Glen's birthday arrived and Julie cooked a cake in the portable oven. We had phone coverage so he got to speak to those at home for the first time in quite while too. Sandy and Simone and the girls arrived and we took a canoe trip up Lawn Hill Gorge for a couple of hours enjoying the sights and the sunshine and the water for a refreshing swim before porting the canoes up to the next section of gorge for more paddling before returning.
We followed Sandy back to their free camp on the banks of the Gregory River and stayed there for 3 nights enjoying their company and the warm river. It truly is a beautiful spot to camp and even has a town with free showers within walking distance. The best part about the river was that we could walk 500m upstream and float down to get out outside our camper. Very special. Julie took her damper making to the next level with a bacon and cheese damper, then did a roast and topped it off with apple crumble - all in the camp ovens. On our last night Sandy cooked up some redclaw (caught at Corella Dam) for us. Delicious :)
We were not in any hurry to leave and after washing the mud off the camper Sandy made us lunch and they finally got rid of us about 2:30. We drove until 9pm and camped at Wonarah Bore on the Barkley Highway.
Got away early the next day and made Tennant Creek by lunch to pick up a few supplies. We spent quite a while in the cultural centre before heading out to Kuta Kuta (Devils Marbles) to camp. Interesting to wander around and we saw a small headed black goanna but Glen thought the marbles would be bigger. Still they were impressive, particularly in the changing light.
Sunny the next morning but by the Ti Tree Roadhouse it was pouring (see, we never should have washed the car and camper…) and by the time we hit Katherine they'd had about 20mm of rain. We shopped then set up at a free camp with little hope of packing up dry as we watched the roads website have more and more roads closed due to flooding but miraculously after a foggy start the day turned sunny and hot. By the time we'd changed the oil and emptied all the stuff from under the bed that had gotten wet it was so late and we'd seen nothing and still needed to stock up on supplies so we decided to stay an extra night. Armed with a plastic chopping board, his new saw and a tube of silicone Glen fixed the design flaw so no more dust or water (or mice as we found in WA) will get under the bed.
A dry pack up the next day and we headed out to the West Macdonnell Ranges seeing John Flynn's Grave, Simpson's Gap and Ellery Creek Big Hole where it was raining again so we camped for the night.
Dry again the next morning so we did Serpentine Gorge and lookout, the Ochre Pits and camped at Ormiston Gorge. Next morning we walked to the second pool and Glen went back via the Ghost Gum Walk along the ridge line. That afternoon we called into Glen Helen Gorge for a quick look and to pick up our permit for the next part of the road. We drove on to Grosse Bluff and onto Morris Pass Lookout to camp for the night. The wildflowers on the roadside have been impressive carpets of white, yellow and purple. The view and sunset from the lookout was amazing. We could even see tomorrow's destination, Kings Canyon, lit up red in the sunset.
At Kings Canyon (Father's Day) we saw wild budgies!!!! and walked the Rim Walk. The first bit is straight up! The walk is just over 6km and it took us 4 hours because of all the photos we took and the views. We marvelled at the gorge views with the sheer cliffs and flat landscape below and the contrast of the Garden of Eden section with the rest of the walk which is basically rock which without the recent rain and today's freezing wind up top must be very hot and dry. After the creek walk we drove about 100km to a free camp at Salt Creek where we had a nice fire and a peaceful night.
The following day we saw it for the first time… Mt Connor didn't fool us, we saw Uluru! After so many failed attempts we were here. We camped on a dune 3km off the road and had an uninterrupted view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Olgas) for sunset with a small fire to keep us warm. Soon after we set up 3 women got bogged on the road next to us. They happened to be French and had no idea how to put their car into 4wd. Glen showed them and got their car out but then they stayed!!! Luckily (for them) only to watch a bit of the sunset then they left.
Next day we left the camper and headed into the National Park. The sign recommended seeing the cultural centre first so after paying our $25 each (apparently there are now two NT National Parks with an entry fee…) we drove there instead of straight to Kata Tjuta as we expected. How unusual we spent three hours there… Julie had last night taken a photo of a lizard and the rangers were unsure so asked her to email the photos and location to them. We also watched a couple of artists painting before driving the 45km to Kata Tjuta where we did one of the walks. The information said 5.4km return and 2.5 hours to the second lookout and 7.4km and 4 hours for the entire loop. It was a nice walk but had a few harder sections so Julie returned from the second lookout but Glen wanted the challenge of the loop. Turns out the rest of the loop was actually not difficult at all, just a bit longer, and was well inside Julie's capability with her sore foot. We then did the walk from the other carpark, just 2.6km before heading back to our camper. Back at the camper we decided to drive on and explore and at the end of the road 3km further on walked up a dune on the edge of the National Park to find someone camped there. We apologised and left and got back to our camper to find 4 people camped 40m from us. They happened to be French. Julie told them the error of their ways that if the nearest neighbour is 500m away you don't camp on top of someone but they didn't care. Glen had just cleaned all the toilet paper off that spot this morning and now there was probably going to be more :( Why can't they all have a camping etiquette test before they get their visa?
The next day we packed up and drove to Uluru for the 10am Ranger Guided Walk. We learnt stories from that part of the rock but Anangu culture says you can only tell a story at the place where the story happened so if you want to know about it you will have to go to Uluru and go right around so you get more of the story. Off to the caravan park after that as we needed to be in town to be picked up for the two special activities we were looking forward to. After setting up we drove into Yalara township for a look and when leaving saw a thorny devil on the road. A local picked it up and gave it to Glen to release in a safe spot. They are incredible creatures to look at (and hold).
That night we were picked up by bus and taken to the Field of Light art installation. In the desert is 50,000 lights powered by 144 projectors connected with 380km of optic fibre. We wandered through the changing pulsing lights for over an hour and found it quite beautiful.
Our last day at Uluru we hired bikes and rode around the base walk. (Thanks for Glen's birthday present Kyra, Luke and Eli) It was a wonderful experience. Although the summit climb was open we decided not to climb out of respect for the traditional owners, the Anangu people, and their beliefs. Glen had always wanted to climb the rock as all the documentaries and even the Leyland Brothers said no trip to Ayers Rock was complete without climbing it but since the wishes of the traditional owners are now known how could we disregard them? Even without climbing, Uluru is a wonderful place.
That night we indulged ourselves with the Tali Wiru, billed as a lifetime experience of fine dining set atop a remote southern desert sand dune with magical views of Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta. "Intimate ambiance in the stillness of the desert night". We had to get dressed in smart casual - which compared to what we've been wearing over the last 8 months was more like formal wear for us. Julie even got to wear makeup and perfume! We were picked up from the campground in a 26 seater 4WD coach, given a bottle of water and then picked up the other 13 diners from Sails in the Desert - the most exclusive accommodation in Yalara. We were driven out into the dunes and met by the maître de, Telina, a well-spoken young aboriginal woman, and offered a refreshing towel - a rolled up moist flannel not the lemon scented tear open ones from KFC. We were escorted to the top of the dune where we indulged in French bubbly and canapes of scallops, emu, crocodile and blue cheese as a digeridoo was played as the sun set over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Next we were escorted to our open air table further up the dune. With 3 waiters and the maître de serving just 15 dinner guests at 4 tables we could hardly complain about the service. Dinner consisted of amuse bouche, a choice of 3 entrees, 3 mains and 3 desserts with each dish having a matching wine. For entrée Julie had Poached king prawns with lemon myrtle scented green pea buttermilk, jamon iberico and confit fennel salad accompanied by a glass of 2014 Frogmore Creek Fume Blanc Sauvignon from Tasmania. Glen had Premium grade Puroo kangaroo rillettes with dehydrated beetroot, smoked bunya nut puree, mountain pepper tuille and seablite accompanied by a glass of 2014 Yabby Lake "Single Vineyard" Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula. And no dear reader, even though we've eaten it and it tasted delicious we have no idea what half of those things are either.
Neither of us had the courage to choose the Glacier 51 toothfish, caught at a depth of 2000m in the sub-Antartic as a main, but as you can guess no expense is spared in the menu prepared by the two chefs.
Before dessert we were educated and entertained with information on the stars and planets and stories from indigenous culture and after dessert we sat around the campfire with hot chocolate and cognac that almost everybody traded in for 20 year old Grandfather Port (which Glen had previously had in addition to his botrytis Semillon with his rosella verrine for dessert. We were all quite merry as we were driven back to our accommodation. Throughout the entire dinner Julie was beaming with an even brighter sparkle in her blue-green eyes than usual and I'd have to say that this was the best dinner I've ever had and even at the price was worth every penny. Also well above expectation was the drop toilet. We've seen many in our travels but none with original artwork on the walls (graffiti doesn't count as artwork) scented candles and flowers.
Our last day at Yalara so we had a look at the camel farm before leaving with 10 days before we meet Sandy and family to do the Cape in convoy.