Saturday, July 16, 2011

going bush



Three of the top ten things about Australia's natural features are;
  • the sense of timelessness that comes from its age;
  • its ability to make a human feel rather insignificant in the scheme of things; and
  • where the landscape is as 'virgin' as you can get it, its ability to make you feel there is just you and some higher power alone together in the universe.

Andrew Field's YouTube clip above is one of the best, but like most clips it has an added sound track. To really experience the Outback you need a chance to hear what silence really sounds like.

Unfortunately, what destroys a visit to the rock is the crass commercialism that goes with any tourist attraction, the champagne and snacks and the talking and the buses etc.

The only things I can liken this farce to are people leaving their mobile phones on during a live show that cost me $140 a ticket, or if someone turned up during a church service and started playing techno on a ghetto blaster.

For anyone planning a trip into the Outback, especially to busy tourist spots, the first and most important thing to do is choose between an organised bus trip, a self-drive, self-paced tour of discovery, or a compromise between the two.

Tourist bus packages

  • the cost is fixed so budgeting is easier;
  • the planning is taken care of, someone else does the driving and worries about breakdowns or flat tyres, so the holiday is relatively stress free;
  • driving long distances in Australia can be dead boring, but on a bus you can read, sleep, chat or play with some modern toy like an ipod or tablet;
  • bus drivers do important things like reminding you to drink heaps and heaps of water and will keep topping up your water bottle at every stop.

On the downside

  • everything has to run to a time table so if you want to spend a bit longer at one place or another, too bad;
  • you can't move around or wriggle on a bus and you can't always choose who you sit next to;
  • tour operators, like just about every other 'service' in the country, insist on playing stuff on televisions and if you hate this as much as I do it will drive you insane.

Self drive options

  • whether you have a campervan or 4 wheel drive, you can stop/stay whenever or as long as you want;
  • you can eat/drink much cheaper, much better, and at more convenient times;
  • the best sights are often off the side of a side road;
  • you can talk, wriggle, sleep, read, play loud music, sing or tell jokes.

The down side

  • driving long distances in Australia can be dead boring;
  • there are so many grey nomads out there you have to be sure and book accommodation ahead [if you plan to stop at Tibooburra only stay at the caravan park]; 
  • fuel, mechanics and flat tyres are all your own problem.

Or, you might compromise...

The alternative is to arrange your own transport from one centre to another, then link up with smaller, 4wd, camping, or other guided tours. You'll pay a bit more, but get the best of both worlds. Tours operated by indigenous peoples or even whitefellas who are passionate about a local area will give you a chance to see and learn heaps more. You also stand a better chance of seeing something like Uluru without all the buses and chitchat ruining the experience.

Do consider helicopter or short plane flights, or a decent camel experience such as a day trip.

Sensible rules If you are travelling alone,
  • make sure you carry a box of matches, and half a dozen casks [like wine casks] of drinking water;
  • make sure someone knows where you are going and when they should start to panic cos you're late;
  • make sure you have enough fuel to get to the next fuel stop [LPG gas is not always available];
  • some Outback roads go through private property and if you find a gate locked you must lock it again after you pass through;
  • check the jack supplied with your vehicle actually fits the vehicle, and there is air in the spare tyre;
  • NEVER LEAVE YOUR CAR IF IT BREAKS DOWN [that's why you need to carry water that will last a couple of days];
  • never camp in a dry river or creek bed;
  • never swim anywhere other than a pool unless there are others about and even then think twice [even the peaceful looking Murray River has rips and currents that have been known to carry people a hundred miles or more];
  • if you are stopping for the night, look for a spot where one or two trucks have already pulled up;
  • remember deserts get cold at night;
  • carry toilet paper [and some kind of spade so you can bury it], and disinfectant wipes; and
  • never forget that a spare key locked in your vehicle is as useful as a hole in a pocket.

No matter where you go

  • Never put all your eggs in one basket - you need ATM cards from two different banks, and a little cash in at least two places such as in your shoe or a glove box, as well as in the pocket of every person you travel with.
  • Always carry a couple of packets of breakfast cereal, or small ring-pull tins of fruit or baked beans in your luggage [the only time I failed to do this was at a weekend away, outer suburban wedding - there was no meal just horse's doovers [hors d'oeuvres], they were all fish and I starved!
  • If you are near a big supermarket but nowhere near a decent eatery, you can buy a bread roll and some stuff from the deli - I've never been too embarrassed to ask for as little as two slices of ham.

Now that you are not afraid of the Outback :) ... the next post looks at Alice Springs, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and KingsCanyon

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