Saturday, November 27, 2010

Central Australia Part 1 - Kings Canyon

The start of the trip wasn't all that enthralling, so I'll skip through that quickly - we caught the bus to Sydney, spent the afternoon at The Rocks, ate dinner in a food court at Darling Harbour because the idea of paying $30 for a plate of pasta was ridiculous, flew to Alice Springs the next morning, and spent the afternoon melting into sweaty disgusting puddles at the Botanic Gardens.

We were being picked up the following morning at 4.45am, which meant getting up at 3.30. Which was bad enough on its own, but at about 1.00, a MASSIVE thunderstorm came through. And we were staying in a bungalow with a tin roof. So there went a couple of precious hours of sleep. I was convinced that it would have stopped by 4.45 (surely there couldn't have been any water left in the sky after that long??), but when we finally got up and turned the TV on, SBS Weatherwatch (the only thing on at that hour!) showed us a dirty great blue raincloud smack over the middle of Central Australia. Awesome...

Thankfully, the rain had eased by the time we had to go and stand outside waiting for the bus. But of course, by the time we had to get OUT again to sort out final payments etc at the tour company office, it was pouring again. And it continued to pour for at least an hour after we left Alice Springs. We had the grand plan of sleeping in the bus, but our tour guide decided what we needed to listen to at 5am was the radio. So there went the sleeping plan *sigh*

Breakfast was a cold toasted cheese sandwich from a truck stop two hours into the five hour drive to Kings Canyon. Mmm, delicious... The drive was long and painful, except for the part where we had to cross one of several creeks that had flooded the road, and our tour guide had to get out and wade through to check how deep it was because she couldn't see the bottom. It was only about 20cm, but she decided we should stop for lunch and hope the level dropped in that time. So we drove about 15 minutes back to a station, and had lunch in the company of this dog:
I couldn't work out if it was permanent marker or quite how they'd managed to get the dog to hold still long enough to write 'Dont [sic] feed me' on its back...

Aaaaaanyway, after lunch, we forded the creek without any problems and made it to Kings Canyon - FINALLY!! After a bit of a briefing, we set out on the clifftop walk, which is meant to take 3.5 hours. Our schedule allowed two hours... The walk started out with wading through a creek (thank God for Goretex boots!) and then this:
Four hundred steep, uneven stone steps. Awesome... Apparently the locals call it Heart Attack Hill. Nice. There were at least two stopping points along the way. But we were still going pretty damned fast, unfortunately for me. Fortunately, the view was worth it, as was the occasional piece of wildlife.

This little guy was pretty well camouflaged, but someone in our group managed to spot him.

And here's the view from the top. Not too shabby, huh?

From there, we started the walk around the canyon top, and got a spiel on the difference between canyons and gorges. Apparently canyons are created by wind erosion and gorges are caused by water erosion. Or something like that, anyway. The moral of the story is that the Grand Canyon is a gorge. Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

From the start of the rimtop walk, we could see up the gorge to the waterfall:

The walk itself was a heck of a lot easier once the 400 dreaded steps were over. And it was pretty spectacular:

Our tour guide made all kinds of obligatory Priscilla, Queen of the Desert jokes, which went over pretty much everyone's heads. Sad, really. It's one of about five Australian films in existence that doesn't make me run screaming for the door... About half way through the walk, you descend into what's called The Garden of Eden:

And then it's back up some stupidly steep wooden stairs to the other side of the canyon. Once there, the scenery changed a bit, and there were some cool, if slightly random, features like this one that looked like a chimney:

There was also a lot of water around, which meant (as my friend Fem pointed out when I put the photos on Facebook) if we'd gotten stuck up there, we wouldn't have had to drink our own pee to survive. Always a good thing... :S No one but Bear Grylls needs to do that if they can avoid it!

It looks rather like the Bungle Bungles on the second half of the walk. Not that I'd really know, I've not been to the Bungle Bungles. But that's totally not the point!

Finally, we got around to the best spot for photographing the waterfall and the canyon. And it was totally worth the hauling butt to get there:

After we'd spent a decent chunk of time looking at the view, our tour guide checked the horizon and went "Oh crap..." Because this is what we saw:

Yes, that's right. A dirty great thunderstorm moving in towards us. And that creek we'd crossed on the way into the canyon? If it rose by even 20cm, it was going to be impassable and we'd be stuck and miss Uluru and Kata Tjuta. So we hauled butt even faster back towards the car park, despite it requiring us to rush past some gorgeous scenery:

Once we got back to the point where you could see down to the car park, we could hear the thunder rolling in, and the temperature started to drop pretty quickly.

And when we got back down to the bottom, the creek we'd had to wade through to reach the steps? Yeah, it wasn't 5cm deep any more. It was about 20cm deep. I don't think even Goretex could have helped there. So there was a lot of foot pain getting across the rocky bottom of the creek in bare feet...

Our total time for doing the 3.5 hour clifftop walk? 1.5 hours. We made it back through the creeks that were covering the road, but about 15 minutes after we forded one that was 15cm deep, our tour guide got a call on the radio telling her that it had now hit a METRE deep and wasn't looking at slowing down. It's crazy how fast the water level can rise out there.

From there, it was another three or four hours of driving before we got to Uluru. We didn't make it to Uluru in time for sunset, but we got to take photos of sunset from the top of a sand dune by the side of the road, which was much cooler somehow. Plus, it meant we got Kata Tjuta in the pictures too! But I think those can wait for another thesis...I mean, blog post.

K xx

PS. This was my 100th post. I *was* planning something special (a giveaway) for my 100th post, but I don't really have the time to do what I had planned. So I'll keep it on the back burner for a less busy time of year...

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