I woke up my last morning in Darwin to my head throbbing and the thought that I needed to make a noon bus (the only one) to Alice Springs and then to Uluru. The bus would take me through the small towns towards the desolate center of Australia, and it would take twenty-three hours!
As I looked online to book a ticket with greyhound I made the last-minute decision to catch the one flight a day to Alice Springs because the prices were on par. Qantas is always fun to fly with too! They serve you a meal on a two-hour flight and I had ten rows of the 737 to myself!
The red dirt and rolling hills were captivating as my Qantas flight made its landing in the small central city of Alice Springs. I expected the landscape to be flat and dead. And though it was dirt, it was alive and thriving.
Exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges
I met my friend in Alice Springs and after a few days, we decided to spend the day driving the West MacDonnell Ranges. It took ten minutes to get out of the city before we were driving down a long winding road into the so-called “mountain ranges”.
We stopped at each landmark along the ranges. These ranges house the well-known Larapinta Trail. This trail is a 223km walking path through the ranges that is considered one of the greatest walking paths in the world. If I had an extra three weeks I would have loved to do it, sadly it is just another point on my bucket list.
In order to see the full extent of the ranges we climbed to the top of Serpentine Gorge. This gave a spectacular view of the red rolling mountains. All covered in reddish green grass. The trail to get to the top of the lookout is less than a foot wide and involves some strategic climbing over rocks at times. But the view is breathtaking as you stand over the vertical cliff face with red rock around you and the sun beating down.
The one cultural experience on the West MacDonnell ranges is the Ochre Pits. These pits are a sacred and important aboriginal landmark and removing any piece is punishable with extensive jail time (super intense).
Ochre is a mineral that appears in swirls of colours. This mineral has long been used in aboriginal ceremonies. It was explained that the aboriginal people of the land spent lots of time mining the ochre and certain colours were rarer and more important.
Leaving Alice Springs for Uluru
It was 430am (YES! I said 430am) when I was picked up by my tour to make my way to Uluru, the final stop on my whirlwind of the Northern Territory! So far I had been to multiple sights and had seen some of the most amazing landscapes I could imagine. Half my belongings were (and still are) dyed a pretty shade of red.
I watched from my friends house’s window as the four-wheel drive van pulls up. The headlights created a stark contrast against the pavement, alighting the red dirt in a muggy yellow glow. I was greeted as I walked out to the truck by a twenty something year old whose long straw coloured hair falls into his eyes. He is wearing an Akubra already, though the sun hasn’t even began to rise. He greeted me with a typical, “G-Day”.
Starting My Tour on A Scary Note
I put my bag on the trailer and with that we were off! I was the first to be picked up on the tour and all I could hear was the tires rolling against the pavement.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
The tour guide whispered back towards me while we’re stopped at a traffic light. I couldn’t help but stare at him and politely shake my head. “We’ll change that. You’ll be surprised what you see in the outback.”
Slowly we picked up other travellers from their houses, accommodations and meeting spots until the entire bus is filled, and we’re off. We are far out of the city before the sun begins to rise. I watched out the window as the sun starts to peak over the horizon, spilling its beautiful warmth over the dusty landscape. Finally, the uneasiness of the early morning starts to lift away from me. The golds and oranges of a new day surround and warm me and I closed my eyes in order to get some sleep on our first couple hours of the trip.
The Journey to the Red Centre – Off To Uluru with a Stop at Kings Canyon
It takes 6 hours to get to our first stop: King’s canyon is red rock, at least on the outside. It is a large canyon that winds and changes.
We take a three-hour hike through the canyon. This hike is filled with man-made bridges and routes. We are able to make the full hike through the canyon since it was not summer and there is little chance of us dying of heat stroke during the mild 20-degree day. I look at one piece of rock and wonder why it’s grey.
Our guide seems to know that this is what everyone is thinking, “That was the last piece of rock to fall off, it hasn’t coloured red yet.”
Honestly, it was one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever been on, and I am an avid hiker!
First Night Out in the Outback
Later that evening after gathering supplies, we turn off onto an old abandoned dirt road. There are no lights around other that the headlights in front of us. The stars are clouded over in the expectation of rain. The only thing that stood out from the ratty old scarecrow that guarded the turn off. Its head cocked to one side.
We set a large bonfire and the guide begins to cook dinner. Meanwhile we set up our swags under the eerie sky.After dinner the guide began to tell stories. Stories of things at the campsite moving, of people walking by and animal sightings, without the footprints
Apparently the site where our campsite lay was the site of a brutal rape and murder a decade earlier. A woman had been taken out there from a nearby village and was attacked by two men. The two men had both experienced violent deaths soon after. And it’s said the three of them can all be seen.
I don’t believe in ghost stories. But he did, and he swears that there are ghosts around every place we saw. Going to sleep was eerie actually and we slept in our swags as the rain trickled down over our faces. We sprinkled salt around us to stop the bugs from eating us and moved the food away to avoid dingoes.
Off to Uluru!! FINALLY!
The next day we set off to try to see Uluru for sunrise. But it was cloudy and rainy. The guide said, “You guys are lucky. This only happens every few months. You are some of the few that have seen Uluru during the rain.”
At least it made the bitter cold weather of that morning bearable to know we had seen something different. But it didn’t hide our disappointment at not being able to see Uluru during a real sunset or sunrise during our time there.
As we wandered through the parks of both Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta we were able to see the large rocks for what they were. Giant Rocks. They were not mountains, nor were they deposits. The red grains ran through the rocks that had been moved through the immense forces of nature.
Why You Should NEVER Climb Uluru
Everyone talks about climbing Uluru. I had thought about it. How cool would it be to climb it? Every tourist brochure talks about it.
Our guide gave us a speech as we wandered around Uluru and experienced the caves and paintings that had been there for centuries. We heard the stories that were passed down through generations.
Our guide said when it came to the aboriginal people, “You can climb the rock if you want. But you have to leave the tour and you can only climb it if it’s open. Most of the year it’s not. We hope it will be closed forever. The Premier says that if one more death occurs on the rock or people stop climbing then the climbing trail will be closed forever. The aboriginal people find it very offensive that tourists come and climb their sacred place. People wouldn’t go deface a catholic cathedral.”
None of us climbed the rock.