November 11th – we have got till Cairns

Gunta writes:
It’s Lāčplēsis day today. We get up at 5:30 and leave at 7:30. The Sun rises after 5:30. The place where we camped was good. When we arrived last night, there was a warning that there might be crocodiles, but it’s not like that as we are high above river banks. There are 2 big bridges over the river – one railway and the other – auto. There are many vehicles and trailers in the campsite. We meet a man from Switzerland who has been traveling for a long time – since 2007. He says he has caught lots of fish. Ilgonis wants a fish, but there’s nothing to give in return.

We are going to Cairns, beautiful hilly road, cattle is grazing on road sides – cows, calves, horses. It has been burning again on roadsides. We conclude that everything burns down, but the termites survive. The surroundings are changing. The road becomes lonelier, many warnings about road flooding. Sometimes there are empty cars left on roadsides. We are wondering whether those are the ones broken down in flood or left after crashes as a warning for people to not go so fast.

Near Townsville oleanders, rhododendrons and African tulip trees are blooming. We want to get to the sea and are heading towards Toomulla beach [Agnese’s comment – because that’s the closest to the highway]. We park almost on the shore. Short walks. The Saltwater Creek is flowing into the ocean here, it should be fine to go into the water of the creek. It is not fine to go into the ocean water as if the water is calm, there might be the small box jellyfish here, which are deadly. We can see beautiful shells that have been washed out of the sea and broken corals.

There are nice, green fields. We have several ideas, but Anders says – sugar canes. On one side of the road – hills, on the other – beautiful ranch houses with palms.

A stop and a walk at Tyto Wetlands park. The ground is cracked. Emīls realizes that there’s almost no shadow. On palm trunks there are ferns growing, there are tropical plants all around. Trees with interesting fruits, similar to rambutans from Indonesia. We are listening to bird songs. It’s hot, sweating, temperature surely around 35 degrees. In the lake there are ducks swimming and some white waterbirds. Anders and Rūdolfs are seriously observing everything. There are ants nests among bush branches and canes. Then something is rustling in the grass. We are sending Rūdolfs ahead. It seems that someone flees. On our way back – photo with a small wallaby who is fearfully hiding under bushes. Then he gathers courage and makes a mighty jump over the road.

We are going further. The surroundings have changed – rain forests, cultivated fields, plantations with bananas. Local vegetables and fruits are being sold. We buy 2 watermelons – and eat one at once. Very tasty, sweet. Then comes Cairns – green, blooming. We find Andrejs’ house and park in the yard. There are diverse plants here – a cocos palm with coconuts, pineapples, pomelo, flowers, blooming bushes. There are poisonous toads living in the garden.

Then dinner with seafood, rice and wine. Conversations going on, we are checking Andrejs’ photo albums, listening about local birds, plants. Drinking tea with eucalyptus leaves which have been gathered in Zita’s care in the garden. Late we are going to sleep.

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 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 8th -The trip to meteorite craters

Emīls writes:
The morning begun very early – at 5 AM. Because we wanted to go to Henbury meteorite craters and we shouldn’t delay our teammates who stayed at hostel and should be ready at ~10 AM for leaving the city. Two boiled eggs and a yoghurt for breakfast. I had a lazanja from yesterday that I bought at Alice Spring’s supermarket, so I decided to eat it first since it was more delicious than just an ordinary egg with salt.

We are almost there at the craters. This time road is much better than before – no mud, no floods. Ilgonis is at the wheel. Just when I got out of the car I noticed we have a flat tire. Very flat. It could have been because of the gravel road which had quite big rocks on it. So the only thing we could do is change our tire with the one we had under our car. It was smaller and not fully pumped but it was the only way to get back to Alice Springs. After Ilgonis and Rūdolfs did that, we went to explore meteorite craters. They didn’t give me the impression that I was hoping for, but still it was interesting to see a place where a big rock from the space was fallen many thousand years ago. At the bottom of the craters there were trees and bushes, and water as well. Probably there are animals that come here to drink water. Just then we saw two kangaroos who were jumping away from us. I suppose we disturbed them. Later on the gravel road we saw two more kangaroos. So it’s more than in the whole trip together till now.

When we returned to Alice Springs, we went straight to the auto service. There we found out that the tire needs to be entirely replaced because the hole in it is too big. Additional expenses – 160 AUD.

Later that day we went in Tennant Creek’s direction. We decided not to go to Devils Marbles because of the approaching storm. We saw dark clouds, and in a moment it started to rain. Of course, there was also a fire in the desert as it should be traditionally – because we are looking for a place to camp. But we didn’t get alarmed, we just cooked supper – delicious pasta with bolognese sauce – and went to sleep. No stars tonight – it’s cloudy. Strange, but most of the nights we have spent in the middle of Australia’s desert were cloudy. There were only two nights till now when we were able to learn how to find southern constellations. Yet the Moon is approaching the Sun. 6 days till the total eclipse.

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 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!