Archives for posts with tag: Camping

King’s Canyon to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

You wake up early in the outback, mostly because your tour guide insists. We’re up and it’s barely light out. A quick breakfast and we pack up the trailer and get on our way toward our first stop of the day, Kata Tjuta, aka The Olgas. Kata Tjuta is actually taller than Uluru (546m vs. 348m). It’s a striking mass of domed rocks only 35 km west of Uluru. These domed rocks, or boulders, sit shoulder to shoulder and form deep valleys and steep sided gorges. The trail is tricky for me, my knee is really fatigued but I do my best and make it to the first lookout, about a 45 minute hike in. It’s really beautiful but I know I can’t do anymore, I tell Fitzy and as he wasn’t planning on doing the hike either (he never does apparently) he walks back a fair bit of the way with me. I’m slow so I send him a head and plug in my ipod. I’m wandering along, singing aloud, in a valley that’s mostly empty and just taking my time, snapping photos, resting when I need to, it’s really nice. When I make it back to the bus Fitzy is preparing lunch and I offer to help out. We sit chopping stuff and chatting until the others start to trickle back in.

We drive to our new campsite for the night. It’s in Yulara, the Ayer’s Rock Resort, the only place to stay anywhere nearby the Rock. The accommodation here ranges from campsites to a hostel to super-duper high end hotel. There is a pool here for anyone to use as well, so after a quick lunch we all go for a swim. It’s FREEZING! Seriously ice-cold. Hard to believe it could be so cold in such a scorching hot climate but it is and I can only stay in for about 1 minute.

Now that we are clean (yay), we head off towards the Uluru – Kata Tjuta Cultural Center. Here there are displays and exhibits that focus on Aboriginal law, religion and customs, as well as the history and management of the national park. There is an Art Center with paintings, ceramics and a wide selection of boomerangs and didgeridoos and a café where (much to my delight) I can finally get a decent cup of coffee. When we as outsiders are told stories about Aboriginal culture and history we’re told a simplified version. This is all we are allowed as we are considered children in our knowledge and ability to understand.

From the Cultural Center we finally head to Uluru, only a couple kilometers away. From a distance it looks just like I have always seen it in pictures, a big red rock. But as we get closer it seems to grow impossibly in size (it’s actually 3.6 km long and 348 m high). It’s the only feature in a flat landscape and when you stand down below it towers over you. There is something about this rock, something that draws you in and keeps you looking at it. Its undulating features are actually mesmerizing. What I thought of as being a monolith before I saw it becomes endlessly fascinating with its nooks and crannies, caves and rock formations. I can’t do it justice; you’ll just have to go see it for yourself.  Go! Do it!

But for god’s sake don’t climb it! I mean people do, but it’s a question of respect. The Anangu people are the custodians of Uluru and they take responsibility for the safety of visitors. Any injuries or deaths that occur (and they do) are a source of distress and sadness for them. Also much of Uluru is considered sacred to them, traditional rites of passage still take place here, in many areas of the Rock photography is prohibited. I think of it like this: when I go to a mosque I cover my hair and dress appropriately, in any religious place I try to be respectful, even though it’s not my choice of religion. Why should this rock be treated any differently? Finally, Parks Australia has to constantly monitor the climb and close it when the temperature is forecast to reach 36 degrees or higher. So why does it stay open? Because it’s there I guess, and people still want to climb it and the tourism industry believes that visitor numbers would decline significantly, at least initially, if the climb was closed, particularly if tourists thought there wasn’t anything else to do at Uluru. There is a lot of debate on this topic, our guide Fitzy was very vocal with his “no climb” opinion, and none of our group chose to climb. For now people can continue to climb though there is a lot of information out there urging you not to but an agreement has been made that when the proportion of visitors climbing falls below 20% then the climb will be shut. Let’s hope that happens soon.

We visit a few spots around the base of Uluru, and see some cave paintings. Fitzy tells us some stories and legends,­ reiterating a lot of what we learned at the Cultural Center but adding his unique take on it. I really can see the impression this place and its culture has made on him. He is extremely passionate about and respectful of the Indigenous culture, traditions and history. It’s really admirable that this typical Australian kid who grew up in Newcastle on the east coast, without being taught anything in school about Aboriginal lifestyle and history, has really tried to educate himself and, in turn, to pass on to us his knowledge and respect and all in a measly 3 days.

Nearing sunset we head to a view point that is close by. It’s essentially a parking lot and there are a lot of other groups there. Some of these groups are like us, campers, but others are being served multi-course dinners and champagne on linen covered tables, POSH! Fitzy makes a meal out of the back of the trailer while the rest of us drink beer and watch as the sun sinks down behind the Rock. A waiter serving the “posh” group takes pity on us and donates a left over bottle of champagne which a few of us end up sharing, yum.

Once it’s dark it’s a short drive back to our campsite at Yulara for the night. There we join forces with another group from the same company. The beer is flowing, a fire burns brightly and things get a little hectic. Slowly people pass out in a big circle around the fire. I find myself sandwiched between snorers, with no other gaps available near the fire I move a few meters away and snuggle down for the night. Tonight I fall asleep with the top of my swag open, I am vulnerable to the creepy crawlies but I can see the stars.

Alice Springs to King’s Canyon.

I am the last one picked up in the morning, this leaves me with the front seat, right up front with the driver/tour guide, awesome I get to play copliot and see out front and chat with Fitzy (our guide) as we start to travel the 441 kms towards our goal. After a quick orientation chat from Fitzy about how he’s expecting us to act like grown-ups and how we will be doing some of the work on this trip we stop to check in at the office in Alice Springs where we lose 2 of our group right away, I guess they didn’t like Fitzy’s welcome speech.

We drive for a few hours, through scenery that is unchanging, stunted gum trees with scorch marks near the bottom from the control fires that are set every couple years and clumps of yellow spinifex grass cluster all over the ground. The not infrequent remains of road kill are the only thing that breaks up the monotony. Still it’s beautiful, the sky is huge and bright blue and the contrast with the dry dusty landscape is almost surreal. This area is only one step above a desert, I believe the proper classification is semi-arid landscape.

We arrive at our first destination, King’s Canyon, about 300 kms north of Uluru by road, and it’s the inverse of that big rock, as if someone had made an impression in sand. There are 270 meter high cliffs that drop down into a palm-lined valley floor. We walk a 6km loop that starts with a steep climb up steps carved from stone, that hurts my knee but the pain eases off as we walk the rim of the canyon. At around the midway point we walk down a lot of wooden steps and descend to the valley floor where we find a large swimming hole. Most of us jump in, enjoying the break from the scorching sun. Up to the other side of the valley by more wooden stairs and my knee is exhausted but we’re almost done and it’s beautiful so I suck it up.

Back at the bus we continue towards Uluru, we won’t reach it until tomorrow though. We are on the way now to our overnight campsite but before we get there we need to gather enough firewood to last us for the next 2 nights. We stop on the side of the road, Fitzy gives us half an hour and we all start scrounging. It’s harder than it sounds, all of our legs and arms end up scratched and bloodied (3 months later I still have scars) and we are filthy without an opportunity for a shower until sometime tomorrow, hopefully. It takes us an hour but we pull in a good haul and manage to get it tied down on top of the trailer. We stop at a roadhouse not far from our campsite and pick up enough beer to last the rest of the trip. From there it is “party bus time”, Fitzy pulls out a disco ball with flashing coloured lights and has secretly managed to garb himself in about 5 different flashing headlamps. With ACDC’s Highway to Hell blasting over the stereo we fly down the road until the turnoff toward our campsite. He turns the buses headlights off and it’s pitch dark but for our flashing lights, we’re dancing in the aisle as we careen wildly down the pot-holed dirt road, he turns a couple doughnuts in a wide gravel area and then we shudder to a halt.

It’s time to set up camp and prepare dinner. I’m immediately impressed with Fitzy’s organizational abilities, he’s got people chopping vegetables, setting up swags, and building the fire within 15 minutes of us arriving. Pretty impressive for a kid who I think is around 23 years old. But he is a bundle of energy and positivity and he just makes it all happen. Within an hour we’re eating chili, both meat and vegetarian options, and bread made in a cast iron pot. Everything is cooked over the fire and afterwards we all help clean up. Everyone has a few beers around the fire, it’s cold out here at night, and slowly we all start to curl into our swags, dropping off one by one.  I lay in mine, staring up at the crisp night sky, seeing the constellations I recognize turned upside down here in the southern hemisphere. I realize that in all the times I’ve camped I’ve never slept outside under the stars before and a small shudder goes up my spine as I realize that I am doing it for the first time in a country that has more poisonous snakes and spiders that will outright kill you than any other place in the world. It’s not enough to keep me awake though, not after such a long and busy day, I pull the swag’s flap over my head to keep the heat in and creepy crawlies out and quickly fall asleep.