At 5:40 am, I met tour guide Matt, who welcomed me on board his bus where I greeted 12 strangers. To the soothing tunes of Jack Johnson, Passenger et al, we drove in sleepy silence to Mount Ebenezer roadhouse.
Awake now and refreshed with coffee and Coke in my case, we set off on the next leg of our journey bound for Watarrka (Kings Canyon). One by one we went to the front of the bus, grabbed the microphone and introduced ourselves to our fellow travellers using a set of prompts which Matt wrote on the windscreen of the bus. I learned I was the only Australian, apart from Matt, and the oldest passenger. Accompanying me were an American couple, a Chinese man named Elvis, a Korean lady, 3 Germans, 2 young ladies from The Netherlands and a couple from Belgium.
Bread rolls and apples were distributed as we approached Watarrka and prepared to ascend a set of steps called the Devil's Staircase. We spent the afternoon walking right around the rim of the canyon including a descent to The Garden of Eden were Matt had snacks for us and we watched ripples on the water reflect on the sheer rock walls.
At one point during the three and a half hour hike, Matt got us together for a group photo and it was here we learned our war cry which he said was to become very important to us.
We were motoring along the highway with rumbling stomachs and great expectation when Matt suddenly pulled off the main road on to a dirt track. Black Betty was roaring from the speakers as he raced along the bumpy track, sliding on the dirt while flashing the interior bus lights on and off.The song had just about finished when we broke into a clearing and following a three sixty, Matt parked the bus next to a campfire site. The song ended right on cue and we laughed and cheered. No power, no water, no toilets, no tents, and gasp...no internet connection.
It was all hands on deck to unload the firewood, get the fire started, and unload the swags as Matt got to work on dinner. Bathed in the light of a full moon with a roaring fire to keep us warm, we ate drank and chatted until at some time (I no longer cared about time and had stopped looking at my phone-there was no signal anyway), Matt showed us how to use the swags and we set up our beds for the night. Soon we were all asleep under the stars. It was my first ever night sleeping outside.
Day 1 of The Rock Tour was over and it had already exceeded my expectations.