The red centre sits at the heart of Australia. Not just geographically but also spiritually and is home to ancient cultures that have survived out in the harsh environment for thousands of years. It’s also home to some of Australia’s most well known iconic sights but it is much more than this, it’s a land of red, red soil that stretches for as far as the eye can see broken up with small arid ridges. At night there is no light pollution and the stars and Milky Way light up the sky. It’s a magical place and whilst there are a lot of tourists in some places you can get away from it all by finding your own spot to camp alone in the desert.
We set out from Alice Springs and planned to take a leisurely 10 days or so doing a loop around the main sites and spending some time in the desert solitude. It was a long drive south east heading towards Uluru (Ayers Rock). We pulled in to camp at a quiet spot about 30kms before the National Park and climbed a sand dune for our first view of the giant monolith ( the largest in the world) in the distance.
We spent 3 days in the National Park. Each morning we were up before first light to drive to see sunrise from a variety of different spots each giving a different perspective of the rock or the equally impressive Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). As the sun rose the rocks would change colour from a purplish grey through red to a golden orange once the sun had fully hit the surface. It was a wonderful sight and one we did not tire of.
After enjoying the sunrise we then headed off for our walk for the morning before it got too hot. The walk at Kata Tjuta twisted in and out of the rock formations and gave us great close up views. It was a lovely walk with wonderful views out across the desert beyond the rock comes. Once it was too hot we retreated to the truck to do school before doing another shorter walk up the gorge. It was still cool as the sun had not penetrated between the deep gorge sides.
The next day we walked the full 10.5km around the base of Uluru. This gave us the opportunity to see the rock close up as well as the many culturally sensitive sights and some wonderful water holes that were hidden away in crevices in the rock. The next day we repeated part of the walk with a ranger who explained to us a lot more about the ancient Aboriginal culture and why the rock was such a special place to them. We had already decided we were not going to climb the rock out of respect for the people who lived there. The ranger gave a very good explanation of why they did not want people to climb the rock and this was also explained further when we visited the interesting cultural centre.
Each evening we would find a spot to take in the sunset. Here the colours worked in reverse. The magnificent orange of the rock gradually dimming, becoming red, then purple then grey. One evening was particularly special as we sat on top of the truck enjoying the spectacle. It was a great grandstand view as we were above all the tourists and more importantly away from the flies.
As it was dark when we left the park and as it would be dark again when we came back in we did not see much point in camping at the campsite and be jammed in with everyone else. Instead we headed a few kms out of the park and headed down some small tracks to have our own space in the desert. I would say it was a lovely spot except we never saw it in the light but it was still beautiful in the starlight.
From Uluru we headed to Kings Canyon. It was another early start the next day so we could do the rim walk around the canyon before it became too hot. If the temperature is forecast to exceed 36 degrees the Rangers close the walk at 9.30. We were there early so would be well through the gate before then but in any event it was slightly overcast which made the temperature more bearable and the walk much easier. However one disadvantage of the clouds was that the sun did not light up the canyon and the sandstone rocks as much. Nevertheless it was an amazing walk with wonderful views of the canyon below and the sheer canyon walls. Along the way there was also lush little oasis at certain points in the canyon walls as well as wonderful sandstone formations that had been carved out by the effects of erosion.
We found another wonderful spot to camp that evening at a look out. The moon was now rising early in the evening and as it was almost full it would light up the night sky. While relaxing after dinner we were visited by a dingo which gave me a bit of a start but it soon ran away when I stood up. We could hear it howling in the distance later in the night.
It was a rough drive on a corrugated dirt road through Aboriginal land for which we needed a permit to the West MacDonnell ranges, a low mountain range that stretches either side of Alice Springs that is studded with narrow gorges and rock pools all set against the red mountains. We camped near Redbank Gorge with an amazing view of the mountain and it was a perfect camp spot. For some reason, perhaps it was the wind, there were no flies as we relaxed during the day and after cooking dinner on the fire there were no bugs at night too.
The next morning we headed down into the gorge. The rock pools were already drying up and fish were dying in the few that remained. Eventually we reached the end of the gorge and could go no further as a permanent pool of freezing cold water filled the gorge entrance.
We spent several days exploring the MacDonnell ranges. Walking in the gorges and even swimming in the cold waterholes. On one loop walk we had walked seven of the eight kilometres when we came across water. There were only two options. Wade across the waist high cold water and walk the remaining kilometre back to the truck or retrace our steps seven kilometres. We took the only sensible option and waded across (or in Lucy’s case swam). Each night we camped at a different place either with wonderful views or down in the drying out river beds. With us been early in the dry season there were still pockets of water around which was a nice contrast from the arid surroundings.