Located 635 kilometres north of Glenelg’s Broadway Hotel, I imagine Arkaroola’s an infrequent honeymoon destination, but the pandemic’s made prickly and independent nations out of Australia’s states so with Hobart, Darwin and Cairns omitted we hired a 4WD and headed bush.
“Let’s go down there and have a look,” Claire said as we clattered along The Flinders Ranges Way. Turning right the guttering on the road instantly shook the car like we were on a shuddering, fillings-flying-out-of-your-gob ride at an Outback World theme park. A glance in my side mirror and there’s rubber like darting black birds. Shredded tyre.
Australia’s Vast Interior 1, Novice Driver 0.
On Sunday morning we joined the Ridgetop Tour. Bum-surfing in the back of an unrelenting old Toyota, this took us over the Gammon Ranges’ brutal granite and sedimentary peaks. However, geology is like baroque music to me: admirable, but largely beyond my appreciation. It was difficult terrain and our driver showed surgical skill and a cray boat skipper’s eye in getting the vehicle up, and down, the merciless tracks. Thankful for my seat-belt, I felt for the big man opposite who was forced to ride the tray sans harness like it was a Japanese-built version of the legendary bucking bull, Chainsaw (Australian Bull of the Year, 1987 to 1994). I questioned if we were all in an unauthorised Tourism as Violence experiment.
At Sillers’ Lookout, we stared out towards Lake Frome and Beverley uranium mine’s ribbon of airstrip, and I said to my wife, “After weeks of trudging across the desert how would those first explorers have reacted to this range? Relief at the change or despondency at how tough this place is?” We drank our complimentary (not really) coffee and ate slender fingers of lamington while others in our party took selfies.
Back in our cottage mid-afternoon we reflected that we were having ourselves a unique honeymoon. No pool-bar cocktails or reef-oil aromas for us. I could, however, have conceded to a club sandwich out on our verandah.
Griselda Hill looms over Arkaroola’s southern entrance and the advice is to climb it just before sunset. Our original aim was to take a bottle of wine and enjoy it at the summit as we bathed in the orange-pink wash of the surrendering sun. How quickly we became elevated. How still and quiet the dusky village below. Picking our careful way up the steep goat track we soon agreed this would’ve been ridiculous.
Earlier Claire mentioned seeing Shane Warne on I’m A Celebrity and his arctic terror when confronted by large, creeping arachnids. My response, I recollected, had bordered on mocking his fear, and now, mere hours later, I was on my hands and knees and utterly frozen on a sheer outcrop in what could’ve been a fatal blow to my vacillating sense of physical masculinity, if not Warney’s. I could not go up. I could not go down. Hours of virtual training with Alex and Max watching weekly episodes of Bear Grylls: Man v Wild had left me skill-less and with no actionable problem-solving.
If I’d been capable of thinking beyond my catastrophic context, I might’ve speculated bitterly upon the honeymoon sunset we could’ve experienced on a ferry returning smoothly to Hobart’s Constitution Dock (doubtless with a splash of the very same wine that was currently waiting unloved a few hundred metres below in our spartan room), following an aesthetically challenging, yet physically safe excursion to MONA. I might’ve also wondered about the alarmingly large number of grooms who expire just after their nuptials, and therefore get to star at two big family events within the same month.
With one of her first significant acts of marital love Claire coaxed me towards the summit. Like many moments in life our final ascent was rewarding – retrospectively. Peering over the edge she saw the ghoulish cliff-face so we remained on my recovery rock, and with a slowly stabilising heart rate I took in the broad, astral view.
Next morning, we arose in the desert dark and did the sunrise hike along Acacia Ridge. It was pleasantly crisp, and we had it to ourselves. We swapped the lead with unspoken intimacy but talked of weighty matters and trivia and each other and life a considerable distance to the lush south. Nearing the ridge’s summit and our ultimate viewing spot, another ridge would reveal its dreadful peak, and so on we’d ramble. Sunrise was at 6.36. The minutes began to gallop. The sky began to brighten. Yet another ridge.
When we reached our summit, the sun was already low in the sky. But it was only a technical disappointment for there we were, newly together in an ancient land. An Australian Raven offered acknowledgement. We talked some more, and we looked.
Sitting on a rock we shared our bottle of water. Married life was magnificent.