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Today is sunday and we are now for about a week in Alice Springs, or just “in the Alice” how the locals almost affectionately call the metropole in the heart of the Red Centre. The last three days we covered some 1,500 kms. No, we didn’t cycle, we went by car. Like always, it had not been an easy decision to go for another form of transport instead of the bike, especially as it would have been possible cycling to Ayers Rock, the Olgas and Kings Canyon, but due to the usually poor conditions in terms of affordable food and drinks and the prospect of having to cycle at least a quarter of the distance in strong headwinds, we thought to better invest in a rental car and experience the joys of driving on the wrong side of the road!
Summarizing the trip it was worth despite not being cheap by any means, but the next time we would probably leave out Kings Canyon or extent the trip by another day. For both of us, the most impressing part was experiencing the flat landscape from which suddenly the rock formations of Ayers Rock and The Olgas emerged. To be more precise, three rock formations. The third one is Mt. Connor, which for some reason we don’t know is not so popular with tourists then the other two. Well, the trip had cost quite a bit as well as everyday life in Australia, and especially for people riding bikes in the Outback does. Naturally, cyclists can not carry as many supplies as people in a big 4WD or campervan can, and so they have to stock up on them partly along the road. And this is mercilessly taken advantage of! The motorized tourist can resupply comparably cheap in the "major" towns along the Stuart Highway so they only have to rely on roadhouses for filling up with fuel and enjoying the luxury to eat out. A cyclist, not being able to carry luxuries like an esky with cold drinks needs to resupply inbetween and is being charged a fortune! As an example a six-pack of beer costs AUD $36 in Yulara Resort/Ayers Rock for what one can buy a whole carton of 24 in Alice!
Talking with australian tourists (and there are quite a few out there …) they confirm the rip-off empathically, explaining that this would be because of the huge distances the goods have to travel and the costs for energy which to keep the drinks chilled. Hmmm … at any roadhouse along the Stuart Highway prices are several times higher as in a supermarket in any of the major towns, despite it being passed by the same trucks which transport the goods to the supermarkets, so what would be the problem with dropping a crate here and there? But that’s the tradition: back in the old days when the Stuart Highway still used to be an unsealed road and the places had been really remote, the tradition is carried on.
Over all, one cannot help thinking of a little backwardness in these remote areas of Australia. Be it the sheer costs for food and drinks which are explained with high energy costs and the long distances goods have to travel or the lack of availability of cheap and reliable internet: it is apologetically accepted, the fuel-guzzling 4WD with microwave-equipped, airconditioned trailer (not to mention campervans the size of coaches towing 4WD’s for grocery shopping …) is being filled up and off they go for the bush for a couple of weeks or months with no apparent goal except for having a good time checking out national parks and sights along the way, which at least in the Northern Territory mostly consist of replicas of out-of-service telegraph stations back from the colonial days and World War 2 airstrips. One sight we particularily liked was the "Highest Point on the Stuart Highway"-marker, which actually didn’t provide the altitude, but at least we knew: it’s downhill from here to Adelaide!
On the other hand there’s nature and we are experiencing something very special at the moment. We expected the Outback to be red and dry, but due to unusual heavy rainfalls recently, it’s green! If there wouldn’t be the red soil, one could think one would be somewhere in Northern Germany with it’s green pastures and occassional trees. But amazing as it is it makes finding a campspot for the night a little more difficult because of the high-growing grass everywhere which provides a potential hide-away for snakes and spiders, and in the country with some of the most deadly animals on this planet one doesn’t want to have a too close encounter with one of the local poisonous snakes or spiders some hundred kilometers away from the next bush-hospital. Another issue is that wildlife doesn’t have to travel as there’s plenty of food and water available, so all the nice kanguruhs and emus are rarely spotted if at all or just in the form of roadkill. This has actually been particularily bad up north from Darwin to Katherine in terms of the sheer amount of dead animals, and then further down towards Tennant Creek in terms of the stench – a decaying cow creates an odor one will never forget!