November 9th – On the way to Mt Isa

Rūdolfs writes:
We woke up at six o’clock, a half hour later than usual. For breakfast we had a fried egg with sausage slices, tomatoes and cucumbers. Collected and stacked all of our stuff and went back to the Devils Marbles. That was around 20km back, but the distance is not that big. Emils is driving. We went as usual and then suddenly there is a big bang. Something hit the windscreen. Turns out that it was a hawk whom Anderss was trying to find out to which species the it belonged to, but realized that didn’t have enough visual details. For Emil this is the first time when something like this happens. Concluded that the glass is intact and the hawk is not noticeable we continued on with our journey.

We were at the Devil Marble billboard, or in the local language Karlu Karlu. I started to video record surroundings and went to the information board. On the information board were written details of how many stones were rounded up to the present day. As well as local inhabitant stories about this area. The locals come here and told each other about their dreams.

There also is a story of a mother and daughter who had settled down near this area. It says that the daughter had been taking a walk across the Devils Marbles and the spirit of the earth that lived under the stones had started to play together with her. The daughter had not been able to stop playing and escape until the mother had pulled her out from between the stones and ever since hadn’t stayed here.

Meanwhile, everyone had went on their own to explore the area. Ilgonis was headed to the top. Agnese was not far behind him and I decided to tag along. We got to the highest accessible point. Top view is spectacular, though several locations were just as high or even higher, but apparently there was some kind of fence around few. After surveying the view I posed for few pictures and filmed 360-degree view with Go Pro Hero camera. I stayed there a bit longer, but when I turned around both of my friends were gone. After that I went to explore more rocks and walk around. I figured out that I needed to attach the camera to my head and change my sneakers to hiking boots. Went back to our car and get ready for a proper walk across the rocks. Adjusted camera and started to run along stones. I was running around and looking where it is harder and where easier to put my feet. I found myself in a place between two rocks where it looked awesome to climb up between them like you see Jackie Chan do in his movies. When I got to the top I saw that from the other rock the view is much better. I got on the other rock by jumping over and found myself to be on the highest place in this rocky ground. The 360 degree view was beautiful, albeit mostly there were burnt down grass and small trees, but on the other hand the running on these fields is easier without the grass, although mostly I run across the rocks. Enjoyed the surrounding views and jumped back, carefully where I needed to jump, because the ground was not so good, but soon enough I found an easier way to do it. Got to the other side and kept on running. Up and down, through gaps, so cool! Had enough of running, I walked outside of the track to see more, because I have run through to the other side of rocks.

I noticed a plate and went closer to see what was written on it. There was written about one crab species and frogs that lives in the area. Although it is mostly rather dry, but both during drought lives in self-excavated burrows, which are humid and then wait for the rain. A surprise on this, because once as a kid I watched a broadcasting about something similar, but never thought that someday I would be there. I went down the trail and the view on sides was not less impressive.

On another plate was written that chemical processes cause the surface of the blocks to expand and/or shrink. Thin layers of rock come off the boulder. This rounds the granite block, because the chemical processes have more effect on areas with edges. These processes cause the rock to look like it is made of layers like an onion. A bit further down the trail I encountered Anders next to a stone that looked like the ones in Stonehenge. Further I notice a stone that looks like a sausage and has inscriptions. I looked back and saw that some of our group were taking pictures of ants anthill. The area looked like a desert, although every now and then you can see bushes and small trees.

We arrived at Tennant Creek and there filled tanks with gasoline. Along roadside and beyond what your eyes can see where termite hills like towers even up to one meter. They were more than enough and to put up a tent in a place like that would not have been wise. Suddenly Ilgonis sharply stopped the car, put in reverse and then I noticed the reason for such action. Nearby road was huge termite hill, 2 meters high at least and the diameter of it was not small either. Ilgonis already with his camera was approaching it and I decided to go as well pick up my camera and went to look around the termite hill. I must say that the view was just spectacular. In one place a small fragment had fallen off and there one could see the cells. They were so huge and hardly any of us wanted to see the residents, even though it looked like it to be abandoned or hiding more deeply under the ground. We took some photos and both of us headed back to the car through the fields of termites watching where we put our feet.

Then ahead of us was a long straight road and it seemed that it would be much easier if we blocked the steering wheel and put a brick on the gas pedal. Wherever we looked all we could see were large clearings. In 360 degrees you could see the horizon. Afar only a few trees and herds of cows.

The dusk was approaching and I was behind the steering wheel. Then I noticed a pair of kangaroos next to the road, so I rapidly slowed down so that others could look at them and take photos. Nowadays it is a rare chance to see kangaroos in wild. They quickly disappeared from our eyesight. Then we continued with our journey and not long after we noticed another pair of kangaroos and again we slowed down to take a look at them. Overall, so far we had seen six kangaroos a day. Including today seen kangaroos it’s 10 now. During the heat of day they are hiding in shadows, but comes out usually when the weather is cooler. This day we got lucky because we managed to see so many. It is unfortunate that often would not notice. Maybe this way it is even better, than to hit them accidentally with car when they out of nowhere jump on a road.

We continued our journey to Mount Isa, it was a black night outside, but afar were visible lights indicating that we were not far from reaching Mount Isa. The closer we got to Mount Isa the more sight on the right side reminded of lit out power plant. The city during night looked magnificent and lively, after all the industrial work was active there. Found our hostel, parked our car, entered and the receptionist divided us in two rooms. Ilgonis, Anders and I were in one room and others in the second room. Our rooms were far from each other. Agnese put me to writing an article, some were making dinner, some were swimming in the pool or taking a shower. We all ate dinner together and discussed our events of this day.

Now that I have finished my article I can go to bed and have a good
night’s sleep. Goodnight. :)

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.