The second part of my adventure began at 3 am on Saturday morning with a flight from Perth to Alice Springs. The flight took about 4 hours which seems like a long time until you really think about just how big Australia is.
Getting off the plane and walking into the heat of Alice Springs, I found the temperature oppressive. I was there at the beginning of fall and it was incredibly hot. 32 degrees during the day.
Alice Springs is a very very small town. I hear that if you actually live there, you find the charm and character of the town. Unfortunately, as someone passing through quickly, I didn’t think there was not much to do. The hostel suggested going to the botanic gardens and the kangaroo paddock but given that my previous couple of days had been very long, I decided to skip any long excursions.
I ended up doing some “accidental” exploring of the town by virtue of walking across town to check-in for my tour to Uluru. On the recommendation of the guide, I ended up purchasing a fly net hat for the tour (LIVE SAVER) and 3L of water (a tour requirement). In trying to be thrifty on the price of water, I ended up purchasing the most expensive water available. Lesson learned. I finished my afternoon in Alice Springs by walking to the top of ANZAC hill for sunset. The view was great.
The next morning I woke up at 4 am, ready and eager to start my tour to the red centre. It was totally dark when I left the hostel. The bus arrived at 5:30 am – and the guide Damo introduced himself to the group. Given the ungodly hour, as soon as the bus started driving, most of us promptly fell asleep on the bus. Around 8 am, we were woken up to the tune of – The Circle of Life – which myself and my soon to be new friends G and R – thought was amazing. It it about a 5 hour drive from Alice Springs to the red centre, so we all got to know each other pretty quickly. As you drive along the road, the scenery is largely a lot of red and short scrub trees. I was actually shocked at how much scrub there is given that it is the desert. As I said, I was there at the start of fall and it was 32 degrees during the day.
Along the way to Alice Springs we stopped in the “Centre of Australia” – Erldunda. There are various ways to define “centre” but Damo explained that Erldunda was the middle point of these various measurements – making it the Centre of the Centre.
Around 2 pm we entered Uluru National Park. We then walked to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre where we learned a little bit about why Uluru is a sacred place to the Aboriginal peoples of that area and I watched a video describing how the Aboriginal peoples initiated a legal and political battle for the return of Uluru which was at that time named “Ayers Rock.”
After the cultural centre, we then walked to the base of the rock. It is incredible. This is one of those times where you want a better camera but even then it would be impossible to capture – the enormity of Uluru. The first part of the base walk was guided and Damo told us a little bit about how certain portions of the base were used as kitchen areas or sacred spaces for young men. Damo also explained why the climb to the top of Uluru was closing and the Aboriginal perspective on people climbing Uluru. After this, we had a few minutes to wander around by ourselves and it was back on to the bus to drive to another part of the base. I was a little bit disappointed because I thought we were going to have 2 hours to walk around the base and I we only ended up having about an hour. But oh well. What are you going to do.
After a quick stop at a small creek at another part of the base, we were off to the sunset view of Uluru. This was spectacular. The setting sun illuminates Uluru and it is the image that everyone imagines. Except for the other tourists it is very quiet and there is really nothing except for Uluru on the horizon.
After an outback dinner in front of Uluru, we headed back to our “campsite.” I use the term campsite loosely as you can see from the photo below. It was serious roughing it (maybe pay for the slightly more expensive tour next time…). On the other hand, I was so tired after a long day, that the swag, sleeping bag and stars were the perfect backdrop for a dreamless sleep. Note to any future Uluru adventurers, everyone told me that the red soil (the iron in the soil) gets into all of your clothes, shoes and bags and stains them. This is true.
The next day, Monday, we were woken up at 4:45 am to a military horn. We were up early to see the sunrise. In my opinion the sunrise illuminating the sky behind Uluru was even more magical than the sunset but they are both different and incredible experiences. The sunrise was like a watercolour painting.
After sunrise we were off to Kata Tjuta. You need to arrive at Kata Tjuta fairly early in order to complete the Valley of the Winds walk because it gets really hot and windy as the day progresses. The walk closes at about 11 am. Before we started the walk, Damo gave us a short geology lesson on Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Did you realise that Uluru is one single rock? And that only 10% of it is showing? And the reason it looks like a bread loaf (e.g.,the striations) is because at one point it was vertical and then it tipped over? On the other hand Kata Tjuta is made of several rock formations.
The Valley of the Winds walk was another highlight of the trip. It is not an easy walk per se but our entire group made it. The view from the top of the Valley of the Winds hike is another must do. It is well worth the effort of turning yourself into a pile of sweat.
A short break and then we loaded ourselves onto the bus and drove the approximately 4 hours to Kings Canyon. Along the way we stopped by a salt lake. Salt lakes are insane. From a distance it really looks like there is water. Trickery.
At some point along the way to our second campsite, we stopped to pick up firewood. Let me tell you, it is really hard to get firewood in the middle of a desert. In fact, I will always have a scar on my leg as a reminder of my battle with the trees from the red centre. While a particular tree may have won the battle, we eventually won the war and had a beautiful bonfire at our campsite that night. For the second night in a row, I slept under the stars with my swag and sleeping bag and it was fantastic. A swag for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t know) – is like a canvas sleeping bag shell with a small mattress for added comfort. It’s not very warm though, hence the sleeping bag. While it is 32 degrees during the day, at night the temperature dramatically drops to about 10 degrees and during winter it can get below zero.
The next morning, we had yet another early start. This time to see the sunrise at Kings Canyon. To get to the sunrise viewing point, you have to climb this hill called Heart Attack Hill. Heart Attack Hill is not a misnomer. It is very steep. While the sunrise was nice – and I’m not sure if it was the clouds, or the angle, or simply the view – it was nothing compared to the day before. There is a little oasis deep in one of the valleys of Kings Canyon that only exists during the fall/winter. It is very beautiful but there were heaps and heaps of people there so I didn’t spend too much time there.
As we were at a base of the Canyon, it was only up from there. Up and up and up until we hit the ridge line of the canyon again. The Kings Canyon hikes are awesome. I highly recommend going to visit it.
After the Canyon, it was time to head back to Alice Springs to catch a plane to Melbourne. But before that, I obviously had to stop and get a camel ride. Did you know that Australia has wild camels? That’s right. WILD CAMELS. How weird is that?