DM and MM's Northern Territory 2008 Diary

Day 4 - Yulara to Kings Canyon

Sunday, 17 August, 2008

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Today began late, with a sleep-in until 08:00. We ate breakfast and packed before checking out and hitting the road. First stop was the petrol station where we filled up the tank before setting out on the 304 km drive to Kings Canyon. We saw Deb and Jenni again while checking out and wished each other good trips.

Leaving Yulara we turned right on to the Lasseter Highway and soon passed the airport where we'd arrived. The highway was a good quality, two-laned bitumen road, carrying us through a spectacular desert landscape of red sand dunes partly covered with yellow tufts of spinifex, small mulga bushes, and the occasional taller desert oak tree (really Allocasuarina decaisneana - a relative of the she-oaks of wetter climes).

Parting view
Desert landscape

We pulled over a couple of times for photo ops along the road, including a short climb to the top of a dune near the road for a parting view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The sky was an intriguing patchwork of blue and white fluffy clouds, some with a tinge of grey. Had I been at home, I would have said that rain was possible, but here with nothing to stop them, they are likely to simply pass over without dropping their burden.

The sand was packed hard and easy to walk on, but dodging the spiky spinifex was not so easy. I had to stop once to pull out painful sharp spikes from my sock, embedded there when I'd brushed too close to one of the dry clumps of grass.

White Line Fever
Lasseter Highway

There was quite a bit of traffic on the road. We would pass someone driving the other way every five minutes or so and overtook a few slower moving vans and caravans, and were overtaken in turn by a couple of impatient people flirting with speeding tickets. At the limit of 110 km/h, the car's cruise control helped save some of the tedium and concentration of driving.

The landscape changed subtly, but noticeably as the kilometres ticked away. The red sand dunes slowly gave way to a flatter terrain of paler orangey soil with plentiful scattered rocks and pebbles covered by a thicker sprinkling of bushes. Then this turned into a salmon-coloured plain with more of the tall desert oaks in abundance. The most interesting landscape was that close to Yulara, and as we drove east we agreed that, while still nice to see, it was of a lesser aesthetic quality.

Desert sands of Central Australia
The red desert

We passed by the tiny fuel stop of Curtin Springs, which was no more than a petrol station by the side of the road. A bit further on was the Mount Conner lookout rest stop, where we stopped to enjoy the view of this flat-topped mesa. A family was parked there with a Portuguese flag flying from their car. Presumably tourists from Portugal.

Mount Conner
Mount Conner

At various points along the drive we passed abandoned wrecks of cars by the side of the road. Presumably if a car breaks down out here, there's no point getting it towed all the way to a garage - it's probably cheaper and faster to simply roll it off into the desert and thumb down the next passing car to get where you want to go, then buy a new car there. At one of the places we stopped for photos I saw what looked like a camel or horse skeleton, bleached dry and now the same orange colour as the sand dust that had no doubt scoured it clean. I would have liked to get a photo, but it was well behind a barbed wire fence. About 150 km down the road we reached the turnoff on to the Luritja Road - famous from Midnight Oil's song Luritja Way. I stopped and took some photos of the sign to illustrate the song, as I did in Zoo Station in Berlin for the U2 song of that name.

Luritja Way
Luritja Way road sign

Someway down this road we were staggered to pass a car parked on the side of the road - as in not off to one side but actually on the edge of the road, with the right wheels on the lane edge. What's more, the driver had the door open, sticking well into the roadway. And that's not all. The driver himself was standing wide of the open door, directly in the middle of the oncoming lane that I was driving in. I had to swerve over on to the opposite side of the road to avoid hitting him - and he didn't even so much as move away from the middle of the lane, let alone close the offending door. We figured later they must have been Italians, used to crossing roads any way they care and having all the traffic dodge around them!

A little further on we saw some brumbies on the road - dark brown horses. At least they had the sense to move off the road as we approached!

Eventually we were driving along to the north-west parallel to a range of rocky cliffs hiding somewhere amongst them Kings Canyon - our goal for tomorrow. We reached the Kings Canyon Resort and checked into our room, which opens out to a view of a red sandstone rock outcrop, presenting a broken cliff about three metres high. After checking in, we checked out the nearby general store, picking up some milk for breakfast and some crackers and cheese for eating tomorrow. Then we rested for a while out of the burning sun and then took a short walk out on a boardwalk over the dunes next to the resort to a sunset viewing platform with views of the George Gill Range. This was about 16:30, a couple of hours before sunset, since we planned to drive out to the closer Kings Canyon sunset viewing area for the actual sunset.

Later that evening

We did so, catching the last rays of the sun painting the sandstone rocks a glorious fiery red before it sank into the west.

George Gill Range at Sunset
George Gill Range at sunset

We drove back to the resort and to the Outback Barbecue, which was a very casual restaurant with long bench tables under a tent style roof, a live band consisting of a guy about 60 years old singing country music hits and some original compositions, plus a woman of similar vintage who alternated between doing rhythms on clapping sticks and working the crowd by wandering around chatting to diners, and a barbecue where chefs prepared huge steaks to order.

The Outback Barbecue
Outback Barbecue for dinner

We ordered a couple of pizzas, margherita and barbecue chicken. I'd had my fill of red meat in the past two nights so opted for the chicken. The pizzas were quite decent, especially with the hunger of a road trip behind us. As we finished, the band woman came up and asked us where we were from, and then if we were on our honeymoon. We said no, then she asked if we were married. When I said yes, she said, "Shame on you! You should always be on your honeymoon!" Then she asked M. if I'd been good and M. said yes, and the woman gave her a Chupa Chup and said I could have it later. Then she gave her another one for herself as well. She left to talk to more diners and we wandered back to our room to relax, watching some of the Olympics.

Early to bed for a good rest before an early start tomorrow.

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