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Australia: Exploring the Red Centre

Uluru, Central Australia

After a good sleep on land, I hit the road again, this time in a 4WD truck with 15 others for a five-day tour of the region west of Alice Springs.

Day 1 – Alice Springs to Uluru

I was picked up bright and early at 6am and once everyone else had been picked up around town, we began the 450km drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock). I always thought it was nearby Alice but it’s not even close!

The Stuart Highway goes straight down for about 200km before you turn right on to Lasseter Highway (all the roads are named after explorers) for another 250km – so turning was a big deal.

Our truck

Our truck

You drive through quite a few mountain ranges on either side – the Chandler Range, the Seymour Range, and the Erlunda Range – but a lot of the land is flat, and very red. We stopped at a camel farm for a coffee and then turned onto Lasseter Highway, stopped at the Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse for a look at the cattle station and a toilet break, then a final stop at Curtin Springs.

As we got closer, we had a first glimpse at Uluru in the distance. There is a bit of a red herring on the drive in, as Mount Connor, a table top mountain, looks exactly like Uluru but our guide told us that is definitely not it and she will point out the real thing!

We arrived at the Ayers Rock resort in time for lunch at our campsite. The campsite is quite spread out and pretty much everyone on a tour stays there, either in tents or in a ‘swag’ – a Crocodile Dundee style roll up canvas sleeping bag that has a pillow and thin mattress inside.

As we arrived at our camp, our guide pointed out a Mouse Spider that was crawling around in the kitchen area – it’s quite a big spider that is hairy like a mouse. As you can imagine, I didn’t need much persuading to stay inside one of the tents!

We got back in the truck after clearing up lunch and headed to the Cultural Centre, nearby Uluru. It was quite interesting to walk around and you could read about the history of the Anangu people, the traditional Aborigine landowners. The land was officially handed back to them about 20 years ago and is now leased by Parks Australia.

We then drove on nearer to the rock, parked and did the Mala Walk, a lovely stroll around some of the base. You can see how amazing the rock is up close, it’s sandstone but has so much iron in it, it’s literally rusting off and you can see it flaking off. There was also some rock art to look at and our guide explained some of the Dreamtime stories (traditional Aborigine stories, something like our equivalent of Bible stories).

Uluru during the afternoon

Uluru during the afternoon

Uluru up close, on the Mala Walk

Uluru up close, on the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru up close and personal

Uluru up close and personal

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Rock art on Uluru, on the Mala Walk

Rock art on Uluru, on the Mala Walk

Caves along the Mala Walk

Caves along the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

Uluru from the Mala Walk

A small watering hole by Uluru. When it rains, all sorted come flying off the side of the mountain (our guide even saw a nappy - urgh)

A small watering hole by Uluru. When it rains, all sorts come flying off the side of the mountain (our guide even saw a nappy – urgh)

It was really lovely but the flies were unbelievable. I was so thankful for my fly net – the best $7 I ever spent!

My fly net - the best $7 I ever spent

My fly net – the best $7 I ever spent

We took a slow drive around the base of Uluru, around 10 km, and then headed to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku sunset spot for sparkling wine and nibbles. With the amount of people there you would think it was difficult to get a picture (I had flash backs of sunrise at Angkor Wat) but actually all the groups had their own areas and we had lots of space.

Drinking sparkling wine out of a tin cup at sunset by Uluru

Drinking sparkling wine out of a tin cup at sunset by Uluru

Sunset at Uluru

Sunset at Uluru

It was amazing to see the rock turn slowly redder and redder, then a bit purple and then black. We drove back to camp for some Spaghetti and Kangaroo Bolognese before and early bedtime.

 

Day 2 – Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Creek

We were up before dawn at 5am to get ready and pack up camp before we drove 5 minutes down the road to watch the sunrise over Uluru. We were in a great spot between both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (or The Olgas), our next stop.

Waiting for sunrise at Uluru

Waiting for sunrise at Uluru

Sunrise over the Olgas or Kata Tjuta

Sunrise over the Olgas or Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ in traditional language, and that’s exactly what these huge rocks look like. We headed up to the Karingana Lookout in the middle of the gorge on the Valley of the Winds walk. It really was a stunning walk and very quiet. Our guide Kate said that during winter (June to August) the lookouts have around 100 people at them, so we were lucky to be there alone with such a fantastic view and a serene atmosphere in the valley.

Walking through Kata Tjuta

Walking through Kata Tjuta

View from the second lookout at Kata Tjuta

View from the second lookout at Kata Tjuta

 

View from the second lookout at Kata Tjuta

View from the second lookout at Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

Back on the road, we had to drive back on ourselves on the Lasseter Highway. This time we turned left and headed north through the Liddle Hills and west again to the Kings Creek Cattle Station. The tour company have a private camp near there so we set up camp there for the night.

Rainbow over camp near Kings Creek Cattle Station

Rainbow over camp near Kings Creek Cattle Station

Being in the centre of Australia, it never really occurred to me that it might rain but oh it rains here! It was torrential rain and howling wind as we unpacked the truck, and poor Kate got drenched trying to start a fire for our dinner. It died down though and after an open air shower (not that fun in wintery weather), we had a warming chicken curry for dinner.

Day 3 – Kings Canyon, the Mereenie Loop and Glen Helen Gorge

We were up in the middle of the night (5am) again to get on the road to Kings Canyon as early as possible. It was overcast but the canyon walks are closed after 11am or if the temperature reaches 36C.

I chose to do the Kings Creek walk, an easy 2km return, where we followed in the footsteps of National Geographic when they came to document the area. It was quite cold in the canyon itself but that kept the flies at bay of most of the time.

We saw lots of birds, including what I believe were an Australian Kestrel and a yellow throated minor. The walk meanders through the creek bed and you get a great view of the red walls of the canyon.

Tree bark in the Kings Canyon Creek

Tree bark in the Kings Canyon Creek

 

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

We finished by 11am just as the clouds had cleared and it was really hotting up again. We had a long drive ahead so after lunch we got going on the Mereenie Loop. The Mereenie Loop, also known as Red Centre Way, is a huge 400km off road loop that was very bumpy indeed (it’s so bumpy that if you don’t have four wheel drive, you’re not insured).

We drove past some lovely scenery, including Gosse Bluff, a huge meteor crater that was formed thousands of years ago, and we stopped there for a photo. We also stopped on one section of the road that was a real ‘road to nowhere’ moment. We drove on and eventually reached Glen Helen where we stayed for the night.

Gosse Bluff in the distance

Gosse Bluff in the distance

It was really quite luxurious – there was even a pub on the campground! A short walk from our tents there was a track down to the billabong (my new favourite word), a waterhole where you could swim.

Our camp at Glen Helen Gorge

Our camp at Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge

Dipping my foot in, all I could think about was that moment in Crocodile Dundee when she is filling up her water bottle and the crocodile comes diving out of the water. Well, that was in Queensland so I was fine but still, diving into the murky water was a bit tense! However, I dived in and it was so refreshing, one of the best moments of the tour. Just swimming there as the sun went down, looking up at the sides of the rock and seeing a bird of prey circling above was just unreal.

Swimming in the billabong at Glen Helen Gorge

Swimming in the billabong at Glen Helen Gorge

We had a drink in the pub before dinner and then collapsed in our tents after another great day.

 

Day 4 – West MacDonnell Range, Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Owen Springs

After a lie in we were up just after dawn to drive 30 minutes to the West MacDonnell mountains and the Ormiston Gorge. We walked around the top of the gorge on the ‘Ghost Gum Walk’, taking in the scenery and then descended down into the canyon to climb over boulders to the billabong. I had another amazing swim in the water there and a delicious coffee at the cafe before we drove on to see the Ochre Pits.

Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell Range

Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell Range

Ochre was one of the main trading commodities that were vital to the Aborigines and the pits there are a stunning range of coloured rock that are highly valuable.

The Ochre Pits near the West MacDonnell Range

The Ochre Pits near the West MacDonnell Range

We drove a bit further on through the mountains to another gorge called Ellery Creek Big Hole (these places just have the most fantastic names!), where we had lunch and another swim in the waterhole.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ellery Creek Big Hole

It was a more relaxed day with less of a strict timetable so it was nice to relax by the edge of the water in the sun and relax (with fly net on!).

Our group was a mixture of people doing three day tours, four days or five days. I did five days along with four other Germans, so we said goodbye to the others, changed cars to a smaller 4WD and headed off road again to Owen Springs.

Owen Springs

Owen Springs

We had driven in a huge loop over the past few days and were only about 45 minutes outside of Alice Springs at this point, but it was complete isolation. Owen Springs has a dry riverbed running through it where there are raging floods sometimes, but when dry make a great camping spot. We were truly in the outback here, and without tents, we all were going to have a proper night out under the stars in swags.

Owen Springs

Owen Springs

As Kate set up the camp fire, we went on a walk around the area. I was desperately trying to spot a kangaroo but didn’t manage it. I was wandering along, about to take another photo and bam. The camera stopped working. The screen just said ‘Card cannot be accessed’. Trying not to panic, I went back to camp and explained the problem to the Germans as they tried the card in their cameras – it just said ‘No image’ every time. Well, you can imagine – I cried my eyes out! 2000 photos gone. I had another memory card that worked but I was devastated to lose all those photos.

We had a lovely dinner by the fire though, and Kate made bread and butter pudding in a makeshift oven of hot coal, which was very comforting. Everyone felt sorry for me so I was allowed to sleep inside the trailer, which definitely put my mind at rest over the spider situation.

On camp fire duty at Owen Springs

On camp fire duty at Owen Springs

We went off to bed but the night was far from over. At about 12.30am, the heavens opened and the rain started coming down in sheets. After 30 minutes of torrential downpour, Kate made a decision to pack everything up and get to a proper campsite.

We packed up the car and the trailer and drove 90 minutes to Wallace Rockhole, arriving at 3am. It was exhausting as you can imagine, but we kept Kate awake and by the time I got into my swag (outside but I didn’t care about spiders by that time), I fell into a deep sleep. It was definitely an adventure!!

 

Day 5 – Wallace Rockhole, Standley Chasm and Alice Springs

As we were already at our next stop, we got up slowly, had lovely hot showers and a good breakfast then packed the car and met Ken. Ken, who married an Aborigine lady about 20 years ago, runs guided tours into a valley near the small town of Wallace Rockhole.

 

He was a fascinating guide and pointed out all the herbs and flowers, berries and trees that the Aborigine people used as food, traditional medicine and tools. As a ‘white fella’ he has been initiated into the local tribe and had an in depth knowledge of the culture.

Ancient rock art on the walls of caves, on the walk from Wallace Rockhole

Ancient rock art on the walls of caves, on the walk from Wallace Rockhole

Some traditional Aborigine tools and instruments

Some traditional Aborigine tools and instruments

The walk from Wallace Rockhole

The walk from Wallace Rockhole

We sat down on some rocks and listened to some of his stories and he explained a lot about the current challenges that face the Aborigine people, espcially the difficulties they face over the clashes between their traditional law and the ‘white fella law’. To be honest, when I arrived in Alice, I didn’t have the best first impression of the Aborigines there, but listening to Ken, I could really understand the situation much better.

We went back to the shop he runs, where there is an art centre at the back, and we had some delicious ‘dampa’ (or damper), traditional bread made from the old pioneer’s recipe. We sat drinking tea, watching a documentary about the last nomads found in central Australia in the late 70s and tried our hands at some Aborigine painting. After our eventful night, it was lovely to relax inside, fly-free for a couple of hours.

After saying goodbye to Ken, we hit the road back towards Alice, stopping at Standley Chasm for a photo and an ice cream, before arriving back in town around 2pm.

Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm

The Alice Springs Camera Store also managed to save all 2043 of my photos from my memory card from hell – so all the photos here are my favourites, thank you so much to them!

It certainly was one big adventure and firmly in my top 5 – 2000km in total and on the map it’s just a drop in the ocean of central Oz!

Map of the trip:

Map of my outback trip

Map of my outback trip

 

 

2 Comments on Australia: Exploring the Red Centre

  1. Hi Alison, Just read that you lost your photos. I deleted 600 photos in canada so I know how you felt. I took my sd card to a camera shop, they have a programe for retrieving deleted photos and I got all of mine back. When you get to a city give it a try and good luck. You might be able to get them back, just don’t use the card in the mean time.
    Karen

    • Hi Karen,
      Thank you so much! I was devastated when I thought I lost them but a camera shop in Alice retrieved them all for me – I was so relieved!
      I will email you some of the ones of us together
      Love Alison x

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