Day 4 (cont.): To Glen Helen
On the short drive from Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen Lodge, I saw a baby emu cross the road in front of my car and, in the rear view mirror, saw its parent darting after it! A kerfuffle with the Lodge’s online booking system meant I didn’t have a bed and instead set up camp in my car for the night.
I made a friend: Nick from – wait for it – Lane Cove! We built a fire, shared some drinks and chatted about life and music for hours. I’m really glad I met him.
What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the beginning of 72 hours with almost no mobile reception or wifi – not a problem, necessarily, but I would like to have warned some of the people who I knew would be worried by my dropping off the radar. I did, however, use use a pay phone for the first time since high school!
Day 5: Glen Helen to Watarrka (Kings Canyon)
The day I tackled the Mereenie Loop road, a 200km strip of bright red dirt that’s part of Red Centre Way. I didn’t know until I was safely installed in my hostel at Kings Canyon and talking to some people at the bar that this road is considered risky for solo drivers, especially those without a 4WD… It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re completely ignorant of the harm you could cause to self and others!
Along the way I saw two little cliques of wild horses: one group white, the other chestnut. I also encountered two very brazen camels intent on playing chicken – both of them lost the game, trotting off the road just in time.
Stopping at a lookout for some Vita Wheats and peanut butter, I witnessed a family reunion of about thirty Aboriginal men, women and children, and offered to take a group photo of them. Much hilarity ensued. It took about twenty goes until we got one in which none of the cheeky young ones were flipping the bird.
Once at the accommodation, I crashed out and napped for a couple of hours, waking to a delightful afternoon breeze over the plains between the resort and the canyon. A chance meeting with a colleague from Katherine High – on a similar road trip with two friends – made for a lovely evening. We shared a campfire and chatted into the night, though were occasionally interrupted by a couple of dingoes doing their rounds in firelight.
Day 6: Watarrka (Kings Canyon)
Prior to beginning the rim walk, I ate an improvised breakfast of peanut butter and grapes rolled up in mountain bread. Sort of an indie PB ‘n’ J, I suppose, washed down with cup of tepid Nescafé Blend 43…
My butt protested the entire way up to the canyon rim but the climb, as always, had its attendant rewards. One of my first thoughts was, ‘This looks like how I imagined Arrakis!’ And for those of you who haven’t read Dune, what I mean is that the canyon could be the set for a film about an entirely different planet.
Not for the first (or last) time on this journey, I thought about the Romantic notion of the sublime. The scale and starkness and solidness of these ancient landscapes is literally awesome. Emotions I’d been ignoring leaked out through cracks and chasms, rifts and rendings.
A brief detour on the rim walk takes you to the Garden of Eden waterhole, a very sacred men’s dreaming site. The water is so special that not even the traditional owners swim here, and the dreaming stories about this place are too sensitive to be written down on a sign for tourists to read. I sat for a while on my own, watching the dark pool and wondering if anyone knows how deep it is.
Day 7: Kings Canyon to Yulara
Between Kings Canyon and the little township of Yulara where visitors to Uluru stay, there’s a place called Curtin Springs. The main point of interest at Curtin Springs is Mt Conner, which I definitely thought was Uluru on first sighting. It’s a massive mountain but it’s totally flat on top (from a distance at least), as if someone’s taken a swing at it with a giant scythe.
Curtin Springs is also where I had planned to fill up my car, until I discovered the pumps were locked and the roadhouse was closed. With an air of self-congratulation, I emptied the 10L jerrycan into the empty tank and hoped for the best. The rest of the way, I drove sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning over the steering wheel as if my posture might help to propel the car – and maybe it worked because we made it!