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Opossum and the Painted Desert

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Alternate Routes · Australasia · australia · Australia · Artūrs Martinsons

Opossum and the Painted Desert

Author: Artūrs Martinsons0 COMMENTS

Opossum and the Painted Desert

Australia associated to me with light. I recall an Australian serial, seen a long time ago. All the Rivers Flow was the title, I think. And a scene there - lots of tree trunks speckled with shimmering sunshine. Nothing more than a bright light and eucalyptuses...

Melbourne - Adelaide

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Landing at Melbourne airport was a true temperature shock - 70 degrees of difference! It had been - 27°C in Riga, while Australia welcomed us with +43°C. We rented a car and headed westwards, to Adelaide - along the Great Ocean Road, which means great driving!
The most well-known place between those two cities is the so-called Twelve Apostles. Massive limestone formations, created by ocean, about 30 to 40 meters high, are quite easy to find (look for Port Campbell on the map). Unfortunately, one of them has departed into the ocean by now, so one Apostle is missing. It's difficult to tell whether he gave in to costal waves or costal flies. Not the latter, perhaps, however, there - along the shore - flies are a pretty mighty force. Funny as it may seem, almost nothing can be done about it, as flies are in huge swarms there. They are not so evil, in fact - just manage to crawl into everything - even behind your sunglasses. If they get into a car, a non-stop beating off along the way is inevitable. A pretty resourceful fly-fighting method is used by almost all Japanese tourists - a special cap equipped with a net, like the ones used by bee-keepers.
Typically Australian scenery is eucalyptus woods. Air filled with their specific aroma was something I had never experienced anyplace else. In a hot summer day, even driving a car feels like being in a sauna filled with eucalyptus aroma. Fresh and pungent, that eyes may sting, yet so good!

At this particular section of our trip we slept in a van. A vehicle offered by Britz Car Rentals was well equipped for that. A model we chose - a Toyota Landcruiser - had a bed, a small kitchen and a gas stow. A cool car, I must say.
One thing to be kept in mind is that Australians value their time and are very precise. If a closing time of campsites is, let us say, at 4 or 5 p.m., it means that precisely then gates will be closed. If by any chance you reach the craved for lodging at 7, you may as well stay at the wrong side of a barrier. A man, standing like a St. Peter at the gates of Paradise, will not even understand what do you want and will enquire what time it is. "Yes, it's 7! And do you expect me now to get up, go and raise the barrier and then lover it again?!..."
Such incidents may happen. People are friendly and amiable - yet, they value their time. Better try to reach a campsite in time, otherwise it may depend on whether you manage to come to terms with a gate keeper or not. That's why a little internet search before departure or some "investigation" right upon arrival is highly advisable - just to check out whether there are any campsites and what are their working hours. Some regions are abundant with campsites while someplace else there are almost none at all.

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Brayfield Park Lavender Farm, located a bit further westwards, is a place not to be missed. A local family grows lavender that comes from various parts of the world - even England and Switzerland. Lavender fields occupy vast territories and you can buy anything starting from lavender plants up to bath products and essential oil there. Even a lavender jam! Surprisingly, it turned out to be very good - made from berries, such as strawberries or raspberries, adding some lavender that gives its specific taste. Aroma is so intensive that jam seems tasting of lavender. Put a bit on your morning toast and have it with coffee...yummy!

Lavender farm
Placid Estates road,
East Wellington, Tailem Bend 5260
Phone: (08) 85727153
www.brayfieldpark.com.au

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

The Murray River, meandering its way through Australia, cuts into this area, too, providing vast territories with water. If time allows, you may want to go deeper into the country and it is worth the efforts. Just 50 to 100 kilometers more and populated areas end and the jungle starts. Abundance of water allows everything to grow lush and beautiful there. You can arrange a safari trip - with jeeps or even on a camel's back - these big animals being brought to Australia during the colonial period. An exciting experience might be a boat safari as well. By the way, Mannum - Australia's largest boat house industry - is located on this very river close to Adelaide. Boat houses are built there and widely used as well. Travelling an upper course of the river in the dark gives a fantastic sight of a night life, swarming on the both shores.
For more information on booking safari tours inquire at local hotels or campsites, yet, the best ever source is Lonely Planet. At least five books have been devoted to Australia.
We had made an arrangement with a local safari organizer (see the address below), yet did not manage to reach him at 9 a.m., as was agreed, but only at 1 in the afternoon. A guy lives in a little two-floor house in the jungle. As we arrived, he was sitting on a small terrace, looking over the tree tops. We are ready to go but he says: "Well, it's a bit late, isn't it? Where shall we go now? Pretty hot, too...maybe some other day?"

Safari operator, Rex Ellis, Bush Safari Co, located between Morgan and Waikerie
www.safarico.com.au

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Place worth visiting is the famous Coonawarra Vineyards, stretching out nearby. My favorite wine is made there, at Wynns Coonawarra Estate - the oldest winery of this region and is offered for tasting as well. Located nearby, is another small winery interesting for its original methods, owned by Dennis Vice. He is a great guy who had moved to Australia to teach people the newest vine growing technologies.

Dennis Vice
winemaker@highbank.com.au
Phone: 1-800-653319

Adelaide - Alice Springs

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From Adelaide you can go deeper into the continent in two ways - the road connecting Adelaide and Alice Springs being one of them. It is asphalt covered, pretty straight one and brings you to your destination in almost no time. Yet, nothing is going to catches your attention there. More attractive to my mind is another choice - leaving Adelaide behind, turn to the right a little and go through the Flinders Ranges National park. This scarcely populated area is named after the southern Australia's highest mountains - Flinders Ranges. Richly covered with trees and bushes it features also some lakes. Representatives of Australian fauna - kangaroos, opossums, emu and thousands of parrots can be observed here, too.
The park offers couple of pretty good outback lodgings:
Arkaba Station (21 km to the north of Hawker), a beautiful and scenic farm once - yet nothing much has remained of it. Though, now it has revived again and busily occupied with sheep-breeding. A peculiar Australian ambience, characteristic to this place, makes it well worth of driving there.
Wilpena Pound campsite, located 35 km to the North off Hawker offers a nice spot to set up a tent.

Foto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Yet, before that your may wish to drop in a small town of Quorn. A historic Pichi Richi train, departing from Port Augusta, will take you there. www.prr.org.au

Following the Arkaroola Road, you will reach Iga Warta Aboriginal Community, located about 60 kilometers from Copley on the very edge of the National park. Unfortunately, for lack of time we did not manage to visit it, however, according to descriptions it could be an exciting experience. Visitors may stay at camping accommodations there, learn more about aboriginal lifestyle and participate in various traditional activities and rituals. www.igawarta.com

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Our next stop - The Prairie Hotel - about five hours drive from Adelaide was located in the place called Parachilna. The hotel situated literally in the middle of nowhere. The prairie extends all around, with a vast open space of 100 kilometers into one direction and 70 kilometers into another. Nothing more but wonderful colors of the surrounding landscape makes it memorable - yellow grass and darkish moss, dotted with tiny, brightly yellow wild pumpkins, tasting fabulous. A truly picturesque setting!
The Prairie Hotel is cut out for those who wish to savor outback adventure as well as the ones, preferring comfort. It prides in a very good restaurant, too. The last stop of civilization...

The Prairie Hotel
Parachilna
Phone: (08) 86484844
www.prairiehotel.com.au

Old Ghan Railroad

Old Ghan Railroad, once having connected Adelaide and Alice Springs, winds away at the right side of an asphalt road. Trains were powered by steam engines at that time and had to be tanked with water after each 300 kilometers, therefore, small villages formed along its route at exactly such intervals. An era of steam engines has long since gone and the railway line is closed. At some sections rails are still there, somewhere else - dismantled and taken away. Moreover, at some places, William Creek being among them, old locomotives can be seen still today - driven into the desert, with no rails to go any further...A truly surreal sight!
A gravel road, too, follows along the Old Ghan Railroad. It is well maintained and good for driving, if there is no flood. Weather is a crucial factor here. The very first road-sign, leaving The Prairie Hotel, indicates all the roads of the region. Moreover, it characterizes driving conditions - are they passable at the moment or not, do you need a 4WD or two is enough. Information is daily updated.
Any road is good enough until the rain sets in. Australia is a very flat continent, like a frying-pan. From a bird's eye view you will see that it doesn't have any very high mountains. With river beds being fairly shallow, water migrates freely through lowlands overflowing vast territories - as one may conclude from numerous warning signs at roadsides. It refers to both dirt and asphalt roads. Approaching a water-covered area it's often difficult to tell - would it be possible to cross it or not. Therefore altimeters are placed there and you can easily judge, whether you have any hope or you have to turn your vehicle around.
Rain turns usually-passable dirt roads into a pit of mud - and it happens momentarily! Red, clayey earth does not soak any water and a dusty upper layer turns into a sticky viscous mass. It may well happen that you find yourself trapped in some village for a week or so, with no hope to get away. My advice is to keep some food supplies in your car for any such occasions. There is always a chance to buy something from locals, yet, being independent is much better - no need to worry where to get some food.

Republic with just one citizen

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Talc Alf Republic - do not miss it! This republic, situated between The Prairie Hotel and Coward Springs, prides in its only one citizen - a local sculpturer, carving his works in talc stone. The very same one that crushed into a fine powder is used to slip easily into rubber gloves. Alferink by name he is commonly known as Talc Alf. Age of 60, with a long beard, he has formed his very own republic and considers Australia to be occupied. „In fact, presently existing one is not the real Australia..." He has his own Australia's flag, his own allies, his opinions on politics and pretty fascinating linguistic theories. Alf knows several languages and has thoroughly studied them. He also has his opinion on the influence of different kind of sounds and formation of languages. He considers that meaning of words can be pictured with signs, without even writing. And he is ready to talk on these matters at length. Eventually, feeling much inspired, you are ready to buy some of his art-works, in average 10 - 20 dollars per piece, and it's really worth it. Talc Alf can be met near Lyndhurst.

Coward Springs

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Coward Springs is located to the west of Lake Eyre - Australia's largest salt lake. Just one building is left from an old settlement and after a reconstruction will house a spa. Coward Springs is an incredible place - an oasis in the middle of the desert! Instead of barren sand - gorgeous palm trees, swarming with white cockatoo, rise there. On a hot day seek refreshment in a wooden swimming pool, next to the springs. Just a simple thing, yet, you will see what an enjoyment it is!
Off road driving in summer time is an experience in itself. Scorching heat may reach +45° - +52°C. Though, you may even not notice it, unless you get out of your air-conditioned car. It strikes like a wave of hot air then! Sufficient water supplies are a must - keep at least 20 liters in your car at any time. Things happen and it is extremely dangerous to get stranded in the desert with no water. You risk your life in fact! The problem is that you do not even feel how hot it is. You may drink even a liter and a half per every 20 minutes, yet, there is no sweat - it instantly vaporizes.

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

William Creek is on a list of must to see place, too. It is Australia's smallest village with just some few residents - yet, it has its own hotel, a campsite, an airstrip and a telephone booth. If it seems that no one is there, just go around the hotel and someone will show up for sure.
Flights, provided by an airfield owner and a pilot at the same time are available only in winter - during summer airstrip is too bumpy. Then, together with a hotel keeper, he sits at the hotel's bar and drinks beer, served by a hotel keeper's assistant. A chat with occasional passersby is part of it, too. Along with three permanent residents we met two guys from Switzerland, having criss-crossed Australia on bikes in a half a year and two Czech travelers. Our conversation, as it usually happened, turned to comparing areas of our countries - being one of the most popular subjects ever. We assumed that Latvia is about the same size as Switzerland, while the Czech Republic is slightly bigger. Then a hotel keeper remembered two guys from Belgium, having stayed there once. They were sitting at the bar and discussing a territorial issue, when a local landlady and a cattle farmer had come by to see her neighbors. "Well, how big that Belgium actually is," she enquired. "44 thousand square kilometers with a population of 10 millions," a Belgian guy replied. That was beyond her understanding: "44 thousands - I imagine, it's about the size of my farm. But how on earth can you squeeze 10 millions in there?!"
It is an only hotel at William Creek.

Lake Eyre

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Lake Eyre - the world's largest salt lake - located in almost the very centre of Australia. It fills with water on average once every eight years. Usually it is almost entirely dry, covered by salt. The best time to view it is right after the rain. Salt condensates, creating an appearance that the whole surface is covered with white glistering snow. Do not forget to wear sunglasses - bright sunlight reflecting off salt may damage you eyes. When there has been no rain for a long time and sand has rolled into the lake, a salt crust along the shores turns pink.
The central region around Lake Eyre is outside mobile network coverage and the only other solution is a satellite telephone. You can get along without a phone, of course, yet sometimes it proves to be useful. Having arrived late at night at a small lakeside village, with not a living soul around, we wouldn't be able to find hotel keepers, having gone to meet their neighbors.
Travel books keep warning to beware of animals that often stray onto the road and describe danger, posed by kangaroos and other creatures. Yet, in daytime none is to be seen - they show up only after dark. And they are numerous! Suddenly cows walk across the road in front of the car or an emu comes out and never steps off but slowly strolls ahead of you. Or bunch of kangaroos skip from one side to another. Near Sydney, in its turn, zillion of rabbits hop around - making it almost impossible to avoid them. Driving at night is pretty dangerous and my suggestion is - find a lodging to stay overnight, if only it's possible.

A smaller road, branching off the main one before William Creek, leads to the lake. Just be careful - the road seems pretty solid, yet suddenly a car may stall.

Uluru National park

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Two of Australia's most famous landmarks are located in Uluru National Park - Uluru Red Mountain and nearby Kata Tjuta - series of rock formations. And you really don't want to miss them! It's the most Aboriginal-owned territory in Australia. A local campsite offers a lodging there, while in any other parts of the National park camping is not permitted. Sunrise and sunset is the best time to admire the beauty of the Red Mountain, lighting it up with its rays. Yet, do not expect to immerse in solitude. And get there early enough if you do not wish to be squeezed among Japanese tourists, sitting on folding chairs and waiting for the sunrise. Although crowds of tourists may seem annoying, this place is still worth seeing. Kata Tjuta is maybe even more interesting - a wonderful opportunity to roam about and think...

Luxury in the middle of nowhere

Longitude 131 - a luxury outback resort. And, indeed, it is located in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, well-hidden in the desert it provides absolute peace and intimacy. Enquire for more information at Uluru campsite. If a booking has been made, you will be picked up and taken there by a jeep or a plane. Although we tried, we did not succeed to find it on our own. Longitude 131 consists of sixteen luxury tents and provides catering to no more than 30 people. Children under 14 years of age are not allowed - not to disturb the idyll. All the tents are overlooking the Red Mountain and amazing changing colors of sunset and sunrise can be watched without even leaving your tent. Meals, even though in the desert, are served on tables, decked in white. Rates - starting from AUD 1798 per room/night. If you have this money, it might become your once in a lifetime experience.

Longitude 131
Reservations:
Phone: +61 2 9299 0088
www.firstclass.com.au

Opal town

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Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in South Australia. It can be recognized by big and small mounds in the desert. Their size depends on whether a particular miner owns some notable equipment, like an excavator, or just a spade. Most residents of this town live in underground dwellings, to escape summer heat. Yet, even there temperature never goes down bellow +20°C.
You can buy some rough opals there or, paying few dollars, try to dig up them yourself. Pretty often fortune seekers arrive there to try their luck. And often they do find something. Having found an opal, one falls for the bait and stays a month longer. Then it may happen that an even bigger, couple of thousands worth opal, is found. While a lucky finder ponders where to sell it, his neighbor, just a few meters further, digs up a huge one. So it goes on and on...Sell a little rock - and no more sweat for a year or so. When money runs short, just take a spade and go back to digging.
There are about two thousand permanent residents and they don't sit twiddling their thumbs. We stopped with a family that was true diggers. Very down-to-earth people. The head of the family wanted to show his treasure, yet could not remember where it has been stashed. "Maybe it's in an aquarium? No, we cleaned it recently, so it must be somewhere near the garden fence!"
At this town we met also a Latvian man Arvids Blumentals, best known as Crocodile Harry. He was a real life inspiration for a movie character Crocodile Dundee. 20 years ago he moved from Darwin to Coober Pedy and lived in his underground cave. He was a little over 70 when we met him. It took a while for him to switch over to Latvian, yet the language flowed smoothly then. A very warm-hearted fellow. He told funny stories of his own life, offered us lodging in his guest-cave and to cook a traditional Latvian cabbage soup as well. He had settled cozily and with good taste. We were lucky to meet him, as he passed away not so long after. I suppose his cave is still there...

Coober Pedy is located straight to the west from William Creek, just 161 kilometer.

Painted Desert

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Heading off to the northeast of Cooper Pedy, you can reach a fantastic place known as the Painted Desert. A slightly hilly area features multi-hued rocks of white, yellow, red, grey and green. The forces of nature, weathering the rocks, have revealed all those colors.
200 more kilometers to the northeast from Arckaringa there is a village called Oodnadatta - a fairly large aboriginal settlement having even their own school. Noteworthy site is the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta and all the road signs within a radius of 300 km are pink colored there. It looks quirky, yet stylish, too, from an artistic viewpoint. They place also mud maps, very popular in central regions - drawn in hand.
The Pink Roadhouse is really painted pink. Its owners, using lots of liters of pink paint, have adorned objects all around in pink - furniture, facades, vehicles, a petrol tank...
Accommodations are quite pricy there - a cheapest room costs 75 dollars. What you actually get is a shabby metal cabin, repainted several times, with almost non- existent heat insulation, a rattling ventilator and amenities placed in another metal cabin. Not even worth of one star... Couple of time we tried to sleep in a car, yet, it was next to impossible - temperature does not fall below +38°C at night. You may try to open a door and sleep, staring up at the stars. Yet, there is no wind and it does not make a big difference - so, using hotel services in central regions is almost unavoidable.

The Pink Roadhouse
Oodnadatta
Phone: (08) 86 707 822
Fax: (08) 86 707 831
Phone at the Post office: (08) 86 707 819
e-mail: pinkroadhouse@bigpond.com
www.biziworks.com.au/pink

Alice Springs

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Alice Springs, at least in my opinion, did not appear to be very beautiful or outstanding in any sense. With exception of an aboriginal art gallery and a restaurant called Bluegrass - a nice spot with good design, good cocktails and god cuisine.
Alice Springs is known also for its School on Air - school classes initially were conducted via radio, now substituted by wireless internet technologies. Distances are way too big and population too scarce to build schools. Children listen their teacher over headsets, receive assignments and answer. Although this seems quite an extreme method, the average education level is pretty high and youngsters are able to enter colleges and universities.
Also Royal Flying Doctor service, providing health service for the whole region, is based in Alice Springs. Chests of medicine are distributed to remote villages once a year. All items in such a chest are numbered so a doctor could specify how much of which medicine to give to the patient. In severe cases doctor arrives on the scene by plane.

Bluegrass
Cnr Stott Terrace&Todd str
Alice Springs
Phone: (08) 89555188

Alice Springs - Melbourne

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We left a Britz car at Alice Springs and took a plane to Sydney and then continued our way to Melbourne.
Sydney as well as Melbourne is a fascinating city with numerous attractions to see and enjoy. I will mention just a few small hotels and cafes that we came across, found to be pleasant and recommendable. A floating restaurant, situated in the Sydney's Darling Harbor, is certainly worth stopping by. I would suggest also a chocolate café located at Manly port. Another place, stirring my interest was Federation Square in Melbourne and Time Out café.

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

My favorite spot, which I would like to mention, however, was Pebbley Beach about 180 - 200 km to the south from Sydney. A marvelous eucalyptus forest stretches out to the very ocean there. It is a natural reserve with a campsite located on the ocean shore, with some ten tents being built at that moment. Having gone down to the beach at sunset, you can admire a fantastic view alongside with 50 to 70 kangaroos, marveling at the same sight as you.
And then hunting starts under the veil of darkness. Sleeping in a tent, you can hear opossums scrambling down the trees and sneaking around the tent, whirling of wings and shrieks of birds. Animals are not scared of people, assuming that you are just one of them. My girlfriend Zane had an incident with an opossum, eager to steal some food from our tent. Having snatched a plastic bag with sausages, it tried to vanish into bushes, yet, Zane, too, was not about to give up. Fight over sausages was a sight to be seen!

Max Brenner chocolate café
Manly Ferry Wharf
Sidney
www.maxbrenner.com

Time Out
Federation Square
Corner of Swanston and Flinder Str.
Melbourne
Phone: 61 3 9671 3855
Fax: 61 3 9671 3866
www.timeoutmelbourne.com.au

Foto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted DesertFoto: Opossum and the Painted Desert

Located at the very southern point of Australia mainland is Wilsons Promontory National Park with a Tidal River winding through it. Even a whole week would not be too much to spend there. It is a fantastic place, featuring a long coast line, Australian bush and beautiful rainforests with huge ferns - three, four or even five meters high. A pterodactyl, emerging from the giant ferns, wouldn't have been a great surprised to me - a very peculiar feeling enfolds there.
The last section of our tour - to Melbourne, we managed just in two days, as time was pressing already...In a month's time we had covered eight thousand kilometers.

Useful information

- We used services of Britz Rental Car, which I can recommend also to you. The best 4WD choice would be a jeep or a van, depending on what sort of trip you have in mind and on quality of roads. Prices are friendlier then those of Avis or Hertz car rentals. And no need to pick up and drop off a Britz car at one and the same place, as the company has other locations as well.

- In Australia insurance of 2WD vehicles covers only the damage that occurs on asphalt roads. If a trouble happens driving a dirt road, you have to pay yourself.

- Always keep full petrol can in your car. A coastline is dotted with little towns, with an asphalt road winding through them - no problem to fill up for approximately the same price as in Latvia. Yet, deeper in the country you go, the distances grow and may reach three, four, six or even nine hundred kilometers from one town to another. Fuelling up your vehicle in the middle of the desert is hardly possible.

- Information signs provide detailed directions and traffic signs are easy to be noticed by drivers.

- If Norway once seemed to be a relatively pricy traveling destination, compared to Australia it is a low budget trip.

Posted in 2008.

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