We flew from Cairns to Alice Springs, which is almost halfway across the country … and over nothing but dessert. It was actually quite impressive to be on a plane for so long without seeing anything that even resembles a village … the first cluster of houses we saw, was when we were already descending into Alice Springs. We had read the weather reports, but were still shocked when we stepped out of the plane and immediately had to put on our sweaters. Yes, it’s the dessert, but it’s the beginning of winter here and at night it cools down to 5 or 6 Celsius
We picked up our camper, and were in for a bit of a surprise. After a lot of research on the internet, we had decided on the “Outback” model from Apollo. It’s the only one that seats the whole family and is a four wheel drive … allowing us to go off the paved roads. I would describe the condition of the camper as “very used”, Anna called it “decrepit, dirty and beaten up”. When we made the beds that first night, we found used tissues, children’s toys and hair clips … they could have at least cleaned it before renting it back out again. A bit strange since Apollo is the biggest RV rental operation in Australia. When Anna asked whether we could have “the same model, just nicer”, the rental guy answered (a bit apologetically) that “it’s the outback ma’am, things out there look very used very quickly”.
The camper is basically a big box on wheels. Inside is a small fridge, a sink … and really not much else (some storage). Cooking is done outside on a gas stove. Everything is roughly (and badly) put together, not well thought out, scratched and very used. No big deal. In the end, we only have it for about a week before being back in Alice Springs to pick up a two-wheel drive that we will take up to Darwin.
We stocked up on supplies in the supermarket and made it to the local campground just before dark. Maybe it was the gloomy, cloudy weather (with a few drops of rain here and there), but our first impression of Alice Springs was not very favorable. To us it felt a bit like Windhoek in Namibia. A mix of local white farmers, outback tourists and a large Aboriginal population … none of the three interacting with each other in any way … and with police (on horse back) outside the liquor stores (which don’t open until the afternoon). To us, it had a bit of a “frontier town” feeling, but not in a good way. We’ll be back in a week, maybe we’ll like it a bit better after seeing it under blue skies and in the sunshine.
The forecast called for three more days of cloudy skies and rain, so we decided to delay our visit to Ayers Rock a bit and drive through the West MacDonnell range first. We were off early the next morning, driving west along the only road leading through the “West Macs” (as the locals call them). I would describe the landscape as “Arizona with gum trees and the occasional kangaroo”. There were a few interesting small gorges to visit … but, truth be told, we didn’t find any of it very impressive or spectacular.
And that didn’t really change in the next days either. The paved road turned to red dirt, the drizzle stopped, we saw fewer and fewer cars … but the landscape stayed mostly the same. I suppose the appeal is the remoteness and vastness of the country, but it felt a bit boring to us … at least compared to driving through the American West.
We’ll be in Kings Canyon tomorrow, which is one of the biggest attractions in the “Red Center”. That will put us back on paved roads and among the tourist crowd again.