Where is the ‘real Australia’? Is it the many different cultures which live together in harmony, for he most part, in the suburb of Sydney? Or is it found in the red earth in Central Australia’s beating heart?
The TNT team would argue that it’s the latter. Alice Springs – made famous by Nevil Shute’s novel A Town Like Alice – has much to offer visitors, as the capital of Aboriginal culture in Australia.
One of the best ways to either acquaint yourself with the rich history of the native people of this land, or to deepen your own understanding, is to visit the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre (aboriginialart.com.au). Run by respected members of the local Aboriginal community, this is a great place to become immersed in 40,000 years of human culture told through Aboriginal art, music and storytelling. They also conduct four hour bush tucker and walking tours, in case you’ve ever wanted to eat a witchetty grub.
The Alice – as Oz’s most famous outback town is affectionately known – is also home to the legendary regional medical service, The Royal Flying Doctor Service. Do make the effort to take a tour of the premises where they’ll show you some of the aircraft. Who knows, you could even meet a cute doctor or two…
After an exciting day in Alice, you’re probably feeling a little bit peckish by now. You may well be surprised to know that the Alice is home to an award winning restaurant in Ristorante Puccini’s which makes delicious Italian food. While the locals will probably tell you this place is really expensive, considering the quality of the food available here, it isn’t really. However if it does prove a bit pricey, there’s a cheaper bistro on the premises.
But tempting as it is to linger a while in this laid back town soaking up its history and heritage, it would be criminal to journey to the Red Centre without ticking off the big three: Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Uluru. The latter is the big blockbuster sight but not necessarily the best. Uluru is the Paul McCartney of the group if you like – the most famous – but it won’t be your favourite.
Out of the aforementioned, the outrageously beautiful, natural treasure that is Kings Canyon is likely to be your first port of call. It’s a place that has fascinated and enchanted human beings for thousands of years. The canyon is located about halfway between Alice and Uluru and is, in its own way, as beautiful as anything else to be found in the Territory. While Kings Canyon is definitely a tough part of the world to get to, it’s worth the three hour trek to the top for the spectacular view: think red rocks as far as the eye can see, deep caverns and remnants of waterfalls.
Chances are Kata Tjuta, which is a indigenous word meaning ‘many heads’, will be next up on your red centre itinerary. Located within the same national park as Uluru, Kata Tjuta (known colloquially as ‘The Olgas’) is in many ways more impressive than the more famous rock itself. The highest point of the big, red dome shaped formations stand over 1,000m above sea level, and there are 36 individual rocks that make up the whole formation. The Valley of the Winds walk is another three-hour-walk (think of all the calories you’re burning) and along the way you’ll learn more about the era when indigenous people roamed the land.
Finally it’s time to see the Uluru in the flesh – but first you should visit the Cultural Centre and learn about the history and cultural significance of Uluru. Here you can look at indigenous art and watch video footage of the traditional owners of Uluru, the Anangu people, talking about what it means to them and why visitors should refrain from climbing the rock.
One of the most interesting things at the centre is the ’Sorry Book’ – aka a book of letters by people who have taken rocks from the Uluru and, in their opinion, received bad luck because of it. One woman blames her husband’s cancer on the photos she took while they were on their honeymoon. Astonishingly, another takes credit for the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami because of the rock she took from Uluru three days earlier. Some people simply say sorry for climbing the rock and wished they had known better. It is truly poignant, powerful stuff to read.
It’s understandable that, after travelling crazy distances to get there, tourists are gagging to climb Uluru. But – as the exhibits at the Visitors Centre make clear – you shouldn’t. World Heritage-listed Uluru is sacred to its Aboriginal owners, the Anangu. They ask visitors not to climb it because the walking route itself is believed to be a Dreamtime track of huge significance, a pathway used by their spiritual ancestors. Indeed, the route is so sacred the owners would prefer you don’t even photograph it, let alone climb it.
For the time being, it’s not against Australian law, but it is against the Anangu law, which is why they don’t climb it themselves. And it’s not against federal law because the Aussie government effectively screwed over the traditional owners to cash in on valuable tourist dollars.
Once you have finished at the Visitors Centre, make your way to the base of the rock where you’ll learn even more about why you shouldn’t climb. One reason is safety: the number of deaths attributed to Uluru is staggering. Apparently there are many more fatalities than you’d think but because they didn’t happen literally on the rock, but later in hospital, the government believes Uluru shouldn’t be held responsible.
At dusk, head to Sunset Point to join the bus loads of tourists who are there to watch the many changing colours of the rock. It’s a packed scrum of different demographics – backpackers, high end tour groups and Chinese students – but everyone is there to watch Uluru go from dusty orange to pink to bright orange, and then dark as the sun goes down completely.The pink clouds above are truly a sight to behold.
The next day, awake early and make your way back to the sunset spot – this time to see the sun rise over Uluru. It’s them that you’ll have almost the whole area to yourself and although there aren’t as many colours at sunrise, the view is still spectacular.
So you’ve seen Uluru at sunset and at sunrise. Now it’s time to get up close and personal. If the former experiences are like two magical dates, doing the base walk around Uluru is like getting to know the real rock. And trust TNT when we say: Uluru ain’t as pretty close up, as she is from distance.
The two-hour, 10 km walk around Uluru shows just how big the rock is. Up close you can truly appreciate her scale, but also her detail. No one tells you how weathered Uluru is, or how eroded – it almost looks like coral. No one tells you about the black water marks, which look like the stains in an ld bathroom. But this is what makes it so great, the real Uluru: the most brilliant sight to be found anywhere in Australia. Enjoy it, because it is unlike anything you’ll ever experience.
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