Day 62 of our Big Trip is a travel day from Wolgan Valley, back to Sydney airport, then out to Ayer’s Rock in the sweaty centre of the country. Just your usual 0430 alarm plus eight hours travelling, no stress at all for the Wandering Knights. Hahahahaha *ROFL emoticon*. But in all honesty, the crew is getting better at big journeys. Airport & hotel staff that don’t want to annihilate us all really help and in Australia they’ve been lovely. A special big shout out to the guy on check-in at Virgin Australia in Sydney – Joey with the quiff – who was a ray of sunshine and as camp as any Christmas you could hope for (Oz is wonderfully pink – most of the staff at Wolgan Valley were super-camp… it’s turning into a Homoerotic Odyssey).
Ayer’s Rock is as ‘out back’ as the Outback gets. There’s really bugger all for thousands of miles and then a thonking great mound hoves into view from the plane and the fuselage tips as everyone dashes over to get a shot. And then another mound shows up and everyone’s confused (“Another? There are two?”) but the next one is much lumpier although just as big and red (this is beginning to sound like ‘Embarrassing Bodies’). The second one is apparently called Kata Tjuta in the local Anangu people’s language which means ‘Many Heads’ and it’s extremely sacred but nowhere near as famous as it’s little brother Uluru. It’s basically the Noel Gallagher of rocks.
We are meant to be seeing Noel’s Many Heads for sunrise the following morning (they’re called The Olgas, colloquially, but it’s all getting a bit confusing so I’ll just call them Noel and Liam) so that’s another 0430 alarm call. The Knights are scrubbed up and out the front of the hotel by 0500, if not raring to go then at least in that general vicinity. But neither our guide, nor our ride, show up. We ring the guide – let’s call him Beavis – and he’s in bed and he swears he’s never overslept before. We don’t really believe him but it’s too early to get shirty. We have to squidge in with another tour bus heading to Liam instead which is absolutely no problemo but Beavis eventually shows and is so contrite he has to take each of us to one side and separately apologise in such effusive fashion that he ends up actually annoying us for real.
The sun rises, as the sun does, and the Rock goes blacky bluey browny purpley marooney reddy orangey (John and Ed are oblivious to this as they’re busy playing in the dirt with their backs turned – I’m thinking of releasing a coffee table book of my sons playing in gravel at Unesco World Heritage Sites) and then everyone leaves, whither I know not. There’s nothing for miles so presumably everyone’s off back to bed, or to a massive air-conditioned underground casino. Beavis has now asked ‘How you doing?’ to each of us in turn at least five times and it’s not even 7am, even though all we’ve done is stand and look at a big rock.
We eat cereals on a trestle table in 40 degree heat (it’s all part of the service ma’am) and then head into the Valley of the Winds, a posh name for a big draughty crevice in between Noel’s third and fourth head. John finds some nice dirt to sift. Then he briefly raises his eyeline and spots some kangaroos hiding in a cave half way up the side, about two seconds after Beavis has just told Ed that ‘There aren’t any kangaroos around here’. That goes down well.
The common descriptor for hot wind is that it’s like a ‘hairdryer’, but that doesn’t really cut it in this case. This is more like an astronomical industrial dehumidifier, the type you’d use if you wanted to… ooo I don’t know… evaporate the Pacific Ocean or something. Even though it’s only about twenty minutes each way, the walk’s a schvitzathon. Beavis is on his 8th ‘How you doing’ and I’m going to be honest with you, I’m thinking of telling him to stick a boomerang in it but I’m British and he’s only young so I say ‘I’m a bit hot’. ‘It’s not hot actually’, says Beavis.
We have a merciful couple of hours back at the hotel in which the boys catch crickets and nap and then a very nice pair of Aussie pilots – Clint and Josiah – get their choppers out for us. We fly round Liam and Noel and John sits bolt upright with an enigmatic scowl the whole way, despite the fact he’s such a massive helicopter lover, he actually surfs heli-porn on Google images. Put him in the real thing though and he’s the Wizard of Whevs. Go figure.
Then we head to the hotel to drop off the kids and only fifteen minutes later, me and Adam are back with Beavis. I’ve bought myself a fly net to cover my head as there are tonnes of the blighters and they land on your lips, but Beavis sees me put it on and says that ‘There aren’t really any flies around at the moment’. This punk is really pissing me off now. We walk round the base of Liam and there are groovy caves and paintings and all sorts of wondrous things to see but I’m struggling with the heat and the fact that Beavis’ entire repertoire seems identical to the spiel printed on the signs along the route. It’s a beauty rock though. Liam is HOT in both senses of the word.
The kids and Nanny Em join us and we do another walk. Beavis/the signs tell us about a special ‘school’ cave where the Anu people have drawn pictures and symbols to teach the young of the tribe about hunting and legends. There’s a monster character that was meant to frighten the kids into behaving. I’m getting decor ideas for the boy’s bedrooms. Meanwhile, John plays in the dirt (page 63 of my upcoming publication World Heritage Muck – available at all good retailers).
We end the day with a picnic and watch Liam turn orangey reddy purpley browny. We drink sparkling wine and the kids eat bagels that I bought at the supermarket and everything’s right with the world. Then Beavis asks ‘How you doing’ for the 25th time and I see myself cramming a bagel down his throat just as the sun drops below the horizon but I’m suddenly too tired to formulate a reply. It’s been a boomerang of a day – we seem to have started and finished in exactly the same spot.
The next morning we have a Bush Craft experience and I’m thanking my lucky stars Beavis got booked on another job because the session involves spears and I just don’t trust myself. We have the lovely Mika and she shows us edible bush plants and then introduces Roxy the blue-tongued lizard and Mash the python. I marvel over how Roxy is the spit of the ‘Pollywog’ from Stranger Things.
We’ve really rocked the Outback but all good things must come to an end. We’re dirty and sticky so we change for the flight back to Sydney and I discover the last hotel shrunk my favourite shirt as well as my trousers, whilst charging several hundred bucks in total for laundry (generally speaking, luggage on a round-the-world tour is a massive ball-ache). This brings me down to about five items of clothing to take to Auckland on December 22nd and none of them are an hilarious Christmas jumper. In fact on a Christmas theme, I’m feeling a bit like Mary herself: hot, homeless and hacked off (I even look like I’m pregnant with the Messiah after 63 days of club sandwiches). We board the flight back to Sydney and I try to quell the rising panic that I’ve somehow got to pull Xmas 2017 out the bag in a few days time, in a country we’ve never visited before, in a house we’ve never seen before, with no room in our bags and no energy left to roast a single parsnip, even if we could source one in New Zealand. Now that really will be a Christmas Miracle.