August 20th 2016 – Travelling to New Zealand

Today I slept in until 7:30am. I laid in bed and relaxed for a bit until 8:00am. Karl prepared me a fantastic breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, toast, and orange juice. I packed my bags, showered, and got ready to leave to wait for the shuttle. Karl drove me to the shuttle pickup area at Alice Springs Motor Inn. 10:30am rolled by and the shuttle still hasn’t arrived so I phoned the shuttle company. They said they made a mistake and to phone a taxi and they will reimburse me the difference. I phoned a taxi and Mike in Cab #19 picked me up. Mike is from South Africa from Johannesburg. He moved to Alice Springs about four months ago because his whole family decided to move there. He and I both questioned why, because it’s a pretty bad place. He said he can’t wait to leave for Sydney next month. The taxi ride was $45, and ended up arriving before the shuttle, which was great because I didn’t have too much of a lineup to contend with.
I checked in for my Brisbane flight, receiving an exit row on a Boeing 717-200 with lots of leg room. I went to get me refund from the counter for the shuttle, and received it no questions asked which was great. I then proceeded through security and purchased a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, as well as a bag of chips for lunch. I met up with a group of Italians that was on my last tour and talked with them for a bit before they got on their flight to Darwin. A girl (Francesca, from the United Kingdom) from my tour group was also on the same flight as I was, so we talked for a bit before boarding the flight. She’s been living in Australia for a year, and will be here for one more year. I couldn’t imagine being away from home for that long.
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I sat down In my emergency row seat, which had a ton of leg room. I have to give Qantas very high marks for their in flight service because they are the only airline I’ve been on in years that I’ve been served a hot meal on an economy class domestic flight. I had a peri peri chicken pizza, with a slice of apple and cranberry bread, and coffee. The flight fairly arrived early due to a very high tail wind.
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I had a two hour layover in Brisbane, which went by fairly quickly. I had a beer at the bar to pass some time and caught up on communication with people.
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The flight to Auckland was significantly delayed boarding, but boarding went very quickly due to the flight only being about 75 percent full. On the flight I was presented with three options for dinner; lamb, chicken, or pulled pork served with couscous and a choice of three different red wines, and two different white wines. I choose a Merlot Cabernet Shiraz blend served with lamb, which was excellent. Towards the end of the 3 hour flight they handed out granola bars and dark mint chocolate. Qantas continues to impress me. The local non-budget airlines at home really need to start stepping up to the plate. I spent the majority of the flight sifting through the photos I’ve taken over the last ten days, editing the good ones and deleting the bad ones. The flight had a good tail wind again so we actually arrived 10 minutes early despite our delays leaving.
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I had booked a hotel at the airport earlier this morning so that I had an address to stay before picking up my camper in the morning, as well as put on my declaration card for obtaining a visa when I arrived.
I walked 15 minutes from the terminal to the hotel and checked in, unpacked what I needed for the next morning, and went to bed.

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August 19th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 10 of 10

Today we woke up at 5:30am. I had coffee and toast for breakfast and then packed the rest of my stuff up so that we could leave by 6:30am. 

We drive to Kings Canyon and hiked around the entire canyon, also visiting the Garden of Eden. The hike took about three hours due to our leisurely pace so that everyone could keep up. The hike starts off with a few hundred very step semi natural steps. There is an AED at the top in case anyone has a heart attach climbing it. I was quite impressed that they had one.

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We learned a lot about the canyon and the Garden of Eden during our hike. The kings canyon is comprised of Carmichael sandstone. Carmichael sandstone is like a sponge. If can retain water for a long period of time. There have not been too many rock falls but one did occur about two months ago, and you can tell from the white rock face because unexposed sandstone takes hundreds, if not thousands of years to oxidize. That rock fall was the first in nearly 70 years, and not many buses got through during that time.

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We also learned that Spinifex grass can be used to make a resin similar to super glue. It is used to attach spear heads, as well as be used to patch boomerangs. Spear vines can be used to make spears and if the vine isn’t straight you can straighten it by holding it over a fire.

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White gum trees can be used as a sunscreen but running the powder from the bark on your skin. You can tell if a tree has been used a lot for this purpose because it starts looking like a red gum tree. White gum trees are unique because they can kill off some of their branches during times of lengthy droughts. They will keep their strongest branches alive and kill off the weaker ones. 

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We also learned that traditional punishment of beatings is still done by the aboriginals and police meet them half way. They allow minor lashes, but not abuse, but also enforce some white people laws as well. 

When we reached the top of canyon our tour guide Nat had a whip off with another tour guide who also had a whip. They are the only two tour guides on Way Out Back to have whips. The sounds were amazing and it was really cool to watch. My tour guide also took a funny selfie with my SLR too, so I had to include that picture.

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We continued along the canyon a bit further down some very steep stairs, across a small river leading to the Garden of Eden, back up some steps, where we had a rest and Nat gave us some chocolate chip cookies. She stayed behind while we went and explored the Garden of Eden, which is a permanent water hole within the canyon. The sights were mesmerizing!

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After returning back to Nat we had to go up quite a few more stairs. Some people were struggling a bit here so Nat cracked a joke saying that some people took too many cookies. 

After we finished the hike we had some ham and cheese wraps with vegetables. It was a five hour drive back to Alice springs afterwards, but we broke it up with two stops. We took a fairly bumpy gravel road to shave off 2 hours off the drive. 

I was dropped off second last at the bed and breakfast that I was staying at, called Kathy’s Place. I was greeted by her husband Karl, who showed me around the home and showed me to my room. He offered me some coffee and we talked for a bit before i decided to head out in search of food. Another guest was getting dropped off at the same time I was leaving so the gentleman who dropped him off offered me a ride into the centre town, about 2 kilometres away. He dropped me off at the IGA grocery store where I picked up a few beers and some food for dinner. I walked back, which took about 20 minutes. The walk was a bit scary because Alice Springs has a very high crime rate, and the streets are not very well lit. I walked very fast and kept checking over my shoulder. 

When I got back to the house Karl was watching television. I made my sandwich and cracked a beer. Karl and I talked for about an hour and a half about the Olympics, politics, airplanes, Australia, family, and travelling. I phoned the shuttle company and confirmed a pickup at 10:00am tomorrow from Alice Springs Motor Inn, about 500 metres away from Kathy’s Place. I was getting tired so I decided to head to sleep. 

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August 18th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 9 of 10

Today we woke up at 5:30am. Breakfast was raisin toast and good coffee made from a French press. This was the best coffee I’ve had on this trip so far, because all the other days have been instant coffee. After breakfast I loaded my bag into the truck and climbed a large sand dune to watch the sun rise at Uluru. The sunrise occurred around 7:00am. After watching the absolutely stunning sunrise we all went back to the truck and left camp at around 7:50am.
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We drove the the Valley of the Winds (Katja Tjuta) for a walk. We did a complete loop around the valley, which took a few hours going at a fairly slow pace so that everyone could keep up. In the Valley of the Winds there are 36 domes, which were created when the inland sea from 450 million years ago disappeared. There was a large earth movement, the plates collided, and then the sandstone formation hardened.
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We learned about quite a few unique things about the vegetation in the area along our walk. We learned that Mulga Trees are used to make boomerangs. Boomerangs differ in shape and design depending where you live in Australia. On the coast boomerangs are designed to come back to you, so you don’t have to swim to get your boomerang once you’ve thrown it. In the centre of Australia boomerangs were typically used to take out kangaroos and wallabies so they didn’t need the boomerang to come back. We also learned that Kangaroo’s can’t walk backwards. One more thing we learned was that Mulla Mulla, a purple flower was used by the indigenous people to lay down their babies in because it was so soft; specifically the bulbs of the royal Mulla Mulla, which is about three or four times the standard Mulla Mulla. There is also a bush called a last chance bush that has medicine in it that can be used to get rid of a wart among other things.
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We finished our walk at around noon, then drove about two hours to Curtain Springs cattle station where we had hamburgers and beef sausages for lunch. I also purchased a few cans of beer for tonight’s dinner. The cattle station is owned by a gentleman named ash, and is comprised of over a million acres. When the property was first purchased they went through 9 years of drought. Underneath the property lies a huge artesian basin with water depths ranging from 30 to 260 metres. Water is pumped to the top where it can be used for agriculture as well as drinking water. Something unique we learned about cows is that they are willing to travel a fairly significant distance to obtain water. Out in the outback they use water to control cows. If a cow is needed in a certain area water is pumped to a watering station or watering hole, while all the others are turned off. At this particular cattle station they used to process all their own meat, but in the 1980’s the government changed the laws so they sent their meat down Adelaide for processing. There were lots of birds at this cattle station.
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After lunch we had a very long drive to Kings Canyon cattle station, where we were staying for the night. This cattle station was smaller, about half the size. We arrived at about 5:30pm. After we arrived we picked tents. The one I originally picked had a bunk bed with a queen bed on the bottom. I asked a French couple from New Caledonia if they wanted to switch tents with me so they could be together because I didn’t need a queen bed. His English was really bad so somehow he mistook me as wanting to sleep with his wife and he got upset. We all tried to explain to him and he eventually got it and we switched tents. We couldn’t stop laughing afterwards.
We prepared food for dinner and put it in the campfire. We climbed up a sand dune to watch the sunset at 7:30pm. We even flew a drone owned by one of the people in my group over the site to check the site out. I looks very beautiful from a birds eye perspective.
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We had dinner at 8:00pm. Dinner was Kangaroo, cooked vegetables, and pesto pasta served with red and white wine. I had a glass of red wine, and some of the beer I purchased earlier today.
We stayed around the campfire talking until about 9:30pm, when i decided I was too tired, so I went back to my tent to go to bed.

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August 17th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 8 of 10

Today I woke up at 5:00am and had some complimentary toast and coffee for breakfast from the hostel. I the. Packed my bags and got ready to be picked up for our scheduled 6:05am departure. 6:05am rolled by and there was still no sign of the bus. It wasn’t until 6:30 that a huge 4×4 rolled up. We got upgraded to a 4×4, better meal services, and better tents complimentary due to not enough bookings so no complaints on my end! Our tour guide Nat (Natalie) introduced herself and we got on our way! I’m down to only one person from my original tour, as well as three others from my previous tour. The new group of people are not as fun as my previous two groups, which we’ve become to know as “family” in the outback.

Our first stop, 1.5 hours away, was Stuart Well, which was a place where we could do optional camel rides, but nobody felt like doing any. We had a short break, and I took some photos or some kangaroos and camels. We learned that camels were introduced to Australia from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan because they were in need of an animal that was heartier and stronger than the horse to help built to overland telegraph line in the 1870’s. Camels could carry almost twice as much (400kg) as a horse, and don’t need water for weeks at a time. After the telegraph line was completed they were no longer in need of the camels so they set them free into the land. This created a massive over population problem and eventually lead to culling of the camels. At their peak they had over one million camels, but they are now down to a much more reasonable 300,000 camels. Camels in Australia are about as purebred as they come and are sometimes sold overseas.

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The next stop was Mount Ebenezer Station about another 1.5 hours away. This stop has a restaurant and bar, as well as an aboriginal art centre. The aboriginals paint here and their art is sold. They’ve even been invited to paint in the Sydney Opera House. We stayed here about half an hour before continuing on.

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The next stop was Fooluru, or Mount Conner. From afar it looks like Uluru (Ayres Rock), but it isn’t. We climbed the sand dune to see a better view of Mount Conner on one side, and a salt water lake on the other side. The reason for this is that Australia was an inland sea about 400 million years ago.

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After our stop at Mount Conner we went to Curtain Springs cattle station for a quick stop before continuing on to our campsite. We stopped on the side of the road at noon to pickup firewood for tonight. We arrived at camp at 12:45pm, had some sandwiches for lunch, and dropped off our bags, before leaving towards Uluru.

It was 2:30pm when we arrived at Uluru. We went inside the cultural centre to learn about Uluru, the aboriginals, and the general history in the area. Uluru was originally owned by the aboriginals until 1958, when they were pushed out by white people. The area was eventually returned to the aboriginals on October 26th 1985, but tourism was still allowed with a special 99 year lease, which is overseen by a board of management. Uluru is a pretty special place because it has received two awards; in 1987 it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and in 1994 it was recognized for its cultural landscape as well.

After visiting the cultural centre we did two walks; the Mutitjulu Walk, and the Mala walk. After completing our walks we drove to a lookout overlooking Uluru to have champagne and watch the sunset.

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After the sunset we drove back to camp to have dinner, which was rice and chicken stir fry. The dinner was already prepared for us upon our return, due to having an upgraded package. I was really tired so I went to bed at around 10:00pm.

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August 16th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 7 of 10

Today I got to sleep in. I woke up at 8:00am. I went to look at the free breakfast at the hostel, but decided to pass. I walked to McDonald’s about 1km away, where I ordered a Mighty Egg McMuffin, something that we don’t get at home. The Might Egg McMuffin has three different types of meat, two slices of cheese, and an egg. It was quite delicious.
After walking back from McDonald’s a girl from my group, Anne, approached me in the lobby and asked if I could help her and two other girls look for a wallet that got stolen last night from one of the girls. These two girls were from a different tour group. A young boy and young girl apparently came up to them at about 7:00pm last night and stole her wallet right out of her hand. I said that I would help, so we went searching in the area that her wallet got stolen, but unfortunately we couldn’t find anything. The two girls walked back to the hostel, while Anne and I went into town to look at art, and grab some groceries for lunch. We met up with another lady that was on our tour named Lucy, and we looked at art together. After looking at the art we went and purchased a baguette, some spread, ham, cheese, and a drink for lunch. We walked back to the hostel, and made lunch.
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After finishing up lunch around 1:00pm we decided to play some pool with this Scottish couple from our trip. It was Anne and I versus the Scottish couple. Sadly we got absolutely destroyed by the Scotts!
In the afternoon I talked on the phone for a bit, and then we had “family” dinner with the people I had been travelling with for the last six days. We had pesto pasta. Tomorrow most of us would go our own separate ways.
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I ended up going to bed a short time after dinner because I was so tired. Tomorrow I have to get up early to go on my Uluru tour! I’m very excited!
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August 15th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 6 of 10

Last night we slept in swags around the campfire. Over the last week or so I’ve been reading the book that Koop Kooper gave to me called Cocktail Nation: The Interviews 2. I finished it the previous evening by the campfire underneath the beautiful stars. You could even see the Milky Way. I’m blessed to have received this autographed book from Koop. I highly recommend it if you’re into classic retro music. Koop talks 19 different artists ranging from Jimmy Borges, to Irwin Chusid (fascinating read about Esquivel), and to Laurie Allyn. You can visit Koop’s website at https://cocktailnation.net/ and purchase his book from Amazon here:

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We woke up again at 5:30am, but someone’s phone was going off again at 5:00am. I ate some toast and cereal for breakfast, as well as had some coffee. I then washed up, packed my bags, and rolled up my swag. It’s very important to roll your swag nice and tight because if you don’t snakes could potentially get in. Simon ended up having to re-roll six swags because they were not rolled up tight enough.

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We left the camp site at 6:30am. We passed through Tennent Creek, which is the largest town in the area. The first telegraph station was built here, but the actual town site is about 8km from the telegraph station. The reason for this is that a truck with alcohol broke down about 8km from the telegraph station, and people congregated around it, and that’s where the actual town site was built.

The next stop, two hours away, was the Devil’s Marbles. Aboriginals felt a devilish creature lived in the rocks because sheep were eaten by dingo’s. Aboriginals also wore belts made of their wife’s hair. The Devil’s Marbles were formed from sedimentation from an inland sea. The marbles were originally underground, but due to erosion they have slowly shown up over time. It is said that there are more underneath and they will be exposed over the years. The marbles consist of sandstone.

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The boulders at Devil’s Marbles can crack and split completely perfectly. This occurs due to very fine secondary cracks, called joints, getting penetrated by rain water. The rain water reacts with some of the minerals in the rock, so that they decompose to clay. The weight of the two halves can cause them to split perfectly and fall apart.

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There are two species that live quite well in the desert like conditions at Devil’s Marbles; a desert frog and crab. The water-holding frog, Cyclorana australis, is known for its ability to bury itself alive in order to survive droughts. Before burrowing underground, this large frog bloats itself with water. While it is buried, the frog slowly absorbs the water through its stomach lining, thus avoiding dehydration. The drought surviving crab, Austrothelphusa transversa, grows up to 50 mm across and lives in deep burrows in the creek bank. During dry times, it blocks the entrance to its burrow and retreats to a small, moist chamber at the bottom where, like the frog, it patiently waits for rain.

The next stop, 20 minutes away, was Wycliffe Well. Wycliffe Well is the UFO capital of Australia. There is a secret army base in Alice springs called Pine Gap, and people in the area claim to have been abducted by aliens. This would be equivalent to Australia’s version of Area 51.

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After our brief stop in Wycliffe Well we continued on to Barrow Creek Pub. One the way to Barrow Creek we did a quiz. I got 11 out of 19 questions correct. Simon said the questions were a bit biased because they were more about Australian things. Luckily some of the questions were the same ones from Alex’s set of questions so I remembered what the answer’s were.

We arrived in Barrow Creek. Barrow Creek is an isolated and tiny outpost that became a piece of famous history when on July 14th 2001 it became a vital part of one of the Australian outback’s most famous horrific and mysterious crimes. On the night of July 14th, Bradley John Murdoch stopped a Volkswagen van driven by an English traveller, Peter Falconio, and persuaded Falconio to leave his vehicle. Falconio was shot, and Falconio’s girlfriend Joanne Lees was tied up. She managed to escape and hide in the bushes along the side of the highway and was eventually picked up by a road train truck driver, who took her 13 km south to the Barrow Creek Pub where the police were alerted. There is a movie based on this called Wolf Creek. I was told I should watch this movie, but it is really scary. He said be glad that you didn’t watch the movie before traveling through the area.

At the pub we ate sandwiches for lunch in a back room. One of the people on our group ate most of the tomatoes, which was fairly disrespectful. He’s done quite a few disrespectful things over the last six days and is starting to get on some of our nerves. Luckily he will not be on the last part of my tour. Simon had to dig into tomorrow’s food because of this. At the pub there is memorabilia everywhere dating back many decades. If you tell the pub owner where you are from he will point you to a section for your country and tell you facts about each piece. You can also write your name on the wall too if you would like. I didn’t write my name on the wall, but I wish I had now that I’m sitting here writing the blog.

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The next stop was Ti Tree for coffee and more fuel. We passed a man who is dying of a rare form leukemia. I was told that this is his third time traveling across the country to raise money. I couldn’t find any information by doing a Google search so if you know who this man is please let me know so I can post a link to his web page.

The next stop was Aileron to see a very odd Kangaroo, who’s name is too vulgar to repeat but we will call him “FN”, and his girlfriend pig called Apples. “FN” the kangaroo was introduced to Apples when his girlfriend passed away because he became depressed. I’m not entirely sure why, or how, but they definitely have an odd relationship. I will let you put the picture together for yourself. Aileron also has a beautiful tall statue on top of a hill.

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We learned some more interesting history as we continued another two hours towards Alice Springs. The word “selfie” is a word invented by an Australian man. The dingo isn’t native to Australia; it came from Asia. The Stewart Highway was one of the most dangerous highway in Australia until it was paved and upgraded in 1987 at a cost of approximately $200 million, as part of Australia’s bicentenary roadwork’s program. There are no police patrolling the majority of the highway, and until the end of 2006 there was no speed limit outside towns and other built-up areas on the Northern Territory part.

We arrived in Alice Springs at 5:30pm and were dropped off at our hostels. The majority of us are staying at a hostel called the Haven Backpackers Resort. I checked into my private room and was greeted by a slightly obnoxious smell of sewer gas. Other than that the room was great, spacious and roomy. I figured the smell would dissipate, but it hasn’t. Other people complained about the same smell in their room too. I did some investigating and even though that we are in the city we are still on a septic system, and it doesn’t handle it very well.

We all did our own things until about 7:00pm, when 16 of 19 people in our group walked over to The Rock Bar, which is on the main road in the city. Simon, our tour guide, even showed up which was fun. I ordered a kangaroo steak, and a pitcher of beer for dinner. Others ordered steaks, burgers, schnitzel, and salads. I had the only kangaroo steak that was left. It was pretty delicious, and didn’t have as much of a “game” taste as I thought it would. I was told it would taste similar to elk, but I wouldn’t agree. We all hung out until about 10:30pm, when we all walked back to the hostel together. This city is known to be extremely unsafe, so we were advised strongly by Simon to walk together in a group, or take a taxi. I went to sleep at about midnight, since tomorrow is a day off from traveling.

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August 14th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 5 of 10

Today we woke up at 530. Someone’s alarm was going off at 5. Nobody turned it off for over a half hour so I went and turned it off. I had toast and coffee for breakfast. We packed up and left at 6:30pm. We stopped in Katherine to fuel up, and I purchased Simon and I a coffee.

The next stop, an hour away, was bitter springs. Bitter springs is a naturally occurring hot spring, with a temperature of around 32-33 degrees. It’s cooler than the hot springs I’m used to back in Canada. The hot springs had almost no sulphur smell. We originally were supposed to stop in Mataranka Hot Springs, but decided to stop at Bitter Springs instead because it’s less commercialized. Mataranka is busier and the springs are enclosed in concrete instead of being naturally occurring. Bitter Springs is located in Never Never Land, which revived its name from a train that was always late, which ran from Darwin to Alice Springs.

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We then drove about two hours to Daly’s Water’s Pub, where we had hot dogs and salad for lunch. It’s a very historic pub and the small town is literally located in the middle of nowhere. 

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We then drove to Dunmarra, about a half hour away. We got to hold and touch a few snakes. Dunmarra got its name from a telegraph lineman named Dan O’Mara. He vanished without a trace in this area, and his skeleton was found in the 1930’s with the help of the local Jingili Aboriginal people. Their attempts to say his name sounded like Dunmarra.

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We then had a two hour drive to Banka Banka, where we were staying tonight. Banka Banka is an old cattle station that was used during the Second World War. There was a baby cow there named Fugly. The poor guy had one of his ears bitten off by a dingo. There was also some cute family of three frogs that lived in the back of the toilet in the building that the kitchen was located in. We had delicious pasta and white sauce with chicken for dinner. After dinner we all sat around the fire and played some games and were told some scary stories from the area. The site at Banka Banka that we were staying at was a school that had a mass murder occur at it. A teacher and three students were killed. It’s been said that some people can hear and see children at night occasionally. I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but that’s what we were told.

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Today we also learned a few more interesting facts. Australia has 254 different “countries” or language areas of indigenous people. Their history dates back over 60000 years, virtually unchanged. They still live virtually the same lifestyle as they did back in the days, some with a few modern luxuries. Ayers Rock is also known as Uluru. It is considered highly offensive to climb on Uluru and it’s said to cause bad luck if you do. People would climb it in the past and pee and poop at the top, which would run off into the water holes and make the animals sick in the area. In fact only about 10 percent of the local animals to the area are still left because of this. Another fact we learned was that it’s highly frowned upon to take rocks from the area. If you do they are called sorry rocks because they typically cause bad luck to the point where some people who have taken them have actually sent them back in the mail to the park. The last thing we learned was that Eucalyptus trees need smoke to germinate their seeds. 

We went to bed at about 10:00pm. Today we drove about 650km. Tomorrow we get to see the Devil’s Marbles!

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