Exploring the Red Centre

Another travel post, I’m afraid… I’ve had more than my fair share of holidays lately, but it’ll calm down for a while now! This time, it was just under a week in the Red Centre – Alice Springs and Uluru – and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Uluru has always been on my bucket list, so when my parents told me they were planning to go while over here, I jumped at the chance of gatecrashing this bit of their holiday. What I didn’t really know was what there was to see other than Uluru itself, and the answer is lots. Variations on the red rock theme, but all different and spectacular.

The trip didn’t get off to the best start, and I was lucky to be on the plane at all! I managed to completely stuff up my alarm setting and overslept, waking ten minutes before I was planning to leave for the airport. Thankfully, I’d allowed lots of time so still managed to leave the house in comfortable enough time for the flight, but the bits of packing I’d left til that morning were rather hasty. And at no point during the packing process did it occur to me that my wallet was in the bottom of my cycling bag, and maybe I might want to bring it. It dawned on me on the train to the airport that I didn’t have it, and therefore had no photo ID (as I’d consciously decided to leave my passport at home and use my driving licence if needed) but I didn’t have time to go home and get it. Now, I’ve only rarely been asked for photo ID for a domestic flight but Jetstar would have been entirely within its rights not to let me travel. At check-in, the lady manning one of the desks was asking people for ID, so I made sure I went to the other desk. All passed off ok, but my heart was in my mouth for a while! As an added bonus, I had a window seat and got some fabulous photos both of Sydney and the outback.

For the first three nights, we were staying in Yulara, or Ayers Rock Resort. It’s an odd place, built in the 80s only existing for the tourist trade, but the 900 or so residents who work at the resort or for tour companies make it one of the largest few towns in the Northern Territory. That tells you something about the Territory! It’s all owned by Accor and accommodation prices are eye-watering, so my parents’ apartment having a sofa bed was an epic win!

20km from Yulara is Uluru, and about 50km in the same National Park, Kata Tjuta or the Olgas, a group of lump-shaped rocks which are nearly as impressive. We spent a day at each, walking and taking photos. I ummed and ahhed briefly about climbing Uluru – the aboriginal community asks tourists not to as it’s sacred, and it’s been agreed to close the climb from late 2019. The knowledge that the opportunity won’t present itself again gave me a tinge of regret, but I think not climbing was the right decision. The base walk (an easy 10km) gave some fabulous close-up views of the rock. We watched sunrise and sunset from a viewpoint in the resort, giving some wonderful colours, and did sunset drinks and BBQ dinner close to Uluru one evening – of course the only evening of the trip when it was cloudy! Never mind!

It’s a common misconception that Uluru is very close to Alice Springs – it’s actually over 450km, but the road is good so it’s easily driven in a day. My parents drove it in a hire car, but I wanted to go to Kings Canyon (which is sort of on the way) so found a tour that would take me there and then on to Alice. It was a very long day with a 4.45am start and I spent over 8 hours on a bus, but it was fabulous! After climbing 500 steps, we walked around the top of the canyon which was spectacular, and the sheer cliffs made it very different from Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

I also really liked Alice Springs. It’s a big country town rather than a city, so easily walkable, but big enough to have decent facilities and infrastructure. I enjoyed a steakhouse which is a bit of an institution, and was especially impressed with the network of cycle paths, though didn’t have time to get on a bike. We had a walking day (more amazing red rocks!) and a town day when we went to the desert park to see birds and wildlife, the art gallery and the old telegraph station, which is the reason Alice exists where it is. The walking day, at Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm, was possibly my favourite day of the trip – the basic walk at Standley Chasm was short and easy (though the chasm was fascinating) so we tacked on a bit of the Larapinta Trail, a long-distance walk that starts in Alice. This was a steep and rocky path which took us up to a lookout with spectacular views up the valley. It made me want to come back and walk the whole Larapinta – added to the list! Earlier that day, Mum and I did a dawn hot air balloon ride, with mine part-funded by a voucher from my brother and sister-in-law. That was also great – very serene and didn’t feel like we were as high as we were, and amazing to look down on waterholes and miles of red. And of course sunrise from the air was pretty unforgettable. It was seriously cold at 6am though, which I didn’t expect.

I came back from the trip refreshed, revitalised from loads of exercise and really pleased to have seen a totally different side to Australia from life on the coast. Having ticked off the tourist spots, I really want to go back and get properly off the beaten track.

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