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The Contiki Tour – Part 3: Champagne Sunset

So far you know that I overslept, watched the sunrise, walked around the base of Uluru and spent some time in the Cultural Centre – all  before 10am!

On our return to the hotel, I took a nice long nap, and followed this with a swim before getting dressed up to head back to Uluru for a Champagne Sunset, organised by Tom, our lovely trip manager, and Dave, our driver.

Don’t ask which I preferred between the sunrise and the sunset ’cause I honestly couldn’t decide. Tom and Dave kept the champagne flowing and provided us with chips and dips and various other nibbles – the whole evening was just lovely. As it was the last night we’d all be together, we said our thank yous to Tom and Dave, and everyone posed for photos with everyone else in front of Uluru! Even in the four short days that I’d been with these people, I’d had such a wonderful time, made some lovely friends and shared such a unique experience with them. I said this in the caption of one of the photos I posted on Instagram and it’s true: I will never forget those moments or the people I shared them with.

The sun went down and I left feeling happy and calm and positive. It’s amazing how a beautiful place like that can make you feel.

The evening’s fun only continued when we got back to the hotel, as there was live music in the outdoor bar, which we stayed up listening and subsequently dancing to into the night.

I’m so grateful to have been on that tour; Uluru itself wouldn’t have been any less amazing if I was on my own, but the people I shared it with just made it!

Thank you to my very first Contiki Family, I’m sure that won’t be my last Contiki tour.

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The Contiki Tour – Part 2: Uluru

Hey, that rhymes! Simple things please simple minds, eh?

So, when I left off, I was on the coach on the way to Yulara. Yulara is the only town in the vicinity of Uluru/Ayers Rock. Previously, there was nothing there in the way of civilisation, but due to people illegally camping close to the rock, disrupting the wildlife, disrespecting this sacred Aboriginal site, and causing danger to themselves.

Heard of the ‘dingo ate my baby’ story? No, neither had I until I got to this country – but it turns out it was quite famous, and a completely true story. In August 1980, a family were camping at Uluru when a dingo snuck into the tent, took and killed their two month old baby. The body was never found. Situations like this one led the Northern Territory government to build the town of Yulara so that people had a safe and regulated selection of places to stay. It was owned by the government at first and then later privatised, and the whole town, save for the bank and the post office in owed by the same company!

We arrived in Yulara and checked into The Outback Pioneer resort, with three or four of us to a dorm room. The first thing any of us wanted to do was go for a swim, but just our luck, the pool was closed for 24 hours for cleaning. After we spent half an hour whinging about the lack of pool, I suddenly realised: the whole town is owned by the same people. Surely, this meant we could just go into one of the other hotels and use their pool! I was right. Naturally, myself and a couple of others chose the most expensive hotel to go and crash, and preceded to spend the afternoon here. Five stars an’ all!

It was another early start on Thursday to go and see the sunrise at Uluru. Though not as early for me, given that I didn’t wake up until about 6 minutes before the coach left, and even then only woke up because one of the others phoned me to find out where I’d got to. (Thanks Cam!) I was a little miffed that my room mates hadn’t woken me up, but when I spoke to them later, it turns out they had tried…multiple times! They turned on the lights, told me it was time to get up, told me we were leaving soon… at one point I even responded, but alas was dead to the world, until 05:24. I got out of bed and threw some clothes on simultaneously, and hotfooted it to the coach, where I collapsed into a seat and practically fell back to sleep for the half hour ride to Uluru!

And then, finally, the main event! Everyone knows how big and beautiful and impressive Uluru is, but you never quite appreciate it until you’re there. I have no words to describe it, but I did take plenty of pictures.

After the sun rose, we walked around the base, taking in the sheer size and beauty of this giant red rock. There were some parts which are considered sacred sites by the aboriginals and therefore you’re not allowed to take photos of them. The parts that I could take photos though, I mostly did, except for those moments when I just stood there and soaked it all in. It really was bloody beautiful.

By the time we’d done this, I was starving, having missed breakfast, so I grabbed a ham’n’cheese toastie in the café a few kms away (bizarre thing to eat in 40 degree weather, let me tell you!) and then had a wander around the Cultural Centre; a museum of sorts which has lots of information on the meaning of Uluru to the indigenous people and some of their traditions and customs. I’ll write about what I learned there in a separate post, as there was so much interesting stuff that this one might turn into a novel!

Next up: the Champagne Sunset…

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The Contiki Tour – Part 1: King’s Canyon

First off – apologies, it has been a little while since I updated. What follows will be updates on the last week or so!

Having made it to Alice Springs (I was able to get a bus straight there from Katherine, without having to go to Darwin first) and joined my Contiki tour a day late rather than having to cancel it, I then had a wonderful four days in the Outback!

On Tuesday we went to Kings Creek, where we camped for the night.

The intention was to sleep in ‘swags’; one-person, tent type contraptions. The night started out with mine open, quite literally sleeping under the stars. When it started to drizzle I closed it up and nodded off to sleep. Next thing I knew, the others were waking me up, cause it was pouring torrentially and a full on thunderstorm had hit. We were moving inside!

I must say, I was a little irked because I was actually warm and dry inside my swag and getting out of it meant I was then exposed to the rain and pretty soon was drenched. We all had to frantically gather our belongings, chuck the swags in the trailer and then traipse to the other side of the campsite where we took shelter in reinforced-tent-cabin-rooms (I honestly don’t know what else to call them!).

Thinking this was the end of the night’s drama, I dried off and went back to sleep. Only for the smoke alarm to go off two hours later..!

Don’t get me wrong, low battery warnings are great, and they do save lives, but they’re not fun in the middle of the night. I got up and took the battery out, and it took all my self control not to open the door and toss the thing into the rain!

Come 5am, it was time to actually get up for real. The early start was so that we could do the hike around the rim of King’s Canyon before the sun got too strong and the temperature too hot.

This was a pretty easy hike, save for the very first leg, known appropriately as ‘heartbreak hill’! This was the steep uphill that was necessary to actually get to the rim of the Canyon. Once we were up there though, it was worth it for the beautiful views and the early morning walk. And though this makes me hated by the majority, that is exactly the kind of thing I enjoy!

The bottom of heartbreak hill – I like to think I’m pretty fit and healthy, but I was ready for a nap and a gallon of water after 15 minutes of this!
Views over the rim of the Canyon

Inside the Canyon, there’s a gorgeous microclimate. Over the top, the sun in so strong it just bakes everything to death, but down here, where the sun only hits for a few hours a day, wildlife is allowed to thrive, creating a little jungle inside the Canyon!

After the walk, we headed back to the campsite for a cooked breakfast and then set off on the coach for the town of Yulara.

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36 hours later…

I’m very happy to report that I have made it to Alice Springs!

Jane drove us through to Katherine in pretty much one go, save for a few hours between 1am and 6am when she stopped to let the horses have a walk about. I laid down for a kip in the cab of the truck and subsequently got eaten alive. (Don’t give me that look Karen, I swear I thought I had enough Mosi-Gard on!). Suffice to say, I’ve learned my lesson on that front, and the itching is a constant reminder of my errors. I have so much Stingoes on me, I look like I’ve bathed in the stuff!

Around 1pm on Monday, we finally pulled up at the transit station in Katherine. After thanks and goodbye, Jane went on her merry way.

I had until 5pm before I needed to get on the Greyhound bus to Alice Springs. Desperate for a shower and with no clean underwear left, I sought out the Backpackers Hostel in town and they kindly let me use their shower and laundry facilities. Fast forward a couple of hours and I was clean, dry, dressed, content and just waiting for the dryer to finish so I could be on my way.

Then it was the overnight Greyhound bus to Alice Springs. I fell asleep after a few episodes on Netflix and woke up in Alice Springs.

09:18 was the time. I knew that the coach for my excursion was leaving Alice any minute now, so I phoned up Tom the tour manager, who said they’d already left but if I could jump in a cab and get to the airport, they’d turn around and pick me up there. Cue me hotfooting it to the taxi rank with all my stuff and quite literally jumping into a taxi!

It all came together in the end, I rocked up at the airport and 5 minutes later, so did the Contiki bus, and that brings us up to now. I have another couple of hours on this coach before we get to today’s destination, so excuse me while I doze off again!

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Escape from Fitzroy Crossing!

I spent all of Saturday lurking around a petrol station and later a hotel lobby, making phone calls, posting on Facebook groups and desperately trying to find someone to give me a lift to anywhere!

Mum and I came up with a theory about how a surprising number of young women have come to be working in Fitzroy: clearly, they’ve all been stranded, just as I was, by flood waters and terrible public transport. They get trapped for so long that they start to feel like they should be doing something with their time and lending a hand to the community. They develop a form of Stockholm Syndrome that tricks them into thinking Fitzroy is a nice place to be, and that’s it. They’re stuck. Never again to see the rest of the world!

Hey, I just wrote my first conspiracy theory piece!

Around 5pm, I decided to call it a day and check into the hotel. Different hotel from the night before, more expensive – and I did have to pay this time – but much nicer! I made the most of having a relaxing night in a room all of my own. Had a long shower, washed my hair, put on a face mask, and sat watching Netflix in bed. I was asleep by half nine and slept through til 8 o’clock this morning!

From my bed, I checked the road conditions and phoned Greyhound to see if their buses were running today. No such luck. When I got up, I packed my things and headed once again to the Shell garage to pick up a lift. After a couple of hours, a strange twist of fate came along and made my day.

A gent who thought I’d have more hitchhiking luck in a different part of the town offered to drive me there, but once we got on the main road we spotted the Greyhound bus! We turned the car round and followed it for a few minutes until it stopped. It had come from Darwin and was headed for Broome, but terminating in Fitzroy because of the closed roads. I asked if they were turning around and heading back to Darwin but they told me not until tomorrow. Another dead end, I thought.

But then! A lady who was getting off the bus overheard me and said she was driving to Katherine (only about 300km south of Darwin) and could give me a ride! She’d come to Fitzroy to pick her truck and horse box and was driving to Katherine this afternoon.As I write this, I’ve been on the road about an hour, and I’m sat in the front Jane’s truck, with our four-legged-friends in the back, feeling like the stars have finally aligned for me this week!

Tomorrow is a new day, a new week, I’ll get to Darwin by lunchtime and from there I’ll have many more options!

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The Roadtrip: Day 3

What. A motherfudging day.

I thought yesterday’s rains were exciting – I had no idea what was in store for me!

After going out for a few drinks last night and waking up slightly hungover (sorry Mum!), I checked the weather forecast and decided to get back on the road before the storms got any worse and the roads were closed. It was now or never!

I made it out of Broome and onto the Great Northern Highway in a couple of hours, and tackled a bit more rain and flooding but could certainly see it dissipating.

Fast forward to 3pm and I’d only covered about 300km but it was better than nothing and I was definitely out of the worst weather.

I was only 50km from the next town but I desperately needed a rest, so I pulled into a lay-by to have something to eat and rest my eyes – ended up snoozing for an hour!

I woke up and prepared to make my way into Fitzroy Crossing, where I’d fill the tank and decide whether to call it a day or carry on the next 200km or so to Halls Creek. In the end, my decision was made for me.

Shortly after setting off I noticed that the tiniest bit of added pressure on the gas made the engine rev like mad, but made no difference to my speed. Odd. For 5km or so I crawled along at 50 kmph, and then noticed, when I went to change gear, that there was no pressure under the clutch. Worrying. I optimistically hoped that pulling over, cutting the engine, and restarting it again would solve the problem. But alas, a car is not an iPhone – you can’t just turn it off and turn it back on again! The engine restarted just fine but the car wouldn’t go into gear and the clutch was being about as much use as a Swiss cheese umbrella.

The clutch was burned out. Bollocks.

I called the roadside assistance number provided by the car hire company and the Northern man (yes, Northern English) on the other end gave me some advice and said he’d try and source a towing company in Fitzroy.

As luck would have it, at this point a 4WD drove by and the three guys inside stopped to see if I was okay. Fitzroy is a small town so of course they knew the local tow truck bloke and called him out for me! Then they gave me a lift into Fitzroy and kindly offered to take me to the cheapest accommodation in town so I could find a place to stay the night.

Thomson, one of my rescuers, came into the hotel with me and asked how much the cheapest room was; $189 for one night. That’s £120. I’ve been paying no more than $35 a night for my accommodation since I got to Oz. Up until this point I had been taking the whole situation in my stride and very much keeping my cool. Not any longer; I could feel the waterworks coming on.

Clearly pitying me, Thomson offered to let me stay in his caravan and he would find a mate to stay with. Without stopping to weigh up my options, and blinded by the thought of not having to pay almost 200 bucks for a night’s sleep, I took up his offer. Though later, having spoken to Mother dearest, I decided the hotel was the better option after all. Don’t get me wrong, the guy was lovely, and I don’t think he was planning on cutting me up into pieces and BBQ-ing me, but he was a complete stranger so you can never be sure!

They very kindly bought me dinner and then dropped me back at the hotel. Just as I was about fork out, the lady I’d spoken to earlier on appeared and made an announcement: a businessman from out of town had paid for a room which he wasn’t actually planning on using, (something to do with tax, I wasn’t going to ask questions), and since it was paid for and empty, they were going to give it to me!

So that brings us up to now. I’m tucked up in bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep, and even a lie in, since I won’t be leaving in a hurry in the morning, and feeling much much calmer than 5 hours ago.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the car or with my transport to Alice Springs, nor do I know what of this mess I’ll have to pay for, if any. But that, my friends, is a problem for future me.

The Hermione of tomorrow morning will have to deal with those questions; let’s hope she’s got her thinking cap handy!

Goodnight 😴

Edit: After writing this, I discovered a beautiful little green frog living the bathroom of my motel room. His name is Floyd. He is looking after me tonight.

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The Roadtrip: Days 1 & 2

Wednesday: Today I set off up North for my big drive to Alice Springs. After filling up the car with petrol, buying some snacks and plugging in some tunes, I was well on my way!

The day was uneventful, but that’s exactly what you want when you’re driving alone across Australia!

I did have an interesting experience with a lady in a service station though… I had decided to buy a jerry can to fill up and keep in the boot, just in case I needed it in an emergency. The first can I picked up had no lid, so I checked the others and sure enough they didn’t either.

When I mentioned this to the lady at the till, she didn’t seem to get what my issue was – her response was along the lines of ‘what’s on the shelf is all we’ve got’. Sigh. “Okay, but I can’t put petrol in something that doesn’t seal,” I countered.

After some backwards and forwards and a bit of sign language, she disappeared into the back room and came back a full ten minutes later with a lid for the Jerry can. I presume they keep the lids out the back to stop people from stealing the cans, and this is fair enough. Just a shame the whole thing took so long!

I covered 550km and ended up in a town called Karratha for the night, where I stayed in a very quirky little Backpackers hostel. My supplies were waning and I was feeling tired so I decided to treat myself to a bought dinner out rather than cobbling together my own. It was only when I got into town and seated myself in a restaurant that I realised it was Valentine’s Day…

But! I stood my ground, sat on my own, and enjoyed my Valentine’s date with myself…because I could!

Thursday: Word of the day – rain. It’s wet season up north so this wasn’t unexpected. I left Karratha around 8:30am and managed about 600km without a hitch. Then I had another interesting petrol station experience – anyone noticing a pattern here?

I stopped at a roadhouse with about a quarter of a tank left, only to discover they were only taking cash…of which I had none. The next service was another 230km away, and even with the contents of the Jerry Can I wasn’t going to make it. Thankfully the cashier finally agreed to let me owe the money – she took my card details and name and said they’d charge the card once their system was back up. The fuel here was also horrendously expensive so I only filled up enough to tide me over and then made a point of driving more economically (aka slower) to the next service.

But alas, I didn’t get that far before another interruption! The rain had already hit by this point and about a kilometre after the roadhouse, I encountered my first bit of flooded road. No matter, it was merely a couple of centimetres and nothing to write home about. There were a few more of these before I eventually found myself facing one which did look a bit more dodgy. I’m pretty sure I could’ve got through it, but since there was a guy and his daughter with a tow truck, literally waiting to give me a ride over (yes, really), I didn’t bother taking the risk. Saved me some fuel too!

I eventually got to Broome around 7pm, having covered 850km, and checked into the YHA. A shower, a cold beer, and some time spent watching the incredible electrical storm unfolding were the next things on my agenda, and since I have achieved all of these, I am satisfied.

There’s a chance that if these rains get worse overnight then I may be stuck in Broome tomorrow if the roads are closed. I can probably spare a day though, it’ll just mean the other two are much more km-heavy. We’ll have to wait and see!