I had been warned by locals and travellers alike that the heat would be intense in the Outback in the height of summer. But this kind of heat gave new meaning to the word – the burning sun on my skin was almost suffocating. Wearing a hat at all times was essential and often the only form of shade. I drank insane amounts of water – dehydration and heat stroke are real dangers out here. I was also not prepared for the thousands of flies that abound in the dry season. They love nothing better than trying to get into your ears, nose, mouth and eyelids. Selling fly nets to weary travellers is a lucrative business in Alice Springs.
I was only in the Red Centre for a few days for a short camping adventure trip, which I booked out of Alice Springs. I wanted to see the most famous sites of Kata Tjuta National Park. From there I planned to continue on my journey through Australia’s desert interior to the city of Adelaide. I was nearing the end of an almost year-long backpacking working holiday in Australia, and the past three months had seen me cover a lot of territory. My little group of backpackers and I camped out each night in swags. Swags are a traditional Australian type of sleeping bag. They are made of canvas and contain a small mattress. You put your sleeping bag in and you zip the swag up, and presto! The most comfortable ‘bed’ you could get by sleeping outdoors! Out in the middle of nowhere, the stars shine brightly and it was a definite highlight to fall asleep in my swag, with the gentle cool breeze of the night on my face, while I looked up at the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky. We got up at 4am in the morning, had a quick breakfast, and then set off to do some hikes. At Kings Canyon, Australia’s answer to the Grand Canyon, we did a three-hour hike around the rim of the canyon and swam in a natural swimming hole halfway through the hike to cool off. In the process, we saw the sunrise, and almost died of exhaustion walking up the very first hill. The locals refer to it as ‘Heart Attack Hill’ as it involves climbing up steep steps for half an hour. When we reached the top, our guide told us about the many species of plants used by the Aboriginals for food and medicine. The best-known part of Kata Tjuta National Park is of course Uluru, The Rock which everyone comes to Australia to see – as famous a landmark as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, or the Great Barrier Reef. A quick tour of the cultural centre built next to Uluru gave us a unique insight into why Uluru is a sacred place for Aboriginals and how it is managed today. Our group walked around the base of Uluru (the entire walk takes about six hours) spotting some Aboriginal rock paintings here and there and wondered about how tough life would have been in such a harsh environment. The view of Uluru is amazing. Majestic. Much more than you would think from seeing it in pictures or postcards. I had goose bumps as I gazed out at it towering above me – it seemed to own the land with its serene presence.
I had gone to Australia with the intention of being charmed by its laid-back towns and white beaches, by its surf culture, and the Great Barrier Reef. But no trip is complete without a visit to the Red Centre. I gained such admiration for the pioneering spirit that has built the place and that still prevails today, and I also gained a better insight into the culture of Aboriginals and the many problems they still face. The Red Centre will satisfy your yearning for a real taste of Australia. By the end, I wished I had spent more time there instead of keeping to the well-travelled east coast route. Send us a travel tale (preferably about Oz) and if it’s published you’ll win a $300 Oz Experience voucher redeemable on Oz Experience Passes and ATA NT camping trips http://www.adventuretours.com.au. Email your tales (700 words max), with a picture of yourself, to firstname.lastname@example.org