Big Rocks and Beanies Beneath the Stars: Oz Part 1

Trip Start Apr 09, 2010
Trip End Sep 07, 2010

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Friday, June 25, 2010

We arrived eagerly to Alice Springs bang in the middle of a very red nowhere (or so it looked in the plane) after some dilly dallying in Darwin airport. We stepped off the plane into the cool crisp air which was probably the cleanest breath we had taken in the preceding months away. To feel cold was AMAZING after all the sweat and scorching heat in Asia. We caught the free lift to Toddy's Backpackers resort and set out to explore Alice Springs. After a walk into town with a drunk but nevertheless interesting and friendly Aboriginal guy who explained about being from the Lost Generation and a bit of Alice Spring's history with Aboriginal Culture. After some exploring we found ourselves inexplicably drawn to the "Alice Springs Beanie Festival 2010" after being assured when confirming our tour for the following day that a warm hat would be an absolute necessity.

The Beanie (woolly hat for those not in the know) Festival was like a fairytale for hat-lovers. It comprised of over a thousand hand made woolly hats of all shapes and designs for all ages hand-knitted by people from all over Australia to be sold at the festival! We probably tried on over a hundred hats each and eventually settled on a beautiful pair (far less tame than the majority!) We were well and truly ready to go to the red centre and see some big rocks.

When thinking of Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it is now known, the mind recalled images of red sand, scorching heat and a barren dusty landscape. However we were here in Australian winter and therefore were in for some freezing cold (but bright) weather and due to a phenomenal amount of recent rainfall the landscape was transformed, it was still red but now with a lot of green and wild life! 

We set off on the 500km trip from Alice to Kings Canyon and slept most of the way only waking up to see our first Kangaroo in the wild and a camel (apparently Australia has so many and they are of such good quality that they are exporting them back to the middle east). Our tour bus was driven and run by Sarah who had crazy hair and probably sang for 70% of the time she was awake and 10 other tourers from Holland, Germany, Italy and England and Barb and Rick - a 50 yr old couple from Oz. To cut things short - a great bunch of people (particularly the Brits for once! One of whom we are sure was Dumbledore trying to blend in as a Muggle - look at the pictures see if you can spot him!)

Kings Canyon was nothing short of spectacular, having just the image of Ayers Rock in our minds we hadn't appreciated the other impressive landscapes in the area. A 3 hour walk around the Canyon in bright sunshine was breathtaking and the pictures just about give an idea of how good it was. We realised as the trip went on that winter is undoubtedly the best time to do this as the walks are reasonably steep at points (the first 30mins of Kings Canyon is affectionately called "Heart-Attack Hill") and in the summer heat would be excruciating! But for us the cool breeze and brilliant sun were perfect conditions.

Night time saw us eating and camping round a camp fire under the stars (There seem to be millions and trillions more in Oz - we had never seen anything like it) and sleeping in our Swags. The swags were essentially an outdoor canvas bed/sleeping bag in which you remained toasty, warm and dry whilst still being totally outside and under the stars. I expect part of the toastiness can be attributed to sleeping in all of my clothes for the 3 days at once, my beanie and a sleeping bag and in the Swag - but others informed me it was warm enough for them too despite it reaching freezing at night.

Up early and away we went to Kata Tjuta and I think we both agreed that of the three main rocky things we saw on our 3 day hiking tour, this was the most amazing and interesting to see and walk through and around. Difficult to describe though, think of absolutely enormous smooth boulders emerging from perfectly flat ground in unique and almost unnatural formations (or have a look at the pictures) We were told that the Aboriginal children are taught in their culture that whilst a spirit-like figure from their land's creation stories built Uluru from the earth it chucked spare boulders and rocks over its shoulder which now form Kata Tjuta.

After another night at a campsite (we had toilets this night rather than a hole) and lots of toasting of marshmallows, a few drinks around the fire and watching a lunar eclipse we awoke mildly groggy but eager to go and watch the sunrise over Uluru. This was not quite the spectacular array of colours and shadows that we were promised, and had our cameras poised ready for, as it was very cloudy and we didn't actually see the sun rise or much of the effects it famously has on the rock. But we never the less enjoyed it and we had briefly watched it set over Uluru the night before so weren't too disappointed. That day we did the base walk of Uluru and the Mala walk which was very interesting. We saw, surprisingly, waterholes around it and aboriginal painting and it was fascinating to read and learn about the Aboriginal Culture tied to the rock and also surprising to see that despite it being near sacrilege for anyone to touch the rock in Aboriginal culture (indeed there are even parts where you are fined $3000 if you photograph them) that the tourism board still allow people to climb to the top via a dangerous and unmanned chain - hundreds of people have died doing this too. Bizarre what people will ignore and uphold when it suits their purposes. But all that political stuff aside we really got a lot out of the tour and learned lots and met some brilliant people!

We drove the 500km back to Alice Springs via a camel farm where we camel raced (not for the faint-hearted or weak bottomed) and petted a baby camel and some kangaroos and dingoes. All in all a very Australian experience in the best possible way.

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