Road Trippin’: The Red Centre

Australia’s most famous rock. The largest monolith in the world. One of the world’s natural wonders… Uluru (formerly known as Ayer’s Rock, before the white man pretended to give the land back to the Aborigines). This is what draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to this sacred area of Australia. Uluru is mightily impressive, yes, however in my humble opinion there is more impressive things and more fun to be had in this area than many people know.

From Coober Pedy to our campsite on the fringes of Kata Tjuta-Uluru National Park took a meagre 8-and-a-half hours on the road. Easy… Our camp was nice, it was just a short walk up a sand dune to be able to view Uluru for sunrise / sunset, or whatever time of day took your fancy, and generally started out peacefully. That is before team Germany arrived and decided to be all young, loud, inconsiderate, and generally fucking annoying in their brash German teenage way! Will everyone please stop having so much fun… I think I must be getting old. Anyway, less on German teenagers whooping, wailing, singing and generally being in my vicinity, let’s move on to more interesting things.

Upon arrival at the local IGA store to grab a few supplies to take to camp, we stumbled across a wonderful sight – a drum circle! One thing that tickles me when travelling around is the ever-present hippy drum circle. Having grown up around these interesting affairs, as I travel around I love a good chuckle at some of the characters that make them up. Some people are just keen and will usually get involved in anything, some people really understand why they are engaging in their role within the circle, and some just like to look the part (as a “Worldy”) and stand around hitting their sticks together, tapping on their bongo or plucking their ukulele with a face that looks like they are just enjoying the smell of their own fart.

Australia’s Red Centre region comprises of lots of red earth (unsurprisingly, given the name – it’s just like Devon mud, so I felt right at home!), a remarkably high density of trees (which is certainly not something I expected – my interpretation was always this dusty arid landscape… not true!) and two beautiful national parks: Kata Tjuta-Uluru National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.

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Our first day started with sunrise overlooking Uluru, followed by the interesting, but rather lacklustre Uluru Base Walk. Interesting due to the simple yet wonderfully poignant Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories that are linked directly to the rock and the structural features. Each of the stories is fantastically brought to life using the natural props on offer: the fallen rocks, caves, gorges and waterholes that litter Uluru’s base, faces and surrounds. Lacklustre due to the flat walking terrain, which is more of a casual mooch for 3 hours. I like a proper walk with, you know, maybe the odd hill or slope or anything really to rouse a bit of a sweat or raise the heart rate even a touch. No such luck here, but it was amazing to learn more about the local Aborigine tribes and their struggle to reclaim one of their spiritual homes back from the Australian Government, which they succeeded in doing 1985, by contract (of course) which had an underwritten clause that the Australian Tourism Board still controlled and operated the national park area. So… success for the Aborigines, sort of, not, ish, who knows. I reckon they got swindled a bit.

Kata Tjuta from afar is actually, in my opinion, more impressive that Uluru. The rambling boulders, or domes as they are known, paint a stark silhouette on the skyline. Visible in the distance as you walk round the base of Uluru, it is generally somewhere that people visit after walking round Uluru and asking “What’s that, over there?”

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Kata Tjuta at sunset

Known by the Aborigines as the snake eggs, or many heads (different stories from different tribes), there is a single walking track open to the public called the Valley of the Winds, which winds up through a section of the domes before descending into the lowland areas inside the rock formations. Kata Tjuta was once a huge single piece of rock, much larger than Uluru, however over the years it has been battered by the Outback’s harsh conditions, creating something truly stunning today. After a few hours of exploring Kata Tjuta we packed up and headed east for 3-4 hours towards Kings Canyon National Park.

Kings Canyon is by far my favourite part of this Red Centre region. It feels like the real Wild West, where you could easily imagine epic battles between the gun-toting, chap wearing Cowboys, and the bow-and-arrow wielding, loincloth clad Red Indians across the rugged canyon ridges. We arrived in the early morning and I quickly understood people’s fascination and love for this place. Scaling the canyon edge up to the rim, the walk took us along the very edge of the canyon cliffs. With no barriers or netting to catch you if you fall, the rim of the canyon has been left how it should be, making for one of the best walks we have encountered on our travels so far – 4 hours or steep inclines, seriously gob-smacking views, and precarious walkways. One word… Epic.

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After 3 days of walking around in the outback heat, what next? A trip to the West McDonnell Ranges for more of the same – blistering sun, rocky ridges, rock-hopping on dried up river beds, wading through waterholes, and a shit load of flies! The Ormiston Pound Walk may have even trumped the King’s Canyon Rim Walk, merely for the diversity and never knowing what’s coming next! All this before Alice Springs for some down time and a good old piss-up.

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