Well, the 8 of us who were off to the
Outback said our final goodbyes to the Australian east coast, and caught the ferry to
Hampton Airport, which would take us to Cairns (pronounced "Cannes") and from
there to Alice Springs. Along the way, Marco came up with the idea of pretending NOT
to be the Contiki group when we met the rep at the airport (evil, evil...). It
actually worked for a moment, but then the Contiki tour leader (Jo) caught on: it was probably the Contiki tote bags some
of us were carrying...
Armed with the knowledge of who she was dealing with, Jo and Daryl (the driver) took us to meet the rest of the
group. It had a bit of a different character than the Reef group, a few more
"clans" within the group itself, but all in all everyone was very nice and it
was fun talking to new people! There was also a third Contiki person named Greg who was on the tour either for training or because
he was going to take over from Jo or something: I wasn't sure which!
We met the Rocker group and drove out to Standley
Chasm, a spectacular little hike that reminded me a lot of parts of Arizona and the
Painted Desert. The hike came to a dead stop (for me, anyway) at a large rock
formation. Not wanting to climb up into the rocks, I satisfied myself with a few pictures. Afterwards I grabbed some lunch at
the local shop: had a great big hamburger cooked with a slice of beet (very popular with
the Ozzies, in fact: the McDonald's in Australia have a burger called the "Big
Oz" that is also made with beets). I also talked with some of the girls in the
group: there were a few more Ozzies in the group than the first, but also from England,
Iceland, Germany, all over the place!
Afterwards we went to Simpsons Gap for a group picture: unlike the one in Sydney, here we all
piled on each other: guess who was at the bottom! I think I was an inch thinner
after that, especially since the others were *THROWN* on top of me: ouch! Everyone
fooled around at the Gap (ha!) for a bit, then we piled into the bus for our trip to the
Ooraminna Bush Camp.
The Bush Camp is part of a cattle ranch, though none of the little buggers
were in sight when we got there. The first thing we had to do was get a swag and set
up for our overnight camp (I was amused when Jo told us to "get some swag": but
no one ever gave me any money...). We separated out into two groups: those who would be doing the hot-air balloon in the
morning and those who would not (losers!). We
were shown a specific way to set up the swags so that a) we didn't come back to find a
scorpion or something in side and b) our smelly bodies would not sully the inside of the
sleeping bags too much.
We took a tour around the area by one of the local cattlemen: again, I felt like I was in Arizona!
The guy was no chimp, that's for sure: he talked about the troubles the cattle
farmers were having with respect to the Asian market collapse and the low profit margins
and other stuff.
On the ranch there was the partially-built
set of a movie that was in hiatus due to lack of funding: some sort of Australian
Western. I'll have to keep a lookout...
He also talked about the various types of trees: some had smooth bark up
to the branches, where it curved away; the spinifex
grasses that scratched and stung if you walked through them; how cattle trails are a
good find in the desert, because on one end or the other is always water; all sorts
of stuff. He also suggested that we not wander too far away since the last tourist to do that was never found again... I
was starting to feel like disappearing myself with all the flies about: they were driving
After our tour, we had an hour or so before dinner: barbequed beef
(naturally). I climbed a ridge with Mike & Chantal and caught some great pictures of the sunset that evening! The
dinner was fantastic: great steaks with delicious bread and a sort of apple cobbler-type
stuff for desert. About this time the stars were starting to come out: the place is
so isolated that the sky is completely free of light pollution. Even with the full moon, the stars were bright and beautiful: I
could see the band of the Milky Way and tried to identify as many stars as I could, along
with Monique and a few of the others at camp.
Hit the sack soon after and just watched the stars: we had to get up at
4:00 am the next day to make the hot-air balloon flight, and I was not going to miss it!