Other than a resort township near Uluru, the only major town in the red center is a place called Alice Springs.
To my okies, I'd like to say that if you thought you lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you've got absolutely nothing on Alice Springs. Directly halfway between Darwin and Adelaide, this town takes about a week of driving to get to from either coast. What's more intriguing, is that the town is only a population of 25,000, roughly the size of Altus.
Though it is “near” the red center, it is still 500ks (310 miles) from Uluru to Alice Springs. Perhaps that is why I found it comical to see that all of the tourism literature and signage lumped Uluru and Alice together.
Matthew, Maggie and I hadn't showered in several days and we were also running low on clean clothes at this point. We'd been on the road for a week. The most devastating part was that all of our electronics were dead. With these conditions we opted to fork up a hefty $27 each in order to stay at a hostel in Alice Springs.
I had been warned about the town by other visitors, but nothing prepared me for what we were to encounter upon arriving. All around the streets were people limping and sitting, yelling and cursing. There were sketchy characters all around the streets so when we parked the car we were careful to hide our valuables. However, when we checked into the hostel we learned we hadn't been careful enough. The front desk clerk instructed us to park near the police station. When we asked why, he explained that the parking lot we chose was a popular spot for nightly window bashing. The only safe lot in town was that next to the police station. We thanked him and immediately retrieved our car.
Inside the hostel felt like a warm and friendly prison. There were fences and barbed wire to protect us from the dangers of the outside, making the inside a fun escape for young backpackers. We spent our evening buying groceries, taking showers and doing laundry. Despite the comfy beds all three of us said we slept better in our camping gear.
The next morning we continued our journey north, towards the next sign of civilization. That meant lots of driving and lots of gas stations for me to learn about. With each roadhouse stop, the signs in front of us would begin the countdown for the next stop. Most gas stations were at least a hundred kilometers apart.
Tropic of Capricorn
The first stop was the Tropic of Capricorn. This is a roadside stop to let you know you are moving from desert country into the tropics. The stop was cool but it didn't get tropical for a few hundred more kilometers.
Next was Aileron. Despite being a slightly rough village, I had great fun taking pictures of the giant art statues around the roadhouse.
Next was a stop called Ti Tree, “the most central pub in Australia!”
Next was Barrow Creek, an important town during the development of the Overland Telegraph Line. I had read about Barrow Creek in a book about a woman who grew up in the Outback during the early 1920's. Back then Barrow Creek was a stop for the bush people to retrieve their weekly supplies. The supplies were mailed to them from Adelaide and had to be ordered a week or so in advance.
After Barrow Creek the highway opened up and gave us the gift of something called “an Open speed zone.” We were quite excited to see this, and with Maggie driving she took to it like a duck on water. Being from Germany, she hit 150kph and leisurely said it reminded her of the autobahn back home.
Perhaps one of the riskiest roadhouse stops was also one of the weirdest. Wycliffe Well, the UFO Capital of Australia. Maggie and I had fun taking pictures around the site before quickly getting back in the car.
Although we did stop here for gas and McDonald's, we didn't spend much time in Tennant Creek at all.
Renner Springs was another quick rest stop along the way. The inside of the roadhouse was full of history though!
Daly Waters was one of our favorite stops. It felt more like an oasis than a gas station. Here Maggie and Matthew enjoyed a beer in the beautiful sunshine.
The claim to fame here is the Pink Panther! For whatever reason he was all over this place.