Wednesday, December 12, 2007

just in time

28th August 2001

I had had Frequent Flyer/Mileage Plus points for years and had never had the opportunity to use them.

One day, thinking about this, I decided to call the airline and ask about using my points to book a flight as there had been a spate of media stories about how difficult they really were to use. My points were with United but I was able to use them with Ansett, the Australian domestic airline.

At this time I only had 30,000 and I wasn’t sure where this could get me to.

I asked the Ansett airline agent if I had enough points to get me to Alice Springs (never having been there before.) Sure, she said, it’s only 10,000 to the Alice.

Well when can I go, I asked? Oh we can’t tell you, you must give us a date and we will tell you if it’s available.

So I plucked a date out of my head to try out the system: Umm…how about the 4th of September (one week away)?

When would you want to return she asked?

Oh say 8 days later?

12th September. Ok? So would you like me to book that for you?

Suddenly, with no original intention of going anywhere I found myself with a possible flight booked.

Ok, I said, book it.

So I found myself with a ‘spur of the moment’ trip. The best kind.

Not having a drivers licence, and realising the central desert region has quite a lot of interesting things to see that are all spread far apart with large amounts of inhospitable desert in between, I soon realised I needed to find a tour of some sort to get me around.

I found a small-group camping trip company that was perfect and booked online. It was for 4 nights/5 days and included the night before and after at the Youth Hostel in Alice. It provided all camping gear, food, transport and guide.

I think this was the first organised tour I had ever been on and I was a little reluctant about doing it. But it turned out to be very rewarding. The group consisted of 12 people from a variety of countries such as Italy, France, the UK, Denmark and me. (I'm a country unto myself...)

They were all generally a friendly bunch, none overtly obnoxious, the Poms were a little raucous and in-yer-face, the Danes somewhat shy and distant and I found myself getting along famously with the Frogs (being a little bit of a Francophile as I am).

The trip took us to Mt Conner (var. Connor), a large flat topped mesa-like megalith which stands starkly in the middle of a large completely flat desert region not far from Uluru, for which it is often mistaken for.

We then took in Kata Tjuka (The Olgas):


Then we passed the West McDonnell Ranges stopping for the night at Kings Creek Station, one of the largest cattle stations in the region. Here I flew in my first helicopter which looked like an escapee from a children’s carousel, very small with no doors.

The third day found us at Kings Canyon:

and Gosse Bluff:

“About 142 million years ago, a one-kilometre-wide meteorite or comet, travelling dozens of kilometres per second, slammed into Australia. It tunnelled hundreds of metres underground in a fraction of a second before detonating in an explosion that would dwarf the most powerful nuclear bomb.
The resultant crater was more than 20 kilometres wide, enough to swallow a good chunk of Melbourne. The ground in the crater's centre instantly rebounded, forming within seconds a circular peak of hills more than four kilometres wide.” reference

gosse bluff (photo courtesy of here:)

That evening about half the group left (they were doing the 3 day trip) and the remainder continued to Ellery Creek Bighole, Aboriginal ochre pits, Ormiston Gorge, Wallace Rock Hole, Standley Chasm, Palm Valley and Hermansberg, before heading back on the evening of the last day to Alice.

ellery creek.

ochre pits these are believed to have been used continuously for thousands of years.

ormiston gorge.

ormiston gorge rock wallaby.

ormiston gorge.

ormiston gorge.

ormiston gorge campsite.

standley chasm.

palm valley - where we were fortunate to have some rain.

It was a superb trip and opened my eyes to how incredibly diverse the Australian landscape can be. There is so much to this country besides endless kilometres of mallee scrub and featureless desert with sporadic gums. You just have to get out there and find it.

*Footnote: In the Alice Youth Hostel on my last night I was woken by whispering in my dorm. Some guy, at around 4am, had woken another backpacker and in my half dreamy state I though I heard him say “flew into the World Trade Centre then another plane smashed into the Pentagon.”

I remember thinking to myself “Why would anyone wake up another person to tell them about the bad dream they had?”

The next morning around 7am as I wandered past the TV room on the way to the showers I noticed about thirty people in front of the tele which I thought was pretty odd as morning television just isn’t that interesting.

The rest, as you know, is history.

So I arrived back home in Sydney on the morning of September 12th 2001 and 2 days later Ansett went belly up.

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