Or, how I found out that Australia is quite big.
20.08.2012 - 22.10.2012 40 °C
So then we set off for the long drive from Darwin to Alice Springs. At 1500 km, it was going to be a couple of long days of driving, but we were planning to stop off at some hot springs at the end of the first day and I was excited to see what the outback was really like. We spent a couple of hours driving from Darwin to a place called Katherine, stopping off a couple of times for petrol and lunch. It was amazing to drive so far on just one road, with no traffic lights and hardly any roadsigns. The road trains were pretty impressive, with 3 or 4 trailers each- driving too close is not a good idea! I found the fire warning signs fascinating- I don't think I ever want to find out what the 'catastrophic' fire danger level looks like!
We made it to Katherine eventually, after a pretty hot couple of hours after our last stop- we were trying to balance enjoying the air conditioning with actually having enough petrol to get to the next pocket of civilization, which is quite an experience after England (although I did once run out of petrol in the middle of Witney). Just north of Katherine is one of the Charles Darwin Uni campuses- there are 3, spread out between Darwin and Alice- 1500km between campuses is a pretty big gap! Katherine itself is fairly small, but with some beautiful scenery- we went down to see the river which was fairly low at the time, but the water level has raised several metres in the past, flooding the town.
After having a look around we decided to head on to Mataranka and the hot springs, where we were due to stay the night before starting the next long day of driving. On the way out of town we stopped so that I could take a photo of a fire warning sign, and then carried on- for about 2km. All of a sudden, the engine cut out. Luckily there was no traffic (I mean none), so pulling over was easy. We stopped, tried to restart the car, and got nothing. Thankfully Teena and Nick weren't far behind, so we called to let them know what had happened. We were lucky to not be far from Katherine, because we only had phone reception close to the bigger towns along the way, and we weren't due to see another one for quite a long time. After a few hours sitting at the side of the road, we finally managed to get somebody with a tow truck to come and pick us up to take us back to a garage in Katherine. The tow truck driver was very friendly, and gave us a very serious verdict of 'ants eating the wires'. It turned out to not be ants, but the CPU which had fried- we only got the car back a couple of weeks ago, after a lot of hassle and stress.
After a night in Katherine, and a fruitless wait at the garage the next morning for some news, we set off for 10 hours of driving. It turns out that Australia is big. Very big. And the outback is not really a good source of I Spy ideas, although James and I strung out a game for 40 minutes. The open spaces were pretty spectacular, even though they were pretty plain- you start to get an idea of the sheer scale of the country when you drive up a slight hill and can see nothing but scrub for miles in every direction.
Our first few days in Alice were spent having a look around, and starting to get a feel for how things are around here. It's certainly very different to Witney! Almost all of the houses are one level, and even in the centre of town the buildings are 3 storeys at the most. I was surprised by how green some areas of the town are- in spite of water being obviously limited, there are lots of sports fields with some lovely grassy areas outside the library and in some of the older parts of town. Public transport is pretty limited, so most people drive around town- it's too hot to walk, and there's plenty of parking everywhere that you need to go. There's a real sense of the distance from other major towns and the cities- the ads on TV are almost entirely centred on local businesses, including ads for school fairs. There are lots of activities around town, particularly sports clubs- I played hockey on my first Saturday here (and haven't played since- I've never played hockey in anything other than icy conditions before!) and it's really easy to just get involved.
I've really enjoyed settling in here and experiencing a change of pace and culture- everybody is so friendly and laid back, and it's nice to be getting to know more faces around town. James and I spent the last week helping out at the hockey part of the Masters Games, which is a multi-sport competition that is run in Alice every two years. It was nice to get involved in something like that, as it was a good chance to meet a few people and see another side to the town. I particularly enjoyed the closing ceremony, which involved a band called Icehouse who were apparently big over here in the 90s- I didn't really have a clue who they were, but the atmosphere was fantastic, and it was nice to go to an open air concert that didn't turn into a bog!
That's the last couple of months in a nutshell- I have lots more stories to share, so the plan is to actually write some of them down over the next week or so, so that I don't forget them! I'll also add some more of my favourite pictures to my photo album.