Mount Conner was the first large landmark to interrupt the endless views of flat plains and shrubs which had been the only scenery since leaving Kings Canyon the previous day. Glimpses of the unmistakable Uluru soon followed. L and I pitched up for three nights at a huge free camp outside of Yulara, the resort town near Uluru. A three day pass to enter Uluru (Ayers rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) National park will set you back $25pp. Not an unreasonable entrance fee but L and I still tried for a concession and when that failed L once again whipped out the CIL, sadly it was no hope. 

We spent the first of our three days at Uluru. L climbed the big red rock and was up and down in 1h18 having spent 20 minutes at the top. The climb was steep and a chain rope  up the first half helps throngs of tourists to hoist themselves up and down. L managed to capture some hilarious footage of a couple who were on their way up, looking a little out of their comfort zone as they clung onto the chain for dear life whilst pretty much lying down on the rock. 
When it came to the ‘climb’ or ‘not to climb’ decision, L and I had differed in onion, which I believe to be perfectly normal considering we not clones. I’d chosen not to climb despite it still possible to do so until 2019 after which climbing Uluru will be banned. The aboriginal owners ask visitors not to climb their sacred rock and instead take a walk around the base of Uluru, this we had planned for day three.

Bill and Ben were everywhere, we’d bumped into them every day since our first meeting on the cliff top camp area three days ago and today was no different. At the base of Uluru a gleeful Bill and Ben boasted about their free passes, given to them by a couple who’d only visited the park for two days, leaving a single days use. Armed with their free passes Bill and Ben managed to swindle an additional 2 day extension, for free, after having convinced the ticket operative of their desire to have more time to explore the national park, despite having not yet been! These guys were good when it came to getting stuff for free. They’d already filled up their 200L water tank at a caravan site which they weren’t staying at.

We checked out the aboriginal info centre and finished the day by watching the sun set behind the big rock resulting in it changing from red to orange and finally to brown. If you didn’t already know: Uluru is actually rusting (giving the rock it’s colour) and what we see above the ground is tipped almost 90 degrees on it’s side and if those two facts haven’t blown your mind, the following will: there’s an estimated 2-6klm more of Uluru hidden underground! It’s basically a huge rusty rock berg, I really can’t remember being taught that in school! L and I learnt our Uluru facts from Phill the Segway tour guide who’d conveniently stopped ahead of us with his group to explain more about the rock’s formation. Yes you can Segway around Uluru and yes the pair of us quite plainly tagged onto a Segway tour to listen to what the guide had to say. Occasionally if you happen to be walking in the same direction as a guided walking tour it can be easy to join the group unnoticed but not so much this time, due to a lack of Segway. L and I had thought about bicycle hire but with an absence of tandems (If only we’d brought Tandy!) we gave it a miss preferring instead to walk the 10klm loop. 
It was only when a small branch dropped from a tree and landed on our heads mid way through our base walk, that L started to question his decision to climb the rock. I pointed out that half of the branch had also landed on my head and I hadn’t climb Uluru, so perhaps it was a sign for something else. Moments earlier we'd been getting annoyed with each other over something insignificant and so we decided to interpret the branch-to-the-head incident as a sign we should stop bickering and instead continue to enjoy our surroundings. Not wanting to get hit by any more falling branches, we did.

Kata Tjuta (Uluru’s closest neighbour) was where we spent our second day in the national park. There’s a great walk through and around ‘The Olgas’ which was good because it meant almost half of the walk was in the shadows of these unusual rock formations posed to being in full sun like the base walk around Uluru. This was also the day L and I got quite frustrated trying to eat our single picnic item (tuna pasta salad) in the absence of any cutlery. We returned to the van quite famished and in search of a fork.

Bill and Ben had invited us to pitch up next to them at the free camp outside of Yulara. Sometime pre 6am (it was still dark) the sounds of a bogged vehicle briefly woke the both of us up. It wasn’t until we woke up properly a couple of hours later to the sounds of a vehicle being winched, that we realised what had happened only 100ft away from the van. A handful of American tourists had pulled up after dark, camped then packed up to leave at 5:30am only to realise that their 2wd vehicle was stuck. They’d spent 20 minutes trying to rev their way loose (which had actually just spun the wheels further into the deep bull dust) before abandoning all efforts, getting back in their vehicle and going to back to sleep. Help from a fellow camper with a winch had freed the yanks but it wasn’t soon enough, I overheard how they'd well and truly missed the 6am Uluru sunrise tour that they’d been booked onto that morning. 
Side note: for anyone considering driving around Australia, unless you are sticking to the East coast you absolutely will need a 4wd. Don’t convince yourself that you could just stick to the main tarmac loop road around Aus because you really won't see half as much as when you drive the dirt roads. It's the remote ‘short cut’ dirt roads that make for the adventure and besides most of the national parks in Northern Territory and Western Australia are only accessible by 4wd on dirt roads. Even pulling 100m off the tarmac to camp for a night can get you stuck as demonstrated by the yanks.

Of all the places the Crampervan could choose to throw a mechanical fit, it would of course be in the centre of the Australian outback! 
The first mechanical oddity was when we returned from the aboriginal information centre  at Uluru to find the Crampervan with all the indicators stuck ‘on’. Luckily this hadn’t flattened the battery but we thought it might if they didn’t turn themselves off soon. 15 minutes passed, we’d tried everything yet they remained still stuck on. Exhausted of options, L went to remove the fuse and do away with the indicators all together but before he had chance, they miraculously ‘un stuck’. This was a self fixed one off but the next issue wasn’t. 
For the last 3 mornings L and I had noticed a squealing noise when the van was started up. Up until now the routine had been that we’d wait until the noise would disappear, usually after 3-5 minutes, then we’d start driving and continue our day not thinking about the noise until the following morning where this would all repeat. Only this particular morning the squealing didn’t cease, so instead we turned off the engine. L rooted around under the Cramper’s non existent bonnet concluding that the squealing sounded like a bearing was failing, narrowing it further to a belt tensioner which he then went on to remove for inspection. (I have no idea what this is or does, only that it’s not supposed to squeal, it should be lubricated and the movement should not feel gritty). Surprisingly Uluru has a car mechanic and more surprisingly he is from the UK. It took car mechanic less than 15 minutes to punch in a new bearing. The third and final mechanical cough from the Crampervan was that of the leisure battery which had been gradually loosing it’s ability to hold a charge over the last month or so and was now pretty incontinent and unable last through the night. One half of Bill and Ben (an electrician) confirmed that the battery was done for. We needed a new battery but funnily enough there aren’t any battery shops at Uluru, it would have to wait.

Bill and Ben were highly entertaining, they had whit and sarcasm by the bucket load and  the largest amount of souvenir tea towels L and I had ever seen. Their caravan was pretty cushty and it was here on the last of our three nights of free camping near Uluru, sat around their modest table whilst eating TimTam's (Australia's equivalent to penguin biscuits) and Scotch finger biscuits (shortbread to the rest of us) that team GB rose to victory against team AUS at the Sequence championships. I hasten to add that this pair were ruthless and there was no holding back when it came to tactical distraction in the form of mockery, sarcasm and all forms of other general piss taking. 
Our victorious evening concluded with L leaving the comforts of the Crampervan to take a midnight pee at the exact same time a ute drove past with with words ‘security’ signed on the bodywork. L had ducked into the long grass to avoid the headlights and the ute had continued on but the following morning whilst we were packing up to leave, the same security ute returned and this time pulled up to chat. It turned out that we were actually camping beyond the designated ‘free camp’ area (not that this was clearly marked). Bill and Ben were also paid a visit and we joked that L and I had sent the security man over “to go and sort it out with mum and dad in the big caravan”. 

Before returning to Alice Springs we had one final surprise in the form of a fluorescent green frog which had made itself at home in the front passenger door hinge. L and I tried to coax the little chap out and away from the van but instead he hopped behind the light assembly and into the workings of van. Horrified, we spent the next two days driving back towards Alice without the air-con on in fear he might climb through the air vents.

Next up: from Alice Springs to Western Australia and a lot off stuff in between….