Alice and a Camel

Trip Start Sep 28, 2003
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Trip End Sep 29, 2004


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Friday, August 27, 2004

When I returned from my trip to Ayers Rock I knew that I would have to book my next trip (from Darwin) pretty quickly as I knew that I only had a week there and I was going to get there in two days time. Kakadu National Park is one of the must-go places near to

Therefore it was just the next morning when I was back with the brochures trying to suss out the best company to go with. I have read somewhere elsethat it is the guide and the
group that make the trip. This is very true, but I reckon that the company you pick has to be fairly reputable too. I had gather a few brochure from the YHA and had seen a few different companies that had tour that looked OK. I decided to check out a few of the travel shops in town.

In the end I only got to one! This was the Departure Lounge on Todd Street (www.departureloungetravel.com). Vickie talked through some of the different options I had, in terms of the different companies to go with and also the ground covered by each of the different trips. One of things that impressed me was her knowledge of the pros and cons of each company and also the fact the she had herself been on a couple of the different trips.

In the end I chose to go with a company called Wilderness 4WD Adventures (www.wildernessadventures.com.au) on a Top-End Explorer 5 day tour. The tour would also take in Katherine and Litchfield National Park. However more about that in the next installment.

I would like to point out that I was extremely impressed with the advice and help given by Vickie at the Departure Lounge and have no hestitation in recommending this travel shop to anyone wanting to book tours while they are staying in Alice. Vickie also suggested stuff to do for my remaining few days in town.

On return to the YHA I got a text message from my friends from back in Luton. Anoushka and Gerry, who had recently arrived in Alice. I wandered across town to meet them and it was good to catch up with them again, I had not seen them for 7 or 8 months as they travelled around Australia in their Coaster/Camper van.

In the afternoon, I had decided to seek out some of the local tourist attractions. The first being the Royal Flying Doctors Service visitors centre. The centre includes a number of different exhibits explaining the different aspects of the service. There is also a 15 min film explaining the role of the Flying Doctors.

My next stop was the Alice Springs Reptile Centre just over the road. Neil and Kelly had told me that it was worth timing my arrival for one of the feeding time talks. I turned up a little early and took the opportunity to look around a bit before the talk commenced. There was a large range of different reptiles in the centre, including snakes, lizards, goannas and thorny devils.

The talk was very good and a great(?) opportunity to get to meet some reptiles up close. First of all the goanna's came out and we were allowed to hold a couple of different ones while the girl running the talk explained about them. One "lucky" youngster got to sit throughout the talk with a goanna sitting on his cap! The next creature to make an appearance was an Olive Python. I was the "lucky" assistant who got to hold it first. It was then explained that this particular snake was not dangerous (phew....)

While on the tour we were told about an interesting story which occurred when Steve Irwin visited the centre. They have a very large perenti, which is a large reptile (upto a couple of metres long). On this occassion Steve was handling the Perenti belonging to Alice Springs Reptile Centre. They advised him not to handle the Perenti as they have a bit of a bite. Steve did not take their advice and swiftly left Alice Springs on his plane after receiving a bite on the arm! Overall, I very much enjoyed this tour and would advise anyone passing through Alice to try and make time to get to one of the feeding time talks.

The next day I went to the Alice Springs Desert Park. I seem to remeber this costing a bit to get in, but it was very interesting and I think, had I had longer, I would have spent more time here. It is situated over quite a large area, a short way outside of Alice Springs. I booked my ticket to include a minibus transfer from town.

There are many different aspects to the park, this includes animals, birds, interesting talks about aboriginal use of desert resources as well as an interesting film about 4 million years of desert evolution. The end of which is quite amazing. I went to some talks on Aboriginal Bush Tucker and also one about honey ants. I cannot think of any aspect of the park that was a let down. I was previously worried about finding enough things to fill my time in Alice, but by the end of my few days I had run out of time.

Still I had another 24 hours before I had to get back on the train, to continue my journey upto Darwin. When I got back into town after visiting the Desert Park (and boy was it hot!) I just had time to relax for about half an hour before it was time to move again. My next activity was to be a Camel ride.

This was something I had not done before (surprise surprise) and didn't think I would really have the opportunity in the future. So after another transfer ride, out to a farm south of Alice, a group of us got on to our allocated camels. By hanging back I ended up on the front camel who was called "Greyhound" because he used to be a racing camel - seriously they do about 40mph when in a hurry. Fortunately Greyhound had left his racing days behind and our little chain of camels did a circuit as the sun started to set. At a couple of points Greyhound and his pal Taj (just behind him) wanted to run things according to their agenda, but the guide soon put them back in order! The guide made a point of collecting all of our cameras and taking photos for everyone which was good, so I have a photo to remember the trip by.

The next day I managed to squeeze in a couple more things before I headed back to the train station.

I had heard that the Telegraph Station was a walk north from the centre of Alice, and the School of the Air was also in a similar direction. I have always been a bit of a walker and it was a really nice walk. However, had I been able to choose the temperature, 10 degrees C less would have been fine. It was absolutely baking! I also had a hurry on, as I needed to eat and be at the YHA for a taxi ride to the station at about 3.30 PM.

Unfortunately, I just missed a tour when I arrived at the Telegraph Station, so I waited for the next one to start while enjoying an ice-lolly. The tour was worthwhile and I am very glad I did it, but I wish I had had some more time to look around afterwards. I was in a bit of a hurry and had to make a move towards my next stop.

This was the worst stage of the journey because I was not quite sure, how long it was going to take and at the start, I wasn't even sure if I was heading in the correct direction. I finally got my bearings and arrived at the School of the Air. This school is slightly unusual, in that on a normal day there are no children in the school! This school broadcasts lessons at specific times to children in remote areas using CB radio. The area that the school covers is just vast, with one of the farms alone being on a piece of land bigger than Wales! It is things like this that help you to appreciate the size of this amazing country... Currently the school has about 140 pupils. Each pupil uses the radio for schoolwork for about 30 mins each day, and they each have 10 minutes individual time with their class teacher per week. These days the Internet is used as a major resource in terms of distributing teaching material and communications with students also.

The school was visited by the Prime Minister - John Howard who went on the air to speak to the pupils and among other things he asked what he could do to help the school. One of the pupils from Western Australia responded by asking him if he could consider getting rid of the different timezones in Australia. Western Australia is on a timezone 2.5 hrs ahead of Central Australia. So she had to get up at 5.30AM for her lessons!

Well I next had to hot foot it back to the town centre, this time the walk was less stressful, because I knew which road I had to follow (not that many roads that size through Alice - in fact only one!). However it was still very hot and I was pleased to finally arrive back in town in time to grab something to eat and get my taxi to the station.

Although there was more to do in Alice I was looking forward to getting to Darwin as somewhere different to explore and of course the great 5 day trip that I had booked. Unfortunately going to Darwin meant another 24 hour train trip. As before the Ghan was packed to the hilt, however this was to be my penultimate train trip (even though the last was to be a 3 dayer!).

On the way to Darwin the train stopped at Katherine, this was slightly unfortunate, because the train station is in the middle of nowhere and the only way to get to town was in one of the coaches that they laid on. Unfortunately you had to pay 8 dollars or so for the return trip. They were running lots of alternative excursions to Katherine Gorge, but I knew that Katherine Gorge was to be covered in my tour over the next few days, and I did not want to spend more money to see it twice. Instead I met up with Jeff and we went into Katherine town, which managed to see most of in ten minutes, before getting some breakfast in a cafe and heading back to the train on the next shuttle coach.
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