Wedesday June 24, 2015

I’m not a morning person, and I don’t often see the sun rise. But, over the past few days, I’ve seen it happen twice – and both times it’s been spectacular.

On Monday morning, my wife and I and our Mad Midlife friends (plus a couple of hundred other rail-roaders) climbed from our beds at 5:30am, stepped off the train into the pitch darkness of Central Australia, and waited for the sun to rise. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was just 1 degree outside, and we were in danger of freezing our butts off. But the nice folk who run The Ghan had coffee, tea and Milo brewing plus some fires blazing from drums alongside the tracks. So we huddled there trying to keep warm as the endless Eastern horizon slowly turned red, and a big golden ball thrust itself yet again into our world.

We had boarded the legendary Ghan the previous afternoon, unpacking in our compact Gold Service cabins and sitting down to a yummy, classy meal in the dining car, while our 2979 km Great Train Journey from Adelaide (at the bottom of Australia) to Darwin (at the top) got underway. Darkness fell as our hotel-on-wheels clacketty-clacked through South Australia’s Spencer Gulf and Port Augusta – and as we snuggled into our top-and-bottom-bunk beds, this famous luxury train rock’n’rolled its way northward, following the tracks that would take to Alice Springs (think Neville Shute’s ‘A Town Like Alice’) – smack in the middle of Australia’s vast Red Centre.

Next morning, having duly witnessed the sunrise, we ate a take-your-time brekky on the train and watched the lush panoramas of the south give way to the flat, rusty landscapes of the Australian Outback. Scrawny bushes, clumps of spiny grass, and a gazillion acres of red sand flashed past our picture-windows. A few random cows were scattered here and there (some people apparently farm parts of this barren land) but the only kangaroo we saw in 1500 kms was a dead one!

“There’s lots and lots of nothing out here,” we were told by Craig (our driver/guide) when he met us early afternoon upon our arrival in Alice Springs. And, leaving the rail terminal, we drove (for the next four-and-a-half hours) through endless stretches of that nothingness, past the West MacDonnell Ranges and along some of the longest, straightest roads we’ve ever travelled on, to our hotel for the night: Kings Canyon Resort.

Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park – and, I kid you not, it’s gorgeous! The sheer red sandstone walls that soar above dense forests were formed when small cracks eroded over millions of years – and the canyon, today, is a refuge for more than 600 species of native plants and animals, many unique to the area. We began yesterday today with a discovery-walk along the boulder-strewn canyon floor, peering up at its jaw-dropping vertical cliffs, learning about its flora, fauna and ancient history, and taking way more photos than we needed to.

But that’s what you do when you’re on holiday – right?

LATER YERSTERDAY: Our coach tooks south, and then west, to the Kata Tjuta National Park and the world-famous Uluru (we used to know it as Ayers Rock) for a sunset and our second sunrise. But it’s now past midnight, so that’s gonna have to wait until my next spell-binding report …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Two more keenly contested quacky little Midlife Madness ducks have been claimed:

  • Barbara N won our “Make A Mess Why Don’t You?” Award – for holding the carton upside down while trying to pour milk into her coffee at last night’s barbecue dinner, and pouring the stuff all over her.
  • Bert won our “First Up, Best Dressed!” Award ­– for waking up this morning, getting dressed, packing his suitcase and heading for the hotel lobby to meet our coach … only to discover that it was 1:30am, not 7:30am as he’d thought. Fortunately, Bert had the presence of mind to head back to bed for some more sleep.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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