Around Australia Week 19 – Back to Alice Springs

After enjoying Kings Canyon and Uluru, it’s back to the MacDonnell Range Park at Alice Springs before heading north to Darwin.

And it’s COLD!!!

Me: “Hey, hang on. Aren’t we supposed to be in the middle of the desert??? What’s with this cold weather?”

Sigh. “Marg, don’t you know that the desert is hot hot hot during the day and cold at night?”

Me: (plaintively) “Yeah, but… it isn’t supposed to be cold during the DAY too, is it?”

Man, it’s cold here. We got back on Saturday arvo and after setting up just huddled in the van with the air con on ‘hot’. And from what we could see, most of the people around the park were doing the same thing – staying out of the cold. Not great for meeting people!

Well, until we went to the pancake brekky the next morning, that is. Now, this pancake breakfast is famous on the circuit – and with good reason! The people at the park are SO organised. They flip those pancakes like true professionals. The queue just seems to get longer and longer… and finally we figured out why: you can go back for as many as you like! The friendly guy (sorry, Rob, “bloke”, not “guy”) wandering around dispensing name tags told us that the record had been 9 pancakes for a woman and I think (from memory) 14 for a man! I’m not totally sure how you could eat 14 pancakes and live, but that’s another story.

The camp kitchen was crowded with happy (although shivering) travellers tucking into pancakes and tea. The woman behind me in the queue said that the week before she’d lined up for her pancakes in shorts and a tee-shirt. Guess we were just lucky turning up in time for the cooler weather.

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It’s not only the pancakes that people like at this place. The Strawberries Galore stand (open late afternoon and on into the evening) always has a few people lining up for their strawberry treats, which included strawberries every which way… with cream, ice cream, pavlova, or pancakes. If you prefer them in liquid form, you can put your hand up for thickshakes or milkshakes. Me? I had strawberries and pancakes with ice cream. Yum. No wonder my jeans are getting tight.

On the second day back at Alice, we bundled up and headed off to the Road Transport Hall of Fame. Rob had been to this for a short time in our previous visit, but I’d missed it… and was keen to visit after hearing from Rob about how much he liked seeing it. AND I wanted to meet up with some of the “Grey Nomads” who volunteered there!

You’ll enjoy just mooching around the Transport Museum (as it’s affectionately known around town… the whole name is a bit of a mouthful) seeing all the old trucks, cars, mementoes and photos. The Kenworths are wonderful, and the old cars have been lovingly restored.

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But the high point for us was chatting to some of the volunteers who had put down roots at Alice (for anything from a month to a year) while they worked at the Transport Museum. There will be a column in Caravan and Motorhome with all the info about how the volunteer system works here, but basically you exchange 16 hours a week of labour (single person) or 20 hours for a couple, for a place to park your van and use of facilities – although you do pay $10 per head for power. The 20 hours per couple can be worked by just one half of the couple while the other seeks different work in Alice.

We talked for a while with Laurence Chapman and Frank & Denise Crabbe, then Shirley Ward (who was on the reception desk) invited us back to their big blue bus for a cuppa. Great! We wandered out the back with Shirley and found their home on wheels tucked away behind the museum, next to a donga that they share with a few others (it has a toilet and shower). Shirley loves working at the Transport Museum; she said everyone’s really easy to get along with, and volunteers can work at a range of different activities. She and her husband Dave have married children living in Alice, so the whole system works really well for them.

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The next day while Rob was attending to something mechanical (I think) I went in to visit the School of the Air, which I hadn’t had time to do the first time around. You can watch a teacher in the glassed-in studio actually delivering a lesson. How things have changed from the days of the old radio in isolated cattle stations and properties! Now children enrolled in School of the Air can see their teacher and their fellow students on a computer screen, and join in lessons using an interactive whiteboard. Far-flung families taking advantage of this method of schooling get an enormous amount of support in the form of a satellite dish and equipment, and the kids get to meet up at various times, too. Brilliant!

I got talking to Alana, the young woman on reception, and found that she, too, was living in a motorhome with her husband and young family! They were travelling, and Alana got a job at School of the Air simply by walking in and asking if they had any jobs going. Just goes to show: if you want to earn money on the road, it never hurts to ask if someone has a vacancy.

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We stayed only another day or so in Alice (paying another visit to Bojangles Pub for a meal, of course) and then it was time to up stakes and head north. We were looking forward to calling in to some of those destinations we’d noted on the way down (like Wycliffe Well, with its billboards proclaiming that aliens liked to visit) and Daly Water. And we were especially looking forward to some warmer weather! The night before we left Alice it was 0°.

Yep, you read that right… ZERO degrees. We were hitching up ready to go and saw that Dennis and Kathryn, the people on the next site, were having difficulty packing up their camper-trailer. The problem was that the fabric of the tent had become so brittle with the cold overnight that it wouldn’t tuck under the lid properly! Dennis laughed and said “Make sure you tell ‘em that!!!”

OK, Dennis… we’ve done it. Now our blog readers know that this is a problem they might not have foreseen with their campervans!!!


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