Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Red Centre

I feel like it's been ages since we've done any domestic travel that's more than 2 hours from home.  Like, years.  So we were long overdue.  Uluru (which you might know as Ayers Rock) has been on our bucket list since Day 1 of moving here but for some reason we needed a special excuse to go.  Enter, the parental units:

Martin's parental units, to be precise.  This being their second visit Down Under they wanted to get out and explore a bit of the country this time around.  So we flew them smack dab to the middle of the continent.

There's a lot more to see out there than just Uluru - if you've got the time, patience and money.  You can do a quickie in-and-out trip to The Rock but Martin insisted we do things right and take the long way around, along the Red Centre Way.

Night stops are numbered
While nearly 15 hours or drive time sounds like a lot, it's perfectly doable when you spread it out over 6 days.  Road trip!

Allow me to walk you through the sites of the Red Centre way.

We flew into Alice Springs airport, though there is an Ayers Rock airport much closer to Uluru for those who want to get in and out quickly, easily and [somewhat] cheaply.  We did not spend any time in "Alice", though, as we did not fly all this way to see a damn town.  We picked up the rental and immediately headed west, through the West MacDonnell Ranges, an outback mountain range, to see a few sites before sundown.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ohcre Pits

Ochre (pronounced like poker minus the P) is a type of colored earth that Aboriginals used for body paint and other things before the white man came along with their watercolors and smallpox blankets.  The variety of colors, right next to each other naturally in the soil, is wild.

Ormiston Gorge

That evening we stayed at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge, which backs up against the Finke River and an insanely tall, stark cliff face.

There's a lot of red earth going on here!  Actually, there was a surprising of green, too.  At one point we heard they'd received a years worth of rain in 2.5 months, so there was a lot more greenery around than I'd expected!

Mount Sonder Lookout

Check out the new fashion: a fly net!  While really nice to have, it wasn't entirely necessary to have at this time of year.  We talked to some locals who said flies are horrific in the summer, and during our April (autumn) visit they were virtually non-existent.  There were plenty of annoying flies, so I can't imagine what they're like in the summer.

Redbank Gorge

During the wet season it looks like this:

But was sliiiiiiightly dryer when we were there.

This doesn't jive with what I said earlier about getting lots of rain, but the creek was obviously dry as a bone.

Gosse Bluff

It doesn't look all that interesting from this angle:

But from an aerial view (which we did not see) it is really something else:

A billion years ago an asteroid hit the earth and caused the surrounding earth to fly up, causing a circular crater of hills on otherwise flat ground.  In Aboriginal folklore a baby basket fell to earth, and that's what caused the hills.  Both stories are totally plausible.

The above sites were all pretty quick stops, as we didn't come upon the big stuff until Day 3.

Kings Canyon

We stayed at the nearby Kings Canyon Resort, but we heard of people going from Uluru to Kings Canyon as a day trip (albeit a long-ass day).  The resort has a viewing platform where they sell booze (holler) to watch the sunset.  As the sun goes down the colors change in a funky way (I imagine it's just shadows playing tricks on your eyes) but sunrise and sunset were the most important happenings on this trip.

Look who dropped by to view the sunset:

Time for a tinkle
We saw so many dingoes out here!  Martin's mom saw one that kept coming up right to the resort restaurant veranda.  I was mistaken in thinking they are rare around these parts.

Bright and early the next morning we got up to hike into Kings Canyon, not only to see the sunrise but to also avoid the hottest part of the day.  A lot of places close and say "Don't start your hike after X o'clock" and this was nowhere near the hottest part of the year!

There are two ways to hike Kings Canyon, up top on the rim of it or inside on ground level.  Taking the fitness level of all parties involved into consideration we went with the bottom, shorter hike.  There was still lots to see.

  We were then off to the piece de resistance, Ayers Rock!

Or...not.  This is not Uluru; this is Fooluru.  It's really Mount Conner, which is on the way there but is not, in fact, Uluru at all.  But that hasn't stopped tourists from thinking they'd arrived for generations!  I wonder if people have come this far then turned around and went back home without actually getting to the real destination?

Now this is Uluru (for real this time):

We spent most of the first day driving around it and stopping for pictures from different angles.  After seeing it up close I know how mistaken I was for thinking it is perfectly symmetrical with a flat, smooth surface.  It is nothing of the sort!

That rock has taken a lot of weather over the millenia!

Our nightly sunset ritual was a show of the spectrum of the color red.

Which was nothing in comparison to the multi-color sky at sunrise the next morning!

After sunrise we started on our epic 10 kilometer (6 mile) hike around the base of Uluru.  If you have the physical ability, this is really something you should do.  It takes about 3 hours (boo hoo, I'm lazy) but is so worth it because you get a more up close and personal view of all the nooks and crannies, of which there are many.


I had a seriously sore butt and legs for a few days afterwards but it was worth it.

That night we dined at the swanky Sounds of Silence dinner, where you dine under the stars in view of Uluru.  You're not all that close to Uluru, and it is obscenely expensive, but it was fun, the food was good and the booze was flowing.  We got to meet interesting people from all different places, too, which I love doing.

Uluru at the back
We also got to take a spin around the Field of Light art installation by a supposedly famous artist I'd never heard of before, which is set up by Uluru for one year only.

Our final full day started with another sunrise featuring more incredible colors:

 And a trip to The Olgas (native name Kata Tjuta) which are 25 kilometers (15 miles) and perfectly visible from Uluru.

Kata Tjuta dwarfs Uluru in both width and height.  We did a quick hike through, but you could of course spend many more hours on the trails.

In our final adventure we took to the skies!

Martin's parents graciously offered to send us on a helicopter ride, which offered a very different view of the landscape we had spent the past few days in.

Martin's two favorite things in the world are aviation and birds, so I feel this is the appropriate place to show some of the myriad bird pictures he took.  I would be doing a disservice to all of his hard work if I didn't showcase them here.  I have seen some crazy colorful, tropical birds in my time in Australia but I was not expecting to see such a colorful display in the middle of the continent!

I will say, though, there was one huge disappointment in this trip.

No camel sightings!  We saw a ton of...evidence...of camels on the few hours of gravel road we took, but the only camels we saw were wearing saddles giving rides to tourists.  Sad times.  There are like a million camels living out there and all we saw was [gigantic, comically so] piles of poo.  On a continent over 7.5 million square kilometers (sorry - conversion ain't happening) they've got a lot of room to spread out!

It was super fun to share this outback experience with the in-laws.  I can officially call them that, finally, because we're getting hitched - finally!

Notice the small rock in front of the big one.  Finally!

Stay tuned for an exotic and appropriately fabulous destination wedding in 2017!

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