Day 8/9 – Alice Springs to Darwin

Written by: Dian

Just want to reiterate what we mentioned in the last post – that it was freezing cold that night as we slept in the uninsulated tin can of a room. FREEZING. It must have been, what, 10 degrees?

I had my fleece sweater and pants on but the cold was unrelenting nevertheless, even when we woke in the morning (Brandon could handle it but he is actually a bear so…).

DSC_8542

We may have underestimated the cold out in the Outback during Spring. Our bad. We had enjoyed our time there regardless, but it was finally time – it was the last day of our road trip. 😥

Leaving Stuarts Well

Before we set off for Alice from Stuarts Well, we decided to indulge in a massive hearty breakkie (because why not!) and have a last look around at the roadhouse.

20161023_091220

(Camera phone quality)

I believe it’s 12 to 18 AUD for each platter. Well worth it because they fill you up good.

DSC_8541

He is literally a bear, eating his fill for hibernation (he couldn’t finish it though – that’s how much we got)

DSC_8536DSC_8537DSC_8540

Such a quaint place!

20161023_093848

It was much too chilly for a swim

20161023_085557

One of the resident cockatoos

Before long, it was time to set off for Alice Springs to catch a domestic Qantas flight to Darwin.

Capture

It was only an hour away, but we were aiming to arrive a good few hours before our flight so we could return our rented four wheel drive and do some last minute shopping.

We stopped by the camel farm next door to have a look. They all had nose rings and were tied to the fencing. I felt sad for the ones who weren’t in the shade – though I’m not sure whether camels are built to withstand being in the sun for extended periods? Regardless, I wish they would let them roam. 😦

20161023_103142

Last chance for a selfie in our Aussie hats!

20161023_104808

The home stretch

Alice Springs

When we got to Alice, we had to return our car first. To get our full deposit back for the car (which turned out to be quite a hassle…), we had to make sure the tank was full, and that the car was clean. Ours most definitely needed a wash, what with the smashed bugs on the windshield, mud stains and dust.

The car washes there aren’t like back at home. Basically you drive your car up, choose the services you’d like for your car (and pay accordingly), and then do it all yourself.

20161023_12152520161023_121842

Convenient for clearing out all the change we’d been carrying.

And that was that. Bye 4WD! You helped us cover 1536.4 kilometres in total.(Which Brandon drove all of that. Tsk -Brandon)

Once we had returned the car, our Airbnb host Lynn (who had very kindly offered to pick us up and drive us around) fetched us and dropped us off at a supermarket where we bought stuff to bring back to Singapore. And by stuff, I mean chocolate.

20161023_143934

How to spot a tourist

We then said our goodbyes to Lynn and off we went on our flight to Darwin.

They provided us a hot snack box with a pie and blondie. The sun was just setting too, so we saw this lovely sight.

Darwin

The first thing we noticed upon landing in Darwin was the humidity. It was pretty much akin to Singapore, being so far up north. We had gotten accustomed to the dry air in central Aussie.

Our Jetstar flight home wasn’t until the next day, so we checked in to a hotel for the night that we had booked beforehand. Public transport in Darwin isn’t great, and a taxi would cost you 20 AUD per journey, so we settled on Quality Hotel Darwin, which is near the airport and provides a free pickup service.

DSC_8592

Since we didn’t want to pay to take a taxi into town, we decided to have a look at the restaurant next door, where we had dinner.

The next day, we got up early and caught our flight home to Singapore. We didn’t want to leave. 😦

Home sweet home

dsc_7075

All in all, we truly enjoyed our road trip around the heart of Australia. It’s not something Singaporeans would normally go for, but we found that it was right up our alley (nature, outdoors-y stuff) and would do it again given the chance! It wasn’t very cheap despite our attempts at budgeting, because the airfare and 4WD rental cost quite a bit, but no regrets there.

If we could change one thing, though, we would have extended the duration our trip. Seven days is enough to cover the Red Centre, but it would have been nice to spend more time exploring the places along the way. But I suppose you can only take so much annual leave, and it would have cost us more too.

One thing’s certain – we’ll definitely be back for more! Next up, a road trip up to Darwin from Alice Springs, maybe?

—————————————————————————————-

Reflections on the trip by Brandon:

To chime into Dian’s thoughts on the trip, yes! I think a good 2 weeks and a half would have been great as we did not manage to fully explore areas like Alice Springs (Alice Springs Telegraph Station, Monthly Alice Spring street markets, Kangaroo Sanctuary), Gosse Bluff, Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve and Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve) as we were pressed for time.

As a photographer

Even in the middle of one of the harshest terrains and environments on earth, the outback is beautiful.

In an seemingly endless horizon of red, orange and yellow, massive natural formations such as Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell Ranges, Kata Tjuta and Uluru make for great landscape shots and are filled with great vantage points and views when we explored them. When not cloudy, these formations are backed by vast clear colbalt blue skies. It’s pretty much postcard or landscape portfolio stuff! The best times for photos around these sites will be anytime except midday. When the rising or setting sun hits the right angles. these formations start to glow deep vibrant colours of red and orange and it makes for really nice photos.

As the Red Centre is a relatively remote place with no major cities with the exception of Alice Springs, On clear nights, a 30 minute drive out of alice springs in any direction will yield you dark brilliant night skies which are very suitable for astrophotography! If you struggle with finding the location of the Milky Way, look for a cloudy cluster of stars. If you spot it, that’s the Milky Way! Remember to bring a fast lens for this!

I brought with me a Nikon D7100 with an 11-16mm and 35mm lens and they served my landscape needs perfectly with the 11-16 attached to the body for about 95% of the time. Your mileage may vary depending on what you intend to shoot there!

The outback is a dusty and sandy place especially when the wind picks up. Do ensure that you take caution when swapping lens in the field and/or bring a lens that is weather sealed! To prevent/reduce all that dust getting into your sensor! Bring a simple cleaning kit as well.

As a visitor

It has always been a dream of mine to visit the great Australian outback and Uluru since young. It was pretty damn surreal to see Uluru pop up in the distance and even more so when I stood at the very base of it. Landscapes and natural sights are a must see and do and must not be rushed. We took our walks slow and easy and just really letting nature surround us with all its beauty and splendor while learning about the rich and long history of the outback.

I personally love road trips with lots of varying landscapes and nature and the outback is a perfect for this. Driving down roads with nothing but the great outdoors, blue skies, great company and music is something I really miss doing and I really do hope to come back to do this again with another route!

The people are really really friendly. There were no instances in our entire trip where we were met with hostilities of any kind. No matter where we went be it Alice Springs or in the middle of nowhere the people were warm, friendly and made us feel right at home people such as Lynette our airbnb host with her friend Kay and the exceptional customer service given at Kings Canyon Resort by Tracey.

Though it’s not my first time being able to see hundreds if not thousands of stars and the famous Milky Way with my own eyes, each time is always a truly unforgettable experience and I highly recommend you do stargazing when you go into the outback!

The outback will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ve told Dian that I do want to come back here someday again with more time on our hands (hopefully). Though roughing it out in the middle of nowhere, eating basic budget food, living in simple conditions is not everyone’s dream holiday, for me it has been a real eye opening and personal experience for me and I hope you, the reader would have been inspired to go explore uncommon places such as the Red Centre.

Day 7 (Part 2) – Rainbow Valley

Written by: Brandon

After about an hour and a half of driving from Erldunda Roadhouse, we arrived at Stuarts Well Roadhouse at 5pm to check into our rooms before heading out to Rainbow Valley!

Reception told us we still had time to visit Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve if we headed out now! So we threw our bags into our rooms and quickly made haste to Rainbow Valley which was about 43 kilometers away (plan ahead!)

Rainbow Valley

Getting to Rainbow Valley is fairly simple by just following Stuarts Highway in the direction towards Alice Springs. Eventually a turnoff on the right with a signage ‘Rainbow Valley’ will appear and that’s where you need to turn into.

Do note that after the turnoff, the roads are unsealed so do take note if you are driving in a 2WD or a storm recently happened. Our experience was relatively smooth as the roads were graded recently compared to the Mereenie Loop road.

We came across a herd of cows and some random horses just chillin’ in the middle of the road. Thankfully with a horn, they cleared the way for us and we were on our way!

DSC_8441

DSC_8443

Dian: Little buddies

After a bit of driving, we finally reached Rainbow Valley and were greeted with this majestic sight.

DSC_8476.jpg

It’s incredible to be just standing there to take in the vastness of this entire area with the wide claypan in the foreground and backed by the huge sandstone formation. We arrived at the right time where the sun was starting to set and we could see the formation slowly start to glow. It was a really beautiful scene.

DSC_8446

DSC_8451

Dian: ~Glamour shot~ but Brandon’s shadow is there, lal

As the sun was setting quick, we couldn’t spend much time at the reserve sadly.

However in our short time there we learnt that:

There are two walks that can be done at the reserve. One takes you to see some of the unique rock formations such as the Mushroom rock which all have been formed through time via rain and wind erosion. The other walk is the claypan walk which we did partially. The walk takes you around the edges of the claypan and loops back at where you started.

Important note to respect the signage that are posted around the conservatory as this is aboriginal owned land. During our time at the reserve, there was signage indicating that visitors are not allowed to walk onto the claypan due to its fragile nature!

You can camp/picnic at designated campgrounds, BBQ pits and pit toilets are available. But as our tent was out of action, we sadly could not camp at Rainbow Valley as intended. As a photographer, this place is a goldmine for landscape and astrophotography!

Soon it was time to leave this magical place and head back to the roadhouse for the day.

Driving back to the roadhouse made us realise that this was it, our trip was nearly ending. No more wide open spaces, roads 😦

Stuarts Well Roadhouse

Back at Stuarts Well, we parked outside our mini cabin and explored our room for the night. It was a really small cabin but big enough to fit a queen and single sized bed, a small dresser, a TV that looked like it came from the 80s and a toilet that can only fit 1 person at a time. From the window we could see trees full of birds perched for the night. Small arrangements but cosy!

DSC_8438DSC_8439

DSC_8492

It was also uninsulated, so at night it was COLD.

20161022_182839

After we settled down, we had our usual budget ramen and bananas meal before heading over to check out the main building for drinks and some bar food. The main building is a bar/restaurant, general store with fuel for purchase all rolled into one!

DSC_8486DSC_8490

The roadhouse feels very homely and cosy with various memorabilia placed throughout the interior. Do take time to read all the notes pinned on the walls within the main building. They are really interesting to read, some left by the owners of the place, some by the many tourists that have come and gone just like us. We even found Singapore 2 and 5 dollar notes stuck onto the wall!

We ordered a round of beers and onion rings and sat down to watch some TV. I can’t remember what was on but I remember that the onion rings were so damn good that Dian polished through most of the bowl before I even realised (Dian: oops hehe)! But okay the onion rings were really really delicious. Quite possibly the best I’ve tasted in recent memory. So we decided to order another bowl but shared equally this time!

DSC_8499DSC_8502

20161022_193452

Just like that, Day 7 was over. It really seemed like these seven days had gone by in a flash 😦

Stay tuned for Day 8 as we prepare to head home!

Day 7 – Road to Rainbow Valley

Written by: Brandon

Sunrise at Uluru

After the previous day, we initially set the alarm to wake us at 5:30am so that we could catch the sunrise which was a 45-minute drive to the nearest sunrise viewing platform. But the cold dry morning air woke us up first. Due to passing storms in the area over the night, we woke to a freezing 9 degrees! (The rooms aren’t heated by the way so do pack for cold nights!).

We hurriedly packed into the car and drove out to Talinguru Nyakunytjaku. No, I didn’t suffer an aneurysm. Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, which translates into ‘Place to look from sand dune’ is one of the few designated areas in the national park where you can view sunrises or sunsets. Be sure to go for the right one or you’ll just be seeing a giant silhouette!

If you have the time, Talinguru Nyakunytjaku offers two short walks that gives you insights into how the men and women of Anagu go about their daily lives!

Capture.PNG

So together with a few more 4WDs, we rushed to Talinguru Nyakunytjaku. When we got there, the sunrise decks were already crowded with people as expected. Although skies were cloudy and I was only wearing sandals in 9 degree weather, we remained hopeful. After about 25 minutes with the sun being blocked by the clouds, we resigned to fate and walked back to the car and then it happened:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The clouds cleared enough and Uluru glowed in the colors of the morning sun! Sadly, that was the only sunrise we managed to catch during our time in this national park but better late than never!

We headed back to the hostel for breakfast, checked out and made our way to our last major stop of our trip, Stuarts Roadhouse & Rainbow Valley. This was gonna be the longest ride in between destinations for this trip, 397 kilometers or a estimated 6 hour 30min ride on mostly sealed roads thankfully.

DSC_8385DSC_8386

Of course it’s not a straight dash to the finish line!

En route to Stuarts Well Roadhouse

There were some roadhouses and minor points of interest along the way, the first being Mt Conner lookout!

DSC_8392

We initially overlooked this spot on the way to Uluru. This lookout provides a breathtaking view of Mt Conner in the distance and the nearby salt lakes. The lookout offers toilets if you need one.

DSC_8394DSC_8396

The next stop was Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse where we stopped for some drinks and ice cream. The roadhouse is a small quaint roadhouse which is run by the local indigenous Imanpa community which has some supplies and fuel for sale and accommodation if you need a place to bunk in for the night.

DSC_8400.jpg

If you have the time, check out the art gallery as it features artwork from the local as well as other indigenous communities and yes, some of their artworks are for sale if you wanted to bring home a nice souvenir.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our last stop before we drove on to Suarts Roadhouse and Rainbow Valley was Erldunda Roadhouse. Situated at the intersection of Stuart and Lasseter Highway, Erldunda roadhouse prides itself as being the “center of the center”. Meaning that once you reach Erldunda Roadhouse, you are literally in the center of Australia!

DSC_8419.jpgDSC_8426.jpgIf you were like us, coming from Lasseter Highway, turning right on Stuart highway will allow you to drive to Adelaide (1300km away) and left will take you back to Alice Springs (200km away) and eventually, Darwin (1500km away). Maybe we’ll be back to try out those options in the future! Heh.

Like all other roadhouses, Erldunda provides, supplies, fuel, food, accommodation and even some reception (4G if I remember correctly on Telstra). Out of all the roadhouses we visited, Erldunda’s was relatively more well stocked and bigger than the rest. (Had a cafe and restaurant and a relatively large general store).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And last but not least Cluck Norris the rooster who thinks he’s a kangaroo. Yes, not just any Cluck Norris but the one and only Cluck Norris. We only learnt about him after the trip which was a shame. If you do stop by Erldunda, be sure to ask for this celebrity rooster!

8215088-3x2-940x627

Stay tuned for part 2 of day 7 where we detail about our last major destinations, Stuarts Roadhouse and Rainbow Valley which were roughly about a 150km away!