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Roughing it in the Outback

October 20, 2010


We arrived in Alice Springs early in the morning and got a transfer to our hostel, Alice Lodge (which we loved!). It was so incredibly hot, which was a nice change from Melbourne but a little difficult to handle. We went to walk around town, which is thankfully very small, and while walking along the outdoor markets we found we had to constantly duck out into the surrounding shopping centers just to get some air conditioning! It was something like 35-39 degrees Celsius (that’s around 100 Fahrenheit)! We were happy to get back to our hostel and take a dip in the freezing cold swimming pool.

The next day we had a very early wake up, as we were picked up by our tour bus at 6am. We did the three day The Rock Tour to Uluru/Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta/The Olgas and Kings Canyon. First we had a long drive out to Yulara/Uluru (the tour normally does this the last day but we did a reverse in order to pick up a last passenger at Ayers Rock Airport, which I think ended up being lucky for us!). We went first to the Cultural Center there, which had some interesting displays on the Aboriginal people of the area, as well as our tour guide Skip’s favorite thing, a book full of letters from people who had taken something (rock, sand, etc.) from the site and were sending it back, saying they were sorry and believed taking from the sacred land had brought them all kinds of bad luck!

Mini Uluru on the Base Walk!

Then we went to do the Base Walk around Uluru. The rock has a 10km circumference and we walked around 9-some kilometers of it in the bright sunny heat (thankfully there was some wind). There are a number of areas on the rock that are sacred sites and you aren’t allowed to take pictures, but they are cool to see. It’s really fascinating seeing Uluru up close. It’s not just some rock (or monolith), but it’s full of so much life, history and stories. There are all kinds of different holes, caves and formations in it, and they all have different stories and meanings for the Aboriginal people. Some of the stories are sacred and only known by the Aboriginal elders, but others are written on signs near the sites so you are able to imagine these stories for yourself. For example, holes could represent where a giant ancient ancestor/creature climbed up or fell down the rock, fallen rocks may be eggs, face-like formations at the top are ancient people watching over them, etc. It was really, really interesting. Seeing it in person you are able to comprehend how absolutely huge Uluru is, and how beautiful it is!

Sunset over Uluru

After our walk we went up to a lookout point where we had dinner and watched the sunset. While it wasn’t the best sunset, we were still able to see Uluru change colors as the sun went down, which was incredible. It’s a gorgeous place.

That night we got down to camping, which was the realest camping you can do pretty much. All we had were swags (which are basically like sleeping bags for your sleeping bags!), no tents or anything fancy like that. I was excited about sleeping under the stars, but when we went to the bed the sky was quite cloudy. It rained briefly in the night – which luckily for us you have a small flap you can flip over your face to keep the rain off (which will in turn get tons of sand all over your face and in your hair when you try to flip it over you). After that the sky cleared and I awoke throughout the night, and in the “morning” when we woke up at 4:45am, to a spectacular night sky.

Hiking in Kata Tjuta

The next morning we drove to a lookout to see sunrise over Kata Tjuta and Uluru. Unfortunately no sunrise really happened, but it was still a nice view. We then drove out to Kata Tjuta to walk around. It’s really awesome, beautiful place. we walked about 7km, stopping to learn a few things like how the Aborigines made paint and about the uses of various plants.

Then we went back to Uluru for a cultural walk around the last kilometer of the base. Skip told us some creation stories that went along with the different sites. He really knew what he was talking about and was very passionate about it so it was especially interesting.

We were back in the bus after that, heading toward Kings Canyon. We first had to stop and get firewood — and we were collecting it ourselves. We literally pulled over on the side of the road by some dead trees and had to all get out and push over dead trees (not an easy task) then split them into smaller pieces. We definitely roughed it a bit with this tour!

Sleeping in swags under the kitchen shelter

At our Kings Creek campsite we were able to hangout by the bonfire for a bit, but then it started raining. Luckily Skip had anticipated this and got us a campsite with some shelter. So we all slept in our swags in the kitchen and picnic area to escape the pouring rain. Everything was pure mud after that!

The next morning we drove out to Kings Canyon. The day was gray but not rainy during our walk, which was awesome. The walk was pretty amazing, climbing up to the top of the canyon and walking around it. There was a spot called the Garden of Eden with a waterhole that was really beautiful, and a spectacular waterfall also. Walking back from the waterhole we saw a woman laying on the steps under an emergency blanket. It turns out she’d broken her hip and was going to have to be evacuated by helicopter — a $20,000 rescue! Yikes. Not to mention the nearby airfield was flooded from all the previous night’s rain.

Waterfall in Kings Canyon

Lucky for us, the rain didn’t start until right after we finished our walk, which was fine with us as we were only driving all the way back to Alice Springs. Once we were back we all returned to our hostels for nice long showers and fresh clothes, then we met up at The Rock Bar for a reunion of the group and a few drinks. It was really nice, everyone on the tour was pretty cool (it was us plus two couples from Melbourne, a Chinese couple, two Chinese girls, an Israeli girl, an English girl, Irish girl, and two German girls). And of course that was also when one of the Melbourne couples offered for us to stay at their house for our two days back in Melbourne before we flew to Cairns, which was wonderful of them!

Alice Lodge: I forget how much it ended up being but it was pretty inexpensive and we got 15% off our first night because we booked the tour with them. The place was so awesome, and they upgraded us both nights from a dorm to our own private room. The staff are super friendly, they have free internet (computers and wifi), a nice cold pool, a place to watch TV/movies, kitchen and free breakfast, and a nice outdoor area to hang out and meet the other cool people there.

The Rock Tour: $495 + $20 entrance fee – The cheapest tour (actually there’s a new one called Mulga’s Tour or something that is like $30 cheaper) for 3 days and we really enjoyed it. We felt like we were getting a real Outback experience, sleeping in swags and not being pampered at all, taking part in cleaning up, getting firewood, and making lunches. Plus our tour guide was awesome (though sorry we were his last group) and the ultimate classic Aussie bush-guy.

This is a side trip that is part of a larger series. Read the rest of the Epic Aussie Road Trip series


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