“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Hilaire Belloc
Uluru, or Ayers Rock as many still call it, is one of those iconic places on many so called bucket lists. It was also on my itinerary and mind long before landing in Australia, and although both my budget and time were in short supply at this point in my nearly six month trip, I knew I had to see it.The rock itself is literally in the middle of nowhere, being a five hour drive from the town of Alice Springs. Using Alice as a base, it’s easy to organize transportation to the monolith, whether on a mini group or independently. Although quite a trek, the desert scenes along the way and the rock itself are well worth the effort.
The massive size rising up from the flat desert is something to behold in itself, but the real treat is watching the dark orange color brighten and then glowing many colors of red, purple and magenta.
Before taking The Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide, I had some quite romantic visions of very long train trips, but had never experienced one of this extent. In truth, the trip itself was mostly in the dark, thus limiting views and my seat was just that-a seat, which made for very limited sleeping. To top it off, the fact that I could have flown to Adelaide for quite a bit less didn’t help matters. But, I was in for a special surprise!
By chance, I found myself seated next to Helmut, a very friendly, elderly man originally from Germany, who had fought in World War II, being hastily drafted at the age of 16 as the Russians approached. Having a very deep interest in the war and the Nazi period, his stories of being drafted, serving time in a Russian prison camp and finally returning home to luckily discover both his family and home miraculously intact captivated me and helped to pass the twenty-four hours.
Margaret River in Western Australia
Having lived in Perth for several months, little side trips around Western Australia were easy to take. One of the most memorable was a road trip down to the Margaret River region a few hours to the south. Two friends and I rented a bus and hit the road, barbecuing, drinking and taking it easy for several days. The region has a climate suited to wine production and has thus become known for its many vineyards and wineries as well as other agricultural products such as cheese.
Being winter, the trip was dominated by rain and windy weather, which provided a cozy atmosphere for driving around the region and taking in the sites. The sea was a beautiful stormy, churning mass of energy and the skies were mostly grey, which added to the charm in my opinion.
I spent only one night in Adelaide, as a stopover between finishing the Ghan train and flying back to Perth. It was here, however that I had one of my best Couchsurfing experiences, for it was here that I met David, his partner and a few other couchsurfers, who were crashing at their place. We took a quick look around the city and had a really nice night out in a local bar.
Freemantle, or Freo in local venagular is a historical city just a quick train ride south of Perth in Western Australia. Being located at the mouth of the Swan River, it contains a sizable port, with ships coming and going, which gives it a bit of a nautical feel. The main attraction, however is the large collection of 19th century stone and brick edifices sprinkling the city, many of which are today filled with local restaurants and little shops catering to the locals and tourists alike.
Any stop in Freo would not be complete without a visit to the historic prison, which played a very important role in the convict history of the city. The special tour, where visitors get the chance to propel down a vertical shaft is highlighted by a guided boat tour through several miles of water filled tunnels beneath the prison complex.