Ever since I learned there was a middle of Australia, I have wanted to go there. With my life in something of an upheaval due to recently being single, it seemed like a good time to plan that trip. It has been a long time in the making so I was excited.
Day 1: Melbourne to Adelaide
I didn’t really have all that much of a plan, the night before, I had booked accommodation at a bistro in Adelaide and at a place called Coober Pedy on the way up. I figured I’d sleep in my tent a fair bit, maybe lodge at Alice Springs which looks pretty close to Uluru on a map.
I left for Adelaide far later than I would have liked. Mostly because I hadn’t cleared my go pro of images. I wanted to take some time lapse videos of the trip down and so expected I’d be using a lot of space, I set out at about 11 am and made a brisk pace out of the city in the general direction of Adelaide.
The music in the video above is from an iconic Australian singer called Paul Kelly. As it happens, my good friend Jimmy had given me a Paul Kelly DVD for my birthday and had sat me down to listen to the music just before I left, so I had a lot of Paul Kelly on the brain. If you’ve ever traveled with me you will know I love to sing in the car. This journey was equal parts Paul Kelly and Billy Joel.
As I journeyed on, I stopped occasionally taking pictures of the Australian countryside, Australia is so vast, if you travel long enough you will come across a very diverse pallet of colours.
The trip was uneventful apart from a pyre of smoke in the distance. The parade of fire trucks in the opposite direction completed the story: yet another fire. Folks back in Melbourne were complaining of smoke in the city which is apparently only getting worse.
The usually beautiful Australian sunset was even more striking though, given the smoke and dust in the air.
I blew in to the bistro at about 8pm. When my local friends heard where I had settled for the night they were a little taken aback “not the best part of Adelaide” they complained. But I wanted an authentic experience. I took my Akubra off and inquired about my booking. “I’ll take you to your room, luv”. It’s funny, back in Uni days, I was apparently oblivious to many people who had expressed an interest in me. Nowadays, likely due to increased confidence, I just assume everyone is flirting with me. I affected a smile and trued to hold my hat in a way that suggested I respected and enjoyed the Australian experience without taking the piss. I think it helps that the hat is from 2003.
The room turned out to smell of cigarettes. Had I been travelling with anyone else, I would have complained, instead I chalked it up to authenticity. Moments later though, she changed my room of her own accord. I think that as a smoker she was embarrassed to let me stay in a place that smelt that way.
Being nearly 9pm, there were few places available for dinner, apart from a delightful Italian place.
“Spaghetti bolognaise and a house red please”.
“I mean, just a glass of any red wine”.
“Oh, we don’t serve wine, only soft drinks.”
As I drank my non-alcoholic beverage, “Sounds of Silence” began to play. Seemed kind of fitting at the time.
As I left the restaurant I came across a shirtless gentleman on his way to somewhere and was struck again with a sense of “sonder”. Other people’s lives, so different yet as complex as our own. I try to remind myself that for some of the people you meet, this may well be their very worst day.
The bistro I was staying at had no such issues serving me a wine. In fact they went so far as to give it to me for free. “Oh, it was a mistake pour, and you’re saving me from drinking it myself.”
Day 2: Adelaide to Coober Pedy
The next morning I was up early enough but got back to the road by about 10 after breakfast and fiddling with my cameras. The go pro sat next to me like a passenger, in the hopes I could share the experience of the drive with those back home. I thoroughly enjoyed this leg of the journey, once I was free of the city’s embrace the roads opened up and I could have been in South Africa or Texas again. You assume the desert is empty, but it’s full of like and scrub plants, clinging desperately to the red earth. The road is fully paved all the way to my destination and not a pot hole in sight. I grinned at the thought of dodging pot holes at 120 km/h in the Free State in South Africa.
The roads out here have a certain rhythm to them. Kangaroo sign, livestock sign, Grid, a moment’s pause and the familiar buzz as your tires zip over the grates used to keep cattle from crossing property lines. Other signs of human habitation are the many vehicles strewn left and right along the way. I was taken with the desolate beauty of it, the stories of the people who decided it was far better to leave once treasured possession in the red dust than to recover it at all.
My phone declared connectivity to the outside world lost about 505 Km from my destination. Good thing I had offline maps, and besides, there would be no need to turn off Stuart Highway till I reached my goal.
I drove resolutely on with nothing but the confidence that there were no turns required to get to where I needed to go: the Opal mining town ot Coober Pedy. On the way, however, I came across a rather fun sign:
The road itself is the infamous Stuart Highway. I was delighted to find myself at this half-way point on such a beautiful day. I love the contrasting colours in the Australian black: turquoise and orange.
I came upon my second destination at about 7pm. This is the opal mining town of Coober Pedy. I chose it because it was about equidistant from my origin and destination, but I might well have chosen it for its charm. I stayed in a lovely hotel which has rooms dug out of the rock, in the fashion of the original settlers who dug holes as shelter from the unbearable heat. As it happened, it wasn’t all that hot at all. It rained as I arrived and I felt a familiar pang of regret having not packed any winter clothes.
That night, I took the opportunity to get out the tablet and jot down some thoughts. I have been looking forward to this journey for decades now. Ever since I knew Australia had a middle part which was far away from the rest of it. I had wanted to go there. The fact there was some fossilized sand dune there too simply provided a landmark.
Dinner was excellent, although the poor chap at the front of house seemed to be the only person on staff.
A lovely meal and some port under my belt and it as time to head back to my relatively warm cave.
What with the recent breakup, this trip has turned into a bit of a soul-searching mission for me too: what are my goals for the future?
I made a table of potential partners with a list of pros and cons. No, that’s a waste of time. Let’s think about goals:
- Live forever
- No that’s not practical yet
- Have an impact
- Sure how?
- Maybe you should teach people something?
- OK, go on
- How about you finish one of those books?
- I don’t know, non-fiction is kind of boring
- How can I teach people something about life?
I went to bed in my cave, my mind buzzing with questions, but suffering from a lack of answers.
Day 3: Coober Pedy to Uluru via Alice Springs
The next morning and more of the same. Cattle, kangaroo, rest stop Grid. Just as I was feeling puckish and wondering where I’d be able to find breakfast in all this, but I came upon what is apparently the first and last pub in the Northern Territories. For me it didn’t start as a pub though. I drove in to fill up with petrol, something I do at every opportunity because despite the fact that I had a full 10L Jerry can I was loathe to find myself walking however long it would take to find me a petrol station. The chap at the counter had on a pair of overalls as well as an Akubra and sunglasses. I internally first-pumped. I’d been worried wearing this hat might have been interpreted as insincere.
“Is the pub open?” I asked hopefully. I had seen the sign for the pub as I walked in, it adjoined the petrol station like another room.
“OK, great, I moved the car and attempted to get into the pub, the shoeless lady out the front drew deeply on her cigarette and regarded me dispassionately.
“You sure it’s open?” I asked the chap in the store. “door seems locked”.
“Oh, it’s open all right, I work there.”
“Oh, right, well, are you doing food?”
The menu appeared out of nowhere and soon enough I was sitting at the bar with a cider in my hand, a burger with chips on the side, country music playing softly.
It’s a strange sensation, having lived in Texas and been to many an actual Texas pub, to get a Texas vibe so far down the other end of the world. But I suppose it’s fair to say that country is country. I consider myself a city boy, but with family in a farm in Nongoma and enjoying long-distance driving, it’s unsurprising to me that I have a bit of country in my heart.
The meal was over much too soon. I bought some memorabilia in the form of little tin cups declaring to C U Next Time. My grandfather, born in Yalarbon Australia, would have loved the sentiment of the cups, if not the vulgar expression.
Now would be a good time to point out a bit of a transformation that happened to me on my journey. You see, I have always known that it’s the journey, not the destination, and I have always known that having time to think and reflect is important, but I had no idea this journey would have such an impact on me.
Sometime after Kulgera I started writing music in the car.
It makes a lot of sense if you think of the progression: some weeks ago, my psychologist had recommended I write a letter to Chloe to help process my feelings. I did that but the letter came out as a poem. More that that, every poem I have written has a rhythm and a tune. This poem was no exception.
The particular place I was at physically in the car meant that Spotify was not going to work, and my cached music had long since worn out. So I started singing my own song, as I often do.
The result of that exercise in the car is the song: From High Up.
As I drove, I wrote songs about friends, about myself, about my family, about my past and aspiration for the future.
Via Alice Springs
It was then that I made the first mistake of the journey and decided to continue North towards Alice Springs. On a map of Australia it doesn’t look like all that much a diversion from Uluru. I had planned to stay at a camp site in Alice Springs and take day trips down to see the Rock. As I journeyed further and further towards my destination, I realized it would be quite a trek and take away from the enjoyment of the rock. I resolved to stay only one night in Alice Springs and find a way to stay at Uluru proper for the other 4 nights.
My resolve dissolved when I arrived at my destination to find that the Gap View Hotel’s camp ground was simply a patch of dry dirt. Not even nice dirt. It was hard and would have been difficult to put a peg through. I briefly considered sleeping in the car but given that I could sleep in my car just about anywhere, I decided I would sleep closer to my destination. I managed to book the one and only camp ground near the Rock, but only for the next night. It was about 5pm when I set out from Alice Springs to make the 490 km journey to Yulara.
One of the fortunate things about Northern Territory roads is the speed limit is 130 km/h. This is great for getting places quickly, and I made the 490 km journey in about 4.5 hours, the only problem is travelling those speeds really consumes petrol pretty fast.
I arrived at the “Ayres Rock Camp Ground” after closing time in pitch black. I decided that there would be nothing better than to sleep for the night in my car, and so I did.
Tune in for part 2, coming soon!