Continuing our trip through Australia, we arrived in Adelaide one Sunday noon and found that, other than the one man staffing our motel, there was absolutely no one to be seen. We took a long stroll around town and never came across another person or saw an opened business of any sort, having been warned by our host that there wasn’t an open restaurant or cafe in business anywhere. Regretting that we weren’t traveling with at least a jar or two of peanut butter and jelly, Lynn set out on a very determined search for sustenance of any sort. He returned about an hour later, waving a greasy paper bag full of hot bangers and chips. Never did the so-called Australian national dish taste so good. They even smelled good, in a slightly rancid way.
After an all-night bus trip, Coober Pedy was our next stop, one of the strangest places I’ve ever seen. The ocean views, yacht basins and gentle wine country were all left behind. This was open, undulating opal mining country, incredibly hot and sunny, covered with small cone-shaped piles of debris from the mining as far as the eye could see.. The town itself consisted of very wide, open streets and meager looking, scattered buildings. Most of the businesses and homes were built into the hillsides, taking advantage of natural cooling and shelter.
Going into the shops and a few of the homes was to me an unnerving experience. I realized immediately that I would never get any farther than 2 or 3 feet from the only door or the front windows. I couldn’t wait to get back out into the heat, although the interiors were pleasantly cool. As evening rolled around we discovered how a lot of the miners cooled off. They bought huge bottles of Foster’s beer and stretched out on the wide walkways right in front of the liquor store. They looked comfortable as they lounged, passing the time of day with their mates and passers-by.
Another overnight bus trip took us to Ayers Rock, an enormous sandstone inselberg (or ocean island) standing alone in the middle of the desert wasteland. Visible over a great distance in all directions, it has long been a sacred spot for Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines. The Abos, to use the Aussie term, are seen in every part of the country, an important part of life there and yet seemingly not really involved. They are treated cautiously and with great respect. Touring by bus as we were, we were always sternly warned not to leave the bus or have a conversation with any Abo while stopped at any of the small towns belonging to them. There was no danger and we weren’t fearful, just respectful.
Ayers Rock and the surrounding countryside have a distinctive sandy red coloration, Climbing to the top and signing the guestbook is a great tourist activity, and there is a small settlement with hotels near the base. The climb is harrowing, the descent even more so. A chain is provided for assistance, maybe to slow down an out-of- control descent.
I convinced Lynn I was too exhausted to climb after all night on the bus, and let him get well ahead of me before starting, not wanting him nipping at my heels. He was quite surprised to meet me walking across the top toward him.
Alice Springs has been immortalized in Nevil Shute’s book, “A Town Like Alice” and the actual town deserves its fame. Surprisingly green and verdant in the midst of the red outback, it’s a very pretty, comfortable-appearing place with a large shady park in the center of town, giving you the feeling that you might like to live there. One of their attractions is the annual boat regatta, held every August. Since the only river through town is bone dry year round, none of the boats has a bottom. Six or eight 0f the fleetest runners get inside, holding the boat waist high, and run through the sandy “river” to the finish line. I like a town with a sense of humor.
We flew from Alice Springs to Cairns; back to the ocean and some of the best game fishing in the world. We found a cozy motel within walking distance of downtown and, with a landlady who brought a hot breakfast to our room every morning, we decided to stay put for a while. Her coffee was excellent as was the usual fresh fruit. Fragrant pineapples, mangoes, bananas, and my favorite, bright red papaya with zesty green lime were among the best. Tree ripened, newly picked bananas have a flavor totally unlike the weeks-old bananas we’d always had.
Evenings were restful. We would stroll over to the beach to sit and watch droves of native, parrot-like birds come in to roost. They flew in by the hundreds, colorful and very, very noisy. We quickly learned not to stand or sit anywhere under them as we watched the day end.
A side trip up the York Peninsula was interesting. Our bus driver was a volunteer on a lifeboat rescue squad. One of the few really deadly jellyfish species in the world lives in the warm sea water along the coast and those big burly men wore women’s panty hose out on their rescue trips to prevent stings. We made a brief roadside stop where he showed us how the Aborigines clean their teeth. A large green ant living in certain trees was easy to catch, the idea being to break off and chew the bulbous posterior. I found it to be quite astringent and refreshing.
We continued south out of Cairns by bus, driving along Australia’s famed Gold Coast, or vacation land, skirting the Great Barrier Reef and taking brief excursions out to some of the islands. We spent Christmas Day standing on a section of the Reef, well south of where the deadly jellies thrived. To us the water was much too warm for swimming.
We spent a week in Brisbane, visiting various sanctuaries for everything from koalas and wallabies to flying foxes. I was shocked to find that kangaroo and wallaby fur was soft and fine, while koalas have a bristly, coarse fur. I’d expected it to be the other way around. I spent half my time on our bus trips craning my neck, trying to catch a glimpse a koala sleeping in a tree top, where they spent their days, but never did see one. A side trip to the small scenic town of Kuranda, home of the duck-billed platypus, had me staring into every watery slough or stream we walked or drove past, but I never spotted one of those curious creatures either.
After two months, we finally said a reluctant good-bye to Oz and flew from Brisbane to Auckland, New Zealand. Australia is such a vast continent we didn’t begin to see it all, and missed out on Darwin, Tasmania, and Perth, which Aussies told us was the prettiest part of the country. There was a National Park outside of Darwin which I had earmarked as a must-see and didn’t get to. I’d still love to go back. It was impossible to do justice to a country as large as the United States is just two months.