Trains, buses and planes, Part 2

Group tours are not my usual choice when I’m travelling. I do like to take the solo route. But my recent visit to Uluru showed me that the group choice can be a good experience.
I travelled from Alice Springs to Ayres Rock Resort on the daily bus run by AAT-Kings.

I’d had an awful night at the Mercure Hotel where another guest had access to my room because the electronic lock failed. It was several hours before the lock was fixed. This unnerving experience was topped off by the table I’d booked for dinner not being allocated and when I was plonked next to a large group of tour guides getting training, I declined to stay.

But, back to the positive. The AAT-Kings bus driver from AS gave informed, interesting and appropriate commentary. Best of all he actually talked about the vegetation. Impressive.

I booked in at the Desert Gardens Hotels. Such good service, explanation of what was on offer by the trainee. The resort aims to have 40% indigenous employment soon and are working solidly towards that aim. The whole complex with accommodation from high-end to camping is cleverly set out and maintained. It has a town centre, supermarket, bank, and all the services you could need.

Encouraged by the trip to the resort, I booked a Valley of the Winds walking tour to Kata Tjuta with AAT-Kings. Jackpot.

Guide Geoff was terrific. Very clear on instructions, very knowledgeable but didn’t go on for too long about anything; kept us away from other groups so we didn’t feel crowded and could enjoy the majesty of the surrounds in peace and quiet. I was utterly fascinated by the diversity and abundance of the flowers. Geoff had the local field guide and a bit of knowledge of his own, and he encouraged me to take my time for photos. Alas no macro lens but plenty to see – probably more than 100 species in 4 days.


The next day, I took the resort bus to Uluru for dawn and a solitary walk around the base. Oh dear. Yes, the group of 10 were horrible people but the bus driver lost the plot. Get me out of here. And there’s no way to walk around the base alone. And Segways are for hire. Seriously? I now know they are remarkably noisy machines – and far too wide for parts of the path. Nonetheless a wonderful experience and plenty of places to be alone with the rock.

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Back to AAT-Kings for the return to Alice via Kings Canyon rim walk. We lucked out again with Geoff. I had no idea – spectacular scenery all round, cycads in the canyon floor, geology that seems to be mini-Bungle Bungle (but Geoff said is quite different) and cliffs that look like they are sliced crème caramel.


Back in Alice, the Mercure offered me, for my previous inconvenience, $6 off an overpriced breakfast. Wow, why don’t you try to insult me?
But not to finish a fabulous red centre experience on a sour note, I had just enough time before I hopped on my plane to Brisbane to take a quick scan of Desert Mob 2017 at the Araluen Regional Art Gallery. Not nearly enough time to do this excellent exhibition justice.

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Desert Mob 2017 at Araluen Regional Gallery Alice Springs

 

Trains, buses and planes, part 1

The almost one-kilometre-long Ghan, travelling twice a week in each direction from Adelaide to Darwin, might incline you to think that train travel has returned to its rightful place as preferred mode of travel. It’s comforting to know that so many people want to take the train through the desert but in truth, the comfort element is a big part of the attraction.

I like to travel by rail as much as I can, and actually see the country I’m travelling though even if it’s flashing by. And I have the most appropriate back up of Don Watson’s The Bush, though not much gets read on the train during daylight.

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Before darkness descends we cross Goyder’s Line and enter saltbush-bluebush-Western Myall country. Happy memories of Rangelands Ecology on Middleback Station in January.

Next thing I know is sunrise at Marla Siding. Everybody off the train for breakfast. So many people taking photos of sunrise as if it didn’t happen every day – perhaps not in the desert and unimpeded by anything except other people taking photos.

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Now we are in mulga country, an occasional white-trunked gum, quite a few shrubs I can’t identify and, was that a Callitris?

Then we get to my favourite tree, the desert oak Allocasuarina decaisneana and I can revel in it for days through to Uluru.

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We are well into the NT before I see the first lumps of the ubiquitous grass of the Australian centre, Triodia irritans. I remember driving over hundreds of miles of the stuff in the APY lands in 1979. It looks invitingly lemony soft with spiky vertical hair but it is (I know) impossibly ‘irritans’.

In places the country is so flogged there’s barely a green/grey leaf; in some areas the small size of the veg looks like it’s returning after being given a severe thrashing.

The land is almost never flat. Relief might be a rocky outcrop, a gentle rise of a sand dune, a distant hill. It is always changing. I sip my beer, look out the window. I am in heaven.