Adelle had 5 weeks off and simply decided to drive and see where she would end up. It became not only an adventure through some beautiful and rugged country, but also an amazing journey about finding oneself.
I recently had the wonderful privilege of 5 weeks off, a healthy tax return and an urge to get out and do something different. In the spirit of the intrepid adventurer (and lacking a passport) I turned my sights to my own backyard and decided to see where the road might take me. Hiring a Toyota Tarago campervan, loading up and hitting the road, I found myself meandering across the country on my own, determined to get off the beaten track and see some of the amazingly beautiful country we live in. My journey took me 9500km around outback NSW, SA and the NT, to some of the most driest, alien and remote locations on the planet. I had a taste of some of the rugged beauty that is our country and got a sense of just how vast parts of it can be. My philosophy was simple: just drive.
With no timetable to stick to, or other passengers to please, I found myself detouring randomly down roads, muttering "That looks interesting" and pulling up for the night in places, most people wouldn't think of travelling to. I went to bed under a blanket of stars and woke up to sunrises that were so achingly breathtaking that I was still grinning at the thought of them by lunchtime. I met people in quaint little towns (little more than a petrol station and a place to camp of a night) and slowly started to see why people would choose to live in such out of the way places. To put it simply: the landscape was stunning. Every 100kms was different from the last. For an area that is sold as being the "Red" Centre, it was so much more than just red sand, rocks and long flat plains that seemingly spanned forever. When people talk of the red centre, images of Uluru, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs come to mind, and they were all places I visited, certainly living up to their iconic reputations as parts of the Red Centre. But none of them quite had the charm of Gemtree.
Located 140kms North East of Alice Springs, bordering somewhere between the East MacDonnell and Harts Ranges, Gemtree is the outer border of the Red Centre geographically. Getting there involved travelling along a "Highway" (and I use this term in all seriousness, even if it was 1 lane of bitumen laid out precariously between red dirt and mud) through cattle ranches and over dry rivers, to a location that was so remote, you'd be hard pressed to think that anyone actually lived out there. But live there they do, and it's evident from meeting the people in their little community, that it's with good reason. Gemtree is prime real estate for the budding fossicker after all, and after signing myself up for a little garnet fossicking myself, I can understand what all the fuss was about. With my pick axe, sieves, bucket and shovel shouldered, I watched keenly to pick up the tips on how it was all done and dreamed lazily of finding that thousand dollar stone just waiting to be scooped out and washed up in my sieve. I wasn't disappointed.... well maybe a little. I didn't find the big one, but I found enough that in the time I was there, I was thoroughly addicted to the dreamy lifestyle of dig, wash... SCORE! and then back to dig again. There is definitely nothing more satisfying than holding a 3.5 carat jewel to the sunlight and watching it sparkle, knowing that you were the one that found it.
Sitting around the campfire after a roast and a beer at the end of the day, I got talking with the seasoned fossickers staying at Gemtree. This motley crew told the tales of their adventures travelling around the country, on the hopes of having lady luck smile upon them to fund their next big trip. They talked passionately about leaving the daily grind of city life behind and living on the road, travelling along the ranges and of the nomadic lifestyles they lived... and I, fell in love with their dream. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps I’d stumbled across one of Australia’s best kept secrets, just because I decided to “take a right” on a whim with a smile onto a red open road.
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