The big red rock, is there a more iconic Australian sight? Perhaps Sydney harbour but it’s up there. I recently did a three day tour of Uluru, kings canyon and the surrounding outback. Here’s what I got up to on the trip…
As you fly in to ayres Rock airport there literally nothing as far as the eye can see. It’s the weirdest thing no other planes around and you can’t even see the terminal building until after you land.
After we arrived we drove out to the cultural centre of the national park. A museum erected to educate tourists on the importance of the land for the aboriginal people. No photos are allowed inside or even outside the building due to the beliefs of the aboriginals, they believe that after a person dies they should not be talked about or seen so photos are destroyed or faces blacked out, if you have the same name as the deceased you’d have to change it. It is recommended all visitors to the park visit the cultural centre if only to learn the dos and donts of being on aboriginal land.
Next up on the tour was to do the base walk around ayres Rock itself. This is the only way to truly take in the scale of the rock and there’s plenty of opportunity to learn about aboriginal traditions and history here too from cave paintings to cooking caves and areas where ceremonies take place. There are certain areas of the rock that you mustn’t photograph as there are areas that are only for women’s ceremonies or only men’s ceremonies. The reason you can not take pictures is because if a aboriginal woman or man sees a photo on social media of the men or women’s areas they will be punished sometimes severely. These areas are clearly marked just make sure you look out for the signs. Along the way you’ll learn about aboriginal culture and traditions and even see some cave paintings. You shouldn’t climb the rock even though there are marked routes, as its disrespectful. The reason there is still a route up the rock is due to an agreement between the national park and the aboriginal people in the 99 year lease they signed, however it is now widely accepted that the rock should not be climbed and the route is often closed.
The geography of the area is fascinating, for example did you know that the rock is actually grey? It’s only red is because the iron content of the rock is actually causing it to rust and flake. A really good area to see this is at wave cave where you can see the inside colour protected from the elements as well as the rusting outside. And the areas of black found at various points around the rock are where waterfalls flow if it rains, the black comes from the algae that grows in wet conditions.
We then drove to the sunset view point to cook dinner whilst we watched the sunset of Uluru. Here the sun sets behind you as you face the rock causing it to illuminate in bright red tones. But be sure to turn around to see the colour of the sky. Sunsets and sunrises in the outback are the most incredible thing. Once the sun set we headed back to camp where we slept in swags under the stars but more on that later. On the first morning we woke up at 5:45 am to drive back to the sunset view point for breakfast. Yes there is a sunrise platform but we decided to see the sun rise over the rock instead which also meant that we were the only people there. Here there were some amazing views and great tunes to soundtrack the sunrise, here comes the sun and a few lion king numbers, what more could you want?
Following sunrise breakfast we drove to Kata Tjuta, meaning many heads. These are dome like structures of rock that are also sacred areas for aboriginal people. Here we did a 3 hour hike to take in the stunning views. By law you will need one litre of water for each hour you plan to walk, I was there in Autumn so we didn’t drink all our supplies but it’s good to know they’re there incase of emergency and it’ll keep you fit luging all that around!
On our tour we had an extra special adventure. Upon returning to the bus we discovered a flat tire, not really what you want before a long drive through the desert. But we called it an adventure and got on with changing it, not the easiest thing in the middle of nowhere but it was a good team building experience. Aren’t unplanned adventures just the best?
Now time for more geography,How did Uluru get there? The land around this area is actually below sea level, many many years ago the sea flowed inland from the west coast of Australia bringing with it lumps of sediment. There were big lumps of sediment (ayres rock) and smaller sediment (kings canyon) that were deposited when the sea left the area. The small sediment, things like sand were compacted down to form the sandstone cliffs that can now be found at kings canyon, if you look carefully you can still see the ocean ripples usually found in sand at the beach.
After the mornings adventures we had a fair distance to cover to get to the next camp. Along the way we made a couple of stops, firstly at a bottle shop on a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. If you’ve ever seen pracilla queen of the desert just walk in imagining the staffs faces if a bus full of drag queens showed up, I dare you it’s a hilarious thought. We also stopped off to collect firewood along the way, i know what you’re thinking cute little sticks and logs to throw on a fire, nope think bigger, entire trees covered in cobwebs and undergrowth. You will get dirty and you will need to bring your muscles to lift your trees to the roof of the van.
We finally arrived at our camp just before sunset giving us enough time to get the fire started and all get showered before settling down for dinner. Tonight’s dinner was cooked in the hot embers from the fire which was pretty special and very tasty. After clearing up we all sat around the fire with a drink listening to music and toasting marshmallows, the perfect way to spend an evening. I know alot of people worry about camping in Australia, even in tents let alone swags I mean everything is out to kill you right? Wrong in the entire time I was in the Northern Territory I didn’t see a single spider or snake, but do use your common sense and don’t go sticking your hand in holes or whatever. The only animal encounters we had was with dingos, vicious wild dogs, but if you leave them alone they won’t hurt you, just make sure to lock all your food and belongings away because they will take them. Plus it’ll give you a good story, I was sleeping next to a dingo at one point in the night, it just wanted to warm itself round the fire not to eat me. What’s a swag? The best way to describe it is an adventurers ready bed, it has a built in mattress and canvas cover, inside you have your sleeping bag and your belongings, except your shoes put them under the head of the swag as a pillow it’s actually surprisingly comfy!
The following morning we were up at 4:45 way before sunset to drive to kings canyon, about half an hour away. Having had breakfast before we left we arrived ready to start the hike in the dark. The walk begins with the appropriately named heart attack hill, a steep staircase up to the top of the canyon for sunrise.
We continued the hike through kings canyon to the garden of Eden a peaceful waterhole but unfortunately you can’t swim, it was pretty cold so you wouldn’t want to anyway just sit and enjoy the silence. To break all the silence be sure to test the echoes at the top of the cliffs, they’re amazing you can pretty much talk to yourself. At kings canyon we also visited pracillas crack, famous from the movie again if you’ve seen it you’ll know…
After finishing the walk it was still pretty early, (it’s amazing what you can get done when you get up before sunrise) we began our six hour drive to Alice springs. For those of you who are thinking aren’t Alice springs and ayres Rock in the same place, nope! Along the drive we made plenty of stops to break up the journey, we also played games, drew on the windows and listened to some good music. In the afternoon we stopped at a camel farm just over an hour from Alice springs. Here you can ride racing camels, feed wallabies or just wander round playing with all the cute animals.
After the tour everyone was dropped off at there hotels and hostels but we met later for dinner and drinks at the rock bar, also owned by the rock tour so they offer some great discounts for tour groups.