In the absence of other options, we decided to fly to Alice Springs from Perth. We had wanted to do a tour directly overland from Perth which would take in Uluru, The Olgas and King’s Canyon before arriving in Alice Springs, but instead we opted to get to Alice Springs and then sort out a return tour from there. After a 2 and a half hour flight, we arrived in a warm, dry airport, from where we made our way into town.
We stayed in the White Gum Motel. What an awful place. We’d booked them through lastminute.com, meaning we got a room for $15 cheaper than the usual rate – as a result, they gave us the worst, most dark and dingy room that they have. This came complete with an air conditioning unit that roared like a tractor, a small window near the ceiling, and décor that looked like it came out of the 1950’s. Alice Springs was also not much to write home about – an odd place, it felt desolate and abandoned. There were quite a few drunks about the place, which made it feel quite intimidating. Also, the woman from the motel had warned us not to walk home late at night, which was slightly worrying! Oh dear! We did, however, visit the reptile centre, which was OK (just OK) – we saw snakes and various lizards, including the incredibly cute Thorny Devils, which ran around like little thorny puppies.
After much deliberation, we booked a two-night tour through Connextions, which visited all the places we wanted to go, and incorporated a bit of an outdoorsy experience. It also included tents, in case we decided we did not want to sleep under the stars! Our main reason for choosing this was that if we booked at the last minute, we could take advantage of a 20% price reduction offer. Perfect!
We set off first thing from White Gum Motel, where we left one of our bags (we could only take 15kg of luggage each), and we met our tour guide, Gavin, plus the other people who would be on our tour. In total there were ten of us, including two German, two Swiss and four Dutch people – plus us! We set off on the five-odd hour drive from Alice Springs to Yulara, near Uluru. On the way, we stopped at a number of rest-stops including one place where people could do a five minute camel ride – which we declined. We saw a fair bit of interesting wildlife along the way, including emus, and a lot of desert.
We arrived at our campsite near Yulara just after midday, and there we all mucked in and made some lunch which was quite fun. We then headed off to the Uluru cultural centre, getting our first good look at the rock on the way there. The cultural centre was interesting, as it had a lot of information on the local Aboriginal people, with the focus being on Uluru itself. They regard the rock as something very spiritual, and prefer that visitors to Uluru do not climb it. This seems to be ignored by many tourists visiting the rock, and at any rate the climb was closed on the day we were there due to high winds.
We breezed through the cultural centre, and then set off on a walk around the base of Uluru. It was iterated again and again that we had to drink lots of water. Honestly, once you’ve trekked through the Cambodian and Borneo jungles safety warning like that seem a bit silly, but we made sure we were fully stocked. We were quite lucky as the weather was relatively cool while we were there – around the high twenties rather than the 40 degrees plus it can often be. The walk was pretty good, if slightly dull, but definitely worth it to walk around Uluru if just so you can say you’ve done it – you have to do it!
After that, we drove to the sunset viewing platform. We were dismayed as we pulled up – there were hundreds of tourists already milling around waiting for the sun to go down. Where would we stand? But then, our bus pulled up to a table labelled “Connextions” – complete with sparkling wine and snacks! It was great! A lot of photos later, the sun went down in a midst of colours and the rock glowed red in the light – definitely a sight worth seeing. The sunset itself wasn’t the most amazing one we’d seen, but the glow of the light on the rock was what made it special.
Following this we returned to camp for our evening meal, and then bedded down for the night after being informed by Gavin that we had a 4am start ahead of us! Surprisingly, I had a really good night’s sleep, probably because I was so blimin’ knackered from such a long day. The following morning we visited Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) for sunrise, before a walk through and around the base of them. It was so cold! Really, really cold. But that made the walking easy, and there were some amazing views of the massive sandstone rocks from up close. We even saw some small and brave kangaroos having a boxing session – we got right up close! We breezed around the walk very efficiently, and then we headed off.
Sadly, before we could leave, our bus suffered a smashed window from a small accident involving a wayward tree – poor Gavin was mortified, but the rest of us were relieved that the broken window was a result of an accident, not a burglary! Fortunately, we were able to swap buses with a new one from Alice Springs. This reduced the number of flies getting in and meant that the air conditioning was not quite so “billowy”!
On our way to King’s Canyon we saw Mt. Connor – a “table-top mountain”, with a flat top – very nice, and as Gavin said, if someone had decided to make it the symbol of Australia we may not have ever bothered with Uluru!
After Kata Tjuta we headed off on a fairly long drive to King’s Canyon and our new camp nearby. It’s worth talking about the tents here, which were the same at both camps. Really quite luxurious, and the shared facilities were spotless. It was really comfortable! At our new camp we enjoyed some lovely Thai chicken and home baked bread and vegetables, all of which was cooked over the fire. Everyone seemed to think the chicken was really spicy, but I really could not taste the spice – it just shows how I’ve gotten used to it I guess.
The following morning it was another early start, and we set off for King’s Canyon from our campsite. What followed had to be the best sight we’d visited in Australia so far – it was an amazing place. We did a circular walk around the top of the canyon. It showcased a truly ancient landscape, and some amazing rock formations.
While there, we also visited the “Garden of Eden”, a slightly more lush area where water flowed a bit more regularly, and contained a large rock pool (where we took a rest). It was another cool day – we were really lucky – and much more pleasant to sit in the sun than in the shade!
Gavin hurried us around the walk, and managed to keep us ahead of most of the other tour groups – meaning that we had more time for photographs and had a more peaceful time! We ended the walk with some magnificent views, over the canyon, including some sheer sandstone cliffs which you wouldn’t want to fall off of! We returned to the bus happy.
On our return to Alice Springs, we saw a few interesting sights, including a lot of camels, a number of wild horses, and some very strangely decorated trees – adorned with rubbish collected off the side of the road. The landscape was pretty much the same most of the way – quite arid, but with a surprising amount of life. It’s amazing how plants and animals can thrive with little water, and even in the most unforgiving places in the world.
We were very sorry that the tour was over, and that we had to return to our motel for our last night in Alice Springs, but that’s the way it goes! We really had a brilliant time on the tour, it was a lot of fun and Gavin was really informative and a good guide to have. Even the other people on the tour were pleasant to be around – you never know who you’ll end up with after all. We didn’t particularly do anything in Alice Springs on our last day, but we did buy lots of supplies in preparation for our next adventure – The Ghan to Adelaide! Tune in next time for more on that one!