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The Meaning of Life Explained
26th Oct 2016 - 30th Oct 2016
The Red Heart

 How do you feel about flies?  Flies that persistently try to get into your eyes, nose, eyes and any other available orifice the moment you step out of the door?  If you're not sure, come to the bush around Alice (Springs) and you'll find out.  Our bush hats, fly nets ands high % DEET are going to be lifesavers.  It's a quick flight from Darwin to Alice, the red center of Australia:  Red because of the the earth that will soon be coating our clothing and skin.  If you're good with all this you're ready to go bushwalking here.

Alice is 1500km South of Darwin and 1800km North of Adelaide, and there's not a heck of a lot in between on the Stuart Highway that runs the entire way from the Arapura Sea to the Great Australian Bight.  We're staying outside of town near the airport at an Airbbnb on a classy country spread belonging to Vickie and Peter.  Big veranda looking over the bush and the mountains, pool and gazebo, classy desert landscaping with lots of birds.  Not too shabby, especially as our hosts invite us for a decent bottle of Aussie cab on the deck.  

The next day we're off and running to the West McDonnell range.  The center of Australia is not as dry as you might believe,  and being similar to those part of the American SW that get, say, 10-12" of rain a year like Sedona or the hill country South of Tucson.  They had some rain recently so there a lot of wild flowers blooming and shrubberies galore.  The McDonnells are a narrow range that run East to West on either side of Alice, featuring narrow gorges and waterholes.  We're free of the Top End's high humidity and can enjoy the our stops at Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, the Ellery xxx big hole and Serpentine Gorge.  Unfortunately, with the high heat, we run out of steam and don't even make it to the famous Ormiston Gorge, not to mention the East McDonnells, so we'll have to come back sometime.

Stocking up on wine at the "bottle shop" in Alice is an interesting experience,  with a policeman on guard at the door and a number of the local indigenous people hanging around outside.  There is a very big problem with alcohol and the aboriginal community so the sale of "grog" is tightly controlled in the NT.   Alice has a large and highly visible indigenous population and it makes for a good dose of culture shock.  Some of them are doing well but many are obviously not.  Again, the obvious parallel is the American Indian population, but the difference is that in Alice the locals are not all hidden away on the res.  

No rest for the wicked and we're off to Uluru, about 460km SW of Alice.  Uluru, known in the past to the white people as Ayres Rock, is the world's largest monolith.  We drove about 1200Km in the Top End and now we're doing to do the same and more in the Red Center.  Happily, the highways from Alice to Uluru (pronounced with the same stress as kangaroo) are sealed and there are no dirt roads to deal with, though there are many 4WD opportunities along the way.  With these large distances, and zero towns along the way, the Australian Roadhouse is an essential characteristic of the Outback.   With fuel, a shop, a restaurant, camping and accommodation, a bar, emu farm and other slightly dubious tourist attractions all in one spot it's one stop shopping because there is nowhere else to shop.

No problem on the road, and we roll into the resort community of Yulara within 5 hours.  All the tourist accommodation for Uluru was moved outside the National Park to Yulara  in the 80s.  They did a good job with the design but the issue is that, since Uluru is a Top 10 global bucket list destination, everyone and their uncle is here and it can be a three ring circus.  Rooms are sky high here so I opted for a cabin in the campground leaving for $500/night hotel rooms to those for whom money is no object.    Unfortunately, the cabins are barely more than summer camp cabins with a fridge and they've been left to slowly decay.  Aside from the campground there are three other hotels in the complex and we escape to the fancy one for dinner.  It's weird to be having tapas and a good Shiraz surrounded by old white people from all over the world in a tourist bubble in the middle of a vast expanse of brutal wilderness.  Getting back to the nitty gritty we have a beer in the rough and ready roadhouse style bar at the Pioneer Lodge and there's a one (bush)man musical band providing the soundtrack.  The crowd is mixed local and tourists and a couple of, frankly, enormous indigenous ladies are making a nuisance of themselves.  They have acquired a room key, which is required to buy alcohol, and are taking full advantage and, funnily enough, we hear them again when they show up in the adjoining cabin to us at 2am and have a shrieking shouting match that jolts us awake and puts the fear of God into Abby and I.

We're saving Uluru itself for the last day, so next we're heading to Kata Tjuta, which used to be known as The Olgas, about 50km West of Yulara.  Check out the photos below, it was a very memorable hike.  Too many people there but special nonetheless.  Did I mention that it was bloody hot?   To do the longer loop you have to be on the trail early and they stop people starting after 11am.  These places include many spots that are sacred to the aborigines and access is limited to only a couple of marvelous trails.  It would have been great to do this hike alone but we do manage to get a few stretches when we're on our own in the gorges and hidden valleys.  Back at the ranch the two local ladies are trying to get back into the cabin next door but the tourist, who just booked in, sends them away without a fuss.

The next morning is the walk around Uluru and we're checked out, gassed up and on the road by 7am.  It's definitely early to bed, early to rise around here.  There are a bunch of people in the parking lot at the rock but most of those don't go further than a kilometer from there, leaving the slightly hardcore to complete the 6 mile base trail around Uluru's perimeter.   Yes, it's worth It coming here, it's another magic place and you can feel the history of 40,000 years of humans and this rock as you make your way around.  We're quite lucky as it's mostly overcast on our walk and it would've been a lot more challenging in the full-on heat.  I manage to let my fly net blow away in the breeze and suffer the consequences.  After the walk, Abby and I visit the cultural center, which is well done, and makes very clear the perspective of the local traditional custodians of the land.

Fueled by Red Bull we make the 450km return drive to Alice and see absolutely no kangaroos whatsoever.  The marsupial deficiency is getting to be critical, how can we leave the outback without a wombat or koala sighting?  One more night in an Alice hotel, with convenient casino complex close by, and we're onto Adelaide to meet up with my niece Angela, her family and brother Des arriving from the UK.  Will our livers survive?  Stay tuned.

Next: Koala Kuddling Time
Previous: The land that time forgot

Diary Photos

Abby on the trail in the MacDonnells

Simpsons Gap

Standley Chasm

Abby is ready for the flies


Abby is Standley Chasm

That way

MacDonnells rock color

Ellery Creek a Big Hole

Serpentine Gorge

Posing lizard

Airbnb near Alice Springs

Dingo warning at Yulara campground

Kata Tjuta from a distance

Emergency communications station at Uluru

Uluru flower 1

Abby in the Valley of the Winds @ Kata Tjuta

Sean at Taka Tjuta outlook 2 on the VOTW trail

Happy Trails

Start of the track to Western Australia

Uluru sensitive site

Uluru formations

Taking a rest at Uluru


Uluru cave

Uluru kitchen cave

Uluru flowers 2

Uluru dry waterfalls

Mutitjulu waterhole Uluru


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