Uluru

There’s really not a lot I can I say or show you in photos that are going to improve your vision of Ayer’s Rock if you’ve never seen it before. You’ve probably seen it in photos, from different perspectives and heard about it in various articles, just like I had. The reality of the monolith though is that it has to be seen in person to appreciate it. The only way to gauge how big it is, to appreciate how it changes colours every second and to truly feel how this special place became the heart of Australia, is to travel here yourself. 

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We aren’t insured to travel in the Northern Territory at night because of the dangers of wildlife on the roads so we had to stay at Yulara, the Ayer’s Rock camping resort, for at least one night. Despite our concerns over their monopoly on camping in the area, they were reasonably priced at $36 per night. We spent lunchtime going to the rock itself and having a walk round and learning about the history of the national park. Due to a combination of the flies and the heat we only did a short walk but felt comfortable that the best view of Uluru came from afar. 

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It seemed bizarre to us that despite the repeated pleas from the aboriginal tribes in the area for people not to climb the rock, tourists kept going up, putting themselves at a huge risk as well as being unbelievably disrespectful to the culture that welcomes them to their land. There doesn’t appear to be any reason to make the climb either considering the view from the top is completely barren and you’re standing on the sight you travelled thousands of miles to see. At the end of the day, until they ban the climb outright, it is each to their own. All I can say is that whereas some people will leave the rock and vainly say they made it to the top, I can come away from the sacred place and proudly say that I didn’t. 

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In the afternoon we drove over to Kata Tjuta which is absolutely as impressive as Uluru but less famous. Although it is not a lone rock, the collections of massive boulders still makes for impressive viewing and is well worth the trip, particularly if Uluru is busy. 

Finally we made our way to the sunset viewing area in order to get the best spot. We were visiting out of the peak season but the car park still filled up so I’d advise getting there early. 

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The rock’s colour change was impressive to say the least but the majority of the sunset’s colours were behind us so it depends on what you’d like to see. We decided that, because we’d seen the colour change for the sunset, we’d like to see Uluru as a silhouette for the sunrise. 

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That decision turned out to be spot on because we spent the next morning on our own in the sunset viewing area, away from the loud-mouthed tourists who all went to the sunrise viewing area. The sunrise was spectacular and as the sun peaked we drove round to the join everyone else and still saw the rock at its reddest. I would definitely recommend to do things in the same order.

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The last thing on our list was a trip to Kings Canyon, a four hour return trip out of our way. We should have read up on the sight beforehand but unfortunately it really wasn’t very impressive. The creek is about one kilometre long and pretty enough but there wasn’t enough to justify the trip. Maybe if we’d had time to do the rim walk then it may have been incredible but I’m still not convinced. My advice: if you have a 4WD then visit because you can continue straight to Alice Springs. If not, don’t waste your time or your money. 

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Outback Driving

Whenever we told Australians that we were traveling through the Red Centre all the way to Cairns, they would simply grin to themselves and wish us luck. Obviously we knew it was going to be a challenge but nothing can prepare for quite how vast this country is. We’ve almost finished our first long day of driving and it has been relatively boring and tiring on the eyes. There hasn’t been any of the excitement of being seconds from death at any moment like there was on the night driving experience. So far the most exciting thing that’s happened has been almost running out of petrol. We have seen some awesome eagles, I just wish they had been circling the skies like predators rather than picking at road kill like scavengers but I guess a bird’s gotta eat. 
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 One really amazing thing was being able to witness the stars in complete darkness at the campsite last night. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to see so many and trying to pick out the constellations when they’re the wrong way round provided some entertainment. For a while at least…
However, the main reason some of the Aussies would laugh at our objective is that they’ve done the same thing before. As tiring and boring as the journey may be, a trip through the outback is something that has to be done at least once in a lifetime. All I can say now is that Uluru better be worth it and next time I’m definitely flying.

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Flinders Ranges & Road Trains

We spent a couple of days travelling to the Flinders Ranges via Adelaide but aside from another beautiful camping spot by the lake, the journey was fairly uneventful. After meeting up with Valentina, one of Hattie’s ex work colleagues, and shopping around for everything that we’d missed in Melbourne, we headed off for the mountains. Unfortunately the weather was dreadful so rather than attempt walking the first day, we headed straight to the campsite; the car park behind a pub in a small town just outside the national park. Another WikiCamps find, the hosts were as friendly as promised and we spent the day drinking beer and watching the Aussie Rules game. 

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We got off to an early start the next day and headed into the park, a longer drive than anticipated which I really should have started to get used to by this point in Australia. Boots on, we started our four hour trek to the peak of Mount Ohlssen Bagge at an enormous 923m. I jest but it was no easy feat. I had decided to use my main bag to carry our lunch and Hattie’s sketching stuff and it added a few kilos that really didn’t help when tasked with bouldering our way up the mountain. However, we made the top in good time and once again were rewarded with some incredible scenery.

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Although two climbers we passed on the way up had made the same comment about the incredible ice creams at the summit, there wasn’t another person in sight so we assumed this must be some sort of ramblers inside joke. Hattie sketched the landscape whilst I, ever the artist, set to work capturing a 360 degree panorama with my phone. 

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Soon enough I realised I’d made an error in calculating how long it would take us to get to our next camping spot and we ended up having to rush down the mountain. Once again I managed to turn my bad ankle which hopefully won’t rule me out of walking for too long but the injury is starting to become a real hassle. Once back in the car, we made the calculations and couldn’t avoid the reality that we would have to do some night driving. Luckily we were still in South Australia so we were insured but this didn’t help sway the nerves that we would be driving at dusk when kangaroos seem to roam the roads freely. Combine this with our first sight of road trains, trucks pulling up to 3 trailers, who don’t slow down for much at all, and we were both pretty twitchy. 

I got used to it pretty quickly. The rules seemed to be, pull over as much as possible and there’ll be enough room. That’s when the road trains are coming the other way at least. When your faced with the problem of a 50 metre long truck rolling along in front of you up a hill, and the issue that overtaking it is going to take a while, there’s only so long you can trundle along before you have to go for it. 

I tell you now: you haven’t lived till you’ve had a close shave overtaking a road train at night. He’d given me the signal, I was about a trailer in, and the headlights come screaming round the corner. I knew he was still pretty far away but I’m in a two ton camper and I’ve still got two trailers and the truck to get past. I’m trying to remain calm for Hattie’s sake but I’ll be honest now that I’ve come out the other side, I pretty much just shit myself. I remembered the key point though: never hesitate. In the end I probably got back in with about 200 metres spare but that’s not to say it didn’t feel close!

Realistically, Hattie’s driving time was far more eventful. She dodged road kill a few times and even had an oncoming truck pull out from a stop at a hundred MPH into our lane, by accident or on purpose I’m still not sure, so she had to swerve to avoid him. Finally we made it to our campsite. Adrenaline still pumping, I can truthfully say that although I’m glad for the experience, I won’t be driving in the Outback at night in future. 

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The Grampians

By this point I really started appreciating the combination of having a campervan and using an app like WikiCamp. Every morning we wake up, plan where we want to stay the night based on the criteria that it’s free and has toilets and then filter the spots down based on location and things like whether or not they have hot showers until we find the perfect spot. From there we work out what we have time to do so that we can arrive an hour before sunset. Today we decided to head to the Grampian National Park and do some walking. We are both lacking fitness and considering the challenge we are facing towards the end of our trip (more on that at a later date), it’s something we need to improve on. 

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After a twisty drive through the mountains (Europeans would probably refer to them as mole-hills) we arrived at a busy location known as Wonderland car park. Any other time of the year and it would have been fairly quiet but in our limited planning we had arrived at the start of Easter Weekend. Luckily we found a spot on top of the hill and began our climb. Unfortunately in our haste we forgot to look out for the ‘Grand Canyon’ and passed straight through the small trench without realising we had just witnessed one of the main features of the walk. Less than impressed we continued for the next hour and the scenery improved as we progressed. 

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Finally as we neared the summit, we caught up to what we presumed was a group of teenage girls enjoying a break whilst listening to some music. However as we crossed over the horizon we witnessed the worst type of tourist in existence. A middle aged Australian woman, marching up the final ascent (ironically named silent street), with her iPad in hand, blasting out ‘Top Pop Shite 2014’ as loud as it went whilst periodically waving her tablet around taking photos of various rocks. Me and Hattie paused in disbelief that this person could venture up to what was promised to be one of the most beautiful places in Victoria and yet she couldn’t last without technology for the two hour trek. To make matters worse, we stopped to allow her to push on ahead so we could get out of hearing range only to find that she would stop to keep us in the loop on whatever crap Nicki Minaj recently regurgitated onto the scene. Eventually we effectively sprinted past her into the distance and soon came to the summit of the hill known as ‘The Pinnacle’ and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the National Park.

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Unfortunately good things must come to an end and the lady soon caught us up. Our hopes that she had simply been using the music as motivation to get up the ascent were dashed as she rapidly changed the genre to some music a bit more downbeat, as though she were complimenting the view. Luckily for me, Hattie is made of stronger stuff than I and soon asked her to turn it off to which she curtly replied ‘Oh!’ and we walked off before she could retort. After a few photos Hattie began a sketch whilst I basked in the sun reflecting on our new campervan and the freedom it had already brought us. 

Afterwards we descended and drove to our campsite for the night, a beautiful spot by the river. The couple we’d met the day before had already arrived and rescued a baby kangaroo from the road. Sadly roadkill is abundant on Australian roads so it’s quite amazing they were able to save the Joey’s life. It also provided Hattie with some entertainment before it was carried off to the rescue centre. With the excitement out the way, we settled in for the night in preparation for the long drive to Adelaide over the next couple of days.

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Great Ocean Road

When you choose to park overnight to sleep, choose a quiet road. Believe me, when you’ve been sleeping in near silence in an immensely comfortable bed for a long time, the combination of a thin mattress and a constant stream of trucks provides for a very poor nights sleep. Needless to say we woke up early and headed off for the Great Ocean Road in a slightly tired state. However, there’s surely nothing better to wake up to than the scenery you find in this part of the world.

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Beaches as far as the eye can see, turquoise waters and an abundance of wildlife make this road one of the best drives in the world. Unfortunately since we had already holidayed here once before we weren’t spending as much time here as we wanted and moved swiftly on towards the Grampian National Park. 

Learning from our mistakes we sought out our next campsite via WikiCamps and arrived with plenty of daylight to cook dinner and set up for the night. Thankfully this campsite was both free and legitimate and we weren’t the first ones to arrive. Hattie quickly made friends with an English / Aussie couple who were traveling on a stricter budget than us. We sat around the campfire chatting rubbish till midnight and had a much nicer, wine-fuelled sleep in preparation for the walking trip the next day.

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Bells Beach

So after one last night with the boys, I woke up on our day of departure feeling a little worse for wear. I was determined to get an early start however so I had my last good shower for a while then set off to pick up our home for the next couple of months. After a fair bit of research we went with a Spaceships campervan. Already regretting the choice since the pick up location was a good half hour away from the city, I was livid to find out on arrival that our camper had had a major engine failure and they would be getting a replacement in but it wouldn’t be there till the evening. However, the company said they would refund the day, buy me taxis to and from the city, pay for lunch and chuck in their chairs and tables for free. Pacified, I left and returned later with Hattie and all of our stuff once we had said an emotional goodbye to our beautiful flat.
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There she stood, our noble steed, the Toyota Estima, codenamed Cyberpunk. Having been acquainted with our new home we set off feeling rather chuffed with the features it came with. Tons of storage, cooking facilities, dvd player and a proper fridge. It drove well and as soon as we were out of the city the sense of freedom was overwhelming.
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An hour or so later we arrived at Bells Beach for sunset and watched the kangaroos munching away for a whole before heading to Torquay where we’d be staying the night.
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Unfortunately on the Great Ocean Road there are no free campsites so we found a lay by on a back Road a few miles from the town. We clearly hadn’t thought it through properly since the sun had set and the main light in our cabin was broken which resulted in us cooking dinner and making the bed for the first time in the dark. Not ideal to say the least. It made matters worse when were accosted by a giant, very venomous-looking spider which as hard as I tried to ward off with the torch, kept chasing me around.
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Finally we jumped into bed and looked up the spider and it turns out it is attracted to light because that’s where its prey is found. Bear Grylls indeed.
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Back on Track

Those of you who are connected to me outside the blog will be aware already, but I did not pass away travelling through the Andes in Peru. Despite the drivers best attempts I lived to tell the tale but unfortunately the story telling stopped there. Writing regularly is hard enough as it is when trying to find the balance between experiencing the world and telling others about it, but for myself the loss of one of the most inspiring people in my life was a little too much to bare. Just after arriving in Cusco and booking my trek to Machu Pichu I received the phone call telling me Nan had passed away quite suddenly. Since then I haven’t written a word and I regret that utterly as it’s the opposite of what she would have wanted. However, I’m back in the position where I can write again freely and will be making amends. 

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So where have I been and where am I now? I guess the shortened version would begin on the Salkantay trek where I was trying to combine the hardest climb I’ve ever attempted with the need to grieve. Fortunately the people on the trek with me were a huge help and we pulled each other through the difficult times and came out on top, rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in the world.

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From there I travelled East to the Amazon Jungle where I was surrounded by wildlife, sunsets on the river, tarantula hunts at night and some superb, authentic Peruvian food. 

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Next up I travelled south to Lake Puno at the border to Bolivia. I took a day trip out on the lake to witness one of the oldest colonies in the Andes who settled on the lake and made rafts and have lived there ever since. Although tourism has had a dire impact on the authenticity of the tribe, it was interesting how different their way of life is compared to our own.


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A long bus trip later I found myself at the Salar D’Uyuni. This epic four day trip via the volcanic landscape of the Andes reaches its climax at the legendary salt plains where all perception of distance is blown apart. 


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Soon after I arrived in Mendoza where I fell in love with the Malbec. I took a bicycle out to the wineries and thoroughly enjoyed some of the finest wine produced in South America. 

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Finally I took a bus through the mountains to my point of departure in Santiago. By this point I pretty much sat around and did nothing but look forward to Australia and finally meeting up with Hattie in New Zealand. South America will always be one of my favourite places in the world, particularly Brazil, but I still felt like I barely scraped the surface. Who knows? I’ll probably be back again for a longer stay. 

I flew in to New Zealand and met Hattie at the gate. Not much needs to be said about the reunion; it was amazing to finally be back together. We shipped over to Waiheke Island where we enjoyed a few days relaxation before the flight to Australia…

That’s another story in itself.

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