km/h to catch girls car.

We are in Adelaide and Anders starts to navigate with google map and told me directions. Soon we are in road construction site where they build bridges and we need alternative route. Road is small and tricky but we manage get through it. We are finally approaching destination. On the last corner girls are ringing us and asking where we are and we already see girls.

We parked inside Latvian house “Daugavas Vanags” parking area and there are already people who are waiting for us to show house and give us late snack Latvian pie. Latvian house is very patriotic. Two of them suggest that they can give sleeping place for 4 people. We decided that girls are going there and we stay in Latvian house in the largest room. Ilgonis, Anders and I chose stay in the house but Emīls chose to sleep in car, to get longer sleep because in morning there is the presentation in same room where we sleep.

Some of us tested projector but there is a little problem. We decide to use an alternative, because they had setup a new system not long time ago but it didn’t want to recognize my PC and I haven’t got experience whit this system.
Some of us went to shower but I decide to do it tomorrow because I’m too sleepy for that.
Good night!

November 1st – The roadtrip has started!

Anders writes:
The roadtrip started! A few hours later than expected, mostly because the process of collecting the cars was very slow. If we had not already visited the city office the day before we would probably have been there the whole day. Anders, Agnese and Evija collected the Cars: “Optimus Prime” for the women and “Hawk” for the men. At the Latvian house the others were waiting with all the groceries.

Next we headed for the blue mountains. The blue colour is believed to come from particles emitted by the many eucalyptus trees. The bedrock consists mostly of orange/yellow sandstone however. In Katoomba we had some very nice views of these mountains. We also counted dead kangaroos by the roadside, final count was 13, none of those killed by Optimus Prime or Hawk.

We found a gorgeous free campsite for the night and feasted on sausages with gravy, potatoes and salad. Those who stayed up late were treated to a fantastic red Moon rising fast on the clear night sky, over the nearby lake.

October 31st – Halloween day

Emīls writes [Agnese comments]:
We have planned to go to the rental office today to get all the paperwork done. We should meet at 9:20am. I arrange with Agnese to arrive at 9:30 as then I can buy the cheaper off-peak ticket. As the ride takes around 30mins, I came to my stop shortly after 9. The trains usually go every 5 or 6 minutes, but this time I had to wait for almost 15. Of course, as a result I expected to be late and arrive at 9:45. At some stop the train decided to wait for another 7 minutes and in the end, one stop before my destination it stopped and didn’t move any further. I waited for some 10 minutes till I understood that I might wait for the whole day. Some tourists were onboard and they were talking loudly, so I couldn’t hear anything that was said over loudspeaker. I asked one Australian person what has happened. He said he doesn’t understand anything as well. If he, being an Australian cannot understand, how can I do it being a tourist? In the end it turned out that he’s going to the same stop as me. So I managed to get to the destination together with the Australian in a taxi with almost an hour delay.

Once the paperwork was done, we went up in the Sydney’s tall TV tower. A wonderful view over the city. However I didn’t feel anything extraordinary – maybe I have flown and seen cities from above enough. After that 3 people from out group, me including, visited the aquarium. There were uncountable fish and other water creatures’ species. But I was the most surprised by the many sharks which were both small and very big in size. I saw them alive for the first time in my life from distance of just about 1m. [The others visited Powerhouse museum or Australian museum meanwhile and were very happy with their choice but a bit short of time to see everything properly].

Later we took a ferry ride [to Manly beach]. Once in the destination whole passenger crowd left the ferry through one exit, but we [were guided to other exit as we were blocking the path while waiting for the others of our group]. I had quickly gone through the normal exit, but my fellow travelers were hesitating somewhere. After some waiting I decided to take a look, where is everyone. Of course, there was something for free again – this time it’s complimentary coffee. I went back via the exit, but a station officer called me back and said that it’s not allowed to go there. I replied that I’m looking for my travel mates. I went a bit further and saw – everyone is making coffee – they had put the powder and sugar in cups, just about to pour the water on it. And then the doors of the station officer box opened and she saw the complimentary coffee being used, which was not intended for the passengers of this ferry. As a result Emīls had spoiled the coffee opportunity for his mates, and compensated them later with a bar of chocolate. Anyway, who is drinking coffee in the middle of the day when there’s ocean with waves waiting in a few hundred meters? .
A great swim in the ocean, sunset on a beach, a ride back to Sydney centre with a ferry and a view to the city in the night – fantastic!

October 30th – Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life!

Evija writes:
The stay of our group at homes of Latvians in Sydney is successful and hearty. Each of us gets to know something new and also controversial.

For the breakfast – the Royal Botanical Garden of Sydney with guide and first postcards with Australia animals. The botanical garden of University of Latvia is on the right path, looks like I’ll need to give them a praise later on.

The territory of the opera house is huge, we also find a place to dine there [Agnese: I wouldn’t say it was the best choice, however]. I find the most akin part of Sydney for myself – the Rocks, which is the oldest part of the city; let’s leave the skyscrapers for others.

The long prepared meeting in Strathfield with the Latvians of Sydney has finally come. There are surprisingly many people in the meeting, I am very happy to meet Goga again and get to know other countrymen. Thanks to the Latvia group for participating!

October 29th – arriving

Main part of our group (6 out of 8 people ) successfully arrived in Sydney today. Well, not completely, Evija’s luggage is missing. Promised to deliver later. We met with our hosts (we stay with local Latvian families). Nice and warm welcome!

I sniff the air. It’s quite the same as in my country. Only later I notice that blossomed trees are everywhere. Violet jacaranda is especially beautiful. All city today is dressed in violet.

In the afternoon our whole group meets for the first time. First looks, greetings and impressions. We will stay together for three weeks while driving 8000 kilometers around Australia. Lets see how we shall adapt to each other.

Sydney is gorgeous and Agnes is an excellent guide of our city walk. We visit Town Hall, Anzac memorial, ibisses in the park, St. Mary’s cathedral, Old Mint, Barracks and NSW state library.
Business part of the city around Martin place looks like a jungle. Narrow gorges between huge buildings are full of trees and crowds. Surprisingly there are no kangaroos on streets :-). Queen Victoria building with its remarkable clock is like an isle of quietness.

We continue with Darling harbour, seagulls and more ibisses. I especially like skyscrapers that shape silhouette of the city. Surprisingly, famous Opera is not visible from every corner :-)! Our tour finishes at Chinatown where most of us order different Chinese soups. I and Anders order soup with small chilli amount and even then it is very hot. Rūdolfs order medium chilli. Poor guy!