Crowned crater of Kings Canyon

The Kings Canyon Resort in the Watarrka National Park distinguishes itself as the first van park where there are safety gates on the toilet blocks to keep the dingoes out. During our two night stay, we're also able to gaze upon the 100 metre tall canyon walls from the camping ground - and upon a red back spider in the Men's dunny. Both equally rivating.

Deep in the canyon on the Kings Creek Walk. (Reluctantly we decided not to attempt the 3+ hour walk along the top of the canyon ridge, the only way to visit the rock formation known as the Lost City. With three kids still pooped from their Uluru walk-a-thon, the city will unfortunately this time have to stay lost). 
At the waterhole in the Katherine Springs walk at Kings Canyon. The site is special to the Aboriginals because of its link to the Rainbow Serpent. It becomes special to the Biharys Children because of its link to the Rainbow Snakes that mum distributes as a reward for their hiking endurance.
Taking a crack at one of the grinding stones that dot the path at Katherine Springs. The kids recognise them - and know exactly how to use them - after our day at the Alice Springs Desert Park.
Benji the Daredevil strikes again. Endlessly entertained by riding round and round the toilet block because at the far end it dips over and down and - voila - he has his own semi-BMX track.

Hiking the Kata Tjuta Challah

Ayers Rock the best known rock formation in Australia. Kata Tjuta is lesser known but no less impressive.

Kata Tjuta Challah.
After the Uluru experience, smiles not quite so forthcoming before we hike Kata Tjuta, despite our assurances that we have chosen only little walks today. We promise, kids. We promise.
The surface of the path into the Walpa Gorge resembles what - in our imagination - the moon would look like. And there, just when we thought we'd seen it all...
Tiny little Budge and not-seeming-quite-so-giant Giant Josh exiting the Walpa Gorge.  

The Gianormous Rock Walk-a-Thon

In retrospect, we wish we'd done the Uluru base walk on our bikes, instead of in our boots. Notch that one up to experience.

Big smiles before the big walk. Smiles nowhere near so big at the end.. In fact, smiles nowhere - at - all - at the end. 
Benji's preferred mode of transport for much of the Uluru circuit. Bless Giant Josh.
The blokes gaze in wonder at Uluru's best impression of Wave Rock.
Around the back of the rock and the road is long, hot and ... long.
Lil' Rik. Big Ol' Rock.

Uluru... We love u...

Our visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is lit up with sunsets, red sand and the company of our Sydney mate, Giant Josh,who flies in to join the BiharysOnTour for three days. Respecting Aboriginal wishes, we do not climb the mighty Rock, which reaches 348 metres high. Instead we opt to walk its circumference – a gruelling 10+ kilometres, mostly in full sun, which takes its toll on all of us but still gives rise to an undeniable, unparalleled sense of achievement on completion. The next day, at Kata Tjuta, we cut our losses and do two shorter walks instead of another circuit - the first into the Walpa Gorge and the second into the Valley of the Winds. Both give us a good appreciation of what we dub “the challah rocks”, and are in fact 36 weathered domes, reaching even higher than Ayers Rock at 548 metres.

Other incidents that leave us basking in the Red Centre glow include:
• Falling for the oldest Aussie trick in the book, mistaking Mount Conner for Uluru as we drive into the red centre.
• Spotting countless bunny rabbits and bush mice around our caravan at night; and a long awaited camel in the wild - finally!
• Capturing the magnificence of Uluru from every angle, at every time of day, and on every camera available: handheld, tripod and telephone.
• Seeing the kids captivated by Giant Josh’s impromptu science lesson, and surging with naches as they regurgitate it with impressive accuracy during our Uluru walk-a-thon.
• A mix-up regarding late cancellation providing the perfect excuse for Budge and Josh to enjoy a big Boys-Night-Out sleepover at the Sails Hotel.
• Holding a celebratory Shabbat dinner in honour of Giant Josh’s upcoming 40th birthday, including a rendition of yet another “original composition” birthday song by Benji.
• Rikki riding back and forth to the van park office to change her savings into different denominations after she and Jack develop a somewhat incessant obsession with money … ten twenty cents please… four fifty cents please… twenty ten cents please… one two dollar coin please… (Still baffled as to how we escaped being kicked out of the park!).
• Budge’s great Saturday night football debacle – tuning the TV to pick up channel seven, only to discover that it wasn’t being telecast after all – then heading to the pub with sixteen screens, only to discover that they were all interlinked and set to the rugby – then deciding to drown sorrows in a beer, only to discover that Sam had earlier emptied the wallet for a supermarket shop. (And this, after discovering a fellow-die-hard St Kilda supporter who hailed from Melbourne and whose kids went to school with those of our ex-neighbours, and inviting him to watch on the TV at our van…).
• Getting so used to having the Rock suddenly appear – in the window, over a hill, around the bend – that we soon couldn’t shake the eerie sensation that it was - in some strange pythonesque way - actually following us.

The flash of inspiration on our last morning to engage the kids in sensory artwork using glue, red sand and leaves whilst the van is being packed up means that the memory of Uluru and Kata Tjuta will linger for weeks – not just in our minds, but in our couch, our beds and the corners of the floor. No matter. The Rock Rocks!

Our first visit to the sunset lookout at Uluru. The heads of Budge and Giant Josh just visible behind the kids, as they set up their tripods side by side. 
Celebrating Josh's big four-Oh with a birthday apple crumble.
Sketching the rock as another day ends.
A good likeness, no?
Another good likeness, eh!
Budge and his trusty tripod took a staggering number of photos of the sun setting across Uluru. This is just one of them.
This is another.

The Henley-on-Todd Regatta, now in it's 50th Year!

Strewth!! The Henley-on-Todd Regatta (an annual event and the Number One Reason for us high-tailing our way to Alice Springs) has everything. Crazy folk in costume! Colourful street parade! Towering floats! Jokes-a-plenty MCs! Wacky races! Crowd participation! Smoke blowing, water bomb tossing, confetti exploding Grand Finale! We are a part of something so intrinsically, authentically, irreverently Aussie and we lap it up – sitting through the whole yew-beaut day and even edging our way to compete in an event or two. Yet it’s the simple fact that the kids keep getting sprayed with lollies – in the parade, in the spectator stands, in the events themselves – that prompt them to declare the Henley-on-Todd “The Absolutely Very Best Day of Their Whooooole Lives”.

Greeting the floats on the main street. Notice the big plastic bag full of lollies in the hands of the pirate wench that are making their way slowly towards our eager young'uns, whose pockets are quickly stuffed to capacity.
Competing in the Boogie Board Race - Rikki on the board. Just check out the size of the crowd in the stands.
Jack and Rikki competing in the Sand Sprint. Benji is also registered but chooses instead to bury himself in daddy's arms and watch from the sidelines.
The Great Lolly Scramble. Not surprisingly, with so much competition, the kids collect only a fraction of the booty they scored during the earlier parade.
Watching the Grand Finale boat race, Jack proudly wears his bright yellow XXXX cap (yet another freebie scored on the day).

A town like Alice

The town of Alice Springs, surrounded by red desert and the mighty MacDonnell Ranges, has plenty to keep us busy. We enjoy a day at the Desert Park whose displays of plant life, animals and landscapes ensure we will never look at a desert the same way again; we trawl the Sunday markets; we fully experience the Henley-on-Todd Regatta; Rikki and Sam enjoy a special girlie morning leaving the boys back at the BMX track; and, in a blaze of initiative and entrepreneurial zeal, the kids hold a garage sale to flog all the toys, books and playthings they’ve grown bored of (and with our van being parked opposite the playground and jumping pillows, there's no shortage of customers or sales). Alice has plenty more attractions and aboriginal artwork for us to discover but we have a rendezvous in Uluru to get to. We leave after buying the kids new wallets to hold their growing fortunes and with the promise to be back soon.

The Budding Entrepreneurs busy at work. Jack closes the sale while the others scan for customers.
Lining up for free pancakes on Sunday morning at what we vote to be the best organised caravan park in Australia, so far.
Rikki models an aboriginal head roll and serving bowl at the Alice Springs Desert Park.
Bush tucker and bush medicine ... at the Alice Springs Desert Park. 
First sushi dinner. Homemade by mum. With even a raw vegan version. Soy sauce smiles all round.

Sprint to the Springs

After reading up on the expeditions of John McDouall Stuart, Aussie explorer extraordinaire, it’s with great anticipation that we set off in his footsteps down the Stuart Highway, in a 4 day dash to Alice Springs. Noteworthy stops include:
• Daly Waters, where we cycle the Stuart heritage trail and enjoy icy poles and icy beer in its iconic, laconic pub.
• Tennant Creek, where we spend a morning at the indoor/ outdoor Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Museum.
• The miniscule Pebbles and massive Devil’s Marbles rock formations.
• The kooky Wycliff Roadhouse, UFO capital of Australia.
• Lunch in the town named after our favourite eight year old cousin Elliot.
• The Aripwe Art Gallery in the aboriginal settlement Ali Curung.
• The gigantic Aileron man, woman and child sculptures and Anmatjere art gallery.
Our drive may be marked with the smoke from numerous small bushfires yet the nearer we get to the red centre, the more the temperature drops. By the time we hit Alice, we have swapped sandals for socks n’ sneakers, swapped shorts for pants, rolled down our sleeves, pulled on our hoodies and are sleeping with the heater back on. Full time. Full blast. Stuart never did it so tough.

All smiles at the Daly Waters Pub. Smiles fade somewhat when we bring out notebooks and pencils for a spot of schoolwork, but the cool classroom inspires a decent effort.  
The tree that Stuart engraved with an "S". The tree is easy to find. The "S" not so easy.
Elliot Herschberg, we miss you!!
Bushfire smoke in our path.
Pokin' our way around the itsy bitsy - though still impressive - Pebbles...
... in contrast to the much bigger - and hence a tad more awesome - Devils Marbles.
Alien action at the wacky Wycliff Roadhouse.
Aileron woman and daughter, with Bihary daughter, son and son.
All the big men. Aileron and Bihary.

The Artists of Top Didj

Manuel Pamkal has been painting for 30 years and provided us with plenty of inspiration - visual and verbal - for our own efforts. His artwork stands alone - but we are rather chuffed with how our copies turned out too! Another 30 years at it and who knows...

Top Didj is Tops!

Top Didj is Katherine's best kept secret, a hand-on, interactive experience of indiginous culture and tradition. Artist-in-residence Manuel captivates us with his smiles and stories, whilst teaching us to paint, to make fire and to throw spears in true Aboriginal style. It was all much harder than we'd have ever expected, but enormous fun, and intoxicatingly authentic.