Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Palm Valley

We spent the last couple of days exploring the areas around Alice Springs.  Yesterday the plan was to visit Hermannsburg, an aboriginal community which originated as Central Australia's first mission, and to continue on to Palm Valley.

We arrived at Hermannsburg and drove up the main street to find the road blocked due to a funeral.  It was explained that in the past tourists had disrespected Aboriginal tradition by taking photos of the grieving during funerals, so the policy became to simply close the town.  I never imagined we would arrive at a town to find it closed!  We understood their reasoning though, and declined their suggestion to wait behind the boundary for the funeral procession to pass and the town to re-open.  We decided we'd drive the short 21 kilometers to Palm Valley and return to Hermannsburg afterward.

Although 21 kilometers sounded like a short distance it took us nearly two hours to complete the four wheel drive track over boulders, sand, through multiple water crossings, the sandy bed of a dry river, straddling crevices and climbing rocks.  Although a nail-biting experience in some areas, we were happy we and the car arrived safe and sound and that Mike was willing and able to do it all again on the way out.

Palm Valley is an oasis in the dessert.  It's the only place in Central Australia where palms grow, and is special as it's a remnant from millions of years ago when the area was a vast rain forest.  It's remarkable to travel through such an arid region to find this paradise complete with plant, fish and bird life.

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Palm Valley 2

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Palm Valley 3

It was quite a climb to the top (Go Mike Go!).

But well worth it for the beautiful views.

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Monday, 28 June 2010

Touring Alice

After a relaxed morning we decided to spend the day having a look around the town. We took a quick trip to the tourist information center to get some advice on day trips that we plan on taking over the next few days, and then set out to explore a few local spots around town.

We started with a walk through the shops at the Todd Mall, and then headed to the Royal Flying Doctor's Service museum and exhibit. We were both very moved by both the pre-tour film, and the tour explaining the history and inner workings of the RFDS. This was the highlight of the day. I've always had a lot of respect for the RFDS and the vital work that they do, and after today's visit my admiration for them was heightened. We finished our tour with a wonderful lunch at a sunny table in their courtyard cafe.

After lunch we visited the Pioneer Women's museum where we learned the history of the female pioneers of the outback, and also Australian pioneers in general - sports legends, politicians, scientists, etc. The museum was located in an old gaol (jail) which we also toured.

As the sun began to get lower in the sky we headed for Anzac Hill so that we could visit at dusk, the nicest time to see the views. To get to the top we climbed a steep rocky staircase that zig-zagged around the hill, called the Lyons Path. It was a bit of work, but not too difficult.

I managed to get ahead of Mike.  Here he is making his way up the latter part of the path.  We are camped just beyond that gap in the mountains in the distance.

Views of the McDonnell Ranges over Alice Springs

A war memorial at the top of the hill.

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Northern Territory!

Woohoo! We made it to the Northern Territory!

Here I am posing in front of the sign at the South Australia/Northern Territory border, just moments before I took a leap of faith.  Somehow in the 30 seconds I was up there I managed to forget how steep the step was, and started to walk over to Mike landing with a SPLAT on the ground.  Fortunately the only injuries sustained were a scraped foot and to my pride. In a true show of support Mike neither laughed (till afterward!) nor took a photo. 

Taken safely from lower ground.

We drove 19 kilometers further up the road and decided to spend the night at the small, cold town of Kulgera, population 13 (plus the odd dog, sheep and some cattle).  The best part of Kulgera that night was the partial lunar eclipse.  Mike stayed outside and took photos while I encouraged him with hot chocolate and kept him abreast of what was happening on television.  Can't say I'm not a team player!

We are now settled into a nice park at the MacDonnell Ranges in Alice Springs. I'll be back with more tales of (mis)adventures as they happen.
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Friday, 25 June 2010

Churches Underground

We visited a couple of underground churches.  This one, The Catacomb Church, used to be an opal mine.

Behind the altar are two holes where the miners used to come down into the mine.

This next church is the Serbian church.  We were impressed by the intricate carvings above the altar and the scalloped sandstone ceiling which extended back for the length of the long room.

More carvings into the sandstone.

Tomorrow we head into the Northern Territory, aiming for Alice Springs.  We'll probably stop for a night somewhere around the South Australia/Northern Territory border, arriving in Alice on Sunday.  I'd be very surprised if we can connect to the internet prior to getting to Alice Springs, so we'll catch up with you when we can.

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The Breakaways

We had heard that the Breakaways are magnificent, and we were not disappointed.  The tour we took was wonderful as was George, our tour guide.  He took us to see all the features of the of the region and shared the history and a story or two about each and every site.  Our tour was supposed to be 2 1/2 hours and was more like 4.  We had a fantastic time.

As we watched the colours changed with the movement of the sun and the angle we were viewing from.  It was awe inspiring and very difficult to pick just a few photos to share of the 150 we took!

This area was once a rain forest, and then the bottom of a vast inland sea (millions of years ago).  In more recent times it was the set of various movies including "Pitch Black", "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and "Mad Max".

The whole area seemed almost extra terrestrial and the expanse was to the horizon and beyond.

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More Breakaways

See the "sleeping camel"?

Dog Fence, 9500 kilometers long. The
longest fence in the world.  Designed to
protect sheep from attack by wild dingos.

The sunset was spectacular.  Here are two 
of the shades it turned as we looked on.

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Whitefella's Burrow

Today has been the best day of touring at Cooper Pedy so far. We visited "Faye's Underground Home". "Faye" arrived in Cooper Pedy from Melbourne when she was in her late twenties and she and two other women dug out the home over the course of ten years. She lived there until she was in her late fifties and has now retired to Queensland.

The current owners are a lovely older couple who live in the house full time, and for a small entry fee ($5 each) gave us a full guided tour of the home. It was SO interesting, and far better than the "model" underground home we had seen complete with mannequins in residence. Should you find yourself in Coober Pedy, we would highly recommend you stop in and have a look for yourself. We both thoroughly enjoyed both the tour and chatting with the home's owners.

As you can see from the front entrance of the home, it is dug into the hill behind it.  Take note of the vents (pipes) sticking out of the hill.

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Whitefella's Burrow 2

Remember those pipes above the entryway to the house? Mike is standing under one of the vents that they lead to. We learned today that 80 percent of the homes in Coober Pedy are underground. So, while we were looking at the town and thinking it looked deserted, the majority of people and buildings were actually hidden from view. Now that we were told what to look for we can see mounds everywhere with air vents sticking out of them and we now know that these are homes and not just some dusty hills.
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