Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wrapping it up

Well we are back home, and in the excitement of getting back into work, school, swimming, dancing, kinder and life in general, I haven't quite finished off this blog!

We had a fun morning at Peterborough checking out all things train related! They had a fabulous set up at Steamtown . Unfortunately it was pouring rain most of the morning and absolutely freezing, but we battled on regardless! We had a guided tour with a lady whose father was a linesman in that area for many years. Cooper in particular enjoyed seeing all the old trains and being able to climb in the carriages and the drivers seats too! The kids were very interested in where children slept in the train in those days - a tiny little cubbyhole above the parents bunks!

After the tour we grabbed some lunch from a cafe in town (who apparently had the best curry pies that Leon has ever eaten!) and jumped in the car to cross the border into New South Wales! Our destination was Broken Hill, where we stayed at the Broken Hill City Caravan Park for two nights (there were a choice of three caravan parks in the town).

The next day was a big touristy day! First up we headed to Silverton, about 15 minutes drive out of Broken Hill. It's a tiny little town, but one with a lot of history. We visited no less than three museums that day! First up was the Mad Max Museum. Having not actually seen the film Mad Max 2, which was filmed in Silverton, there was still lots to appreciate. The museum opened last year and has an incredible amount of memorabilia available to see. From film scripts to replica and original cars to costumes and promotional material, they had everything! Next up was the Silverton School Museum. The school building from 1889 still stands and has tonnes of historical items inside. The kids sat at an old desk and did some colouring while Leon and I got to look around. Lots of past students had donated their old readers, reports, uniforms and other school items so there was lots to see. Last was the Silverton Gaol Museum. There were thousands of items on display here, representing just about every facet of life in Silverton over the years. Football teams, war stories, fashions, equipment and appliances, hospital items etc etc, the list went on! Not much actual jail stuff, to Leon's disappointment but certainly lots to read and enjoy.

Back in Broken Hill, I had the bright idea of driving out to The Living Desert and Stone Sculpture Display . This was pretty cool, but I didn't anticipate the extremely steep 2.4 km return walk to check out the sculptures! Cooper claims he 'nearly died' on the walk and Imogen alternated between running ahead like a madwoman and collapsing in tears that she couldn't possibly go any further. However, once up the top it was certainly worth it, with an incredible view and some pretty cool sculptures.

We had a well deserved big dinner that night at the Barrier Social Democratic Club ('Demo Club' for short!) which is one of those rare places that still offers a big vege/salad bar to add whatever you like to your meals. Leon just about cleaned the place out of scalloped potatoes and pumpkin and I've never been so happy to see green beans in my life!

The next day, we crossed back over into our home state, Victoria. Much as we would have liked to power on home, ten hours would have been a bit much on the kids! So we stayed that night in Birchip (about 4 hours or so drive from Geelong) And the less said about that the better! However, if you're in that neck of the woods one day, make sure you go to Avoca. The pub has parmiganas for $7 if you order before 7pm and the small town boasts three bakeries, one of which has amazing pies and other yummy delicacies, such as custard tarts (not that I would know about that of course).

And then, not much later, we were home! A truly incredible trip. The Pathfinder tells us that in just over three weeks we traveled over 6,000 km and did about 104 hours of driving. We saw some amazing things, had some brilliant experiences and shared a lot of special stuff. The kids were brilliantly behaved and Leon was pretty good too. It is definitely something we will all remember for a long time and always look fondly back on. Now to planning the next Intrepid travels!

Til next time and thank you for reading!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The camel cup, Immie's Birthday and back to South Australia

Whoops, bad blogger here! Obviously we've been having lots of fun and adventures if I haven't found the time to jump on the computer! We've had a great couple of days and have left the Northern Territory and are back in South Australia. Saturday saw us celebrating Immie's birthday! (It was actually 2 days early but we thought she'd have a better day in Alice Springs than on the road for hours and ending up who knows where.) So the morning was very exciting, with lots of presents involved of course. Then we headed off to the Alice Springs Camel Cup! This is a pretty big event with lots of people there. It was a similar feel to the Geelong Show, with food stalls, craft marquees, souvenirs and of course camel races! These were pretty hilarious to watch. Pretty much every race there was one riderless camel by the end. And the camels tried to go every which way but forward. In between they had kids races and other funny events. It was certainly a great way to spend our last day in Alice.

Next morning (Sunday) we were up bright and early with a long day of travel planned. We left Alice Springs (and the NT) and made our way back to Coober Pedy. The trip was long (approx 680kms) and pretty dull for everyone concerned! The kids did very well though and only really complained in the last hour or so. We didn't get to Coober Pedy til about 5 pm and the place was absolutely packed. Luckily we got a site and bunked down for the night.

Yesterday (Monday, Immie's real birthday!) wasn't as long a day in the car - a lazy 375kms from Coober Pedy to Woomera. It was a pretty interesting place. It's a defence town and has only been open to the public since 1982. Woomera was used for rocket testing and the launch and tracking of spacecraft in the early days of space exploration. They have a great display of restored rockets, bombs and spacecraft. Apart from that there's not much there! Apparently they only have a population of about 200 and if you don't work a minimum of 30 hours a week, you're not allowed to live there! Consequently they have an unemployment rate of 0! (Took lots of photos but they're on the iPhone and I didn't bring the cord to connect it to the laptop!)

The caravan park was pretty good, with big drive through sites so we didn't have to unhook the van. The best part of it though was the little bar in the grounds! It opens at 4pm every night and if last night was anything to go by, it's a very popular place! We wandered down just after 4 thinking we'd have one or two drinks - we didn't leave til it closed at 9.30! It was great swapping travel stories with all the other campers. Then by great coincidence a family from Torquay (15 minutes down the road from where we live) arrived. The kids had a great time playing together and it was nice to hang out with some people from home!

Tonight we're at our last stop in South Australia - Peterborough. It was another 300kms on the road today, so once we got here around 2pm we just relaxed. The caravan park here seems pretty nice too (very cheap too at $32). We've spent the afternoon catching up on washing and showering and will hopefully have an early tea and early night. Tomorrow we'll check out some of the sights on offer here - lots of trains by the looks of things! Then we'll head for the fourth state on our little trip, Broken Hill in New South Wales!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting a little bit dirty

Well, Leon's favourite part of the holiday finally happened yesterday (Thursday). He got the car a little bit dirty! We knew we wanted to check out some drives and sights in the MacDonnell Ranges, but weren't sure whether to go East or West. After chatting to one of our friendly neighbours at the caravan park, we learned that although the West was probably more visually appealing and there was more to see and do, the East was probably more child friendly, with shorter walks etc.

So off to the East we headed. And I'm incredibly glad we did. Amazing though I'm sure the West is, we saw some very beautiful sights on our little drive. The first stops were the Emily and Jessie Gaps which were both lovely and peaceful. The kids were excited that they had to cross a (very) little bit of water using some sticks and stones in the river bed, they felt very brave! Both these areas contain Aboriginal paintings and are important spiritual sites to the people of this area.

The caterpillars
The next stop was Corroboree Rock, which was a pretty cool 800 million year old formation. Despite it's name, it was probably never used for a corroboree but is a pretty important spiritual place for the Aboriginal people nonetheless.

On our walk to the lookout, Cooper spotted this tree, which he thought looked like a leg and foot so requested a photo of it!

We moved on to the next stop on the drive and in my opinion the most beautiful - Trephina Gorge, which is noted for its sheer quartzite cliffs and River Red Gum lined watercourses.Two gorges dissect the range: Trephina, with its wide views and sandy creekbed, and John Hayes Rock Hole with steep, narrow rock walls.We had a wander along the Gorge first and it was a pretty special experience. The sun was shining and it was so quiet and lovely. There were a few people down there and the same time, and one of them launched into a spine tingling Aboriginal song. It was pretty amazing, I felt like I could have been in the same spot hundreds of years ago. I would liked to have sat and just let the experience soak in for a little while but unfortunately the kids weren't 'feeling it' quite the same as I was so we pressed on!

 The drive to the Rockhole was along an incredibly bumpy, rocky and and times pretty steep and narrow path, which was recommended for 4WD. So Leon was in heaven! The 4 kms took us about 30 minutes to navigate through, but it was quite fun. Once at the rockhole we had a big, steep walk up one of the hills to the look out, which afforded some pretty amazing and worthwhile views. The kids did so well, I'm beginning to think there is some mountain goat in their blood somewhere! 

The last place we went to see was the Arltunga Historical Reserve. Arltunga was officially Central Australia's first town, born out of a gold rush after alluvial gold was discovered in a dry creek bed in 1887. The Visitor's Centre was pretty interesting, with lot of artefacts and displays on the history of the town. We were a little disappointed that the Arltunga Bush Hotel was closed though! Cooper was most tempted by the idea of a 'ghost town' but all that we really saw was the old Police Station and Gaol cell. There was more to see but by this stage it was about 4.30pm and we still had over 100k to get home so we called it a day and left. The highlight of this part of the trip was the road to get there! We had followed the Ross Highway for about 80kms so far, which was a sealed road. But for the 33 or so k's to get to Arltunga and back it was an unsealed racetrack! (in Leon's eyes anyway!) He unleashed his inner Dakar Rally driver and I'm not exaggerating when I say that all four wheels of the Pathfinder left the road simultaneously several times! I felt like I was in a Dukes of Hazzard movie. All in all, it was a really fun day and I'm so glad we headed east instead of west (will have to save that direction for next time!)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Alice Springs Tourists

In the hope of combating my late night frustrations with Blogger recently, I thought I'd attempt a post earlier than usual today! As the title suggest, we’ve spent the last couple of days being major tourists in Alice Springs. There’s certainly heaps to do here and no shortage of information on where to go and how to do it. We visited the tourist centre in town and picked ourselves up a stack of brochures (very handy as they included several discount vouchers – every little bit helps!)

So the first stop on the tourist trail was the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Now, those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that I begged out of this one! I got dropped off at a nice little bakery called ‘Wicked Kneads’ where I spent a relaxing hour or so with a coffee and some magazines! Leon, Cooper and Immie had a great time though. They heard a talk about reptiles first up and Cooper very bravely held a massive snake! I couldn’t believe he did this but am glad to know he hasn’t inherited my ridiculously massive fear of snakes. They also saw several types of lizards, other snakes and Terry the Saltwater Crocodile. Leon said it was a fairly small operation, but very well done and pretty good value for money. After they picked me up from my momentary retreat, we grabbed some lunch and took it up to the Anzac Hill that overlooks the city. It had a great view over Alice Springs and a lovely Memorial. 

We then moved on to the next attraction, which was the Alice Springs Old Gaol and National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame (all housed in the one place). The Gaol was pretty cool, but Leon felt it had been prettied up too much from its original state to be truly authentic. There was a lot of interesting information on posters around the walls though and lots of old pictures. Unfortunately, when you’re a nearly 4 and 6 year old who can’t read that, it can get a bit boring! The kids did very well though and liked the cells and looking at the tiny bathrooms and toilets. Also displayed at the Gaol was a big Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. Again, there was lots of information and pictures, but also a lot of items to look at. The kids were most interested in the typewriters, they had no idea what they were!  

Today was another big day of visiting the sights. We were very impressed this morning with the Alice Springs Desert Park. We made sure we got there in time for the 10am Birds of Prey display. It was a brilliant presentation in a lovely amphitheatre with a beautiful backdrop. The presenters were knowledgeable and interesting and showed us some beautiful birds. Cooper’s favourite was the Black Kite and Immie just enjoyed attempting to take photos with my iPhone. Unbeknownst to us she had switched it from camera to video mode and came up with some very interesting little clips! We spent another hour or so afterwards looking at the rest of the park, which showed all the different sorts of desert environments there are in the Outback and the kinds of animals that live there. A lot of the trees and flowers had information cards explaining what the Indigenous people use them for which was pretty fascinating. They are certainly very resourceful and make the most of the land around them! We had a really nice lunch at the great cafe there and spent some money in the gift shop. Overall, we really enjoyed the Desert Park, it was well worth a visit. And pretty reasonable too, Leon and I were $20 each, a voucher got Cooper in for free and under 5 was free, so Imogen was set too!

After a trip mainly for the kids this morning, this afternoon was mainly about Leon! The National Road Transport Hall of Fame was on the agenda and it was actually pretty good. It comprised three displays – the first of which was the Old Ghan Historical Railway. The kids were getting fairly sick of written displays by now but there were plenty of interesting items to look at, as well as the old train you could get on and walk along a section of. The walkway sections of the train were tiny, you certainly wouldn’t have fitted two people walking in different directions.  Luckily there was a playground there too, so after a quick recharge on the swings we moved onto the Road Transport Hall of Fame section. This was a huge and pretty incredible display of all sorts of vehicles. There were trucks, buses, army vehicles, fire engines and vintage cars to name a few. It was really well set up and covered a huge area. It also incorporated the Kenworth Dealer Museum which was obviously a lot more trucks. One good display was a cabin that had been split in half so you could climb in the middle and get a really good look at where the driver sat and where he (or she) slept. Again, kids were free and it only cost Leon and I $14 each to get in, so everything we’ve done so far has been pretty good value.

I've got heaps more photos to add, but if I hope to be in bed before midnight I'll have to leave it there! It's taking forever to load photos on here for some reason. Plenty more will be on Facebook later if anyone is interested.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to get out and find some 4WD in the Macdonnell Ranges. Leon wants to get the car good and dirty with some red sand! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Final days at Yulara

We've had a quiet couple of days at the Ayers Rock Resort. We both agree, although it's been a lovely place to stay, three or four days probably would have been enough. If we'd researched a little further, or been able to pick the brains of some people who had already come this way, we might have changed a few things. For instance, we were under the impression that Kings Canyon was a little closer and would be a good day trip. However, it's a good 600 km round trip from Yulara (which is where the Ayers Rock Resort is.) So what we probably should have done is cut our stay at Uluru short by 2 nights, and spent those at Kings Canyon. Never mind, some things can only be learned from experience and at least it will be nice to save something for next time!

Saturday saw us take a little drive - about a 260 km round trip - for beer! No not really. With not much to do after already seeing Uluru and Kata Tjuta we thought we'd go for a little drive and take some photos of things we'd seen on the way in, but didn't want to stop with the caravan on (and Leon had usually just overtaken several caravans and cars and didn't want them to catch him again!) We drove to the crossroad where you can turn off to Kings Canyon and stopped for a packed lunch.
Lunch at Red Centre Way

On the way back we stopped at Curtin Springs, which is a petrol station and roadhouse that also offers free camping spots. Much to Leon's delight, they supplied him with a slab of VB for $70 which was a much more reasonable prospect than the resort prices and saved him from rationing! He also insisted on taking us on a couple of tracks off the highway, which freaked me out no end as I had visions of Wolf Creek type situations happening to us. We arrived back at the resort safe and sound though and celebrated with my first chai latte in weeks at the Red Rock Deli. Then that night, thanks to the wonders of modern technology we were able to watch the very exciting (yet ultimately disappointing) Cats vs. Bombers game.

Sunday was another fairly quiet day. We walked over to the shopping centre, then made the kids day by catching the shuttle bus back to the campsite. We also checked out the other attractions in the town of Yulara, namely the airport, power station, mechanical repairs centre and dump point (I did say it was a quiet day.) Another high point for the kids was the Camel Farm where Immie had her first camel ride ever! (Once again Blogger is being difficult tonight with photos, but there are more on my FB page of course. If you look at Leon's FB page, you'll mainly see photos of all the burnt out, abandoned cars we've discovered along the way - lending credence to my Wolf Creek paranoia, as well as lots of pictures of beer.)

Today (Monday) was an early start and a big day in the car, from Yulara to Alice Springs (approx 445km). We only had the one stop, at Erldunda where we had previously spent a night. Unfortunately their mice plague had not yet ceased so our lunch was slightly marred by the smell and sight of dead mice littering the place. Undeterred, we pressed on and were in Alice Springs by about 2pm, after leaving Yulara at 9am. The kids have been so good in the car, entertaining themselves really well without the dvd player or hand held consoles. They've been playing lots of games, doing some drawing, eating and when all else fails I let them take pictures on the older, small camera. (Immie likes to take photos of herself doing cranky faces and close-ups up her nostrils. It's quite entertaining a the end of the day scrolling though the photos to see what they came up with!)

Alice Springs seems very big after most of the places we've stayed in - they even have a Woolworths, hurrah! We've got quite a bit planned for the next few days, culminating in the Camel Cup on the 9th. Tonight though we had a fantastic meal at Bojangles Saloon. Amazing place, with incredible decor and a great menu. Leon went all out and ordered their Outback Mixed Grill which included the following - A beaut combination of Kangaroo, Territory Camel shaslik, Buffalo medallion, Venison sausage and our own Lemon myrtle infused Crocodile rissole! 

On that delicious note I'll leave you. More to come tomorrow I'm sure!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Well we have had an amazing couple of days exploring some incredible parts of this country. Yesterday morning, after a fantastic sleep we headed into Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. It was $25 dollars an adult, free for children under 16 and that gives you three days access to the park. We visited the cultural centre first which was pretty eye opening. It told the story of the Anangu people, who have been the owners and guardians of this area for tens of thousands of years. There were displays and lots of information to take it. One of the most interesting displays was a 'Sorry Book'. This contained hundreds of letters from people apologising for either taking a piece of Uluru home with them, or taking photos of areas that you're not supposed to. Reading through some of them was really fascinating (all the identifying details were crossed out).
After some lunch we drove to the base of the rock. Cooper actually asked Imogen to pinch him cos he couldn't believe he was actually there! Having learnt a bit about Uluru at kinder last year, Cooper was really interested in everything about it. After reading a lot of information at the cultural centre about how the people wish no one would climb Uluru anymore, and the deaths of nearly 40 people who have attempted the climb, I was amazed to see so many people already on their way up or down. We didn't climb, but had a walk around the base of Uluru (not the full walk which was over 10 k!). We saw some beautiful and special sights as we went along. It was certainly something I won't forget and hopefully the kids will look back on it as something to remember.

Today we took a packed lunch and headed towards Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It looked pretty amazing on approach and certainly didn't disappoint once we got there. From the car park to the first viewing platform it was only about a 20 minute walk so that's where we ended up. We've decided that the kids are probably a bit too young to be able to get the most out of this trip. Cooper was happy to keep walking and exploring, but little Miss nearly 4's legs were sore and tired after about a kilometre (of fairly rocky and steep paths to be fair!). So, although we would have loved to do the 'Valley of the Winds' walk, we turned around and went back. 

Tonight we got to see some fireworks for Territory Day! (Good time to be up here!) We are really enjoying this caravan park. Although slightly pricey ($50 a night) it's got a great layout, amenities etc. Kids give the playground a tick, which is most important. The only downside is the price of everything! And considering you're in the middle of nowhere, you don't have much of an option! For example, tonight Leon paid a ridiculous $38 for a 6 pack of Carlton Cold! So, a warning to anyone else headed this way - stock up!! On everything, but especially beer!