Hello again from Alice Springs. My 3 day venture into Australia's Red Centre is at an end and I am back once again in the town we started in. It has been a fantastic few days in a truely amazing and unique environment. Whereas you can find beaches and rainforest, like those on the Australian East Coast, in many places around the world, there is absolutely nothing like the Australian Outback.
Our journey started on Monday morning with a 6 hour drive south west to King's Canyon. We travelled for 310 miles down iconic Outback highways which were mostly bolt straight. The desert here is not like other deserts I have visited. It is a semi arid region here and they do get occassional rain. As such the desert can support some plant and animal life. Across the flat expanses you could see for miles across a sea of shrubs, dead grass, barely alive trees and dead trees. There wasn't much change in scenery the whole way we travelled. The only thing to look out for was the odd dust storm, a few wild camels (there are over a million wild camels in Australia!) and dingo's here and there. The roads were very empty, especially when we got off the main south-north Stuart Highway, but there were a few road trains about.
We got in to King's Canyon, or Watarrka as the Aboriginals call it, at about 3pm. With the desert sun blazing down temperatures reached 37C when we started our canyon walk. For some people it was unbearable, especially since the first section of the walk involved a steep climb. Thankfully the heat was very dry so I coped OK. The canyon itself was truely spectacular and probably even more beautiful than Uluru. The views across the flat plains below were fantastic, and the colour of the rock was really distinctive in the sunshine. Everything in Central Australia has a brilliant red tinge to it due to the high iron content in the ground. The colour of the earth changes as the sun travels across the sky to give each sight a different mood at different times of the day. Having reached the summit of the steep sided canyon we had a 3.5 mile walk around the outer rim, passing lots of stunning rounded rock formations. The one complaint I had was that our walk was a tad rushed, but we had to be back before sunset. I also realised whilst at the canyon how frustrating it is to visit a place like that in a tour group. The best thing at the Outback here is the space. It is phenomenal. There is nothing for miles and miles and miles on a scale that is almost incomprehensible to Europeans. The tranquility in itself is amazing. However, with a tour group its hard to grasp that space and isolation, and its annoying when you can't move at your own pace. But that still didn't detract from what was a great afternoon.
That evening was spent at King's Creek Station, 12 miles south west of the canyon. We spent the night in Australian "Swags", sleeping directly under the stars. A swag is basically a heavy duty and quite thick outer sleeping bag. It unzips so you can place a normal sleeping bag inside, and has a thin foam mattress underneath. It is possible to zip yourself totally inside it so no insects can get to you. However to do this meant it was staggeringly hot, so we all slept exposed to the bugs with the swag open. It doesn't even get below 20C here even at night at this time of year. The view of the stars as we went to sleep was awesome, and I saw an abundance of really clear shooting stars. There was thankfully no moon and the sky was totally clear, but even so I would say I saw a lot more stars in the Bolivian Desert. The nights sleep was pretty uncomfortable with no pillow but it was an experience. The worst aspect of it all was being woken up at 5.30am by the flies. In my previous blog I complained about these flies. I now accept that at the time of writing that blog I had not seen anything yet! There were about 5 flies in my face and 10 on my body when I woke up - it was absolutely horrendous. There was no chance of getting back to sleep so I got up and went for a shower. Everywhere you walk they harrass you. They are so infamous here that you can buy magnets and T-shirts saying "1 rock, 1 canyon, 1 railway, 10 billion flies". Summer is peak season for them so I'm seeing the worst of them!
After a nice fry up breakfast, we set off on the 3.5 hour drive to what our tour guide John calls "the pin up boy of Australian tourism" - Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). On route we had a photo stop at the flat topped mesa of Mount Connor, which was a pretty cool sight. We couldn't get too close though because it is in the grounds of a working cattle station. We arrived at the resort in time for lunch, and I'll cover the rest in my next blog.