The Daily Explorer

October 4, 2008

From Adelaide to Darwin (Part One)

Filed under: Australia,People — The Daily Explorer @ 11:46 am
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Australia: October 2008

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): Welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. To our regulars, many thanks for reading our online publication – we have had over 3,500 visits to our site about Ray and his travel adventures since we went live in February this year. Ray is now in Australia and our favourite Aussie journo, Chuck Maboomerang (above) has re-joined the team whilst Ray is here. Chuck made his first appearance in December 2006 and he is a firm favourite with our readers.

Before you hear from Chuck about what Ray has been up to since he left Sydney, you may want to take a look at our last issue, in which Ray made his first visit to Brisbane, stopping in at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary just outside the city. If you missed it, you can read it now at: Kangaroos, Koalas and World Peace

Above: Look closely at Ray’s photo of the station platform at Circular Quay in Sydney – what you see in the background is not a mural on the station wall – with the Harbour bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other, it is the actual view! It is just one of the many amazing things that our traveller has experienced in the capital city of this vast country. Read all about it and his visit to Brisbane in Kangaroos, Koalas and World Peace

In this issue, the first of a two-part feature, Chuck follows Ray as he leaves Sydney to begin his 3,000 kilometre journey from Adelaide in the south, to Darwin in the north. He finds out what our global traveller got up to during his last few days in the capital and who he met during a brief stopover in Melbourne. Chuck then tracks Ray’s progress to the tiny, desolate mining town of Coober Pedy and on to Uluru and Kings Canyon in the centre of Australia. Finally, to co-incide with the imminent launch of the latest Bond movie, we also announce the winner of our Daniel Craig ‘Lookalike’ competition after an exhaustive search.

We aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation at The Daily Explorer, so please send us your feedback so that we can improve future issues. You can use the comments box online, or email ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at

Above: Daniel Craig (left) was a huge hit in his first James Bond movie, Casino Royale. As his next adventure is about to hit the big screen, we reveal the winner of our Daniel Craig ‘Lookalike’ competition below. Keeping close tabs on Mr. Bond, ‘M’ (right) cannot contain her excitement as Ray tips her off about who the winner is (Editors Note: For Bond fans, ‘M’ stands for ‘Mum’ – Ray’s mum!)

As he returned from Brisbane, I caught up with Ray and asked him to update me on his plans. “Well Chuck, my ultimate intention is to head for Nepal (after leaving Australia) and do some trekking in the Himalayas – something I have always wanted to do. Being there for the best weather means arriving before the end of October. So that gives me a few more weeks in Australia to see another part of this huge country” Ray told me. “The area up the middle, from Adelaide (in the south) to Darwin (in the north), is somewhere I have not been. And there are many places of interest between the two – the central area or ‘outback’ as it is more commonly known. I should have enough time to do this without having to rush” he explained. “But first, I am going to spend a few more days in Sydney, then fly to Melbourne to drop in on a couple of friends, before heading to Adelaide to start my adventure” added our excited traveller.

Above: Ray’s route takes him initially from Sydney to Melbourne and then Adelaide where he will begin his 3,000 kilometre adventure to reach Darwin by the middle of October. His route will take him through Coober Pedy, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon, Alice Springs, Katherine and Kakadu National Park

When speaking to Ray, I discovered that he had a couple of very special, personal appointments to attend in Sydney that he was particularly excited about. “My great friends, Matthew and Elizabeth Taylor, invited me to stay with them whilst I was in the city” said Ray. “Elizabeth, who is known to her friends as ‘Charlie’, is a senior executive at Zurich General Insurance and from time to time, is invited to address groups of young trainee managers who attend the company’s many training courses for aspiring leaders, as part of their development” explained Ray. “She talks to them for about an hour from the perspective of someone who has been successful in her career, and shares her personal wisdom and insight about what she has done that has really worked well for her. When she told me that I could go along and listen from the back of the room to her giving one of these talks, I was thrilled and accepted immediately” he recalled.

Above: Matthew and his son Pete welcome Ray back from Brisbane, who promptly sends Pete to sleep with his travel stories (left), whilst Elizabeth prepares her talk for colleagues at Zurich General Insurance about what it takes to be a good leader; things based partly on what she learnt when her and Ray worked together many years ago in the UK for a company called Programmes (right). Chalie is circled in the picture, taken in 1983 ….

Below: …. and here she is 25 years later in 2008! An accomplished leader, consumate project manager and very effective executive. “Everyone paid close attention to Charlie as she shared her experience of what it takes to be successful as a leader in today’s organisations” observed Ray. “She spoke really honestly and authentically about what she had learnt and her own personal journey. She really connected with the people there because she was so real and told them stories which they could easily relate to” he added. “I am so glad I was there to witness her doing this sort of thing, which I know she loves”

Another person who Ray used to work with at Programmes is his long time Australian buddy, Steve ‘Stevo’ Swift, who now lives in Church Point, north of the city. “We used to be colleagues and we bought a flat together in 1988” Ray told me. “We have stayed in touch over the years and I have usually managed to meet up with Stevo whenever I have made it to Sydney” explained our global traveller. “This time, it was particularly important to me for a couple of reasons. One is that both his parents have died in the last year or so, and having lost my own father a couple of years ago, thought he might appreciate a bit of personal support. And second, his daughter Lily, who also lives in Sydney, has recently got engaged and we wanted to meet her fiancée” he told me. “Matt, Charlie and me have known Lily (and her English mum Pauline) since she was a baby, so we were pretty chuffed to discover that she is about to get married” added Ray.

Above: Ray’s great Aussie friend Stevo welcomes him and the Taylors to his wonderful home at Church Point for a classic Sunday roast lunch, overlooking the beautiful Pittwater estuary

Below: The amazing spread was created by Stevo’s wife Katy (centre), who is a fantastic chef and runs a very successful catering business – “It was great to meet Stevo’s sister, Bliss (far right) and understand more about his family, who I never really knew much about when we lived together in England some 20 years ago” said Ray

Above: Matt and Charlie shared a house with Lily when she was much younger (left) – “Lily’s mum Pauline also worked at Programmes, so we have all known her since she was born” said Ray. “Its quite hard to believe that she is now a gorgeous, 30 something woman! We are all really happy for her”

Below: Lily and her charming fiancée James (left) – “I guess it’s a bit old fashioned to say this” said Ray, “but we all thoroughly approve of her choice. James is a very down to earth guy and they seem very happy together” observed Ray. (Editors Note: The Daily Explorer is soon to enter discussions regarding a deal to obtain exclusive coverage of their wedding!)

Some of our dedicated readers may remember when Ray was last in Sydney last year when he attended a public talk with the Dalai Lama. “At the time, I was very interested to hear him speak, as I was confronting how to have greater compassion in my life at that time and had read some of his books on the subject. To see and hear him for real was just a miracle” he recalled. “But not the only miracle that happened that day” he added rather mysteriously. “As I was walking towards the arena to find a place in the crowd, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was also making her way to the same place. It turned out she was English and had recently moved to the country with her partner, and was expecting her second child” said Ray. “What I did not know at the time was that her and I are both friends of a chap called Phil Jones in England, although this was not mentioned and neither of us knew until Phil found out by accident from me later” said Ray. “What are the chances of something like that happening? I am not sure what the odds are, but I always love it when it does” said our traveller. “I was delighted when Tracie invited me to join her for lunch and the chance to find out what has been happening since our strange meeting over a year ago” added Ray.

Above: Tracie Nutley (left), who has given birth to her second child Bonnie since she met Ray by chance in Sydney in 2007, whilst they were both attending a talk given by the Dalai Lama (right)

There is a thriving culture and entertainment scene in Sydney and Ray’s hosts invited him to a couple of events during his last week in the city. “Another one of my dreams was fulfilled, in that I went to see my first ever performance at the Sydney Opera House” said Ray. “Matt and Charlie had got tickets to see a rather unusual all-female comedy trio called the Kransky Sisters, who perform bizarre adaptations of well known songs” said Ray. “A few days later, Matt got us tickets to see comedian Bill Bailey at the State Theatre in the heart of the CBD. He was absolutely hilarious and his combination of zany, surreal humour as well as his outstanding musical talent is a fantastic combination that was much appreciated by the Sydney audience” added our critic.

Above: The spectacular, iconic Sydney Opera House at night, in all it’s glory – “Seeing a show performed there was another one of my dreams come true” said Ray

Below: Bottoms Up! Matt and Charlie hide their excitement as they prepare to see one of their favourite comedy acts – “It all still seems a bit unreal; sitting outside the Opera House in Sydney Harbour, with the bridge in full view, drinking a glass of chilled white wine with two of my best friends before I head out for a few weeks to travel the length of the entire country. I keep having to pinch myself” he told me

Above: Ray went with Matt to the State Theatre in Sydney to see English comedian Bill Bailey perform his highly acclaimed Tinselworm set – “We were in stitches for most of it” said Ray

Below: For those readers who have never seen or heard of BIll Bailey, here is a short video clip that will give you a sense of his unusual talent!

You may have picked up earlier that Ray, Matt and Charlie (in Sydney) all met when they worked together in a UK company called Programmes in the 1980’s. When Ray was in Melbourne, I discovered there was one more of his ex-colleagues living in the city who he had not seen for at least 10 years. “Martin Symes and I only saw each other once in a while after he left” explained Ray. “In fact, I had lost touch with him, but Matt and Charlie were still in pretty close contact, so I made sure that I would meet him and his family when I got to Melbourne” added Ray. “And I am really pleased I did” he told me. “Since I last saw him, he has met and married a beautiful woman called Karen and together, they have adopted an Indian girl called Purdy, who is absolutely charming. We obviously had a lot of stories to exchange and I hope to see them again when I am next back in Australia”.

Above: Another ex-Programmes colleague of Ray’s, Martin Symes (right) is happily settled in Melbourne. He has recently become a dad and works as a relationship manager for a major IT company. HIs wife Karen (left) also works in IT and they are both thrilled to have adopted Purdy (centre) – “I was allowed to join in with the singing of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ at Purdy’s bedtime, which is apparently quite an honour for guests” Ray told me

So why did Ray decide to travel the route from Adelaide to Darwin? “Well Chuck, in my previous five visits to Australia, I have been to Perth on the west coast, from Sydney right up to the Daintree Rain Forest on the east coast, as well as Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmania. I aslo drove across the Nullabor with Nikki at the beginning of 2007, so basically the only major part of the country I have not yet seen, apart from the Kimberleys, is the huge section in the centre between Adelaide and Darwin. And when you consider what is in there, it’s a real treat for anyone planning to explore it as there is so much natural beauty to see between the two points” explained Ray. “The further north you go, the hotter it gets and I am expecting the temperature to be around 40 degrees by the time I get to Darwin” added Ray.

Above: The map above traces Ray’s 3,051 kilometre route from Adelaide (in the south) to Darwin (in the north) and will see him crossing the border from South Australia, entering the Northern Territory for the first time. Places he is planning to stop at include Coober Pedy, Uluru, Alice Springs, Katherine, Kakadu National Park and Darwin

Coober Pedy

The first stop for our global explorer – the tiny, desolate mining town which is 846 kilometres north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. At the 2006 census its population was 1,916 (1,084 males, 832 females, including 268 Indigenous Australians). “The town is known as the opal capital of the world because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there” Ray told me. “The name ‘Coober Pedy’ comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “boys’ waterhole” added our well informed traveller.

Aboriginal people have a longstanding connection with the area. The first European to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was John McDouall Stuart in 1858, but the town was not established until after 1915, when opal was discovered by Willie Hutchinson. Miners first moved in around about 1916. “The harsh summer desert temperatures mean that many residents prefer to live in caves bored into the hillsides, which is what made me want to come here” said Ray. “I had never seen or heard of such a place” he told me. “I discovered that a standard three-bedroom cave home with lounge, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to a house on the surface. It remains at a constant temperature, whereas surface living needs air-conditioning, especially during the summer months, when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The relative humidity rarely gets over 20% on these hot days, and the skies are usually cloud-free. The average maximum temperature is 30-32 degrees Celsius, but it can get quite cool in the winter” explained Ray.

Above: The ‘terminal’ building at Coober Pedy airport (left) – “When you disembark the aircraft, you actually wait and watch as the pilot unloads the bags and wheels the trolley off the apron, where you then help yourself to your luggage. It’s great that places like this still exist” laughed Ray, who decided to fly directly from Adelaide in this Saab 340 regional airliner (right) operated by Rex (Regional Express Airlines)

Luckily for our traveller, he had booked to stay at Radeke’s Backpackers, an underground hostel in town and they had arranged to collect him from the airport. “The airport is a few kilometres out of town and there are no taxi’s as such, plus it is scorching hot, so I was very fortunate that Martin, the eccentric Aussie chap who runs the hostel, was coming to get me in the minibus” Ray told me. “The short journey to town gave me an idea of what was to come, as the narrow tarmac road was flanked on both sides by miles and miles of dry, arid, rocky soil with no trees in sight” observed Ray.

“Coober Pedy is an extremely inhospitable environment and the town’s appearance reflects this; water is expensive and rainfall is scant, so even in the middle of winter the place looks dried out and dusty. Martin told me that it’s not as ramshackle as it used to be, but you could never describe the place as attractive. In fact, the town looks a bit like the end of the world, which is probably why it is constantly chosen as a location for sci-fi films” he added. “As we drove to town, I couldn’t wait to get to my underground bunk and see what it was like” recalled our excited traveller.

Above: The Stuart Highway, named after the English explorer who was the first person to navigate a route from Adelaide to Darwin in 1862, at the sixth attempt. Prior to 1987, when the road was unsealed, the town was serviced only by small planes or long horrendous trips up and down the old dirt road – “It is the only decent road and it connects everything in the area, including the airport to the rest of the place” explained Ray

Below: This is Coober Pedy! – “The town looks a bit like the end of the world, which is probably why it is constantly chosen as a location for sci-fi films like Mad Max 3 (Beyond the Thunderdome), Salute of the Jugger, Pitch Black as well as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” said our movie buff

Above: Martin (left), who runs Radeke’s underground backpackers (right), came to meet Ray at the airport – “I must admit I got quite a shock when he stepped forward” said Ray. “He was a classic, outback Aussie – just like someone you would find in a Crocodile Dundee movie – and a very friendly chap” he recalled

Below: The narrow winding steps carved out of the rock (left) descend to a labyrinth of rooms and Ray’s dormitory (right) – “It is a first for me and will get added to my list of ‘unusual places’ that I have slept in” said Ray. “It was really well ventilated and very cool, compared to being upstairs on the surface. Now I can understand why they live like this” he told me

The high value of opal and the potential riches it can bring have lured people to Coober Pedy from all over the world. If you stay for any length of time you will hear outrageous stories of fortunes made and lost, shady deals, intrigues, vendetta’s and crazy old-timers. “Martin asked Greg, one of his mates and an experienced miner, if he would show me around” said Ray. “Greg is a real been there, done that kind of guy who looked like a cowboy from a western. He explained in great detail how the whole mining and claims process works. Yes, there are the occasional million dollar finds, but they are relatively rare. Some miners spend decades hard at work and make very little for their efforts” Ray told me. “There was very little activity going on when I was there, as a lot of the miners had moved south to dig for copper, as the returns are more lucrative right now” explained our visitor.

Above: The opal mining area permitted by the government around Coober Pedy is roughly 52 miles wide and 25 miles long. There are certain rules to be followed, and as long as these are observed, pretty much anyone can dig and search, as long as you can afford all of the equipment, the permits and the time and can work in the scorching heat every day! “Greg told me that approximately six and half million bore holes have been dug, leaving this rather weird looking landscape of earth mounds (left), like a giant mole has gone crazy. There are also around 250,000 mine shafts, of which many are disused, making a walk in the area potentially quite dangerous (right)

Aside from mining, there are one or two other interesting attractions in Coober Pedy including the graveyard and the churches. “Greg showed me where people who want to can go to church, and as you might expect, they are underground” said Ray. “For a small mining town, I was quite surprised that there were three or four churches” he added. Another unusual facility that you would not be expecting to see is the local golf course. “I discovered that games are mostly played at night with glowing balls, to avoid daytime temperatures – and the course is completely free of grass, so golfers take a small piece of “turf” around to use for teeing off. As a result of correspondence between the two clubs, the Coober Pedy Golf Club is the only club in the world to enjoy reciprocal rights at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

Above: One of Coober Pedy’s churches – “This brings a whole new meaning to underground religious movements” joked Ray

Below: Someone appears to be having a laugh at the Coober Pedy golf club, which is a challenging 18 hole course without a single blade of grass but plenty of sand – “It’s practically one giant bunker with a few holes in it” observed Ray

Above: Apparently, the owner of this undergound art gallery claims this is the largest didgeridoo in the world, at 3.1 metres tall – “It is made in the traditional way, from a single tree branch bored out by termites, unlike many on sale in other places which are actually mass produced in Chinese factories and shipped back into Australia for sale to tourists” explained Ray. “Although this one is not for sale, others like it (but a quarter of the size) were on sale for thousands of dollars”

Above: One of the props left from the shooting of sci-fi movie ‘Pitch Black’, (left) starring Vin Diesel and an unusual headstone in Coober Pedy’s little cemetery which marks the grave of one of the towns many colourful characters (right). The inscription on the beer keg reads “Have a drink on me – Karl Bratz, 1940 – 1992”

Below: Another legend in Coober Pedy is a man called Crocodile Harry – “Greg took me to see his gravestone in the cemetery (left) and then to see his house, which was dug out of a cave like many that belong to miners here (right). Apparently, Crocodile Harry was a larger than life character who was outrageously brave and loved his booze and his women. When Tina Turner was in town filming Mad Max 3, she was taken to meet Crocodile Harry and was really taken with him. After a long conversation, she donated one of her autographed bras to him, which he proudly displayed in his house and his collection and his legend continued to grow from that day forward. He is reputedly the inspiration behind the creation of the Crocodile Dundee character, made famous by Aussie actor Paul Hogan in 1986″ he said

Above: The Breakaways, approximately 33 kilometres north of Coober Pedy, are a striking and unique example of arid scenery. They consist of colourful low hills which have broken away from the Stuart Range, hence their name – “This outcrop has been used in a number of films and advertisements, while Panorama Hill in the middle features in Mad Max 3 (Beyond the Thunderdome) and Ground Zero” said Ray 

Below: The trip back to Coober Pedy takes you east along the hills to the ‘Dog Fence’ – “You may be thinking that there is nothing interesting about a fence” said Ray, “but wait till you see it” he told me. “it is a two metre high barrier that stretches for over 5,300 kilometres across three states, protecting cattle from the Dingoes. When it was built in 1946, it was the longest fence in the world” he added. “The desert-like moonscape along the fence, with its soft grey clay dirt and cracks that appear to be bottomless, has been nicknamed the moon plain”

Above: When Ray flew into Coober Pedy, he met Megan Ford (left) and Sally Pannifex (right). They both work for The Stride Foundation, based in Melbourne, which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping improve the physical, mental and social wellbeing of young people and their communities. They run empowering and holistic prevention programs and have been working to help young people for over 20 years in Victoria and across Australia – “They were up here to meet with people they are trying to help and we had a lively evening of discussion over dinner about life, the universe and everything at the local Greek restaurant” said our traveller

Uluru (Ayers Rock)

If you look at the map below, you will see that getting from Coober Pedy to Uluru looks pretty straightforward, so when Ray told me there was an unexpected complication, I was curious to find out what it was. “When I was travelling around New Zealand last year, I had a car so I never had any problems in getting from Point A to Point B” he told me. “In Australia, because of the huge distances involved, car hire is prohibitively expensive which means I am reliant on the public transport network or tour companies. Unbelievably, to get to Uluru from Coober Pedy, you can only take a bus to Alice Springs, and then take another after an overnight stay back to Uluru. This did not make any sense to me and seemed an unjustifiable waste of money and effort. So for the first time in my life as a nomadic traveller, I decided to try my hand at hitch-hiking” recalled Ray.

Above: Look within the circled area on the map and you will see that taking the only available bus route to Uluru involves a huge diversion of some 500+ kilometres and an overnight stay in Alice Springs. You may also notice the turn off to Uluru (to the left) off the Stuart Highway, which is located at a roadhouse in a tiny place called Erldunda. The bus stops here on the way to Alice Springs – “I figured that there would be minimal risk in hitching, as the road to Uluru would be busy with lots of vehicles heading out to ‘the rock'” said Ray. “Plus, I was waiting right beside a roadhouse and there was a hotel there, so if the worst came to the worst, I had a bed for the night and could get on the bus coming from Alice Springs the next morning” he explained ….

Above: The Greyhound Bus from Coober Pedy (left) stops at Erldunda (right) before it continues on to Alice Springs …..

Below: …. which means if you are coming from the south to see this amazing rock, you have to go seriously out of your way – “It would definitely be worth it, whatever you had to do” said Ray. “Uluru is a sight not to be missed in this lifetime and is an extra-ordinarily special place on this planet” said our explorer

Above: Ray puts his years of experience as a successful businessman to good use in his first attempt at hitch-hiking – “To attract attention, you need a neat, well written sign stating where you want to go, and a bit of courtesy definitely does not go amiss” he told me. “This was my Plan A” added Ray

Below: Once again, Ray drew from personal experience in the design of Plan B – “Always expect the worst and have a back up plan in case it happens. I learnt that in business and in flying aeroplanes and it is a sound approach” he told me. “I made an additional sign to be revealed only when I had made eye contact with the driver, and if I was getting no offers” recalled Ray. He need not have been worried. After waiting 10 minutes, the fourth car that came past stopped for him and took him all the way to his backpackers hostel – “They all laughed when they saw both my signs, but only the fourth guy had room” said our hitch-hiker

Uluru is one of Australia’s most recognisable natural icons. The world-renowned sandstone formation stands 348 metres (1,142 ft) high with most of its bulk below the ground, and measures 9.4 kilometres (5.8 miles) in circumference. Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta have great cultural significance for the Anangu traditional landowners, who are on hand to inform visitors about the local flora and fauna, bush foods and the Aboriginal dreamtime stories of the area. “I was really impressed with the integration that has taken place between white Australian Rangers and the Indigenous Aboriginies, who together are combining the up to date, scientific and technical knowledge of the whites, with the centuries old wisdom of the Aboriginies to ensure the health and preservation of this area” said Ray. “There is a cultural centre near the rock which informed me about the work they do and it is really absorbing” he added.

Above: Uluru, seen from the look-out point at the back of Ray’s backpacker lodge in Yulara, some 18 kilometres away! “I could stare at it for hours” said Ray. “At the time I was there, I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which is very much about awakening to life in the present moment and being conscious of the wonder of every second as it unfolds, rather than constantly thinking about the past or the future – this was a great place to practise” he told me

Below: Many people who come to Uluru want to climb it and there is even a chain in place to provide assistance in the steepest places (left) – “Although it would have been a great physical challenge, I had a real problem with climbing the rock” said Ray. “This land and the rock is sacred to the Aboriginies and they respectfully ask people not to climb, although there is no explicit rule banning it. This is mainly because the Tourism Authority fear that if the climb were officially closed, then visitor numbers would fall dramatically” explained Ray. “So I decided not to climb personally, out of respect for the Indigenous people and their beliefs, and chose instead to take a slow, meditative two hour walk around the 9.4 kilometre base track (right)

Watching the sunrise and sunset at Uluru is mandatory if you are there. “At 5.30am, hundreds of people gather in the specially designated viewing sites to watch the proceedings, hoping that they will observe the colour changes that people always talk about (as the sun rises or sets). The red effect that you may have seen can be largely attributed to the iron mixed in with the rock, which oxidises on contact with the air i.e. rusts, giving the red appearance made famous in millions of photographic images” explained our amateur geologist.

Above and below: Uluru is notable for appearing to change colour as the different light strikes it at different times of the day and year, with sunset a particularly remarkable sight when it briefly glows red. Although rainfall is uncommon in this semi-arid area, during wet periods the rock acquires a silvery-grey colour, with streaks of black algae forming on the areas that serve as channels for water flow (Photos: Russell Chevalieru)

Kata Tjuta (Mount Olga)

Kata Tjuta, also called Mount Olga or The Olgas owing to its peculiar formation, is another rock formation about 25 kilometres (16 miles) from Uluru. Special viewing areas have been constructed to give visitors the best views of both sites at dawn and dusk. “I am very pleased that I came here for the sunrise, because in many ways, it was even better than seeing it so close to the rock at Uluru the previous day, with the extended distance giving me a wider, more comprehensive view and perspective” recalled Ray.

The Kata Tjuta site comprises of 36 domes, covering an area of 21.68 km². The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1,066 metres above sea level, or approximately 546 metres above the surrounding plain (which is 203 metres higher than Uluru). The Pitjantjajara name Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’. The site is as sacred to the Indigenous people as Uluru.

Above: The 36 domes at Kata Tjuta are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone

Below: A panorama of Kata Tjuta as seen from its viewing platform in the middle of the day


The alternative name, The Olgas, comes from the tallest peak, Mount Olga. At the behest of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, Mount Olga was named in 1872 by Ernest Giles, in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg. She and her husband King Karl had marked their 25th wedding anniversary the previous year by, amongst other things, naming Mueller a Freiherr (baron), making him Ferdinand von Mueller; this was his way of repaying the compliment.

On 15 December 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names consisting of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. As a result, Mount Olga was renamed Mount Olga / Kata Tjuta. On 6 November 2002, following a request from the regional Tourism Association, the order of the dual names were officially reversed to Kata Tjuta / Mount Olga.

Above: Watching the sunrise over Uluru from the viewing point at Kata Tjuta, some 25 kilometres away, is incredibly beautiful. Ray managed to capture this wonderful shot, about 10 minutes after the sun first became visible over the horizon ….

Below: …. The rising sun has a rapidly changing, dramatic impact on how the rocks at Kata Tjuta look. These two pictures that Ray sent us were taken about 5 minutes apart

Above: After watching the sunrise, our nomadic traveller decided to do the 7.5 kilometre “Valley of the Winds” walking trail – “The route takes you through some of the vast canyons between the various rocks and gives trekkers some great views as they reach the high points when traversing the canyons” said Ray

Below: On the way up – this is the view that Ray had as he approached one of the highpoints in the canyon between two of the rocks (left), and the spectacular vista once he reached the other side (right)

Travelling through the Australian outback, you might expect to see a whole range of wild animals large and small, but the list would probably not include Camels. “When I caught sight of one, it really surprised me at first, as they seemed so out of place” said Ray. “From talking to some of the rangers, I discovered that thousands of camels were imported into Australia between 1840 and 1907, to open up the arid areas of central and western Australia. They were used for riding, and as draught and pack animals for exploration and construction of rail and telegraph lines. They were also used to supply goods to remote mines and settlements” explained Ray.

“In the 1920’s, there were an estimated 20,000 domesticated camels, but by 1930, with the advent of rail and motor transport, they were no longer needed and many were abandoned. Well suited to the Australian deserts, these feral camels bred prolifically, spreading across arid and semi-arid areas of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, and into parts of Queensland. Many different types and breeds of camels were brought into Australia, but most were from India” added our traveller.

Above: Feral camel numbers in Australia today are estimated at more than 500 000, with approximately half of them in Western Australia, and they continue to increase. Some estimates place the population at closer to one million. “Contrary to legend, the hump is mostly fat, a store of energy rather than water – a de-hydrated camel can drink 200 litres of water in three minutes” Ray told me

Kings Canyon

Above: Map showing location of Kings Canyon, in Watarrka National Park – Uluru and Kata Tjuta are to the south-west and Alice Springs is to the north-east” said Ray. “it gave me a slight dilemma as to whether to miss it and head straight for Alice Springs, as it is quite remote and relatively expensive to get to. In the end, I decided to go for it, as I thought I would most likely not return to this part of the world for a long time” explained Ray

Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park. Sitting at the western end of the George Gill Range, it is 323 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs and 1,316 kilometres south of Darwin. The walls of Kings Canyon are over 300 metres high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from wandering off the walking tracks. “There is a really brilliant walk around the canyon rim” said Ray. “It is roughly six kilometres and normally takes about 3-4 hours. There is a steep climb at the beginning of the walk, which locals call “Heartbreak Hill” (or “Heart Attack Hill”, due to its steepness). For me, it was not too difficult as my fitness is quite good, but was a struggle for quite a lot of people. Starting early before the heat of the sun becomes too intense is a really good idea” said our experienced trekker.

Above: Anyone who reaches the top of ‘Heart Attack Hill’ is in for a treat – “There are spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape” observed Ray

Below: “The last half of the walk passes through a large maze of weathered sandstone domes” said Ray

Above: The acoustics in the canyon (left) are fantastic” said Ray. “You could call to someone on the other side and they could hear you quite comfortably” he told me. About half way during the walk, a detour descends to Garden of Eden (right), a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life

Below: The central attraction at Kings Canyon is the ‘Lost City’ – a series of weathered buttresses of rock which look like the ruins of an ancient city, or even a moonscape – “The people in my picture will give you a sense of perspective” said Ray

Above: Why has Ray sent us this picture of a cycad from Kings Canyon? (left) “Believe it or not, this plant is estimated to be over 700 years old. You don’t see many of these every day” said our traveller. He then goes on to prove that when it comes to the saying, “Been there, done that, got the tee shirt”, our traveller really has! He sent us this picture of his new tee shirt after completing walks at Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Uluru, prior to heading for Alice Springs

Editors Note: Thanks Chuck for another superb issue of The Daily Explorer from the Australian outback. I am sure that our readers will be waiting with great excitement and anticipation for the second installment of Ray’s journey.

We aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation at The Daily Explorer, so please send us your feedback so that we can improve future issues. You can use the comments box online, or email ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at

Daniel Craig ‘Lookalike’ Competition

With the release of the 22nd James Bond film, called “Quantum of Solace” scheduled for 31st October, we are delighted to announce that the winner of our Daniel Craig ‘Lookalike’ competition is Matthew Taylor, from Sydney. “It could not have happened to a nicer bloke” said Ray, after hearing the result of our exhaustive search. “And just like Daniel Craig’s Bond, he is tough on the outside, but sensitive and open on the inside” added Ray. “He will be chuffed when he finds out – he even mentioned while I was staying with him that one of his colleagues had said he looked like Daniel Craig, although I don’t think Matt had ever heard of him!”

Above: (left) “What’s that? Matthew who? Oh, Matthew Taylor – yes, very good choice” said Daniel Craig when we called him with the news. (right) You can definitely see the physical likeness – “Matthew is actually a very handsome man” said Ray, “although I think he has underplayed this in the years I have known him”

Above: Unfortunately for Matthew, physical looks are where the similarities end. In the Bond movies, Daniel Craig regularly ‘blows away’ bad guys (left), while Matthew blows his nose ……

Below: ….. and in the Bond movies, Daniel Craig can have any girl he likes, whilst Matthew falls way short of the mark as the next potential Bond Girl!

Congratulations to Matthew Taylor! Naturally, The Daily Explorer will be despatching two tickets to him so he can see the movie when it is launched in Australia. If you would like to see a trailer for the film, then watch the short video clip below:

Above: In the second installment of ‘From Adelaide to Darwin’, Chuck Maboomerang catches up with Ray in Alice Springs and follows him all the way north to the end of his journey. It will be online within the next couple of weeks




  1. We really enjoyed this blog and FANTASTIC photos! I can’t wait to visit Australia myself but it all looks a bit dry to grow those Shitake mushrooms… hugs from the Internet Cafe on Samui… X

    Comment by Susie Moberly — October 4, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  2. As Susie says: FANTASTIC pictures, Ray. And how come you manage to go on writing about and posting pictures of my lot in Sydney, even as you get further and further away from there? You might be writing this blog just for me. I have to agree though, Matt is no Bond girl!

    Comment by Judith Taylor — October 4, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  3. This is a brilliant blog! What incredible photos. Looks like I am not the only one who drew breath when I saw them. I laughed out loud for ages when I saw your hitchhiking photos. And congratulations to Matt as the Bond look alike. I especially appreciated the body shot of him in the sand (Matt that is of course). Thanks for your blog and the effort you put in, it is a real highpoint whenever I read it. Loads of love to you xxxx

    Comment by Charlie — October 17, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

  4. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by wellsmone — November 2, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

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