The Way Outback: Uluru, Kata-Tujuta National Park and Kings Canyon

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain.

Today is my last day in Australia and I’m feeling a little bit emotional about it. I’ve experienced so much in this country – sailing, scuba diving, camping – and met so many wonderful people. But I’m also super excited for the next leg of my little adventure: I’m off to Hong Kong. As I changed my plans, my flights are a little messed up and pretty long (I fly to Bali from HK which is essentially going back on myself) but who cares? It’s all part of the fun of travelling and fucking up every now and again.

So in my last week in The Land Down Under, I’ve become a little reflective, and I think it has something to do with the latest tour I was lucky enough to go on: The Outback. In an area so steeped in spirituality, religion, and natural beauty, it’s difficult to not get all meditative and whatnot.

I actually feel great as a result of the tour and I can’t actually explain why – I guess it’s all in my head or a result of being out in the wilderness for four days without the stress, rush and expectations of the city – but I haven’t felt as contented in a long while. Sure, I still freak out now and again (ask one of my friends from home who has had to talk me down of the crazy ledge on numerous occasions recently) and the “future” worry creeps in now and again, but I feel pretty well equipped to swat that bad boy away again. I don’t know, it’s just a feeling I have. Everything’s good. No need to worry.

I flew into Uluru from Melbourne and landed at the tiny airport a few hours later. The last leg of the journey was pretty amazing as we hovered over nothing but wilderness and red sands, and eventually even passed Ayres Rock itself.

I signed up for a tour with Mulga’s and were swiftly met by our AMAZING tour guide, Jodie, who loaded us all up in the mini bus that was pretty much going to become our base for the next four days, and drove us off for lunch. The idea behind the tour is that we all pitch in. Not only does it enable us to get to know one another more quickly, but it means the more people who help, the more time there is to see the sights and not have to clean up! This is a method I am completely on board with.

That afternoon we headed to the Cultural Centre in the National Park and then for 7 km walk around the base of Uluru (Ayres Rock). Now the rock is sacred. You are allowed to climb it if you wish (although the climb is steep and only aided by a knee high chain) but after reading signs in the cultural centre, and the notion being reinforced by Jodie, it became apparently that to the indigenous, it’s akin to climbing a cathedral or a church. You just shouldn’t do it.

 

 

That evening we headed over to the “sunset spotting site” where we set up a table of snacks and sparkling wine and watched the incredible sunset over Uluru. It was truly breath taking.

After sunset – and a few more sips of fizz – we headed back to our first campsite and made dinner, lit the campfire, and rolled out our swags and sleeping bags. It was absolutely freezing in the evening and we pulled on pretty much everything that we owned just to keep warm.

The next day we woke up at 5 am and were driven to watch the sunrise over Uluru. Again, it was an absolutely stunning view (albeit still unbelievably cold) and I felt incredibly lucky to be there.

We then headed for a walk around Kata-Tajuta nicknamed the Valley of the Winds. Now, people don’t mess around here with naming stuff, its exactly what it says on the tin, and, man, was it windy! The walk itself was only 5.2 km and it was pretty easy. The views at the top were stunning and we even saw a bewildered looking kangaroo bounce across the rocks in front of us. As always happens with a trip like this, you really start to bond with your group, and we spent time hanging out at the lookout, taking cheesy photos and chatting. I can honestly say I had the best group in Uluru. They truly were awesome people.

We then drove to our second campsite which was a bit more luxury than the first (I use the word “luxury” liberally – we will still camping in swags) but it had a café, camel rides and helicopter rides (for an additional cost) and better kitchen facilities.

After dinner it was off to bed pretty early as we had The Hike super early the next morning, but not before we all headed off to do some stargazing. Now I have seen some beautiful stars in New Zealand but nothing compares to what I saw in The Outback. Being able to see Venus, Mars and the Milky Way was one of the highlights of my time in Australia. I have never felt so teeny tiny in comparison.

We decided to get up early to watch another sunrise but this time over Kings Canyon. Although we had the option of an extra hour in bed, we all decided we’re only in this part of the world and we should make the most of it, but climbing the 230 metres of steps (basically rocks, not steps) I began regretting my decision. But once I got to the top, I instantly forgot about my grouchy early morning mood. It was so beautiful, words can’t even describe.

We spent the rest of the morning hiking around King’s Canyon: stopping at lookouts, taking photos at the parts made famous by Pricilla Queen of the Desert (anyone remember the tagline: A cock in a frock on a rock?) and wandering through The Garden of Eden.

After the walk some of the group left us as they were on a shorter tour and it was horrible having to say goodbye to some people you genuinely really liked. Spending 24/7 with people will do that to you! The remainder of us had free time which meant showers!

That night we headed back to a camp halfway back to Uluru which was literally the middle of nowhere. Despite the slightly spooky location – and the tin shack toilet with no door – it was one of the best nights we’ve had on the tour. We bought some (ridiculously) overpriced beers and spent the night stuffing our faces with yet more amazing food and playing hilarious games. I think the night was made even more hilarious by the fact that the guy from Columbia (always called Columbia) ripped his trousers and we burnt it on the bonfire. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in ages!

The next day was back to the airport after breakfast. It was really difficult saying goodbye to the group after spending so much time together, us lot destined for Melbourne nearly missed our flight because we wanted to hang out with our friends heading to Sydney for as long as we could.

This tour was most definitely the best thing I have done in Australia. It is so well put together and organised, and so much fun, although I do think this was mainly down to our excellent tour guide, Jodie, and the great dynamic of our group. I would highly recommend heading to Uluru, whether it be on a tour or as a trip you’ve planned yourself (although be careful: trips usually work out so much cheaper than winging it) as it is a stunning part of the world!

Have you ever been anywhere that took your breath away? Or that made you feel different? Better somehow?

Which places hold spiritual significance for you?

Do you travel in tours or do you prefer to go solo?

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