Best Of Our Outback Experience
The red centre, the heart of the outback is an amazing area within Central Australia which is home to a number of the country's iconic attractions as well as it's rich and diverse cultural history. As a couple of backpackers who wanted to admire and enjoy the regions unsurpassed desert landscape by travelling under our own steam and be able to stop at any given moment having our own vehicle was vital. Although the organised trips provide you with the benefit of a guide who has an impressive wealth of knowledge, we find that there is more to a trip than the specific points of interest highlighted in an itinerary. A major part of our adventures are found in the journey between each of these landmarks; the camps, wildlife, scenery that is all found along the way which is missed when cooped up in a bus that has to stick to a regimental timetable. On occasions, when on a tight schedule or there not much to really see along the way, tours can be the way to go about it, but when in the outback, a camper-van is undoubtedly the best way to travel.
Having worked with APOLLO Campers in Tazmania, there was never going to be another company for us when travelling through the Australian Outback. Despite the exceptional customer service in Hobart, the service in Alice Springs unfortunately fell well short of the mark in comparison as was a disappointing way to start our journey. Potentially a disorganised, unhappy, and conniving employee which chose not to give us all our options, however the standards of the APOLLO camper was to perfection and was therefore soon forgotten.
Uluru/ Ayers Rock
One of Australia's most recognisable landmarks is world-heritage listed Uluru. Before learning about any of Ayer's rock's history it is fairly evident as to why this 348m tall monolith is protected by UNESCO. Located in the heart of the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and 443 kms from Alice Springs, this mesmerising rock is not solely a visual wonder but also a place that speaks of rich indigenous culture and great spirituality that leads back to many thousands of years.
Anangu, are the indiginous people and traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and it is believed that the land was created by their creation ancestors who originally travelled this area. Leaving marks and creating laws during their travels, tradition has been respected and maintained throughout generations and is today still followed by the locals and hopefully respected by visitors. In order to really appreciate and get a valuable understanding into their enduring culture and power of the land, joining one of the free ranger-guided Mala walks is highly recommended as it is thoroughly informative and extremely interesting. As well as this 2 hour walk, there is also the cultural centre which has this perfect introduction into the Anangu culture in a very special cultural and natural environment. Personally, the Anangu history along with the natural beauty of Uluru is truly inspiring and fascinating in the manner by which they have survived for so many centuries.
With a girth of 9.4km, a day at Ayer's rock is the bare minimum in order to really appreciate and enjoy its size and beauty as well as its fascinating history with respect to the Anangu people. With a number of short walks along designated paths at the base of the rock covering specific sections, we were able to appreciate the natural beauty and rich culture of the rock. Along these paths are also frequent placards which provide relevant information about the rock.
Now onto the question everyone wants the answer to, CAN YOU CLIMB THE ROCK? Well ..... the simple answer is YES so long as the winds are below certain speeds. The gates are open throughout the day to allow visitors to climb along a specific, designated path which will lead you all the way up to the summit. However, once you speak to the Rangers or the Anangu people you might change your mind. As a "sacred" site for the locals, it is frowned upon to step foot on the rock, whilst for most of the rangers it is more due to safety issues. Having been by far the main reason as to why visitors venture out to the rock (After a survey in the year 2000, despite the disapproval of the locals, 70% of visitors were visiting Ayer's rock with their primary objective being to climb it. With these statistics, the government believed the climb needed to remain open in order to protect revenue and avoid a dramatic decline in visitors. After a continuous battle with the government the Anangu people have been able to reach an agreement which states that if by the year 2020 less than 20% of tourists visit with the main objective being to climb the rock , it will then be closed permanently. For the time being, there is an emphatic effort by the locals to try and "educate" visitors and the media in order to change the thinking and dissuade people from wanting to climb.
As travellers who love both the history of different cultures as well as the thrill of adventure, we respect both the Anangu beliefs and the obligations for climbing the rock. With both of these in mind we made sure we we concious of the requirements and ensured we were of minimal concern to anyone as we climbed Ayers rock.
Made from a coarse-grained sandstone, arkose sandstone and rich in feldspar mineral, the weathering of Uluru gives the rock its magnificent red colour which varies throughout the day. It is the exposure of iron minerals to water and oxygen that have a similar effect to iron rusting, as well as the feldspar minerals forming into clays.
Although it's colours are impressive throughout the day, starting and ending the day by enjoying both the sun rise and sunset over Uluru is truly magnificent and is a must in order to complete what will be a unique day. Watching the sunset at Talinguru Nyakunytjaku gave us an impressive sight whereby we had the view of Uluru with Kata Tjuta in the backdrop as the sun hastily made its way beyond the horizon.
Sunrise at the Car Sunset viewing was magnificent as we pulled up our camper for the perfect silhouette shot whilst indulging a hot coffee on a cold, crisp morning. As the morning progresses it is impressive how the colours of the rock enriches giving it this deep characteristic red colour which really does justify its location, the red centre.
With a number of viewpoints to watch both the sunrise and sunset it may be difficult in deciding which one to choose. If you are someone who continually looks for new experiences, why not watch the sun rise or fall on the back of a camel? Opting for the late afternoon ride it was a beautiful, unforgettable experience which took us over the dark red sand dunes giving us views of Uluru in the distance.
Sunset Camel Ride
Although Uluru Camel Tours is the only company to provide these unique experiences, both the standard of the farm and the tour itself is exceptional and it is evident as to how they have achieved so much success as a multi-award winning camel tour company. As "Australia's Largest camel farm" or so it is claimed to be, it is home to 60 working camels and at least two orphaned calfs which had been rescued. Despite general perception of these animals being quite aggressive and generally not very pleasant, we found them to be quite the opposite, seemingly calm, relaxed and friendly which gave us the opportunity to get up close to pet and hug them as well as a lasting selfie memory.
When out on the ride, there is no need to worry about taking photos along the way as there is a professional photographer snapping the entire time. Although these are not included in the price, it is only a small additional cost for some impressive photos which are the perfect souvenir and a lasting memory.
With four experienced cameleers accompanying us on our ride, not only do you experience the ride but these enthusiastic individuals are able to give an in-depth insight into the 130-year history of camels in Australia, a little lesson into the wildlife surrounding Uluru and a number of their personal stories and experiences with regards to the camels.
If a 2 hour camel ride along the dunes overlooking Uluru during sunset is not enough, we were then spoilt upon our return with Australian, beer, wine champagne and outback bush foods which is all included in the price. For a total of $129 it was worth every cent and I don't think you can really have any complaints unless you really despise camels ;).
It may not have quite the imposing factor or its iconic stature as Uluru, however its overall formation does allows you to walk in amongst the vertical valleys giving you that appreciation into the vast scale of the fractures and therefore the enormity of these rocks. Unlike Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a conglomerate, sedimentary rock made up of a mixture of gravel, pebbles and boulders which have been cemented together by sand, mud and many minerals.
The Walpa Gorge walk is a thoroughly enjoyable moderate 2.6km trek right into the the heart of a weathered fracture. The walk along a firm but uneven ground leads you deep into the gorge right at the base of the rock where you find yourself sandwiched between the towering rock faces which make you feel ever so minute. When considering the harsh dry conditions found in centre of Australia, it is pretty amazing to find the base of the gorge lined with thick green vegetation thriving on a little moisture and giving the area a little more colour than the typical reds and browns.
The tougher of the walks in the area are found at the Valley of The Winds where there are the 2.2km and 5.4km hikes to both Karu and Karingana lookouts respectively, aswell as the full circuit lookout which is a full 7.4km. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, the Karu lookout and slightly beyond was only possible but still worth the short uphill walk. The views from the lookout are not overly impressive but is still nice to walk in-amongst what is today weathered faults and fractures in the rock.
As Australia's "Grand Canyon", we would say it is equally as impressive as Uluru but fortunately, for whatever reason not even close to as popular with the tourists. In order to get the full experience and appreciate the true scale of Kings Canyon we did not feel we really had a choice but to take on the full canyon rim. This breathtaking walk right along edge provides the most jaw dropping opportunities where you are able to gaze down at the sandstone chasm plunging 270 metres to the canyon floor. With no form of any barriers between you and the vertical drop, safety signs are extremely frequent requesting visitors to remain at least two metres away from the edge in order to avoid and fatal accidents as tripping over the edge will most certainly not result in just a few cuts and bruises.
Along the route there are a number of spots which allow you to get right on the edge of the canyon and really appreciate this monumental natural creation. With a protruding ledge just below the visible cliff edge, you are also able to capture the perfect illusion taking that adventurous picture which will get you all those many likes on Facebook and Instagram. For the real adrenaline junkies who really are out there searching for the literal breathtaking experience, the majority of Kings Canyon's edge has no lower safety ledge and allows you to get a feeling of what a straight 270m drop looks like (if you trust the stability of the sandstone).
Honestly there is no need to take any risks to really enjoy and appreciate this marvel but on the other hand many do continuously search for that adrenaline rush and (lets be honest) spectacular photo.
Although King's Canyon is undoubtedly the most impressive of the Canyon's in the outback, there are also a number of impressive small canyons just over an hours drive east from Alice Springs. In the area there are ....... main Canyons but with time being our a major limitation we only had the chance to visit ........... and .......... Although there is direct route accessible from King's Canyon, a 4x4 is required as it is an unsealed road for the entire drive. Unfortunately for us, being in a heavy, low camper, we had to go back on ourselves, taking the very long route back around to Alice Springs and beyond.
This massive journey in comparison to the off-road alternative was majorly frustrating however we were gifted with two of the Outback's natives. Whilst driving during dusk we firstly came across the incredibly beautiful Thorny Devil on the side of the road which even my hero, the late Steve Irwin would have been proud of my spot. A sudden stop, pulling over to the side of the road allowed us to enjoy this majestic creature in the wild.
Thorny Devil: Also known as the Thorny Dragon, this small diurnal lizard lives in the sandy deserts of central Australia. As in its name, it has an extremely spiky appearance which due to it's colours allows it to blend in extremely well in the vast Australian Desert. Characteristic to this beautiful species is a specific, individual pattern on its belly which is unique on each Thorny Devil; a little like a human fingerprint.
Perfectly adapted to its surroundings, its rigid structure with the conical shaped spikes aid the thorny devil in collecting water. Running in amongst the spikes is the perfect formation of a network of small channels which capture any moisture from around the body and transport it directly to it's mouth. As quite a fussy eater, it mainly feeds on a few species of ants but despite its size can eat up to a few thousand in any one day.
As a relatively slow animal which has a very obvious jerking action, its camouflage appearance and spikes do help protect it from predators. As an additional feature, on the back of its head is also fake head made of softer tissue which is designed to mislead predators and give it a slight advantage on other animals. With its tail characteristically pointing in an upwards direction never touching the ground, this lizard unlike most others leaves little trace.
As the sun begin to set and we closed in on our camp site for the night we were again extremely lucky to come across 5 wild camels amongst the taller dry vegetation preparing to cross the road. Hesitant to come anywhere close to our car they moved back away from the road giving themselves a comfortable distance. Stopping our van meant they were able to give themselves a wide enough berth to cross the road as they did so in a single file.
Although thousands of travellers move around the red centre, apparently not very many get these rare opportunities. Coincidence or destiny in the fact that we had to take the long route back to Alice Springs? As such animal enthusiasts wanting to capture all native animals in their natural habitats, we could not believe our luck and was without a doubt one of the highlights from our trip.
As one of Australia's most iconic regions, enjoying the outback on ANZAC day was pretty fitting. Despite the limited time, a day out at ................. and ................gorge was still enabled us to enjoy these majestic narrow valleys surrounded by impressive, steep rock faces which reflected in the cool, fresh waters at their base.