Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Red Centre

So, onwards from Devil's Marbles to The Red Centre - Central Australia

We stopped at a little Roadhouse with an art gallery at Aileron. We were first beckoned there by a huge aboriginal statue next to a "Hollywood" style Aileron sign:

And upon exiting the car we discovered two more huge figures - very impressive:

Dave also made friends with a local "Big Red" Kangaroo:

We continued on our drive, noticing hundreds of VB cans littering the side of the road - a similar sight as many places we've been. Rather sad that the locals feel a need to destroy the natural beauty of their homeland. And VB too - not even anything classy!

We drove in to Alice Springs (the town itself not too exciting) and checked in at the Big 4 Caravan Park. We walked around the shops and checked out a few art galleries (of which there were plenty). One of the shop owners commented how cold it was today - and I guess it was, at only 30 degrees! Although it did get quite cool in the evening - the coldest we'd been for a while and the first time we'd had to pull out the jumpers and jeans. It ended up being only 7 degrees overnight which we loved - so great to not be sweating all night.

The next day it was a lot cooler and we drove out to the East McDonnell Ranges. We stopped at Emily and Jessie Gap which are natural gaps in the range, both with a little bit of aboriginal rock art.

We stopped off at Corroboree Rock and then went to check out a display at Artlunga Visitor Centre about the miners who had worked in the area. We headed to Trephina Gorge which was the main reason we had come to the East McDonnells. We stopped at a beautiful ghost gum:

Then continued on to do the Trephina Gorge walk which was quite stunning. We did both the rim walk around the top:

and through the bottom:

And then did the Panorama Walk which was a steep walk up to the bluff with a good view:

After this we drove a short distance to the Bluff Campground where we stayed the night (and were hounded by far too many bees for our liking).

The next morning the car decided she didn't want to start :-(

After giving here a bit of a push, she reluctantly took off and we made our way back to Alice springs by 7:30am. We checked back in at Big 4 after doing a few things in town.

Later in the afternoon we went to Alice Springs School of the Air which we both found very interesting. This was the first School of the Air established in Australia around 1950 and now has about 120 students covering an area of 1 million square kilometres (!) The furthest student is over 1000km from Alice Springs. A little hard to imagine when you come from a wee country like NZ! They students originally communicated with their teacher via radio but now they use computers. All very impressive!

We went for a drive up ANZAC Hill for a view over Alice Springs:

We also ended up taking the car into the auto-electricians and got the starter motor cleaned out and the contacts, bearings and plunger replaced. We were very grateful to the poor guy who did this for us at 3pm on a Friday.

The next afternoon was an exciting time for Dave: The AFL Grand Final, with his team - St Kilda - playing against Geelong.

We headed to "The Juicy Rump" to have lunch and then watch the game:

At half time, Dave was pretty happy as St Kilda were just up. Unfortunately they didn't play too well in the second half and ended up losing the game much to Dave's disappointment. I think there were a few St Kilda fans in the crowd as this was the bar during the game:

And this was the bar about 2 minutes after the game ended:

We were rather amused though, as at half time a photographer came and took our photo and we ended up being published in the social page in the Alice Springs Advocate:

We did meet a couple of nice women at dinner and ended up being invited out to dinner with them to the most fabulous Vietnamese restaurant. Funny how we end up tagging along with random strangers!

The next day we set off for Uluru - yay! We listened to a CD of a DIY Travel Guide from Alice Springs to Uluru that one of the girls gave us the night before (she was the creator of the CD). This helped to alleviate the boredom of the 400-odd km trip as it pointed out places of interest and things to see.

We stopped at the Finke River (dry) for lunch as well as a few other stops along the way - Stuart's Well, Erlunda and Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse.

At one point Dave got very excited and spotted what he thought was our first glimpse of Uluru:

But it turned out to be Mt Connor - a flat table-top mountain actually about 3 times as large as Uluru. We stayed the night at a free camp about 30km from Yulara, the Resort town next to Uluru.

We went for a quick walk up a small rise (check out the colour of the sand!):

Where we could finally see Uluru off in the distance:

We had a great campfire under a star-filled sky - doesn't get much better than that!

The next morning we headed into through Yulara and into the National Park where we were quickly relieved of $50 in entry fees.

Our first close up view of "The Rock" with the pig:

I have wanted to see Uluru for a long time and it truly did not disappoint. Such a landmark that you've seen on a million postcards but to see it in "the flesh" is another matter entirely. The colours you are treated to are amazing and ever-changing. We just love the deep reds against the blue of the sky. There is a definite "spiritual" link to this beautiful piece of the earth.

We hit the visitor centre which is top-notch with some great displays. We then headed to do the Base Walk - 10km around the bottom.

From afar Uluru looks very smooth but up close you can see its many cracks and crevices:

We went clockwise around the rock and after a couple of kms we came to the spot where you can climb up to the top of the rock if you want to. At this point it was closed due to high winds but the ranger told us that it is reassessed every two hours and it would probably reopen at noon.

There was an MG club parked in the carpark:

(The line you can see up the rock is the chain you hold onto to climb up).

Another view of the chain:

Although you are free to climb Uluru (when it is open), the aboriginal owners of the land prefer you not to:

We decided to come back at noon and so continued on our base walk, joining a guided walk (The Mala Walk) for the next couple of kms. This was very interesting, describing the traditional stories of how the land was formed by the Mala (a type of small marsupial).

Continuing the walk:

The side of the rock:

Quite steep!:

I was surprised by how green it was around the base of the rock:

We came to a waterhole which surprisingly still had some water in it and some birds at its edge.

Once we had finished the walk we drove back to the climbing area and found that it was open. I opted not to do it but Dave set off (with about a million other people!) while I had some fun people watching from below with the binoculars (my favourite past time!)

The start of the chain (it's steeper than it looks here!)

View from the top - you can see the carpark below and The Olgas in the distance:

Once you got to the top it was "follow the dotted line"

There were lots of channels to cross over, careful not to plunge over the edge:

Keep going...

Made it!

The photo below shows the steepness and how the rock fell away on each side:

Back down safely:

A side view of the climb:

After this we went back to Yulara to check in to the campsite and then drove to the sunset viewing area to watch the fading light on the rock:

On the drive back to camp we also managed to get a shot of The Olga's sillhouetted against the light:

The next morning we awoke at 5:30am to head to the sunrise viewing area by The Olga's. There were only a few others here which was great and we got a different view of Uluru:

We then did the "Valley of the Winds" walk through the Olga's which was a 7.5km return trip, showcasing 500mtr high conglomerate rock on all sides. It took about 2 hours and was a really enjoyable walk - well worth it.

View as you come into the Olga's:

Following this we did another shorter walk through the gorge. The photo below shows a couple of people sitting st the bottom - gives an idea of scale!

Many people had said they prefered The Olga's to Uluru, perhaps because they felt Uluru to be more touristy. I think the walk through The Olga's was probably more impressive than the Uluru base walk but I don't think anything beats the impressive sight of the huge mass that is Uluru.

On the drive back to Yulara we were lucky enough to spot something we'd been hoping to see somewhere - The incredible Thorny Devil! This is one weird creature:

Even got the Pig and Uluru in the background:

We had an awesome picnic on the grass at Yulara and ended up falling asleep for a couple of hours! When we awoke we decided to head back to the Olga's for sunset. This again was a beautiful sight:

I finally had enough of the flies and bought myself a high fashion fly net (Everyone's wearing them darling!):

After an incredible 2 days in the area, we drove out of Yulara to a rest stop for the night.
The next morning we awoke to something we hadn't seen for a while.... RAIN! We drove back past Curtin Springs and took the turnoff to Kings Canyon. It was extremely windy which made for a hard drive and high fuel consumption. We started listening to the "Twilight" audiobook Foo had sent us as neither us had read / seen anything to do with this despite the Twilight Mania that seems to be around. This definately helped the drive go by and we started to get quite involved in the story!
We just made it to Kings Creek Station on the last few remaining vapours of gas. It was still windy and extremely dusty - not what we had hoped for of our trip to Kings Canyon!
We saw heaps of melon-type fruit lining the sides of the road. Our curiosity got the better of us and we hopped out for a closer inspection. It smelt quite nice like a watermelon but upon consulting with our trusty "Bushtuckerman" book we discovered them to be "Paddymelons" - highly poisonous - so we gave them a wide berth after that.
We drove on to Kings Creek Resort and checked in to the campground. It was still windy so we decided to hold off on the walk til tomorrow. We went to the pub for a few drinks then went back to cook dinner and have an early night.
The next morning it was still rather windy and overcast but we had no option but to head to Kings Canyon.
After arriving at Kings Canyon we did the creek walk first which was a shorter walk up part of the floor of the canyon- nothing too impressive. We then did the rim walk - a 5.5km walk up and around the edge of the canyon. It was a steep walk up the first part which gave a good view:
(Looking a little ominous!)

Once we got up the top there were some bee-hive domes similar to the Bungles:

And as we got on a bit we came closer to the sheer edges and it became a whole lot more impressive:

Close up of the above shot. You can see the people:

Clouds closing in:

So overall, a very exciting walk - made even more exciting by the blustery wind. We made the detours along the way to the Cotterill Lookout, Garden of Eden and Plunge Pool - all well worth it.
We made it out by 1pm and pressed on via the Mereenie Loop Road to the West McDonnell Ranges. We bought a Mereenie Loop Road permit to drive on the privately owned road - recommended for 4WD only but no real problem for us. We saw tonnes of spinifex being blown across the road in the wind.
An amusing sight we saw on the aboriginal land was a sign asking people to slow down. These were written on big 44 gallon drums - the first one saying "Lift Um Foot" and the second one saying "Puttum back down"!
We stopped at Gosse Bluff which was a huge crater caused by the impact of an asteroid or comet some odd 140 million years ago - around 5km in diameter and 150km high. We couldn't get any decent photos from inside the crater but managed to snap this one from a lookout a bit further on:

We then drove to Redbank Gorge - the most Western Gorge of the West McDonnell Ranges. We did a half hour walk up the creek and finished up at a nice pool for a quick refreshing dip:

We then headed back to the Woodlands Camp which was a great set-up with individual BBQ plates and burners.
The next morning we drove to Glen Helen, admiring the ranges along the way. There is a walk from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder which is 224kms - would be a great walk to do some day when we have a spare couple of weeks.
Mount Sonder in the morning cloud:

We called in to a few gorges along this route but our favourite by far was the Ormiston Gorge where we did the 3 hour walk around the pound. We absolutely loved this - a beautiful walk up to the pound:

And then up through the gorge - amazing colours, including great purple rocks:

It was superb weather and there was no-one else around which was perfect.

We stopped off at the ochre pits which were an array of great colours. The ochres were used by the aboriginal people for rock art by mixing it with animal fat:

We bypassed Serpentine Gorge and stopped at Ellery Creek Big Hole for a swim:

Finally we stopped at Standley Chasm. We unfortunately missed the best time for this as it is best seen at mid-day with the sun streaming in.

We weren't too impressed with this though - doesn't really compare to Echidna Chasm in the Bungle Bungles!

The signage wasn't too great and we walked up what we thought was the way to a second chasm but part of the way up we realised we were doing the "very difficult" lookout walk which involved some scrambling up very steep slopes. At least we got a pretty good view at the top, albeit by accident!

After this we were pretty gorged out so we continued on to Alice Springs, checking into Big 4 for another night.
The next day we headed to Alice Springs Desert Park. We had heard a few people mention how good this was and I remember it getting a great review by Bill Bryson in his book "Downunder".
And I must say, we thought this was BRILLIANT. We arrived at 8am thinking we may stay for an hour or so as we were keen to get away and we ended up leaving at about midday!
The Park has three desert habitats - Desert Rivers, Sand Country and the Woodland habitat. Within each one are many birds, reptile, fish etc.
We arrived and considered a novel mode of transport:

... but decided our feet would suit us just fine. One of the best birds we saw was the Bustard (great name - got to be careful how you say it!)

One of the habitats: Sand Country:

After wandering through the park for a few hours we went to the Nature Theatre to see the show on Birds of Prey. This was exceptional - they had trained various birds - including owls, kites and magpies - to fly into the theatre and demonstrate their feeding techniques - wonderful to see at such close range:

After a morning of excitement it was time to head off, away from the Red Centre, to make our way to Queensland. And to be honest, we were feeling ready to leave this scenery behind for a while......

1 comment: