Backpackers: thrifty, curious and ready to eat any free food.
Four years ago I was a backpacker, galavanting around Australia with no real schedule or set plans. ‘Going with the flow’ was always my thing. Stress and worry never seemed to be predominant emotions of mine. Now, in hindsight, I’m not so sure that ‘going with the flow’ was so innate. It quite possibly could have been naivety. Like most young, budget travellers, I wasn’t always the most organised or wealthiest, but I managed to travel on my own from Adelaide all the way up to Cape Tribulation, hitting many of the tourist stops along the way (FYI THERE’S A LOT). I even managed to spend a month in New Zealand and week in Tassie.
I flew back down to Adelaide from tropical Queensland and was finally ready to immerse myself in the wondrous outback. I purposefully saved this leg of the trip closer to the end of my Working-Holiday Visa because I knew I wanted to find work and live in Alice Springs for 2-3 months (spoiler: 3.5 years later I am still living in Alice Springs). So, like many other backpackers, I took to Gumtree and hitched a ride up to Uluru then Alice Springs with 4 total strangers: 3 French girls and 1 German girl. As you do.
From this point on, this is probably one of my most amusing stories to date, but I will attempt to keep it brief through the use of dot points…
1996 Ford Falcon, 300,000 + kilometres, purchased 1 day before departure from Adelaide to Alice Springs Via Oodnadatta, Painted Desert and Uluru.
- 70km’s out of Coober Pedy exhaust falls from car (despite it being tied up by a nice servo man in Adelaide before our departure).
- Exhaust is removed completely from car by wise travelling grey nomads.
- Finish the drive to Coober Pedy with fantasies of earplugs.
- Stuck in Coober Pedy for 4 days due to Anzac Day long weekend and no mechanics open (a story in itself).
- Mechanic finally repairs exhaust and suggests a new tyre to French girls, which they purchase.
- Visit Painted Desert and Oodnadatta Road House
- Arrive in Marla 7pm, but driver wants to continue driving to free campsite 80km down the track, despite how dark it was.
- 5 Kilometres down from Marla at 7:30pm our NEW TYRE BURSTS.
- 10pm we finally hailed drivers who had the right tools for us to change the tyre.
- 10:30pm back-track to Marla.
- Drive to Uluru next day
We made it to Uluru…alive!
Now what? There was a giant rock. And a Cultural Centre. And lots of Indigenous art. I saw everything with fresh, Canadian eyes for the first time and was fairly overwhelmed. I hadn’t planned a single thing to do once I arrived, nor did the rest of the crew. I hadn’t priced out any tourist attractions or accomodation. To be honest, I didn’t even know what there WAS to do until I got there! We found out you could climb to the top of Uluru (though it was frowned upon) or walk the 10km base path.
So there we were, the 5 of us girls, departing at midday to walk 10 kilometres around The Rock with no fly nets and probably not enough water. If I’m honest, it was absolutely dreadful. None of us had expected such heat and flies. We all came from fairly cold countries and were oblivious to the desert climate. We walked 3 kilometres, if that, and unanimously decided to throw in the towel and go back to the car.
In hindsight, maybe planning isn’t actually a bad thing…
Now, having lived in Alice Springs for 3.5 years, I have revisited Uluru several times – much more prepared and informed. I am lucky because I have been able to go back. Most backpackers who visit Uluru will only ever see it that one time and keep those memories indefinitely.
Having gone back with plans to cycle the base of Uluru made me wonder why I hadn’t organised a bike with Outback Cycling the first time around. The experience was much more pleasurable because the hire times were in conjunction with the cooler mornings. Plus, riding a bike was just easier and more entertaining than walking 10km. I had plenty of time to stop and take photos of the beautiful water holes and different angles of The Rock along the way. I also noticed a much more personal connection to Uluru and to the sacred Aboriginal land my second time around.
It’s all well and good to simply visit landmarks around Australia, but having a plan truly turns visits into experiences.