In January, we took a 6 day tour through the Australian Outback to the Red Centre. We camped out in swags under the stars, explored ranges & deserts, visited spiritual and beautiful places, and slept underground. It was a journey from Adelaide near the sea all the way to the Red Centre of Australia, where we celebrated surviving 6 days of 40+ celsius temperatures with good food, new close friends, and lots of beer.
Here is part two of our time in the wilds of Aussie. As we continued our journey north into the Northern Territory, the land got redder, and we entered some of the most spiritual places for the Aboriginal peoples of this area. We were privileged to experience some of the stunning grandeur of these places as we wandered in the bush and hiked along the ridges and canyons.
Day 4 – Watarrka to Uluru
We got up super early and hit the road while it was still dark, surprising a dingo who was crossing the road. We were on our way to do a little bit of hiking at Watarrka National Park, a sacred area for the Aboriginal people in this area, the Anangu. First up, a quick climb up Heart Attack Hill to the top of the canyon.
Hiking in Watarrka actually reminded me of hiking in Arches National Park in Utah. Loads of red sandstone cliffs, ridges, and fins. Both were at one time inland seas as well. Watarrka is a sacred place for the Anangu people who live in this area. There are sacred spots for both men and women here, as well as permanent water, so it has been an important gathering place for quite some time.
Before the sun could climb too high, our hike was over and we piled back into the bus to head for Yulara. We all had our eyes out for our first sight of Uluru. But first, mother nature messes with you and offers up another giant rock – Artilla, also known as Fooluru because it is often confused for Uluru. But Artilla is a mezzoplateau made up of 2 different types of rock. It’s still pretty though.
Next up on the horizon: Still not Uluru. But we were treated to views of Kata Tjuta, which, when you see it from a distance, looks like Homer Simpson lying down. Go ahead, I dare you to look at the picture below and tell me I’m wrong!
Finally, we pulled into Yulara, the closest town to Uluru. We dropped a few things off at camp and then headed into the park as the sun was setting for our first true look at Uluru. Rising up 348 meters from the flat plateau (with nothing else close by), Uluru commands your attention.
If you go to Uluru as part of a fancy bus tour, you get to watch the sun set on Uluru while sipping champagne from tables with white linens on them. That looks something like this.
We did not go to Uluru on a fancy bus tour. We’re backpackers, people! We took the magical Groovy Grape Camping Bus Tour. So no champagne for us. But the tour companies don’t own that real estate, so we got to comingle with the fancy masses. And Uluru is just as beautiful with canned beer and an awesome cheese and antipasto picnic courtesy of Pebbles, the most awesome tour guide ever. Here is most of our group tailgating in the parking lot (close to the food).
We finished up the night with a party in the parking lot after dark and a fantastic dinner back at the campground. Then it was early to bed again. Tomorrow was another early day to watch the sun rise over Uluru.
Day 5 – Uluru & Kata Tjuta
We woke up when it was still dark and zoomed along the roads to a different area of the national park to watch the sun rise over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The clouds were starting to turn a bit pink as we pulled in, and we raced to the platform. The pinks and oranges on Kata Tjuta to the west were stunning!But seeing Uluru as a silhouette, all alone in the view as the sun came up behind it, was breathtaking, quite literally. I was mesmerized, and stepped away from the crowds for a bit to fully soak in this experience. Sitting there, I felt so small. It was another of those times where I wanted to weep tears of joy and gratitude at being lucky enough to be in this moment.
But soon, I realized that Kyle was nowhere to be found and I went in search of him so we could share this experience together. Turns out he was helping set up the pancake breakfast. But I did pull him away so we could soak up this experience together. Once again, we were giggly kids, excited to sit and watch. And get a few photos, of course.After a fantastic 360 degree sunrise and some yummy pancakes, we headed over to Kata Tjuta to hike the Valley of the Winds. This is another area that is sacred to the Anangu people. It’s a spot where Men’s business happens.
The Valley of the Winds definitely lived up to its name. It was very windy, which was a nice reprieve from the oppressive heat we’d experienced for days. As we wound our way further into the valley, the ridges and canyons funneled the winds, blowing away hats and scarves and anything else not tied down or strapped on. Halfway into the valley, we stopped at a water station. A mother kangaroo was there drinking water, with her joey in the pouch. She continued drinking for a while, keeping a sharp eye on all of us as we watched her and shot a few pics, then hopped off a short distance, hiding her belly from view. She never strayed far though. A reliable source of water is hard to come by, and very valuable for a new mum living in the desert.We kept on hiking further into the valleys. The scenery really reminded me of the red canyons of Southern Utah. If you’ve ever hiked in Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park, then you’ll know just what the landscape looks like here. Oddly enough, both regions used to be inland seas and have similar geological histories, despite being on opposite sides of the world.
Soon it began to get hot, so we headed back to camp to spend the hottest hours of the day swimming in the pool or hanging out in the shade. Then, in the late afternoon, we headed over to the cultural center to learn a bit about Tjukurpa from the Anangu people (the aboriginal tribe from this area). Tjukurpa is a complex concept and is the foundation for Anangu culture.
“It provides the rules for behaviour and for living together. It is the Law for caring for one another and for the land that supports people’s existence. Tjukurpa refers to the time of creation as well as the present time. Tjukurpa is the relationship between people, plants, animals and the physical features of the land. Knowledge of how these relationships came to be, what they mean and how they must be maintained is explained in the Tjukurpa.”
Because the Anangu don’t have a written language, all is passed down orally, primarily in stories. We are privileged enough to hear some of these stories, although we will always hear the child’s version. Since we are not members of the tribe and have not gone through the training, rituals, and sacrifices to become a Man or Woman, we will always be considered children.
Many of these stories are tied to specific sacred places on and around Uluru. After spending a bit of time at the cultural center, we headed off to see some of these special places. Many of these areas are sacred Men’s or Women’s areas, so photography is forbidden in order to prevent a man from seeing a woman’s area or a woman from seeing a man’s. Because we are children in their eyes, we are given special dispensation and allowed to view these areas regardless of our gender; a rare privilege, indeed!
We headed over to Uluru and parked near the area where you can climb Uluru. Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, and they respectfully request that you not climb it. Unfortunately, due to a deal they had to make with the Australian government in order to get this land back, people are still allowed to climb Uluru while the 99 year lease of the national park to the Aussie government is in place.
However, less than 1/3 of visitors try to climb it. The track is closed about 70% of the time due to sacred ceremonies, rain, or temps above 30 degrees celsius, but most people choose not to climb it out of respect. The cultural center has a guestbook you can sign stating that you did not climb Uluru, which we signed. Considering that most Anangu will never climb it due to its degree of sacredness, we considered it highly disrespectful to do so as visitors.
A quote from a sign here says:
“That’s a really important sacred thing you are climbing…
You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place.
The real thing is listening to everything. This is the thing that’s right.
That is the proper way: no climbing”
~ Kunmanara, Traditional Owner
After looking at the track and learning a bit more about the history of the Rock, we headed out with our guide to hike around the base a bit. We learned about the Mala people and experienced up close the towering size of Uluru.
Soon the sun began to sink in the sky and Uluru turned a vibrant orange.
We raced to our sunset spot, but were a bit late and missed Uluru in all its fiery glory. We did get this shot from the bus as we sped along.We did still get some amazing views on our final night at the Rock. It was cool to see all the crags, ravines, holes and scars on Uluru, many of which have cultural significance or play a part in the Tjukurpa of this place and its people.
Soon, the light faded to a faint glow, and Uluru became a shadow on the horizon.
Day 6 – Uluru to Alice Springs
It was the final morning of our trip. The day started with another view of Uluru at sunrise.
It was our group’s final day together as a family, and we found ourselves taking lots of group photos this morning.After the sunrise, we headed out to hike the 9.4 km trail around the base of Uluru. This was the first time on our trip that everyone went at their own pace and we hiked without a guide. On this morning, we were privileged enough to explore and experience Uluru on our own. To walk at the base of it, to see the sacred spots, to find the areas on the rock where stories and Tjukurpa originated and still live today, to revel in the grandeur and peace of this place.
Kyle and I hiked hand in hand, stopping often to soak it all in, to listen to this place, take a photo, or read a story. Much of the track passes by sacred areas, where photography is forbidden. These areas are some of the most beautiful spots on Uluru. But there are many other pretty spots that we were allowed to photograph. Here are a few of our favorites.
After our hike, it was time to say farewell to Uluru and head off on our final drive of the trip: just over 300km to Alice Springs. We played games and shared adventures with each other on the bus. Once we hit Alice Springs, it was time to say a temporary farewell to all our new friends as we were dropped off at our different hostels. But we did meet up for one last celebration at a local bar in town. We drank beer, exchanged email addresses and facebook information, and celebrated surviving 6 days and almost 3,000km in the Australian Outback and Red Centre. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to everyone for real.
Our trip into the Red Centre was one of the most exhausting and demanding trips we have ever taken. It was also one of the most rewarding. We gained new friends, had really unique experiences, and got to spend time in one of the most special places in Australia. Seeing photos and hearing stories about Uluru doesn’t do it justice. In order to truly understand it, you really have to go there. We would encourage anyone to take the time and make the effort to journey to the Red Centre. Truly one of the most gratifying experiences of our journey so far.