Our next stop was Alice springs, we arrived here from Cairns for the specific purpose of picking up a trip to the Red Centre. We had already booked Wayoutback tours and were due to be collected the following morning at 6AM. In the meantime we browsed the shops in Alice and managed to purchase a didgeridoo and some Aboriginal artwork from some of the many shops selling indigenous work in Alice (both now enroute to England via airmail we hope). After a quick feed in the local pub we duly turned in for an early night and diligently set the alarm clock for 05:30.....
At 06:18 Alex woke up with a start and realised that the alarm had not gone off and we should have been picked up nearly 20 minutes ago. Much panic and chaos ensued as clothes were hastily dragged on and the remainder of our stuffed shoved into nearby bags. We spilled out into the foyer of the YHA where we were staying to be confronted by a somewhat gleeful fellow tourist who cheerfully informed us our 4WD jeep had stopped, looked for us, and then carried on. Almost gibbering with panic and with dollar signs of how
much money we would've wasted floating before our eyes we managed to jam a fifty cents piece in the nearest phonebox ring directory enquiries in order to obtain the Wayoutback phone number and then duly contact them. Fortunately despite it only being about 06:30 an Aussie chap answered the phone and upon hearing who I was remarked; 'I know who YOU are!" He then reassuringly told us the jeep would come back to collect us as it hadn't left Alice yet. Large sighs of relief were heard, much to the disappointment of our fellow tourist who had been watching our antics with morbid fascination. We stumbled, drained from all the adrenalin so early in the morning, into the back of the jeep when it arrived, apologised to all our fellow travellers, who were all sympathetic, and proceeded out of Alice onto the Stuart Highway.
We drove for almost six hours, with a couple of stops, and only turned one corner. The road just stretches out endlessly through arid red soil, occasional stark and scrubby trees and varying mountain ranges. We saw one live red kangaroo bounce across the road and into the outback and many more dead ones at
the side of the road. Fortunately this time none of them the work of our driver and tour leader Vicky. We got to our campsite within Yulara, a town that has sprung up simply as a result of tourism to the red centre (despite this, it is the fifth largest town in the Northern Territory) and had a quick lunch. By this point in the day the sun was beating down and the temperature was around 40 degrees. Despite this was headed off to see Uluru (or Ayers Rock) the world's biggest monolith that sits broodingly in the centre of the National Park. Before actually walking to the rock we made a quick stop at the Cultural Centre which explains some of the Aboriginal culture associated with Uluru, including some of the basic Creation Time stories which explain how the rock was formed and shaped. Needless to say this was fascinating and it was good to see the more positive aspects of Aboriginal life and to be in a place where the Aboriginals are respected and valued.
With nothing futher to do we proceeded to the rock itself, and it is a big rock. Much bigger than I had
expected and much more marked and shaped, it has a commanding presence. We had already decided that we weren't going to climb Uluru, mainly because it upsets the Arangu Aboriginal tribe who view it as sacred, but also because many people die climbing the rock every year and we had no desire to become a statistic. As it happened the climb itself had been closed as the temperature of the day exceeded 38 degrees, so instead we attemped the base walk. Now, bearing in mind this is a totally flat walk simply going around the base of Uluru (9km in total, but we were only doing 7.2 of them) it was probably one of the hardest walks I (Laura) had ever done. The sun is just relentless and although there is no humidity like we encountered in SE Asia, the heat is just punishing. We got as far as 2km to a stop where you can refill your drinking water (you have to drink a litre an hour to stay hydrated here) and I had had enough. Fortunately so had 7 others of our 9 strong group, so we huddled in the shade of the rest stop drinking as much
water as we could get hold of, whilst Alex and Davido, another member of our group, pushed on. With shouts of 'Mind the dingos!" and 'Do you have life insurance?" ringing in their ears they managed to complete the remaining 5km.
Having been collected in a somewhat sorry state by Vicky, we headed back to camp and to the relief of a cold swimming pool. Here we crammed in and idly entertained the idea of whether we could fill up the jeeps trailer with water and just sit in that for the remainder of the trip. Having cooled down slightly, we headed up a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset over Uluru and the neighbouring Kata Tjuta (or The Olgas) which was impressive as was the gathering electrical storm we could see flickering on the horizon. That night we camped out under the stars in 'swags' or traditional rolled up beds that comprise of a mattress in a waterproof cover. These were surprisingly comfortable and it was worth sleeping like this if only to catch a glimpse of the stars overhead. Not impeded by artifical light the stars were brilliant and numerous and it was interesting to see
the constellations such as the Southern Cross and the Seven Sisters only visable in the Southern hemisphere. In the middle of the night Alex woke up thinking someone was shining a torch in his face only to discover it was the moon having come out from behind a cloud.
The following morning we were woken at 4AM (4AM?!?) a time only normally seen when we have yet to go to bed after a night out. At this point in the morning it was 28 degrees. Nevertheless we gainly had breakfast to the sound of the dingos howling (no-one had been carried of by a dingo in the night luckily) and continued on to our first stop of the day, a lookout over Kata Tjuta to see the sunrise. This was not as spectacular as imagined but still quite impressive. We then headed in to Kata Tjuta to begin our hike for the day. Kata Tjuta was formed at the same time as Uluru and looks very similar in many ways except that instead of being one rock it is in fact many domes. We took the path known as The Valley of the Winds and set off at about
06:30 in the morning. This was a more strenous 7.4 km walk, involving hills and climbing but again we were rewarded with amazing scenary and flocks of budgerigas and parrots flitting about between the trees. By 10:30 it became apparant why we had set off so early, by 11AM when we had just finished it, it was virtually impossible to walk anymore, in fact the park rangers closed the walk at this point because it was just too hot. How the Aboriginies survived day after day in this punishing heat is beyond me. Having completed the walk we drove off towards our campsite for the night, stopping enroute to collect firewood (firewood?! Why would anyone want a FIRE?!?) This was several hours drive back towards Alice in a somewhat hot and sweaty jeep. We luckily had a great group of people to be on tour with and this made the heat and the sweating much more bearable with jokes about stuffed kangaroo claws (which the two Canadian girls who were with us claimed were available in various giftshops) absolutely hysterical, probably due to the combined effects of sleep deprivation and heatstroke. Although we failed to see anymore live kangaroos we
did see a Wedge Tailed Eagle feeding off one of the dead ones which was quite impressive.
We camped for the night at Kings Creek Cattle Station, out here the average size of a cattle station is approximately that of Belgium, which gives you some idea of the vastness of the place. Here we cooked dinner over the campfire and bedded down for an early night in our swags. The following morning we were up again at 4AM (I was becoming hysterical at this point) and drove out to Kings Canyon to begin our final hike of the trip. This hike consisted of a 7.2km trek around the outer rim of the canyon having first climbed up a steep slope known as 'Heart Attack Hill." I had to be seriously persuaded and pushed on by use of a stick to undertake this trek as I would've much rather slept on the comfy looking boulders at the base of the climb. On I went however and in fact it was probably the best of all the walks we had done. As well as having interesting rock formations you can also climb down into the canyon itself to a place called 'the Garden of Eden.' Surrounded by red river gums this part of the canyon normally has a lush pool in which you can swim, however the ferciousness of the heat and the prolonged drought experienced in the area had taken its toll and had reduced it to a somewhat murking looking tar pool. Needless to say despite the heat we didn't swim. We finished the walk by about 11AM, just as we were really starting to suffer again, the temperature had hit 43 degrees in the shade. After a reviving swim back at Kings Creek Station we ate lunch and headed back into Alice, the last 100km or so being on an unsealed road with some serious bumps in it. Here we encountered ferral camels, Australia has one of the largest populations of ferral camels, and some wild horses, or brumbies. We arrived back at the YHA Alice at 6PM that evening, dusty, footsore and hot, but having thoroughly enjoyed our Outback adventure.
After a long shower and even longer sleep we got up the next morning just in time to visit the Joey Sanctuary in Alice. This is basically one guy who rescues joeys when their mothers have been run over (a common occurence as we had seen) and they are still in their pouches. In order for them to feel secure they spend a fair bit of time up until they are nine months old in pillow cases in order to emulate the pouch. When we visited the tiny sanctuary there were three eight month old boys hopping about the place, all a bit disgruntled because they wanted to go back to bed. Their carer duly produced a pillow case for each of them and they gratefully hopped into it head first. He then placed them next to each other in a dog basket where they can be seen chilling out in the photo. He also had two smaller 5 month old roos, one red and one grey. Both, he explained, were red kangaroos but one in five are born grey coloured, known as 'blue flyers'. It is from these roos that Qantas takes its logo. The dedicated foster 'Mum' keeps them until they are 15 months when they start to get a bit rowdy trying to start boxing matches with their human counterparts. At this point they are released into a safe enclosure in the bush and then eventually back into the wild. It has to be said that kangaroos are some of the funniest animals and these joeys were just great, it was certainly an unexpected highlight of our trip to the outback.
Our next destination is Adelaide, where apparantly the temperature has risen to an unusual 40 degrees.....AARRGGHH!
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