I’m back from what can only be described as an unforgettable experience in zee Outback of Central Australia, aka the Red Centre. I felt that my time here would not be complete without visiting the area which is symbolic to Australia. This part of the outback is most famously known for it’s ‘big rock’ and is a popular landmark to tourists like me.
Mary, a fellow traveller and I decided we would be best to book onto the three day Cockatoo Dreaming Red Centre Safari with WAYOUTBACK, starting and finishing in Alice Springs. In our eyes this was the easiest way to get around the outback, and it would allow us to meet likeminded travellers. Our trip itinerary saw us visit;
- Outback Camel Farm
- Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse
- Mt Conner
- Uluru (Ayers Rock) at Sunset and Sunrise
- Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
- Kings Creek Station
- Watarrka (Kings Canyon)
- Alice Springs
We arrived to Alice Springs having flown in from Melbourne on a painless 2hr 50 min flight. What struck me whilst flying in to Alice Springs was just how vast and remote the outback really is. We changed our clocks (30 minutes behind Melbourne) and made our way to the bus transfer. On the drive into Alice Springs we saw clans of Aboriginal communities walking around, which was quite overwhelming. Despite being in Australia it was a sight I hadn’t yet seen. After an insightful journey we were dropped off at the Haven Backpackers and were soon out of the door to explore what Alice Springs had to offer.
I would describe Alice Springs as the heart of the Red Centre, and the gateway to iconic landmarks. It is surrounded by red sand desert and heavily influenced by the traditions of Aboriginal history and culture. Although Alice Springs is the third largest Town in the Northern Territory it is relatively small. Alice Springs has many attractions including the Anzac Hill, Araluen Cultural Precinct, Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, Royal Flying Doctor Service and many vibrant art shops. During our time in Alice we were warmly welcomed and encouraged to enjoy the time we had. We met some great people in Montes Bar and in our hostel during the winning Lions Test, who were all keen to exchange stories as ‘long-termers’ in Alice.
Our three day trip to the outback started the day after we arrived in Alice. We were picked up from the hostel at 6am by our enthusiastic tour guide, Bec, and made a quick dash around Alice to collect everyone else on our tour. 19 in total. From here we began our long journey across the Australian Outback.
Our first stop was after about 1.5hrs at a the Outback Camel Farm at Stuarts Well. The Camel Farm is an orphanage for camels, kangaroos and other native animals who need a bit of TLC. Here we had the opportunity to ride a camel, and learnt that Australian pioneers originally used camels for transport and cartage in the desert. As a result their are many ferrel camels still roaming the desert today.
After the Camel Farm we joined Stuarts Highway to make our journey towards Uluru. Before my trip to Australia I knew of the ‘big rock’ as Ayers Rock, but what I learnt is that Ayers Rock also goes by the Aboriginal name of Uluru. Uluru is the world’s largest monolith and Aboriginal sacred site where tribes were living in the area 10,000 years ago. It is said that the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginals own the land around Uluru today.
It took us about five hours to reach Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, with a quick stop off at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse. During the drive we were surrounded by remote land, red soil and surprisingly, many a tree. We passed Mount Conner which some people mistake for Uluru. From a distance Uluru was clear to see for miles; as we got closer it became obvious just how ‘big’ this huge chunk of sandstone is. It was an awe-inspiring sight. Once we had entered the National Park we headed towards the Cultural Centre where we were dropped off to make lunch and visit whilst Bec went off to collect others joining us on the trip at Yulara airport. The Cultural Centre is well worth a visit before exploring the area further.
Following lunch we completed two walks around the base of Uluru, listening to aboriginal stories, whilst absorbing the spectacular landscape. Unfortunately we were unable to climb Uluru, as it’s a sacred site and considered disrespectful to the aboriginal community. To me this did not matter as the walks around the base were impressive in themselves. After the walks we drove a short distance to watch the ever changing colours of Uluru at sunset with a glass of red wine in hand. What a spectacular moment it was.
It was time to say farewell to Uluru for the night, and set up our camp, not so far away. It was all hands to deck to light a fire, cook dinner and prepare our swags for a night of sleeping under the stars. I learnt that dinner was kangaroo bolognaise, I wasn’t sure I could eat the native animal, but after much persuasion I decided to sample it. I am glad I did. If someone was to ask me what it tasted like, I would say ‘just like mince meat’. After dinner, we sat around the campfire, got to know one another over a beverages or two! and sang along to the guitar. Who needs a TV?
I was excited about sleeping under the stars in nothing other than a swag, but I was concerned that I would get cold sleeping outside in 2 degrees, and that Australia’s creepy crawlies might attack me during the night. This was not the case and to my surprise I slept through the night. It probably helped that I was pretty content; it’s not often that you get the opportunity to lay in a swag, around a camp fire in the open air, listing to a guitar whilst looking at a blanket of stars. I was in heaven.
Our group was woken up bright and early by Bec, with gentle music, and the glow and warmth of a lit campfire. It was time to get up, eat breakfast and make our way to Uluru to see the sunrise. Again, this was pretty special but not as much as seeing the changing colours during sunset. At this point I was looking forward to feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin.
It was then a short drive to the Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), which is an aboriginal word for “many heads”. The Olgas, is another monolith and made out of conglomerate rock, consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rocks which is different to that of Uluru. Here we did the spectacular 7.4km Valley of the Winds walk taking us through through the valleys and gorges of 36 large domed rock formations and breathtaking wilderness. When we got into the actual ‘Valley of the Winds’ I couldn’t believe the amount of green budgies darting between the trees. I’ve never seen budgies in wild. This walk was more challenging to the base walk of Uluru, but easy enough. The Olgas definitely lived up to its name ‘Valley of the Winds’ and in my eyes was even more impressive than Uluru. Following the walk we had lunch overlooking the Olgas and began our drive to Kings Creek Station to set up camp for the night.
During the drive it began to rain, and we experienced this rain for 24hrs. Our campsite for the evening was at a working cattle station called Kings Creek Station. Fortunately, they were very accommodating and upgraded us to a tent that evening (as good as sleeping under the stars was, I’m not so sure that I could have braved the rain). As the night before we worked together to set up camp – cook dinner, light the campfire and prepare our tents. It was time for bed (after a few glasses of red that is!!).
Because of the rain we were unable to see Kings Canyon at Sunset or Sunrise but this didn’t dampen our spirits, if anything we got an extra hour in bed. Happy Days. We ate breakfast, packed the van and hit the road for our last day of the tour. We were ready to visit the Wakarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park, home of a mighty chasm with sheer red rock faces that soar over 100 metres above lush palm trees. I had heard so many promising things about Kings Canyon, and was looking forward to seeing it for myself.
Because of the heavy amount of rain it was touch and go as to whether or not we could do the walk here at all, never mind the 6km round trip walk that we were set to do. We learnt that the river walk was flooded so that wasn’t an option for us. Collectively we decided to walk to the first look out point once we had climbed up heartbreak hill and decide what to do. Before venturing on the walk it was important that we were prepared well, so we turned bin bags into fetching waterproof jackets. We certainly set a trend!.
I’m not going to lie, it was pretty wet, cold and miserable but with some positive attitude this soon changed. We ended up walking to the tranquil Garden of Eden, which took us about 2.5hrs return, which wasn’t bad considering the circumstances. Kings Canyon is where the Pricilla Queen of the Desert final drag scene plays out and is more beautiful, rugged and awe-inspiring than any camera could capture. It was even more spectacular seeing Kings Canyon flowing with waterfalls, which I’m told is a rare sight.
Soaking wet, mesmerised and hungry, we returned to the Kings Creek Station, for a BBQ and began our long journey back to Alice Springs for an evening of food, drinks and dancing. During this part of the journey we were lucky to see golden eagles patiently waiting for road kill, camels, cockatoos and a kangaroo. These sights ended the trip perfectly.
Despite the masses of driving through the Red Centre, its many landscapes are well worth seeing.
Thanks to all the amazing people on the tour and WAYOUTBACK for making it the trip that it was. I’ll never forget it.