Back from the Big Red Rock in the Big Red Center and touring Alice Springs

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November 14th 2013
Published: November 15th 2013
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Whew! We made it back from our 3-day camping tour to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), and Kings Canyon and we haven't succumbed to the heat! It's only spring here - summer doesn't officially start until December 20/21 but let me tell you, this heat - especially in the Uluru/Kata Tjuta/Kings Canyon area - is incredible. Something about the sun is much more intense (or else it's because there's a lot less shade) but you have to drink lots of water and wear proper head gear or else.

The trip from the Alice (as they call it here) to Uluru is over 500km, so our busload was picked up from our various hotels and we left at about 6:30 am on Tuesday. We had several stops on the way out including one at a Camel Farm where they specialize in racing camels. Australia now has more wild and domestic camels than anywhere else on earth and they actually are the major supplier of camels to the Middle East. Simon (our bus driver/tour guide/cook/handler) told us that the buyers from the Middle East mostly want beautiful camels (long eyelashes, pretty moist eyes, well-shaped heads, nicely proportional humps). OK. Anyway, lunch was packed sandwiches during one of our pit stops. When we got to Uluru, we found out that contrary to our expectations (and what they told us on the internet), we were not sleeping in tents on cots, but on the ground in swags (canvas bag with 2" hd foam layer) and a sleeping bag on top of the foam under the beautiful Australian stars! What they call high end bush camping.

So we first went to the Rock (as everyone says because everyone pronounces Uluru differently and the Aboriginal tribe that is associated with the Rock calls it Plya!) and had a nice walk in the late afternoon heat. Most of our crew did the base walk - about 3km - all the way around. Some of us did only about 1/3 of that and that was just fine with us. After the walk, we went to the sunset viewing area and had chips and dips while watching the sun go down - not over the Rock yet but to the southwest of it. But it was gorgeous, changing colors and watching differenct figures come out on the face of the Rock as the sun got lower. Kata Tjuta is just behind the viewing area at this point and it was getting lit up by the setting sun, so we had darker in front and lighter behind. And I'm afraid my camera is just not going to show these fantastic color changes, but they were awesome! As I said, we had chips and dips and champagne in plastic cups to salute the sunset - other tour companies had tables with white table cloths and champagne flutes to do their toasting. Then we went back to camp, had a nice chicken stir-fry supper and did up our swags so we could pass out from the heat of the walk and the fact that we were getting up at 5:50 the next morning to watch the sunrise at Uluru.

The swag night ended up being not bad at all - first of all (although a lot of people thought it got cold at night and were wearing layers!), Walt and I called iit cool and wore t-shirts and long pants, so the night was fresh but not cold and neither was the ground. And the ground was that very red sand from the Rock, so it was squishy and not hard and rocky. I did use two swags because my hips hurt if I'm sleeping on something too hard, but after the afternoon walk, I was pretty comatose by bedtime. Getting up in the middle of the night to go, I finally saw the Southern Cross and the Milky Way from down here. Believe it or not, all the nights on the ship after we got south far enough to see it were too cloudy, so we knew being out in the middle of nowhere was our big chance. No clouds and total darkness around us made the viewing spectacular - the moon was only 1/2 full, but it had set by then. Walt had gotten up too and verified that I was actually seeing the Southern Cross because it was a little bit smaller than I imagined and with that many stars out, I could have been making any stars do!

After sunrise at Uluru, we drove on to Kata Tjuta (only about 50km away), where we did the shorter walk and others did the longer walk (about 5km) and watched the sun rise up over the top of it. Kata Tjuta (700m) is much higher than Uluru (340m) which I did not know. It is also in many more sections and the ancestral name means "many heads." After that walk, we headed back to the Uluru camp, packed up and headed to Kings Canyon (368 km from Uluru/Kata Tjuta), We got there in the late afternoon and found permanent tents and cots waiting for us! We still had the swags and sleeping bags, but that night was much warmer anyway, so we really could have used bed rolls instead. And the cots weren't all that comfortable (Walt said he slept better on the ground), but again, all that fresh air and walking made me sleep very soundly. But I do have to tell you that we had kangaroo steaks for dinner that night! Not bad, it tasted a lot like beef and I would definitely have it again if we can find it at Whole Foods!

The next morning, Simon rousted us out of bed at 4:30 a.m. because the Kings Canyon Rim walk (about 7km) has to be done early in the morning because the rangers have begun shutting it down when the temperature gets above 37 degress C. We again did the shorter walk at the base of canyon up Kings Creek to a beautiful little lookout up the canyon where we could see the rim walkers crossing a bridge way up there. When the beginning of the walk goes right up the side of the rock face and is called Heartattack Hill, I didn't even want to try it just to see over the side at the top. Creek walk was enough for me.

After everyone came back from their respective walks, we went back to camp, finished cleaning up and took off for Alice Springs. We stopped at various spots again and for lunch we had camel burgers! Again, not bad. Didn't taste like beef, definitely not like chicken, but it wasn't as gamey as I thought it would be. We got back to the Alice about 5:30 and by the time we got dinner at a little gaming place down the road from the motel and got back, it was another exhausted night's sleep.

So today we decided to take it easy and just wander around downtown Alice Springs. We walked down early (it was hot, hot again), but ducking into various shops with a/c made it nice. We saw a lot of Aborginal art in the local galleries and some of the buildings from the Alice's past. We also ran into our tour guide from the outback trip who had been trying to score with one of the young ladies on the bus who was from Switzerland and they most have connected because they were acting way beyond friendly!

Tomorrow is our last day in the Alice and we are doing a day tour that in the morning will take us into the West McDonnell Range a little bit to see some Gaps and Gorges and then back into town in the afternoon to visit sites like the Museum of the Flying Doctors and the Museum of the School of the Air. We remember when we were kids hearing about the Outback being serviced by these flying doctors and kids being schooled by short-wave radio instructions and being fascinated by this. It still continues today but with much more modern equipment, but as far as I understand, totally not government funded.

Oh, and for those who have commented on the PBS series A Town Like Alice and the author Nevil Shute. I was such a huge fan of that show, that's really what brought me down here to see this town and the Outback. And I was so surprised to see in front of the Alice Springs Library this afternoon, the Nevil Shute Memorial Garden and a huge sculpture of some his most famous books. Walt and I went in to rest our feet and get out of the hot and I told the librarians that I was so thankful that Nevil was still remembered and they said that Alice Springs will never forget him!

More blog on the end of our trip from Auckland!


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