Darwin to the Red Centre
28.03.2011 - 06.04.2011 30 °C
The highlight of Darwin had to be the wildlife. We spent a day at Kakadu National Park after a 5am start (one of so many recently - what's that about?) and en route we got to tick off almost all the missing animals from the classic Australia list - wallaroos, dingoes, crocodiles, jabirus - we saw them all. Our four days was a lot like hanging out with Bear Grylls and we now know what it is like to eat a green ant - it tastes like lime......didn't get to try the honey ant though.....we also nibbled other items that Ben picked up off the forest floor that have been feeding aboriginal communities for centuries. It's like 'I'm a celebrity' down here, I tell you! Other Darwinian activities included:
Noush's debut for the Cardno work volleyball team.
Wishing we'd travelled by boat and not ute!
Viewing aboriginal art at Kakadu.
Playing Crocodile Dundee.
Even more crazy ornothology.
Visiting the Darwin bush is like stepping back in time - everything is so wild and huge and you start to get a sense of why so much of the country is uninhabitable. If you're not a nature buff it probably isn't the area for you but I'm really pleased that we got to see it, especially at the end of the wet season when it is so green and lush. Our next stop was the Red Centre - which is currently nicknamed the Green Centre as bizarrely high levels of rainfall have resulted in a much greener desert than would be expected. We were quite taken aback at how much plantlife there was, expecting nothing more than red dust.
We headed off on a three day, two night tour of the centre in a group of 20 travellers and 2 guides. All our tour mates were European although unfortunately no Spaniards to practice our Spanish with - although we spoke some spectacular French/German/Italian combos. We were collected in Alice Springs at 5.45am (you see?) and after all the usual admin we set off in our quaintly old fashioned bus towards the Uluru National Park. It was a five hour drive so we made a few stops to stretch our legs and buy snacks and chat to the locals.
After lunch at the campsite, where I swallowed a fly - not intentionally, we headed to the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park to walk the Valley of the Winds. Kata Tjuta is also known as the Olgas and it was formed at the same time as Uluru but is more like a range of hills rather than one sandstone mass. Oh yes - and that's an interesting fact, Uluru and the whole area is sandstone i.e shades of grey and beige - the only reason it's red is due to iron ore dust that blows in and oxidises in the sun and rain. Basically it's rusty.
We had an afternoon hike for a couple of hours which was slightly challenging but well worth it for the views.
At the end of which we headed to the viewing area to watch the sunset over Uluru.....OK be prepared there will be a few shots of Uluru in the next few minutes but it was stunning to see.
We headed back to camp to make dinner and also to face up to the fact that there were no tents/caravans/anything. For we were to be sleeping out under the stars with nothing but a swag to protect us. A swag is like a canvas sleeping bag with a built in foam pad at the bottom and you sleep in it in your sleeping bag. In the open. Face completely uncovered. In the land of giant spiders and baby stealing canines. I'm not ashamed to say we were a bit bloody nervous. Add in my stupid bladder and a perpetual mid slumber desire to pee and having to find your way to the bug filled toilets at 2am in the dark. And did I mention the snakes? All of this did go through our minds as we set up our swags on the first evening, smoothing the sandy floor around them so you could check out the footprints around your bed in the morning - but when you lay under those starry skies you do forget about it. The skies are unlike anything I have ever seen and we had already been impressed by the New Zealand skies. No pollution, no light, no moon (where is it?), just thousands of stars. Mindblowing.
A gentle 5am wake up call by Shaz our tour guide and some very bleary packing up and breakfast was followed by being back in the bus by 5.50 to go and watch the sunrise on the other side of Uluru. Noush loved this - I was too busy trying to take a good photo and sometimes you miss the actual experience in your determination (note to self). It looked like this - but better.....
We then visited the Cultural Centre to learn more about the history of Uluru and it's place in the Aboriginal community and the reasons why they ask people not to climb it. It is clearly a place of great spirituality and very sacred to the local people, they would never walk on it themselves unless they were an elder and it was for a very specific ceremony. Yet still it would appear the sense of conquering the big rock is too strong for some individuals and they still walk all over it. Nowt stranger than folk. I may have had a slightly strained debate with a German woman about respect for local culture.....who me?
Instead we did the 10km base walk which was beautiful. I've already mentioned how lush the surrounding countryside was so the contrast made it all the more stunning.
(obligatory pouting to avoid fly swallowing)
Kings Canyon was our next destination - another 5 hour drive away. But it was cheered up by getting to meet this little fella on the way.
He's a thorny devil and unbelievably those spikes don't hurt you. Looks a bit grumpy that we interrupted his sunbathing though. We arrived in the Kings Canyon campsite around sunset and got to work on building our open fire and getting on with dinner. Interestingly this site had canvas huts that you could sleep in and yet all but two of us chose to sleep outside again - there was a rumour that the Kings Canyon sky was even bigger than Ulara. It was very cool to spend the evening talking to lots of new people - we ranged in age from 19 to late 60s so there was always something to talk about. A lot of the younger lot were in Australia from their native country to improve their English - strange how no one comes to the UK to do that.....apparently it's the weather. We played some pretty dreadful games around the campfire before settling into our sleeping bags for another night under the stars. We spotted about 4 shooting stars that night. As Shaz would say 'pretty awesome'.
A 5.30am lie in (woo hoo) meant that we were at Kings Canyon at 7am ready to start the 7km hike around the rim of the canyon. Of course you have to get up there first and despite only being about 150m climb it was so steep that they have built 3 platforms to catch your breath - god knows how we're going to cope with the Inca Trail! One of the highlights of the Kings Canyon walk was getting to walk through what has become known as Prescilla's Crack after the scene in the the movie. We also got to rest hafway at the Garden of Eden, a watering hole for the lucky local wildlife. The canyon is stunning and the hike was brilliant. The guide has so much information about the flora and fauna of the local area and there is a reason why you start so early as by 10am it was scorching hot. A few last photos for you - including the obligatory group shot at the top of the canyon.
And that was it. A five hour drive back to Alice Springs and a few beers with our fellow hostellers and we flew to Sydney yesterday. Just another 24 hours and we are winging our way to Chile. Wow - what an adventure.
Sorry if this has been staggeringly long but there was a lot to tell you and remind ourselves of. Along with the Great Barrier Reef, the Red Centre tour was definitely the highlight of our Australian antics. We can't recommend it highly enough.