Melbourne- 4th-5th July
We stayed in Melbourne for one before our trip. We got a deal at the Ibis on Little Bourke Street which was good and right in town near where we used to live! We went to see Ghiseth and picked up our post from our old flat. We met Laurie and Sinead later on for a little drink at Merrywell overlooking the city and then we went for food at the new American BBQ place, Bludso. The food was really good and (we never realised) it was Independence Day too. None of us are keen on goodbyes so we said we would hopefully see them again next year when we are on our way back over and we would keep in touch. It was a nice night. Sad to say bye to Melbourne again. We just love that place!
Alice Springs/Uluru trip- 5th-9th July
We flew into Alice Springs from Melbourne on a morning flight. There were amazing views flying over the red centre. I get why it's called the red centre now! There was a lot of red sand/ hard looking surface and a lot of desert. I've never seen anything like it before! I was amazed. The ground looked very dehydrated and cracked in places too. It just went on forever, so vast! Alice Springs is a little outback town in the middle of Australia. It has a population of 20,000, mainly based around tourism. Alice springs is the main stop over for all the national parks in the area, including Uluru. It was a lot bigger than we expected. We thought there wouldn't really be anything there but it had quite a lot, including a lot of fast food places as always and two shopping centres. When we pulled up outside our accommodation there were a lot of Aboriginal people queuing outside the pub to get in- it was 1pm! We didn't have a clue what was going on, why there were so many people and why they were all only aboriginal people. It was a little daunting, but turned out fine. We stayed at Todd Tavern, which also has a bar and a bistro. It was literally ramming! We were quite taken aback! The room was pretty run down, but it was only $70 so we can't complain. We spent the day wandering the streets of Alice, nosing at different things. We walked to the top of Anzac Hill twice as that was really the only tourist thing in the city, you would need a car to go see anything else. Anzac hill was a lookout over Alice Springs and the surrounding MacDonald Ranges. Alice was literally 360 surrounded by the ranges. It was a brilliant view. True Australian outback. We had dinner at the bistro where we were staying, which was lovely and then got sorted for our 5am rise for the trip.
Day 1- 450km
We set off early from Alice Springs, getting picked up at 6.15am. There were only 10 of us on the trip, so a good number as the trip can take 24 people. Joey, the guide, was great. He was very informative and took the time to learn everyone's name. To get the job he had to complete a university course including assignments and exams on the area so he actually knows what he is talking about. Probably why we paid $840pp for the trip, compared with the other cheap trips. We had great transport, a great guide, some exclusive spots and good food too. We began driving through pure outback- the central desert, along the Stuart Highway, one of the longest highways in the world- 3600km. It was just what we imagined the outback would be. Between Alice and Yulara there were 4 cattle stations, they were massive- bigger than some European countries- 100km in length. Our first stop was a Camel Farm where I had a ride on a one hump camel. It was a quick lap around for $7 and at the end of the lap it started jogging. It was hilarious! I was bobbing up and down on the back of this camel. Brilliant! We also saw a dingo there and some red kangaroos. We had a quick stop to collect firewood for the night. The second stop of the day was a very large cattle farm called Erldunda which was geographically in the centre of Australia. At around 150km away from Yalara we spotted Ayers Rock. Just this massive lone ranger red rock in the middle of the vast empty outback! Unreal. Even funnier, after this, the driver explained that this is known locally as Fooluru as it's not actually Uluru, but many people mistake it. It was 30km away from us and was called Mount Conner, the local sandstone mountain! Everybody on the bus fell for it too! It was very impressive! The third stop was at a cattle station, the big one, it was a million acres, bigger than Belgium. Imagine having that much land! It had over 3,000 cows- and a parrot that spoke to you! When we were around 50km away, Uluru made an appearance from behind the sand dunes, all red and huge! We also saw a wild camel! We got to our camp in Yulara at lunch time and went to the viewpoint there to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta. They both looked amazing! Uluru was so red and so big! Kata Tjuta was a large bumpy rock formation. This was also huge! We had lunch back at camp, which was nice. The camp is huge and consists of many different camps. You stay within your group so it's still all separate, just shared shower and toilet block. We had an tent for meals a campfire pit and then our separate permanent tents with two single beds in and electricity. After lunch we picked up 5 more people for our tour and then headed off to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (The Olgas), which has a Unesco world heritage rating. The first stop was Kata-Tjuta which has 36 domes that make up the Rocky Mountain. It is not widely advertised for tourism as it often closes for Aboriginal events so they do not want people travelling from afar for it to be closed. It was still busy though and definitely worth it. It was very interesting how it was formed and how it erodes over time. We did a 2km return walk through the gorge before going to Uluru for sunset. We didn't really get a sunset as it was too cloudy. We did have fizzy wine and nibbles though which was really good, stood in front of the big rock! The weather wasn't bad through the day, around 15 degrees. Back at camp we were given our rooms and then had our 1000 star dinner- there were no stars though so it was just dinner! We had an Aussie BBQ and the wine started flowing. After we played a card game and I got to the final but lost. A couple of us and the guide stayed up and carried on drinking until 11pm when we were told we were been too loud so we all went to bed. It rained overnight but it wasn't cold like we thought. It was probably down to 6 or something and it did rain overnight but all in all a good nights sleep. We slept right through and it was cosy!
Day 2- 365km
We were up at 4.45am for breakfast of bacon and egg at 5.30am and setting off at 6.15am. We did an 8km walk around the base of Uluru for sunrise. Again it was too cloudy so we didn't get any colours. The colour of the rock does definitely look like it changes colour throughout the day in different lights. We saw orange, red and purple. The walk was lovely and you could really appreciate and see the sheer size of the rock. It was huge! It is 348m high and a circumference of 9.4km (5.8mi). It had so many faces and shapes and sides and corners it was crazy! Not just one big solid rock like it looks like from a distance. There was also a lovely picturesque watering hole and caves with aboriginal cave art that told stories. After the walk we walked the rest of the base walk (10.6km in total) with a local aboriginal guide who explained the history of the local tribe (Mala) and some aboriginal stories and legends. It was very interesting! We visited the Culture Centre and then went back to camp to have lunch before saying goodbye to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. What an amazing experience it has been! Uluru- TICK! We stopped on the way at Watarrka National Park at Mount Conner lookout. The camp for the night was set out the same as last night but in the middle of bush, with rocky mountains surrounding. We were a lot more secluded from other camps, in the middle of the Watarrka NP, with dingoes out in the wild. It was warm and sunny when we got there. We had a climb to a viewpoint over the camp and the surrounding ranges which was lovely. Dinner was curry with chocolate cake and damper (Aussie scone) for after. It was a clear night so we sat around the campfire and enjoyed start gazing for the night, having a couple of drinks.
Day 3- 465km
We were up at 4.45am again this morning, setting off at the same time to go to Kings Canyon. We did a 6km canyon rim walk, with the sun rising as we reached the amphitheater, which was lovely. It was a really clear day and turned out to be nice and warm, so it really added to the effect, the red rock against the bright blue sky. We visited The Lost City, The Garden of Eden and the North and South Walls. The walk was very nice, not too difficult and very picturesque. The canyon was huge, with mazes of gorges. The walk took around 3 hours and we were back at camp for an early lunch at 10.30am before setting off back to Alice Springs. On the way out of camp we saw quite a few dingos! More wildlife to add to the list! We powered the long 5-6 hour drive back to Alice with mainly only one stop at a museum/art shop. We saw heaps of wild camels on the drive back which was cool. For the night at Alice Springs we just had dinner at Todd Tavern again and got sorted to leave, having a well deserved early night!
We had a little sleep in on the last day before getting our transfers to the airport for our 12pm flight. Goodbye to the Red Centre, it was utterly amazing and one I've been wanting to tick off the bucket list! I will never forget the trip and experiencing the Aussie outback!