We had been wondering whether it was worth the trip to go see Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) which is smack in the middle of Australia. We had researched going there but found the cost of flight, car hire etc to be too expensive. So while in Sydney we browsed the backpackers’ travel agencies and came across “Wicked Travel” where we talked to a friendly Brit named Matt. He gave us his pitch about a low-cost tour called “The Rock Tour” that included everything except flights to go see Kings Canyon, the Olgas, and Uluru. The price was attractive and so was the fact that they would do all the driving and provide the food. So we booked the tour and flew from Sydney to Alice Springs.
We were picked up at the airport and taken into a backpacker’s hostel called Toddy’s where we upgraded ourselves from a shared dorm room to a private room at an extortion price of $50 . But the room was filthy and had many other issues. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we tried to use their free internet. It was not working and they told us it was our device that did not work properly (3 other people had the same issue so we knew it wasn’t our device). After arguing with them and making a few phone calls to the Rock Tour company, they refunded us that night’s accommodation and we booked ourselves in a nice motel next door that wasn’t much more, was clean, and had all the amenities.
Needless to say, we were worried about what laid ahead for our tour!
The next day we were picked up at 5:30am by our tour guide Robbie, and once everybody was on board (total of 21 people), we took off towards Kings Canyon. We were to drive for over 7 hours that day and hike Kings Canyon for 3 hours: a very full day!
To break the ice and meet our mates, we all introduced ourselves through the mic on the bus. Our group was very young (also had a couple of older folks like us) , diverse, and interesting with people from Italy, Poland, Switzerland, US and South Korea.
After making a few stops for lunch and pee-breaks, we arrived in Kings Canyon at mid-day for our 3-hour hike.
The weather was cool but sunny and it made hiking that much more enjoyable. Robbie talked about the geology and history of the canyon as well as the plants that aboriginals use for medicinal purposes. Next order of the day was to drive to a spot where we would all collect fire wood just off the side of the highway. We were starting to gather that the tour was really hands-on and that we would have to “work” during these 3 days. We all received fairly minor pokes, scratches, and splinters for our efforts. Mark, a nice fellow from Florida (originally from Sydney) gouged himself pretty good in the calf and poor guy gimped the rest of the trip. We were surprised that the tour operator would allow gathering wood like that given some of the nasties you can potentially run into as well as the potential injuries but it was a refreshing change from all the US rules and legalese.We were explained later that the Northern territory is the wild wild west of Australia where laws are practically non-existent! Our first night was our bush camp night near Curtain Springs where we cooked our entire meal on the fire and slept under the stars in a swag (basically a canvass “body bag”).
We arrived there at dark. Our guide got the fire going right away and handed out instructions to everyone to help. Someone made bread, some people peeled veggies, while others took care of the fire and stirred the grub.
Above: our bread-making crew Above: Sylvie resting after helping to cook the meal. Below: our bread slowly cooking over and under the coalsWe finally ate our tasty meal around the fire late that night and Robbie had a surprise for us to round-off our dinner. We were to try bush meat, specifically Kangaroo tail that had been cooked in the coals…yuk!!!
Half of the group tried it, and according to James it tasted like mutton.
We then got a demonstration on how to use our swag and about the critters and sounds we might encounter during the night. One of the preventative measures for snakes was to carve a small trench around our swag as snakes do not like to cross broken ground. Hmm… not very re-assuring but better than nothing so we all worked hard at drawing our “safe circle”. We did spot a “wild” feral cat trying to get into the garbage and heard dingos howling throughout the night, which was very neat. Thankfully no snakes or spiders came to visit. It was a very cold night though (somewhere in the 30’s F) and no one slept much.
We were awakened around 5am the next morning to get an early start for our tour of the Olgas. Again, everyone pitched in to get dishes washed and dried after breakfast as well as get the van and trailer packed.
The Olgas , known locally as Kata Tjuta (“many heads”) are taller than Uluru (546m versus 348m). They form a striking group of domed rocks huddled together and it was neat to weave in among the rocks. There are 36 boulders shoulder to shoulder forming deep valleys and and steep-sided gorges.
We finished off the day at The Rock -Uluru- doing a small hike and watching a fantastic sunset giving Uluru an orange glow as we ate our dinner.
Above: Uluru at sunset
Uluru is the largest sandstone rock formation in the world that rises out of the central Australian desert. It also extends 6 kms below the surface.
We spent the night at a local campground which this time had facilities such as showers and bathrooms that we all took advantage of. We slept in our swags for the last even colder night.
Again we were up and out of ‘bed’ very early to witness sunrise at the big rock while eating our breakfast. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the sunset, but still a nice sight. We then visited the cultural center and took the base walk around Uluru. Uluru and the Olgas have deep cultural significance to the Anangu people, who officially own the national park and lease it to Parks Australia. Despite that and the fact it is World Heritage listed, people are still able to climb the sacred rock much to the dismay of the Aboriginals (and our guide). Nobody in our group elected to climb it, content to observe it in a natural state and respect the Anangu wishes.
Above and below: hiking around Uluru with Mark and Erin from FloridaOn the way back to Alice Springs, we did a quick stop to ride camels, more for the photo opportunity than anything else. Definitely nothing like riding a horse!Overall, our group was as diverse as it was fun-loving. We had a good time singing on the bus, playing jokes on our guide, and sharing experiences from our different backgrounds. The tour that started out on the wrong foot turned out to be a very fun 3 days in the outback.