Hiking The Red Center (Centre)

Visitors come to the center of Australia – called the “Red Center” (or, for you Brits and Aussies the “Red Centre”) to view and hike through some of the most wondrous land masses in the world:  Australia’s most recognizable landmark, Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock;  next to Uluru is Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas;  and a few hours down the road is the stunning Watarrka, or Kings Canyon.

We were originally just going to hike around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but then decided to add Kings Canyon to the mix since we are here, and it is, too! We were very glad that we did.

With the temperatures getting up there to around 100 degrees F, we knew we needed to get an early start, as the trails are closed if the temperature is 36 degrees C (96 degrees F).

Trailhead
Trailhead

Sunscreen, hats, water, bug juice, snacks – check.  Let’s do this!

Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park, with walls about 350 feet high. With three hikes to choose from, we started with the longest, a 6 km trail that goes from the base to the top of the canyon, with a dip down into the Garden of Eden, and finishing through a sandstone landscape that made us feel like we were walking on Mars.

Reading some of the placards on the trail, we learned that this canyon is an aboriginal sacred site in places, so we were encouraged to stay on the trails.  After visiting the Alice Springs Reptile Center (https://rvgetfit.com/2016/05/05/alice-springs) you can rest assured that we were not going off trail! We found it interesting that the first European expedition to explore the canyon was in 1872 – which, once again, reminded us of how “new” Australia is to us non-aborigines.

The hike starts with Heart Attack Hill – and there were plenty of people looking up the winding steps wondering if they shouldn’t just wait for their tour partners in the bus.  This was steep, and not for the faint of heart!

Heart Attack Hill
Heart Attack Hill

The colors of the rocks were just amazing.

The Textures
The Textures
The Colors
The Colors

And we felt that we were pretty much the only people out there

Where is everybody?
Where is everybody?

The route would take us up to the top of the canyon on the left side, around the rim, down into the canyon to the watering hole and oasis called the Garden of Eden, then back up to the rim for the right side view, before returning to the parking lot.

The canyon walls started to come into view

Canyon Walls
Canyon Walls

and we could see hikers on the other side

Hello On The Other Side
Hello On The Other Side

There were some steep ledges, with warning signs:

Falling Hazard?
Falling Hazard?

And it might have been the heat, but we were cracking up when we saw this one:

Viewing Area for Falling People?
Viewing Area for Falling People?

Some other highlights:

the textures were amazing

Dead Sea Ripples
Dead Sea Ripples

the stairs and the Garden of Eden

The Stairs to the Garden of Eden
The Stairs to the Garden of Eden

And, on the other side of the canyon, as we walked along the…

Rock Domes
Rock Domes

We were met by another goanna, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.  Yup, two days after being bitten, David must have been sending off some serious goanna pheromone, because we had not seen much wildlife on the hike, and then this 6 foot long specimen saunters on by.  Here is another view:

David's Buddy
David’s Buddy

We finished up the main trail, and noted that the path going the opposite direction was closed due to the temperature.

The hike proved to be quite the challenge, with the heat and the flies! Oh, the flies.  They were so pestering that we stopped at a visitors center to buy fly nets to put over our hats for the hike around Uluru and the Olgas the next day.

We consulted our free camping app, and found a nice place to shower for $3 AUD, and then went on to camp at the Sandy Way Rest Area for the night.

The next day, we were up early again and on to see Uluru and the Olgas.  As we drove in, you could see it in the distance:

Uluru In The Distance
Uluru In The Distance

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a sacred part of aboriginal creation mythology, and is considered one of Australia’s most recognizable natural icons.  A large sandstone “island mountain”, it is an isolated remnant of the slowly eroding mountain range, and is thought to be roughly 800-850 million years old.  Seriously.

We got to the big rock, and suited up! It was already hot outside, and the flies were relentless, but we were ready this time:

Shoo Fly
Shoo Fly

It should be noted that we intended to walk AROUND the rock, not to climb it.  The aborigines have asked that visitors not climb their sacred rock, and we saw no reason to go against this wish.  Some believe that if they are going to spend the $25 AUD entrance fee for the park, they are entitled to do whatever they want.  Yes, it is a struggle for the park.  There is a huge sign next to the carpark explaining the history and the position against climbing.  And still:

Climbers
Climbers

The base walk is 10 km, or 6 miles, and we really enjoyed it.  Once again, we went counterclockwise, and saw only a handful of people during the 2.5-3 hrs we took to explore.

So glad we had our nets, as they kept the annoying flies off of our faces; the rest of our bodies, not so much.  David felt compelled to take this shot:

The Flies Are NOT Roasted in Deer Isle ME
The Flies Are NOT Roasted in Deer Isle ME

There were some caves

Wave Cave
Wave Cave

Some really cool erosion marks

Color contrasts
Honeycomb

Some shade structures if one wanted to take a break

Shady Rest
Shady Rest

The texture of the land was so interesting, and the colors changed as the sunlight shifted

Hardy Plants
Hardy Plants
Texture
Reminds me of scales

We finished the Uluru base hike, and then drove the 53 km/32 miles to Kata Tjuta.  There, we took the Valley of the Winds hike, which was another 7.4 km.  Most people probably don’t do both hikes in the same day, but it is late Summer/early Fall, so we have the daylight to do this.

Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is a collection of monoliths.  The hike was much more strenuous than the base walk of Uluru.

Here is some of the scenery we enjoyed:

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According to my fitbit, this was a 37,775 step day for me! I don’t plan on surpassing that anytime soon, but you never know where this Australian adventure will take us.

The big question we had for each other after the hike was, “How do you pronounce ‘Uluru’?”

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1qBfMMF6UxLoYBG3IFJ2gEpP7pc4&w=640&h=480%5D

Alice Springs

 

Some of you may not be aware that David’s undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, from Keene State University in Keene, New Hampshire.  Yes, he did attend a college, and live in a town, with the same name (different spelling) as his own.  But that isn’t the point. The point is, that he has retained more of his undergrad knowledge from 1977 than anyone I know.  Especially for someone who did not go on to work in that field.

A little nugget that he carried around in his brain is that Alice Springs, in the geographic center of Australia, should be visited, if for no other reason, then for it’s geographic-centerness.  Totally sounds like a reason to drive 2,300 kms/1,500 miles to check it out in person, right?

And so, we did.  On the fourth day of the Trip To Alice Springs, we actually arrived! And what a sight to behold! It has lived up to the hype, I tell you!

Kit (our oldest child, who is almost finished with his doctorate in Biology. Yes, we are so proud!) told us that Alice Springs has a Reptile Center (link: www.reptilecentre.com.au), so naturally we MUST visit!  After a 4 day road trip, I know YOU would go straight to the see the snakes, frogs, and reptiles of the Red Center.

Alice Springs Reptile Center
Alice Springs Reptile Center

The Reptile Center displays over 100 reptiles of 60 different species. Open daily from 9:30 am – 5 pm, with demonstrations conducted at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3:30 pm, we arrived just in time for the 1 pm session led by a young lady named Grace, who presented several of the Center’s inhabitants.

First off was Ruby the Goanna; she roams the center freely, and is very used to people, we are told. Next, we had a bearded dragon, and blue tongued skink, then a python.  The last half of the presentation was an instruction on the proper actions to take if one is bit by a snake while in the Australian bush. This was complete with a demonstration on how to wrap one’s limb in a bandage to constrict blood flow and thus to slow the advancement of venom in one’s system.  It was all presented well and reminded us that we were now in the wilds of Australia, home to a ridiculous number of poisonous reptiles. It also made me pretty nervous about the next few days, when we intend to do some considerable hiking. On the positive side, the first aid instruction will be fresh in our minds.

Now that show and tell was over, we were given the opportunity to hold some of the reptiles.  The skink was passed around the room, as was the bearded dragon.

I decided to be brave, especially since I was such a wimp all those years that our late son Kevin had reptiles (A monitor lizard, numerous bearded dragons, frogs, swifts – you get the idea).

Here I am holding the bearded dragon:

Me and the Dragon
Me and the Dragon

Please don’t ask why I have two pairs of glasses – they are for my pair of eyes, of course!

And here is David:

David and the Dragon
David and the Dragon

I decided to really go for it, so I stood in line to hold the celebrity of the bunch.  David was on standby with the camera, because if I was going to do this, I wanted a picture to commemorate the event.  I finally get to the front, handed my prize, turn around for the shot – and there stands David, with a skink in his hands instead of his camera ready! I had to wait for him to hand off that little guy, and was losing my nerve pretty fast.  So, here you have it:

The Python Is More Comfortable Than I Am
The Python Is More Comfortable Than I Am

So many chins…

That was enough hands-on time for us, so we started about the rest of the center to see the displays.  Ruby the Goanna walked up to David, and started using her tongue to smell his foot. We don’t know why she was doing this, but it was interesting to see this huge reptile and it’s super long tongue.  The next thing we knew, she bit him! Yup, we were surprised and concerned. David quickly moved away, and Ruby turned to me. I took this picture of her at my feet so you can get an idea of her size:

Ruby After The Bite
Ruby After The Bite

David started bleeding from the bite pretty badly, so we sought out Grace the Presenter for some first aid.  After she immediately put Ruby away, she explained that the goanna’s bite actually contains a chemical that inhibits the blood from coagulating. This is why David was bleeding so much.  David cleaned the wound and put some bandages on it, and we went through the exhibits.  It startled him more than it hurt.

This is what it looked like the next day:

The Day After
The Day After

My favorite reptile in the center was the Thorny Devil.  I chose this as the “Feature Photo” for this post. Just look at this beautiful creature!

We spent a couple of hours in the Reptile Center, and David took loads of pictures to share with Kit when we see him in Tulsa later this year.

After a trip to the grocery store, we drove to the Caravan Park that we had intended to stay in, and just drove right on by.  This place had people loitering around the entrance, and was really dirty and run down.  We just did not feel comfortable staying there.

Souvenir shopping was next on our agenda – I really wanted a shirt that said “Alice Springs” to go along with my collection (which includes 44 North Coffee and El El Frijoles in Maine, University of Tulsa and San Diego State University, and of course, Amazon).  But, this being Easter weekend, the majority of shops were closed.

We stayed the night at the Temple Bar Caravan Park about 10 km outside of town.  I needed to do some laundry, but their washer was rusty, so I chose to wait until the next day and go back into town.  There were many permanent residents in this park, mostly in small cube houses that looked more like tool sheds than homes. For $22 AUD, we had a grassy, unpowered site with water.  Oh, and the view! See for yourself – here are our neighbors:

Our Little Slice of Heaven
Our Little Slice of Heaven

The next day, back into town we drove to do laundry before heading to our next destination. While we weren’t too sure what to expect from this remote location, I would say that we were surprised by the poverty and general unsafe feel of the place.  It may have been because all of the stores were closed, so we couldn’t see hustle and bustle of the town; it felt like a ghost town. The landscape and red rock was lovely, but we were definitely ready to head out quickly, and we did.

As David’s foot started to heal, we headed to some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful and unique landscape we have ever seen. That will be our next story.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

 

 

 

Spotto’s Electrical System

The Electrical Layout

The following describes Spotto’s electrical system as far as I know.  I’m sure there are aspects of the system that I missed or don’t know about so please cut me some slack.  Thanks.

Spotto has two 12 volt batteries.  The first is a regular car-starting lead acid battery that lives under the driver seat.  This battery is sealed so I don’t need to add water – thank goodness.  The second battery (house battery) is an AGM Deep Cycle battery.  It’s also sealed and is an Exide MSDC24 92Ah 20hr.  The starter battery – does just that – it starts Spotto.  The house battery powers all the lights, the inverter, the USB port, the water pump and the refrigerator.  There are two banks of three switches,  there is a volt meter to check battery level, a USB port and an outlet powered by the inverter.  The inverter is a 300 watt pure sign wave inverter that lives behind the head of the driver seat.

Electrical Diagram
This sheet was left by the original (French) electrical system designer.

 

The Switches

The first bank of three switches (left side) control the following from top switch going down:

  • 1. Dome light close to cab
  • 2. Dome light above bed
  • 3. Refrigerator.

The second bank of three switches (right side) control the following from top switch going down:

  • 1. Inverter
  • 2. USB Outlet
  • 3. Not used – until now!

I converted one of the unused switches so that I could cut power to the refrigerator at night right before we go to bed.  Previously I had to get up, open the slider and go out to the back of the van, open the rear door and push the off button on the fridge itself.  The fridge isn’t accessible from the inside of the van.  A real hassle when you are about to fall asleep.  We have to turn the fridge off at night because unfortunately the house battery does not produce enough Amp Hours (without being charged) to keep the fridge running that long.

Switches and Outlet
The Power Bank

The Charging System

As normal, the van’s starter battery is charged by the alternator.  The house battery is connected to the starter battery via a Dual Battery Isolator.  It is also charged when the van runs – same as the starter battery.  I also purchased a portable 120 watt solar charger that I hook up when it’s sunny and we are not moving.  I connect it directly to the house battery so only that battery gets charged.  The portable unit comes with a built in PWM solar charge controller as opposed to an MPPT controller.  A PWM controller is usually better for small systems.  Finally, we have a voltmeter with a toggle switch to check the current voltage of each battery.

Voltmeter with Toggle
The Volt Meter

 

House Battery with Isolator 2
The House battery and The Isolator

In this photo: the house battery and, in the back, the Isolator. This battery lives on the floor below our cabinets directly behind the drivers seat. Notice our spare 25 liter water tank to the right.

Spotto Charging
Spot Charging Her House Battery

No Worries,

David

George, Coober Pety, and Marla

 

I don’t want you to get the impression that we are just blowing through the bank account and spending those hard earned Amazon and KOA wages with reckless abandon. Yes, we bought the van, but that will prove out to be less expensive than if we had rented one, or a rental car and lodging. Yes, we are taking a road trip that is over two weeks long, and driving thousands of kilometers. (What? You don’t follow the metric system? 1 kilometer = 0.62 mile. Or 1 mile = 1.6 km) But we are saving money by using an app called Wiki Camps that helps direct us to free or inexpensive parking sites along the way.

This frugality is measured by a couple of indulgences, too. But because we don’t generally eat out (who can find vegan, no oil meals in the Australian Outback?), fuel and groceries are our greatest expenses. We will see how many nights we can stay in free sites vs paid. That is part of the fun.

The town of Kingston SE in South Australia sponsors a free campground right across from the town jetty. We stayed here and walked about 8 km/5 miles down the walk/bike path along the water’s edge, and around the town.

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Spotto Blending In
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The Kingston SE Jetty

In the morning, David went for a run while I walked through the little downtown area. I know you will find this hard to believe, but of the 4 coffee bars/cafes that I found, only one was open before 8:00 a.m. What a sleepy little town! But honestly, it was probably for the best. I mean, check out the presentation of this “mini” donut and coffee:

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Not My Order, Scout’s Honor! But I had to take a picture!

Looking through this selection, I took away a Hot Cross Bun:

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And as we rolled out of town, I grabbed a picture of another slice of Australia – the Giant Lobster. I wonder if the Bar Harbor KOA would like one of these?

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Must give the kids nightmares!

Continuing on the free camping tour, we next stopped at Spud’s Roadhouse outside of Pimba, SA. This is technically a rest area sponsored by 4 local towns, but Spud’s is there to sell Gatorades for $5 AUD, juice popsicles for $2.50 AUD, and other good stuff at crazy prices. We popped in for $15 worth of silly, and caught up on the local news while we avoided the flies outside. These flies would be our constant companions for days, but we did not know it at the time. They apparently are on the tour of South Australia, too!

20160324_194335
Toasties and Coffee in the Roadhouse for Brekkie!

As we continued on towards Alice Springs, we stopped to get diesel in Coober Pety, the opal mining capital of Australia. While I was paying the tab (Did I mention that you pump first, then pay? They even have signs that ask you not to move your car before paying. Remember when we weren’t in such a hurry?) David was approached by George Baker, a local Aborigine miner. George wanted to know all about David and his van, and then asked David if he had any money. George received a $5 AUD bill, and David asked if he could take George’s picture. George instructed David to take a picture with him, then one with the van. He was difficult to understand, but David took the pictures as instructed.  When I came out and climbed into the driver’s seat, George asked me for $10 for his children. I used to get very scared and completely stressed out when strangers approached me, but time on the road has made me realize that we are all in this together, part of the human race. I did not give him more money, but I did shake his hand, chatted with him as best as I could understand, and we were on our way.

Here is George Baker and Spotto:

20160325_07

Our night’s stop was at a Caravan Park in the town of Marla. For $20 AUD, we had a safe place to pull out the solar panels, get showers, and cook up some dinner. It was a nice place to take a break, until the police helicopter started buzzing around, and two police cars parked near the little motel onsite. It turned out that we were smack in the middle of a search for a missing healthcare worker, whose stolen bush ambulance was stopped in Coober Pety that morning, and had been tracked in the area where we were staying. But that activity was soon replaced by the 8 fishermen, two boats, and various camping cots that were being assembled near us. We moved, and had a solid night’s sleep.

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Catching Some Rays
20160325_185813
Mmmm, Dinner

In the morning, we walked past the live news crew who decided to set up their remote in front of the restroom building. Hope they got my good side!

Another day of driving paid off with our arrival (finally!) in Alice Springs. The story of our visit to the geographic center of Australia will have to wait until our next post.

G’day from Down Under,

Nancy

A Sinkhole and a Blue Lake

 

Making the trek to Alice Springs more about the journey than a sprint, we set out on a leisurely pace, and decided to stop when we saw something that might be of interest.

As we passed through the town of Mount Gambier, a Point of Interest sign directed us to the “Umpherston Sinkhole”. Who could pass up a sinkhole?

Now, as we will see, this is no ordinary sinkhole. A beautiful park surrounds this geographic anomaly, and, as this is my first physical sinkhole visit, I suspect this one is very unique.

The Welcome Sign
The Welcome Sign

For those of you reading this on something smaller than a 52 inch screen, the sign reads:

“Welcome to Umpherston Sinkhole

This park is the remnant of a late 19th century garden of which the sinkhole was the focal point. The garden was developed by James Umpherston on part of his property known as The Caves

The park has been developed by the City of Mount Gambier in accordance with Umpherston’s original intention to establish the sinkhole for the enjoyment of visitors and the townspeople of Mount Gambier.”

We read the sign, went past the limestone statue,

Photographic Evidence That I Read The Sign
Photographic Evidence That I Read The Sign

And what a sight!

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This is huge! And what a great way to develop something that could be ugly and unsafe into a beautiful, useful place.

From inside:

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There was a lovely platform and seating area, too, as well as a bbq/picnic area. I thought it would be a popular place for a wedding. David thought it was completely inappropriate for that kind of ceremony. “It started in a sinkhole, can’t get much lower…” Maybe I should set up a poll. Discuss.

Driving a few kilometers down the road, we are pointed to Blue Lake. Now, back in 1992, David and I had the pleasure of bicycling around Crater Lake as part of our Cycle Oregon route, and so we have seen the biggest, baddest blue lake there is. So, we were game to see the Aussie version. Up the observation tower we climbed:

The Struggle Is Real
The Struggle Is Real

To see:

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Maybe it was the cloudy, sprinkly day, but this little guy was blue, but not very photogenic.

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And with that, we hit the road again, excited to see what next random stop we will make.

G’day mate,

Nancy

Spotto’s Water System

Spotto has a simple fresh water system built into her kitchen.  It consists on a 40 liter container with a bottom brass fitting and a clear plastic hose connector to a small 12 volt electric pump.  The pump pulls the water from the tank and pushes it through the faucet.   The drain water is collected in a removable aluminum bowl set into the kitchen countertop.  There is no drain.  Drainage is performed by manually “picking up the aluminum bowl and tossing the water”.  Like I said – it’s all very simple.  The hardest part is refilling the 40 liter container which lives under the bed.  I fill it with another 40 liter container that I keep next to the house battery compartment or from a couple 10 liter bottles we use for drinking water.  I use a funnel to pour from one container to the other.

The only problem we have is that the pump loses its prime.  There is an air leak that I can’t find so I solved the problem another way.  I added another clear plastic tube to the top (fill point) of the 40 liter container.  To re-prime, all you need do is blow into the tube.  This adds pressure into the tank and forces some water into the line between the tank and the pump.  This clear plastic pipe is easily accessible under the bed just behind the kitchen counter.

Spotto Sink
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.
Water Pump
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.
40 Liter Tank
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.

No Worries,

David

Spotto’s Kitchen

Spotto has a built in kitchen in the back.  Most of it is only accessible via the rear hatch door.  From the inside we can get to the counter top but that’s about it.  The kitchen has a sink with an electric water pump that pulls water from a 40 liter tank that lives under the bed (see post on Spotto’s Water System).  There is a 14 liter Waeco Thermo Coolpro Cooler that works on 12 or 24 volt DC.  The kitchen itself slides out about two feet from the back of the van.  Two small wooden pegs hold the kitchen in place.  When the pegs are removed the whole thing slides out on two roller tracks.  Also, the Cooler/Fridge slides out on it’s own tracks.  There is ample storage for dishes, utensils, spices and such.  We have a portable propane single burner cook top.  The propane canisters used by the cooktop are easily purchased in most grocery stores.  The canisters are not cheap but they are simple to use and very convenient.

The van also came with another one burner propane stove that sits upon a 1lb propane tank.  We’ve never used it but it’s a good back up.  The counter top space it quite large and has worked great for us.  It’s really nice that the tail gate door opens upward and protects you from rain while working in the kitchen.  The only issue we’ve really had has been the wind blowing out the cook top flame.  We’ve learned to point Spotto into the wind when we know we will need to cook.  This way the cooktop doesn’t get wind whipped and go out.

 

Kitchen 1
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 3
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 2
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 4
Kitchen when retracted.

No Worries,

David