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Uluru – Adventures in the Northern Territory

Travelling to Uluru is not an easy journey.

This is week 10 of a 4 month trip down under. There have been highs and there have been lows. Uluru is hours from everywhere.  The landscape is unchanging for many miles. More than once I asked to be woken up when there was something interesting. Australia is a big country.

Here I reflect on road trips, being an older traveller, getting ill 1500 km from a pharmacist and why I would do it all again in the blink of an eye.

Double Rainbow during sunrise at Uluru

My best and worst moments were on a trip of a lifetime to the Northern Territory – visiting Kakadu, Lichfield, Alice Springs and Uluru.

Sunrise at Uluru

The worst because I so frequently felt old.

Despite being a 25/39 year old hipster in my head. Not that I was ever a hipster. Nor a hippy, although I did have embroidered flared Levis, purple t shirts, a cowbell and long hair in the 60/70s.

Travelling Coral in the 1970s

I hung out with hippy types in the mid 70s, was a student in the late 70s, went on demos and then in the 80’s fell for the lie. Got a job, got a house, got debt. 

Clifton, Bristol - a balcony party 1979

What my brain thinks (I am young, I can keep up) is completely opposite to how my body reacted to keeping up with a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings on a 10 day Darwin to Alice road trip.

You need a certain level of fitness

Yes I knew there would be walking and some swimming and camping. I reckoned I could cope physically with all of those.

And I did mostly. Phil and I had ‘trained’ for this insomuch we walked up Vesuvius when in Sorrento and clambered to Kastro on Skiathos. We walked every day in Melbourne, averaging 10,000 steps a day. I must have been fitter – or so I thought.

Then I got The Rash. In the middle of nowhere with no pharmacy for 1500 kms. Or at least one that was open when we were in anything vaguely recognisable as a town.

The skin at the back of my knees was inflamed with a heat rash. My skin was sore and weeping and the pain made walking difficult, sitting painful.

It was hot and sticky on the minibus, the only trousers that made it bearable were linen. The sun was strong, so I needed to avoid that and we were sleeping in swags under the stars.

The nights were cold so I needed thermals to keep warm. Which were not good for The Rash. This trip involved travelling long distances and sitting for hours on a bus where I could not stretch out my sore legs. My ankles started to swell.

I may have whinged a tiny bit.

Losing it and wanting to go home

One evening, while the rest of the group walked up a hill to see the sunset and the stars, I stood in the shower drenching my legs in cold water and sobbed.

Miles from anywhere - NT Darwin to Alice Road Trip

At that point I wanted to go home. Back to England.

I was homesick, missed my bed, my friends and my children. I was tired. The pace was relentless. A lie in was 6.30am. Frequently up and out of the sleeping bag at 5am.

I hated the swags, the manky sleeping bags, the breakfasts, the stars, the young people who had more energy and were so effing cheerful.

I was in pain and wanted a bed and not to eat bloody stir fried chicken and pasta and rice and ham and cheese. I hated the greedy ones on the tour who took all the food. I wanted to be sipping latte not drinking shit tea.

I wanted brunch.

You can’t call me Mum

The bright young things called me ‘mum’. They genuinely thought it endearing and affectionate. At the time I found it derogatory. Sorry guys. I did. I love being a mom to my own kids, but I don’t want to be seen as mumsy.

Let’s be honest here. It made me feel f***ing old. After all I was only disinfecting the camp kitchen. And putting all the pans in size order.

So I did what I had to do. Gave myself a talking to. Because, if we didn’t already have the ‘difficult one’ on the trip (who alienated almost everyone) I was in danger of being the other ‘difficult one’.

Don’t be the ‘one’

A friend once told me that if you don’t know who the ‘one’ is, it is probably you.

I did not want to be the ‘one’. And yes I am old enough to be their mom so get over yourself Coral.

As well as giving myself a good talking to, I also took wine. It helped with the pain, the lack of sleep on a creepy campsite in swags. I recall we played the ‘I don’t like (insert household chore) game. (Look it up). I started to lighten up. The others went to see the haunted rooms and I climbed into my swag. Anyone who was there feel free to fill in the gaps between the game and the haunted rooms bit.

Fast forward to next day with hangover. Slept on the bus a lot. In the Never Never there is only so much nothing to see.

Once we got to the dirty and weird Barrow Creek Hotel – in an area that is renowned for the kidnapping and murdering of backpackers, I engaged in my new strategy to deal with the difficult ones.

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No, not murder or kidnap.

It was to prevent the greedy ones stealing all the food by making sure I got hands on with lunch prep.

The guide makes or breaks a tour

On this 10 day tour we had three very different tour leaders.

Guide Rowdy would not let us slice a tomato but thought it ok to throw food waste over my rucksack. I always seemed to be last to get lunch behind the greedy ones. And because I was polite and didn’t push to the front of the queue unlike the greedy ones, I was fed up of getting only one slice of tomato with my ham.

Guide number two, Simon (the best one on this 10 day trip) let us get on with making lunch. How I enjoyed telling the greedy boy to go away as I wasn’t ready to serve lunch as he hovered, greedily. This was the greediest one who never lifted a finger to help – People who are kinder than me thought me brusque. Simon (who is not kinder than me) made him pot wash the night before because while he was first to eat yet was last to clean his dish. And he still did not get it. Yeah -he was now officially the other ‘one’ on the tour.

I also made sure I got my plate of food first. I actually got to eat some beetroot. Hoo blooming ray. Being hangry is not a good thing for me at anytime, being hangry and ill was turning me into a monster.

Guide three. Can’t remember his name. This was his last trip, he had stopped loving being a tour guide and it is a good time to go. He trusted me with the keys to the truck and let me eat all his biscuits. Not so bad.

A town like Alice

A Town Like Alice

I got respite in Alice Springs. The nearest thing to civilisation since Darwin. And Darwin is not so civilised.

A rainy day in Alice revived me. I had clean clothes. Visited The Flying Doctors. Slept in a proper bed. I got medication for The Rash.

Royal Flying Doctor museum, Alice Springs

And oh joy, proper food in Alice Springs. Page 27 as recommended by the tour guides. Poached eggs. Bacon. After days of camp food this was nectar.

Breakfast in Alice Springs

I was ready for Uluru

But I was still lacking in confidence.

The greedy ones were no longer on tour with us.

The “strong 10’s” were also absent. I missed them as when they were with us my hair looked decent as one was a gifted braider. I also missed their energy, their positive outlook on life and their confidence in themselves.

Travelling Coral in the NT

What I do realise now was that they had, and it is what I used to have, supreme confidence in their ability to do anything.

They were also happy with the way they looked.

Thermal springs in the NT

Travelling Coral, Knossos, Crete 1979


While I hate to look in a mirror and have a confidence rating of zero.

Even when I was young I never considered myself as a ‘ten’. Never. I was too skinny and too tall.

A squiggly wiggly with a bony bum. I was so jealous of their confidence, their looks and their outlook on life. I may have become a tiny bit bitter.


What I also got from the group was to learn to be less uptight and let my hair down, (metaphorically, I preferred it braided). I went clubbing (hated it) in Darwin and sang karaoke (loved it) in Alice. Can’t beat them, join them.

Now I can’t work out if being grown up and sensible is what I am or being carefree is irresponsible but what I want to be

*At 25 I was not a young, chill hipster who dreams of Portland and free cold brew coffee

I was married with a mortgage and a mom to a young baby. I had a proper job. I paid my taxes, read the Sunday papers and only drank wine at dinner parties. I had bought the lie.

Travelling Coral gets married 1983

And now? I am not 25 or 39 I am 57. And while a couple in the group said that they wished their mothers were out clambering over rocks and swimming in croc infested pools, like me, I still think that I was old and slow and held people back.

Yes, many were kind and helped me over difficulties, but all most of the time I thought ‘who the hell am I kidding?’

Foil hats so the Aliens won't get us - NT road trip - with my adopted for the trip kids

I may have redeemed myself when making tinfoil hats to protect us from the aliens. For my adopted children. Full on mom mode and it made me happy to help.

Yes, I know how crazy this sounds. The making hats to protect us from the aliens bit. Not the mom bit, but actually it was crazy and they are crazy and I needed to learn how to be a big kid again.

And after all, this is the Northern Territory.

Where a pig and a kangaroo are ‘companions’. How crazy is that?

The kangaroo who loves a pig

Focus on the good stuff

I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, feeling old I failed to notice what I could and did contribute.  I hope that at least one of the group benefited from our chats. My empathy was remarked upon. Age and experience were respected.

Little did they know that I have not got my life sorted by a long shot.

I was so busy beating myself up, comparing myself with those younger, prettier, healthier and fitter than I, that I didn’t acknowledge them. The remarks made that their moms would never dream of sleeping in a swag or scaling the rim of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park fell on ears that did not want to hear it.

All I could think was that my knees hurt and I have friends my age who run marathons and here I am struggling to walk up a hill. And yet no one thought I was a wimp for deciding not to tackle the Valley of the Winds walk in pouring rain. (Opted for a nap on the bus).

But then this is what road trips are about. The journey. Literally and metaphorically. We are all travelling through life.

There is no denying, The Northern Territory  was bloody brilliant. Like Child Birth – the rewards outweighed the blood, sweat and tears.

Uluru was totally worth all those kilometres on a bumpy bus, endless ham sandwiches and being trampled on by a wallaby. Even The Rash could not spoil it for me.

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Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. Oh yes. Even the swags.

Sleeping in swags in the Northern Territory

Let me tell you, I would rather be a 56 year old with a bunch of 20/30/40 somethings who are living life than be with a bunch of saga louts who see it all through a window of a luxury coach and live with regret.

And on the last night, as we checked into the posh hotel and not a hostel, I was happy. Hot shower, fluffy towels, luxury toiletries and fresh bed linen on Queen Sized comfortable mattresses. Oh how I was tempted to get room service and watch a movie.

Luxury in Alice Springs at Doubletree by Hilton

But something was wrong. I could not stand the noise of the telly. Hotel food was bland and hey the A Team were in Alice at Uncles.

Karaoke at Uncles in Alice Springs

So Phil and I joined them all for beer, burgers and karaoke. And it was good. We were a group who bonded well. I learned a lot from them all. Even the greedy ones.

And next?

Phil and I are now into week 3 of the second house sitting in Oakleigh. Week one was spent resting our tired bodies. Much needed R&R.

Soon we will be on the road again, to Sydney and driving to Brisbane. I am so looking forward to being on the move again. The wanderlust is strong in this one.

I have booked another group tour to Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island. I will not to be the ‘one’ on this trip. I have reflected and regrouped. I have cream in case the rash comes back.

And then we go to New Zealand for a month where Phil and I will catch up with our son. Who can call me Mom.

Not one to wish my life away, but I am counting down the days to seeing my son.

Meanwhile, Australia here I come.

















2 comments on Uluru – Adventures in the Northern Territory

  1. I loved your post. I was “the one” in Morocco two years ago with a bad back. There was a woman on that trip who had bad knees. She and I “blamed” each other on our climb up Ait Ben Haddou because we were the last to arrive at the top. But we got there! I’ll be 62 in two weeks and will leave for Egypt on Nov. 5. I may be “the one” again. Too bad, kids.

    1. Thanks Odette. In my experience ‘the one’ is the person who alienates everyone else on the tour – not the one who is older with bad knees. It is more to do with attitude and making the effort to be part of the group. Most of the younger and fitter ones will take time to make sure the whole group get to the top of the mountain. In this case the ‘one’ had a superior attitude and got affronted when help was offered. As it was 8 of us spent 10 days together and have good memories of the trip, the highs and the lows. Have fun in Egypt – I missed out on Egypt due to the coup in 2011. It is still somewhere I would like to visit.

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