Who would dream that a little girl from a mining town in Northern Ontario, Canada would one day be able to jet off for the weekend to Australia? Thanks to my friend Lori, I was introduced to Airbnb, Surfer’s Paradise, and the Blues on Broadbeach Music Festival on the Gold Coast of Queensland.
Calling this piece of coastal heaven “paradise” is not just hype, and for the millions who visit the Gold Coast every year, the big draw is the beaches, but it was the siren song of a music festival described by Wikipedia as “one of Australia’s largest Free Blues Festivals which began in 2002 and continues to draw significant crowds each year, while remaining a free outdoor event for people of all ages to attend” that attracted us.
By flying with a budget airline, staying with an Airbnb host instead of at a hotel, and using the convenient public transit, we were able to make this fantastic weekend getaway affordable.
My journal entry for 03 November 2014 reads, “I am sitting in Perk Up Burgers on De Graves Street which is really more of a back alley or lane than a street. I was supposed to be on a wine tour but the Wine Guys didn’t show up. The funny thing was that an Asian Canadian with a bit of grey at his temples, approached me while I was waiting for the tour bus, and he asked me if I was Andrea. He told me that the tour was cancelled. I am disappointed but I have come to believe that the purpose of this trip was to accept that I cannot control everything.”
“An impression is developing that lots of young people from all over the world end up in Australia working in restaurants, bars, hotels etc. The two young women I talked to in Alice Springs were from Korea and Argentina. The two young people working here at Perk Up Burgers are from England and Italy. The guide at Uluru was from New Zealand and the raptor trainer at the Desert Park was from England.”
“After breakfast, I went to the Immigration Museum for a few hours. It would be possible to spend a full day there.”
“I am at the bar in the Rendezvous Hotel. It is a block away from the Citigate where I stayed last night and it is the pickup point for the Skybus shuttle.”
“The problem with spending a few days here and a few days there is that I kept feeling those end of vacation blues, only to remind myself that my vacation was not over.”
I spent Sunday, the 2nd of November 2014 on the Firefly coach from Adelaide, South Australia to Melbourne, Victoria. The 725 kilometres takes approximately 8 hours or longer depending on how many stops you make and how long your breaks are. For those in a hurry, there are 19 flights daily that take about an hour and 20 minutes. For train buffs, the Overland makes the trip on Mondays and Fridays, taking around 11 hours.
In my journal I wrote, “On the Firefly coach to Melbourne – We are just completing our first stop. I had a bacon & egg McMuffin-type sandwich, and bought some licorice.” “Hotel room in Melbourne – It was fun to see the small towns and to see how the landscape changes from South Australia to Victoria.”
The bus terminal in Melbourne is the Southern Cross Station which is a 20 minute walk from The Citigate hotel where I spent my last night in Australia. The Citigate was undergoing renovations when I was there, and is now the DoubleTree by Hilton.
31 October 2014 – Adelaide was sort of the ‘wild card’ for this trip because I didn’t know anything about this city in the state of South Australia. I only decided to go to Adelaide because that is the terminus for the Ghan; if the train ran from Alice Springs to Melbourne, I would never have gone, and that would have been a terrible pity because I really liked Adelaide.
I wrote in my journal, “Today is warm in Adelaide (32C) but tomorrow will be cool (17C) so I think I will spend this afternoon drinking (got a jug of Frank’s Sangria), eating (ordered the Dip, Dukkah & Dough), and writing. I will spend tomorrow wandering all over Adelaide in the cooler temps.”
I did not get to do most of the things I had planned because my timing was off and things (including the shops) closed rather early for a Saturday. The aboriginal museum closed at 4 p.m. ( I got there at 4:30 ) and the South Australian museum closed at 5 p.m. ( I got there at 5 ) but I was able to walk all over the place and saw lots of lovely, old buildings and churches. Earlier in the day, I went to the National Wine Centre of Australia which is part of the University of Adelaide. I won a Gold Medal for my virtual Shiraz and celebrated by having a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Windows Estate winery.
I stayed two nights at The Franklin Boutique Hotel. The bar at the Franklin is a rocking place on Friday and Saturday nights so it might not be ideal for those who prefer ‘early to bed and early to rise’ even though earplugs are part of the amenities package. The espresso machine and milk frother in the room is a lovely touch. I also really liked the complimentary mini-bar (2 bottles each of cider, beer, and water, as well as a bag of chips, and chocolate).
Before catching the bus for the next part of my adventure, I headed to the Adelaide Central Market where I bought Australian grown olives.
As I was walking, trailing my suitcase, from the Desert Rose Inn to the Alice Springs train station on the 30th of October, 2014, a young woman approached me and asked if I was looking for the Ghan, which I was. I had seen its distinctive, red locomotives from the top of Anzac Hill, so I knew in which direction I needed to head. I had a map that the Korean girl at the Red Ochre Grill Restaurant had given me but if not for Haley, I might have missed the path that leads directly to the platform as it was not indicated on the map.
The Ghan was #13 on The Telegraph’s list of the 25 greatest train journeys in the world. Michael Williams wrote that it is “one of the greatest train marathons of the world…” and “there’s no train window view like this anywhere else…”. I had paid a little extra to secure a window seat in the Red day/nighter car. I could have spent a lot more and had a compartment all to myself with a Gold Service Single Cabin but I do not regret being frugal. My seat partner, Francoise, asked if we could see the single cabin in the Gold car. We both agreed that we were happy we had chosen to sit in the Red car because we found each other’s company to be enjoyable.
I had packed my journal in my checked luggage so I bought a lovely red souvenir journal with matching pen in the gift shop of the Alice Springs station. I had intended to use the hours after sunset and before I fell asleep to write but I ended up sitting in the Matilda Cafe car with Haley (Australia) and Francoise (France), drinking red wine and talking.
I awoke on the morning of the 31st of October to the view of a flat-topped mountain not too far off in the distance. Both days, I saw a few kangaroos and lots of sheep and cattle but the surprise for me was the dead cows near the tracks. It wasn’t clear if they had died from being hit by trains or if they were just there because that happened to be where they were when they died.
Of note, the 24 to 25 hours from Alice Springs to Adelaide is non-stop and smoking is not allowed anywhere on the train so I could not have taken this trip 18 years ago.
Exactly half way between Adelaide and Darwin lies Alice Springs, Northern Territory. It is, without a doubt, a desert town. Lots of aborigines can be seen on the streets and there are loads of birds. I also saw a pool cleaning robot – no kidding! When it would surface, its wheels made a squeaking noise like a dolphin which made me laugh every time.
I stayed in two hotels in Alice. I had originally planned to spend a night in King’s Canyon but that didn’t happen so I had an extra night in Alice Springs. The first hotel, the Alice Motor Inn, was on the east side in a more suburban area and had the pool cleaning robot. The second hotel, the Desert Rose Inn, was near to the train station and Anzac Hill. Both of the hotels had swimming pools, kitchens, and coin-operated laundries. They were both $90 AUD
At the reception desk of the Desert Rose Inn, I was able to arrange a trip to the Desert Park which was, quite simply, amazing – I wish I had got an earlier start or had a second day as there is so much to see and do. The driver who took me there and picked me up said some people complain that there is nothing to do!?!
That evening I went for a walk and ended up at the Aurora. I had Emu Salad, a bottle of wine, and a conversation with the staff. One of the staff was a young woman from Korea, and another was from Argentina.
The next day I climbed Anzac Hill to see the panoramic view of Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges, then went to Hungry Jack’s, an Australian fast food restaurant, to get some breakfast. I went back to the hotel, checked out, and finally was able to get on-line.
This part of my Australian adventure actually began, like so many of my adventures do, in a bar. My journal entry for the 22nd of October 2014 is ” I am sitting in the departure lounge awaiting flight QF36 bound for Melbourne. The last time I took a Qantas flight was about 12 years ago and I loved it. The flight attendant kept coming around and asking me if I wanted more to drink!!
For those of you who felt a pang of disappointment that I did not begin this entry by stating that I was sitting in a bar, fear not, I was at a bar earlier. Terminal 1 at Changi Airport has a cactus garden and in the garden is the La Cave bar. It was at this bar that I met ‘Smithy’ who has been ‘on the road since January’. He told me to do myself a favour, hire a car, and drive to a place called Curtin Springs Station. It has a rock almost as big as Uluru. This cattle station has a restaurant, bar, and accommodation, all owned by the Severin family. Smithy said the highlight would be buying Pete Severin a Foster’s and listening to his stories. I am so excited by the prospect I could wet my pants! I sent them an email asking how I could get to them (85 kms from Ayer’s Rock Resort) if I don’t drive. I am hoping they will volunteer to come and fetch me 🙂 ”
As I mentioned in my previous posts, I had no access to the internet after leaving Singapore so I did not ever get a reply to the email I sent from Changi Airport but as luck would have it, the coach trip that I took from Ayer’s Rock to Alice Springs on the 28th of October 2014, stopped at Curtin Springs Station.
28 October 2014 – In order to watch the sunrise at Uluru, I was awake at 4 AM to catch the tour and I had bought a breakfast box at the hotel to bring along. While watching ‘the Rock’ materialize out of the pre-dawn twilight, I ate the small croissant, the top of the blueberry muffin, and the fruit cocktail. I saved the granola bar and juice box for later.
Once the sun had risen, we were taken around Uluru in a coach. We walked to the waterhole where our guide told us some of the origin stories. Tjukurpa is the time when the Ancestors created the land and created laws for how people should behave in relation to each other, and in relation to animals, plants, and the land itself. Uluru is significant because several Ancestors visited it and some still live there.
After our walk around Uluru, we were returned to our hotels. I got off at the mall and bought a watch that was decorated with the artwork of Julie Unguna Paige. I chose ‘Geckoes’ because I am rather fond of these small lizards.
I headed back to the hotel and tried to get on-line but was again unsuccessful. Clearly, this trip was about trusting; I had trusted that someone was picking me up at Melbourne airport as I had not seen Bec’s email to me, and I trusted that I would find a place to stay and transportation in Ayer’s Rock. I had no way to confirm my accommodation or activities in Alice Springs, so I had to just trust that everything would work out again. I had lunch at the Walpa Lobby Bar in the Sails and then caught the coach to a town called Alice.
It was late afternoon on the 27th of October 2014, when the tour bus picked me at the Sails in the Desert Hotel bound for Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, is a sacred site and one of the most iconic sights of Australia. Everything I had read suggested that viewing the rock at sunset and, if possible, at sunrise, is a show put on my Mother Nature that should not be missed.
The driver/guide announced to the passengers that he was also a photographer so upon arrival at the viewing area, I asked him if he was going to sell us a DVD of photographs. He said no but that he would be happy to take photos using my camera. I was forced to admit that I had misplaced my camera. He suggested that he could take photos using my phone. I told him my phone was dead and it doesn’t take pictures even when the battery is fully charged. I am sure he was wondering what sort of person arrives at the most photographed monolith in the world without any means of taking a photo.
At that moment, up stepped a handsome, strapping, young fellow who volunteered to share his photos with me if I gave him my email address. I have said it before but it is worth repeating – I am the luckiest girl in the world 🙂 I introduced myself and he told me his name was Trigger. I looked puzzled and asked, “Trigger, like Roy Roger’s horse?” He laughed and told me it was a rugby nickname that had stuck. I was relieved to learn that his parents had named him Paul, not Trigger. Interestingly, he was also in Australia for a friend’s wedding.
Trig and I talked, and took photos; drank, and nibbled on cheese and crackers. We were joined by a British couple and the four of us chatted and watched as Uluru changed from brown to orange, and finally, to black. I bid them goodbye and boarded the bus heading to the Aussie Barbecue Dinner under the Stars.
I ended up sitting with a couple of couples from Canada. If I hadn’t already had plenty to drink, I might have kept my mouth shut. Instead, I announced that I had come halfway around the world to sit with them. I ended up talking so much that I didn’t get any salad – just meat! I had steak, kangaroo, lamb sausage, chicken skewers, and lots and lots of sparkling wine.
On Monday, the 27th of October 2014, at 7:15 AM, I boarded the JetStar flight bound for Ayer’s Rock. To my surprise, there is no town of Ayer’s Rock. It is a resort with an airport (AYQ), three hotels, serviced apartments, and a campground. The resort also has a shopping centre with a bank, a post office, and an IGA grocery store, as well as, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries and a travel agency.
Free coaches take you from the airport to the resort. A woman with a clipboard asked me where I was staying so she could direct me to the correct coach. She looked a bit puzzled when I told her I didn’t know yet. I still thought this was a town and trusted that I would be able to find a room/tent/bench for one night.
At the first hotel, I was told that they were fully booked so, I asked the front desk staff to check with the other hotels. She told me there was availability at the Sails in the Desert (the posh one). This is what I get for not having arranged accommodation before I booked my flight. The room was $400 AUD for the night but by signing up to be an ACCOR frequent guest, I got a discount.
If you have just picked yourself up off the floor, bear in mind that I had only paid approximately $100 AUD for accommodation up until this point, so I was averaging $100 AUD a night, and this was not a budget/backpacker’s trip.
After arranging for my room, I left my suitcase at reception and headed to the shopping centre to book the Sunset Tour & BBQ for that evening, the Sunrise tour for the next morning, and transfer to Alice Springs in the afternoon, then, I had lunch consisting of Caesar salad and a jug of sangria at the Gecko Cafe. In spite of a slightly bumpy start, my long awaited trip to see Uluru was underway.