Australia - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 323 (133)
Tuesday 25th January (2005)
I suppose I really ought to get back into the habit of writing my daily journal entries again. I was going to do so last night but we decided to watch a DVD on the laptop instead and I was just too tired by the time it finished. Granted, I did write the previous log entry whilst on the plane to Uluru but I don’t consider that a normal log entry. That particular entry was a special one. Seeing as I’ve missed several days of log entries, perhaps it would be a good idea for me to catch up a bit on what we did during those few days of silence.
On the day that we found out Sandy was with child, we were in Atherton. Sandy had been feeling a bit ill over the past couple of days with a tummy upset so we decided to visit a local doctor to get it checked out. Somewhat laughingly, I asked Sandy if her tummy pain was a sign that she might be pregnant and we both chuckled – as we’ve done many times before. Oh how ironic life can be sometime. I must have spooked sandy a bit by asking this because she apparently mentioned it to the doctor and he suggested she take a pregnancy test just to be sure. However, she was unable to produce a sample and so the test was not done. We felt quite happy about visiting a local doctor, safe in the knowledge that the UK, the Netherlands and Australia all have reciprocal health care agreements with each other. The upshot of this is that doctor’s visits and emergency health care shouldn’t cost us anything. When it came to settle the paperwork after Sandy’s appointment, I wafted our E111 form but the receptionist was not familiar with it and still insisted that we pay the AU$60 bill (€36,60). I questioned this stringently but she insisted that we needed something called a Medicare card. She told us that we would first need to pay them but we could get an immediate refund from the local Medicare office just around the corner. Still somewhat reluctant to pay anything, we decided to first go to the Medicare office to sort out a Medicare card and to verify that we would, indeed, be reimbursed. We spent the next hour or more at the nearby Medicare office trying to wade through the minefield of red tape that was generated by virtue of Sandy being a Dutch citizen with no apparent proof of UK residency. My E111 form does list us both but they too were unfamiliar with this particular form and it took quite a few phone calls to their help deck before they finally agreed to issue us with a shared Medicare card. They were able to verify that we could receive an on-the-spot refund for the doctor’s bill once we brought back a receipt and we went back to the doctor’s office to pay up. It was at this point that we noticed that the doctor’s bill consisted of two line items. One was AU$48 (€29,30) for the doctor’s visit itself and the other AU$12 (€7,30) was for the pregnancy test that Sandy hadn’t taken. I pointed this out but Sandy decided that she now needed to pee after all, so we decided that since we were here anyway, we might as well get the test done and out of the way with. Sandy provided the sample and we were asked to wait in the waiting room. We waited and waited for probably the better part of an hour, during which time we, again somewhat laughingly, were chuckling about what would happen if the test came back positive, although neither of us really believe it would. At one point, a junior nurse came and collected us and told us that he was going to give us the results and started to walk us into a consultation room, at which point the receptionist urgently called after to him. Apparently, the doctor himself wanted to give us the results. Once again, we were invited to return to the waiting room. This time, however, we were trying to figure out just why the doctor was insistent about telling us the results himself. What possible reason could he have for not allowing one of his staff to tell us? I think it was at this point that I started to give some more serious consideration to the possibility and the nerves started to kick-in. The receptionist was by now frantically trying to juggle the patients so that we would get another few minutes with the doctor and another half hour past before this was possible. When we were eventually called into the doctor’s office, we were sat down and he simply said, “I have the results of your pregnancy test, and it’s positive.” It took several seconds of stunned silence for this to sink in, during which time we were just looking at each other. The rest is history.
Over the next few days, we allowed this news to sink in and weighed up all our options. We visited another few sites of interest in the area during this time but our minds were both elsewhere and I have little recollection of exactly where we went and what we did.
A couple of days after that, we left Atherton and headed for Port Douglas, where we spent the afternoon visiting the rainforest wildlife habitat. We fed emus, birds and various denominations of kangaroos and wallabies but I seem to remember it being a very wet and rainy day throughout. Indeed, the rain seemed to continue for the next few days as we found our way to Cairns itself.
I wouldn’t call us gamblers but we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the casino in Cairns so we assigned ourselves a AU$100 (€61) budget each and spent some time on the machines and blackjack tables. We didn’t win any major jackpots but we did win enough to cover the cost of a very nice meal at a nearby steakhouse and even managed to leave at the end of the day with some of our initial gambling money. If ever we go into a casino, we always assign ourselves a strictly fixed budget. We consider this the amount of money that we expect to lose gambling and think of it as the cost of admission and entertainment. Whenever the money runs out, so do we. If we leave the casino without having spent the entire budgeted amount, we consider that winnings.
On our last full day in Cairns, we visited the tourist town of Kuranda. This place is located deep into the tropical rain forest and we reached it via the Skyrail cable-car that took us on a half hour or more journey over the rainforest canopy with a couple of stops along the way for a brief guided tour of the rainforest itself as well as a stop at a hugely powerful waterfall that was flowing at full strength due to all the recent rain that we’d been having. Strangely, the skies cleared for the most part on this day and we enjoyed the afternoon wandering around the small town, visiting the butterfly farm and bird sanctuary, amongst other things. Later on that evening, we went to the Tjapukai Aboriginal dinner show. It was a marvellous experience and we got to meet some genuine Aboriginals, learned about their culture and way of life and so on. The food was very good and the show was excellent. I even volunteered to take part in a fire lighting exercise on stage, for which I received a returning boomerang that was signed by all the performers for my efforts. All in all, we had a great time in Cairns, even if the weather was not always pleasant.
So, all of this has brought me up to yesterday and the previous log entry. I’ll now try to fill in the blanks for what happened yesterday itself. The day started well with a brief trip to the airport, where we dropped off the rental car and collected out boarding passes for the two and a half hour flight to Yulara (Ayers Rock). We lounged around the waiting lounge for a while and allowed everyone else to board the plane before we even bothered to get up onto our feet. When we handed the boarding clerk our boarding passes, however, she looked at them and ripped them in two right there in front of us and handed us two new ones. “A nice little upgrade for you Mr. & Mrs. Morgan,” she said with a smile. We were both puzzled at this but for some unknown reason, we’d been upgraded to business class. Bonus! We’ve since pondered this and we are wondering if they did this to somehow compensate us for the fact that we recently changed our flight itinerary around and have ended up with a slightly shorter route around the country but for no refund. Perhaps this is their way of trying make up for the fact that we did not receive any refund. Whatever the reason, we weren’t complaining and enjoyed the flight in very comfortable seats with drinks being served in real glass as opposed to plastic cups. Thank you Qantas!
Whilst on the plane, we decided that enough time had elapsed and I wrote the log entry previous to this one. That particular log entry was more of a joint effort between us. We still haven’t broken the news to anyone yet but it somehow helped us make sense of things writing it down like that.
So, we landed at Connellan Airport in Yulara, having seen the rock on our side of the plane on approach to the airport. Sandy collected the luggage whilst I tended the rental car pick-up duties. It took a while before we took possession of the car keys as we spent quite a while trying to decide whether the two-hundred Kilometres per day allowance that came with the car would be enough to get to see everything we wanted to see. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem but we are staying in a place called Curtain Springs Station that is some ninety Kilometres through the desert from Yulara. All the hotels within the resort itself are so ludicrously expensive that there is no way we could afford to stay at any of them. Some of the starting prices for what they themselves describe as budget accommodation start at AU$350 (€213,50) per day. The rates go up quite considerably from there. We were able to reserve a cabin at Curtain Springs for just AU$55 (€33,55) per day. Even after taking into account the distance from Yulara, it‘s still a vastly better deal than any of the resort options.
We had to point out a few additional scratches and dents on the car that their report didn’t show but we were eventually on our way. We made it out of the airport with the manual version of the exact same car we had just turned in at Cairns Airport. Once again it is a category above what we are paying for and the nice woman at the rental counter was able to arrange a two hundred and fifty Kilometre a day allowance instead of the standard two hundred. We are paying a grand total of AU$103 (€62,80) for two day’s rental.
Our first stop after bidding farewell to the small, airport car park was the small town of Yulara. It’s not so much of a town as a very small shopping complex. Probably no more than a dozen or so shops and some of those are a bank, post office, information desk and supermarket. The prices here are slightly higher than most other places in general but bottled water in particular is anywhere from two to four times more expensive. We bought some bread rolls and some sandwich meat from the supermarket and made ourselves some lunch. After that, we were off to see the majestic rock that sits there on the near horizon. The entire area here is shrub desert with very fine and loose sand that is a rich, red colour. The rock itself is a bright red or rust colour. The sky is the deepest blue I’ve ever seen with not even the faintest trace of a cloud anywhere to be seen. This sets the rock off magnificently. At thirty-seven degrees Celsius, it’s very hot here too and extremely arid. I asked at the information desk about climbing the rock but apparently it is disallowed whenever the forecast temperature reaches a certain threshold and today had well exceeded that threshold.
We had to pay AU$25 (€15,25) each for a three-day pass into the reserve but this will cover Uluru as well as the nearby Olgas (another formation of red magma sticking high out of the ground about fifty Kilometres away from Uluru) for the duration of our visit. For the next couple of hours, we drove all the way around the rock and visited the cultural centre. The rock takes on different moods depending how the light strikes and at what angle you look at it. In fact, it looks quite different to how it is always portrayed in photos and pictures from every angle except one – side on. The road that encircles the rock gets close enough at points for you to be able to get out and walk right up close to it. There are even several specially laid out paths where you can get within touching distance of it. We weren’t able to climb the rock but we could see the point where it can be climbed. There is a section that is relatively flat at around thirty-to-forty degrees of incline. Starting from about a hundred meters or so up this incline, there is a chain handrail that continues up towards the top of the rock and out of sight. It’s quite contradictory in that there are signs everywhere requesting that you do not take photographs of or climb on the rock. Yet at this one point, there is not only a handrail to help you climb but there is a large car park to make it convenient to do so too. Apparently, although the land and the rock was given back to the Aborigines some twenty years ago, it was immediately leased back to the federal Australian government on a ninety-nine year lease. Although the Aborigines dislike people climbing the rock, it seems that they lack the authority to outright ban it. Either that or the situation is much more complicated than I currently understand.
After encircling the rock and visiting the cultural centre for the afternoon, we sort of concluded that just a single day here would probably have been enough. However, since another change in the flight plans would entail another AU$50 (€30,50) each administration fee, we will remain here for the extra day. The drive out to Curtain Springs took just under an hour and was largely eventless, save for the sighting of a couple of truly very large black eagles that had caught and were eating something or other. They flew off before we could get close enough to take any shots of them.
We had reserved a cabin at Curtain Springs for AU$55 (€33,55) per night but they also had some more comfortable cabins with ensuite bathroom at AU$100 (€61). We had a look at both types before eventually deciding to go with the more expensive cabin after all. Even though it was nearly twice the price, we decided that since it was only for a couple of nights, we would afford ourselves a little extra luxury. The ensuite cabins are very much more comfortable compared to the others and we’d still be saving money compared to similar accommodation back at any of the Yulara Resort hotels.
So, all of that now brings me up to today’s log entry, which I will now tackle. Since we already tackled Uluru yesterday, there was no need to repeat the entire circuit again today. All that we really wanted to achieve today was to see Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and to watch the rock as the sun set. With these goals in mind, there was no compelling reason to do anything at all until this afternoon so we let ourselves sleep in for as long as we wanted. Once awake, most of the morning was consumed with simply lying around and pottering about a bit. With the temperatures here in the dessert reaching over forty degrees Celsius, simply sitting in the comfort of our air-conditioned cabin seemed like a good enough idea.
By around noontime, the restaurant here was starting to serve lunch. Lunch here consists of either a burger or bacon and eggs in a burger bun served with chips. At AU$9 per head, it’s not too bad considering how much more expensive everything else is here compared to the rest of Australia. Bottled water here is outrageous. Here at the bar, they are charging nearly AU$5 (€3,05) for a one litre bottle – three or four times the cost of refined petroleum! Seeing as we’ve both nearly drunk ten litres between us since we arrived here yesterday, I’m now thinking we were very fortunate to be able to pick up a ten litre box of water for just AU$4,75 (€2,90) at the supermarket in Yulara when we arrived – even though I considered that expensive at the time.
Expense aside, the lunch wasn’t too bad in the end but the heat of the day drove us back to our cabin for another few hours. At around three or four o’clock, we got into the car and drove the ninety-odd Kilometres back into the reserve and onto the Olgas. We made it as far as the observation point and decided that this was good enough for us. We still have to be careful about how many Kilometres we drive in the rental car and we are thinking that it’s going to be close as it is with just the five hundred Kilometres allowance that we have until we turn the car in tomorrow.
It was still just a little bit early so we went back to the cultural centre not far from the rock itself to kill some time. Unfortunately, we arrived there to find it already closed so we drove around the perimeter road of the rock to look for the best sunset vantage point. As it happens, there are already some very well sign-posted parking areas for the best sunset and sunrise viewing but Sandy was keen to try out some additional angles. Having found these angles and snapped her fill, she then allowed me to drive to the posted sunset viewing point. Along with about twenty other vehicles, by far the highest concentration of vehicles we’ve seen since arriving here, we spent the next hour or so watching the colours of the rock slowly change with the setting sun. We snapped some very nice shots and essentially got what we came here for. The only annoyance was all the annoying and extremely persistent and tenacious flies that we had to keep wafting away from us.
We had to fill up with fuel at the one and only filling station in Yulara before setting back off through the desert to Curtain Springs and the drive back was just as boring as it has been each other time we traversed that stretch of road. With the sun having already set, however, we drove back in the dark and stopped half way to switch off the car’s lights and simply stare at and admire all the stars. Even with a full moon beaming down on us, we could make out quite a few constellations. All in all, it was a good day.