4.30 pm on Day 1.
My heart fell. I couldn’t believe it: we were part of a dreaded package tour … The enormous coach was full. Did I discern similar dismay on the faces of some other passengers? We packed ourselves in, and followed by a similar crowded vehicle, rumbled away onto a dirt road. Eyes squinting against the sun, we disembarked.
The Outback Barbecue took place against a backdrop of red cliffs as we sat in a large amphitheatre facing a crude “Toilet block” of tin with haphazard signs. Inside were the most spacious, luxurious toilet-booths I have ever come across in the bush. No matter that the signs were confusing, and I wasn’t sure which were for sheilas and which for blokes, or even if there was no discrimination.
Enormous slabs of steak done to perfection as ordered, lashings of sauces, butter, sour cream, gigantic baked potatoes, mouth-watering salads. Our crude wooden knives cut through the meat like butter as we licked our lips under a vast awning “in case the non-existent rains interrupt us.”
Our platters licked clean, we return to our chairs set beside blackened upended logs to listen to slapstick tales of sheep-shearing, histories of brumbies and camels. Then a man with a guitar had us singing the choruses of “Waltzing Matilda” and suchlike while the storyteller slaved again in the kitchen, finally carrying out a soot-blackened container of “damper” – turning out the ashy concoction onto the sand, brushing it clean with his hands and serving it with cardboard cups of hot tea.
What a wonderful, jolly party – complete with “free” wine and beer. Nicely mellow, forgetting all our woes, we returned to our hotel and tumbled into bed, before an early Sunday start.
Day 2. Sunday 7/8/22
We had a hasty breakfast in the restaurant and boarded the coach at 8 o’clock sharp for a full day. We walked in Simpsons Gap and Stanleys Chasm and had lunch at Alice Springs market before doing a whistle-stop tour of the Royal Flying Doctors, the Old Telegraph Station, the ASP School of the Air, and finally the War Memorial viewpoint overlooking the town.
My feet were aching, my limbs stiffening. We faced a 7am start in the morning. How everything went wrong at the beginning was still not entirely understood, as our driver said we were meant to have been on the 10.30 am flight, which had been cancelled. But our minds were focused on the morrow and the fabled Kings Canyon walks.
Singlehanded, he turned out to be a brilliant, hard-working driver/dogs’ body/raconteur who slaved for 30-40 of us in the gigantic coach, which covered a total of 783km in two consecutive days. When we said goodbye, he admitted that he’d dreaded the prospect.
If I’d known we’d be so many for so long, I would never have booked…
Day 3. Monday 8/8/22
A 305 km drive, with a stop for lunch, to Kings Canyon. Our driver chatted as he drove, punctuated by his mantra “… you know – that sort of thing.” He pointed out the desert oak trees (of casuarina family) which send down tap roots to support and water the larger canopies up to 500 years old. Fire and lightning often destroy the mature trees, but there are plenty of 90-year-old younger “shoots” in evidence.
We saw some brumbies on the roadside. After the horses had floundered in the salty mud of Lake Amadeus, Dromedary camels were imported as beasts of burden to lay the cables for the telegraph line from South Australia to Darwin in the 1870’s. The camels have since thrived and multiplied in the bush.
We were fully prepared for what to expect of the alternative walks in Kings Canyon. An amazing eucalyptus trunk grew round its charred inner core. We saw walkers on the rim far above us crossing a small bridge.
On to the luxurious Kings Canyon Resort. Rooms with spas (which none of us used) faced the scrub.
A fabulous two-course dinner (chicken or beef then trifle). Wine flowed and loosened our tongues as we got to know more of our fellow travellers. We fumbled back to our rooms along semi-lit pathways.
Then things began to unravel…