I flew to Alice Springs, ready to embark on a tour through the famous Australian Outback. I had a full evening and a full morning to explore Alice Springs before my tour started. I wandered around the small town but there wasn't much there. However, I did purchase a beautiful opal necklace. Australia is the opal capital of the world! My necklace is a beautiful piece that looks like a crystal ball with a flower or a sun around it and has lots of red, green and blue tones within it. I love it!
My tour started early afternoon, and we pretty much just drove to Kings Creek Station where we were going to spend the night. On the way, our tour guide Joe, stopped on the side of the road to pick up a thorny devil. We got to hold him and pet him before Joe set him back in the bushes, at a safe distance from the road where we found him. We also saw wild horses and camels.
We continued on our way until we reached Kings Creek Station, which is just a campground in the middle of nowhere, close to Kings Canyon, just outside of Watarrka National Park. After supper, we pulled out our swags and slept underneath the stars! It was very awesome, except I was quite scared that something creepy and crawly was going to join me in my slumber. As far as I know nothing spent the night curled up in my sleeping bag. The bathroom, however, was covered in giant beetles, spiders, ants, moths and I even spotted a scorpion and a frog.
The next morning we were informed to be up by 5:30 am and ready to go at 6:00 am. However, tour guide Joe was missing in action (MIA). We waited for a while, decided to have breakfast without him and even packed up the trailer before he showed his face. He decided at the last minute to sleep in. A lot of us were pretty cranky because of this but we let it pass.
The plan for the day was a 6 km hike through the 270 m high Kings Canyon. We passed the Gill Ranges and by the time we got there it was getting very hot outside. At the beginning of the canyon walk, we had to climb a steep ridge, appropriately named Heart-Attack Hill. After some exhaustion in the mid-day heat, we lazily meandered along the rim of the canyon where we saw a fantastic view of the red geology from above. We were promised a beautiful spot called the Garden of Eden, where a little pool of water was located and was very popular for swimming, especially on a hot day. When we got there, it was far from paradise. It looked like a little swamp and you couldn't see through the water. No one swam.
Past the Garden of Eden, we saw beehive rock formations called the Lost City. It reminded me of what I think Atlantis would look like. We continued along the top of the canyon for a while, looking at native plants and also some fossils that were clearly visible. The fossils were from ancient arthropods that once lived in the area when water was present.
We drove to Yulara, where our next port of call was located. Yulara is a popular place since it is the closest town to Uluru or Ayers Rock and The Olgas. It was the second night of the tour and we got to know everyone a little better. There were three fellow Canadians on the tour and we got along great. Canadians must stick together because we are usually outnumbered by British people on tours like this. This time, we outnumbered them. Brookes and Tracey were from New Brunswick and Kyle was from Manitoba. We had a lot of fun with them. Before bedtime, again in swags under the stars, we sat around the fire getting to know one another.
The next morning, Joe was MIA again, but this time for longer. He also left the bus keys in the ignition, so we all planned to steal the bus, or at least drive around the campground honking the horn until he showed his face. After being up at 5:30 am again, Joe didn't show up until 8:15 am. We were extremely angry and he was definitley outnumbered. He didn't even know he had done anything wrong until the American, Katherine, asked him to appologize. But the damage was done. We were going to be doing a 7.4 km hike through the Valley of the Winds at the Olga's during mid-day, when temperatures are at the extreme in the desert.
Joe was too hungover to accompany us on the walk, so he stayed behind and slept it off while we tried to find our way through the not very well marked trail. The Olgas are also called Kata Tjuta by the Pitjantjajara tribe of aboriginals. They consist of 36 dome rock formations, made from a mixture of mudstone and conglomerate rock that contains granite and basalt. The tallest dome is Mount Olga, which stands at a height of 545 m. Mt Olga was named after Queen Olga of Wurttemberg by Ernest Giles, who discovered the Olgas as well as Kings Canyon and Uluru.
For the following morning, Joe promised us a bacon and egg breakfast because he had slept in both mornings so far. None of us believed him and we didn't wake up until we heard his voice coming towards us from the bushes. We all rubbed our eyes and disbelief and were very happy when he started up the BBQ. It was really early too! After our hearty breakfast, we made our way down to Ayers Rock, more commonly known as Uluru. It is the famous red rock of the outback.
Ernest Giles described it as 'the remarkable pebble.' It is far from being just a pebble. It stands 348 m high, however, most of it is located below ground. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site. It has great sacred and cultural significance to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people and has been recently given back to the indigenous people. However, they still let visitors in the area to view the magnificent monolith. In the past, people could climb Uluru, but the aboriginals have requested that you do not because of it's sacred significance and also because of the dangers. It is a pretty steep climb and the weather can be pretty fierce up at that level. Most of the time there is a considerable wind factor as well as high temperatures. A few people have died climbing it and many have been injured. Instead of climbing it, we hiked the base walk around Uluru, 9 km. It was a fairly easy walk and you could see the rock up close. However, there were fences in certain areas and you could not take pictures of certain sacred places. I still got some beautiful photos of other areas. Most of the stories and reasons for sacred spots on the rock cannot be told to the general public for fear of upsetting spirits. So it is left to be a mystery to us. Even aboriginal women from other tribes are not allowed to know what the spiritual significance is. We visited the cultural center back at Yulara but didn't learn very much about their culture, other than how they hunted.
The rest of the day was dedicated to driving. We travelled a fair distance only to find a little campground in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it is also a town, named Kulgera. There was a gas station, pub and a campground there. I am uncertain as to the population, but I'm guessing it's not many. A few people from the group skipped supper and went straight to the pub. I had supper, a shower and then bed, until I was rudely awoken to 4 naked Aussie's dancing around our campfire. I thought I was dreaming but when I rubbed my eyes a few times, they were still there. I have no idea where they came from but I'm glad it was dark.
The next morning also consisted of a long distance drive to Coober Pedy, the opal capital of Australia. The name Coober Pedy comes from the local aboriginal term kupa piti, which means 'white man in a hole.' This is accurate because 70% of the town constructs buildings out of the side of the hills in the area. The area contains no timber and has high temperatures, so living in caves is an excellent option. The temperature is controlled between 22 - 26 degrees celcius even when the climate is considerably higher outside. We had a tour of the town and then a tour of the opal mine. Living in caves seems really surreal. I don't think I could live in a house so dark and without windows. We stayed in a 40 person bunkhouse right next to the mine which was also constructed into the side of a hill. I found it actually quite warm inside. But that may be because I was used to sleeping outside for the last 4 days.
The last day of the tour just consisted of driving over 1300 km to Adelaide. I was kind of glad it was over, except the fact that we were leaving all of our friends. I was kind of disappointed, though, because I felt like I didn't learn anything about the area because our guide was very uneducated about the area.
- More pictures soon people. I'm working on it. Computers don't like me.