CJ - As most of you have gathered by now, my 3 months of working in Melbourne are up and I am back on the road travelling again, and this time on my own, leaving Bexta behind in Melbourne!! It's taking a bit of time to get back into it all again, I had obviously got a bit more settled in Melbourne than I realised! But give me another week or so and I will soon get into the swing of being a backpacker again I'm sure!!
My first port of call has been Alice Springs, a very small town (with not a lot to do!), but is the main starting point for trips through the Red Centre and to the famous Ayers Rock. I have just come back from a 3 day 4WD tour with a fantastic company called 'Wayoutback Safaris', and a great group (who consisted of Megan and Col - who live in Plymouth and who I will be contacting if I ever make it back down that way in the future, Fiona and Amitt, Corina, Lizzy, Phil, another 'Claire', and Dave our guide), where we visited Ayers Rock, the Olgas, King's Canyon, King's Creek Cattle Station and many more places, as well as camping out under the stars in swags both nights, experiencing the real outback!!
On the first day, after a very early start we set off towards Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the Aboriginal's call it. Nothing can really prepare you for the size and stature of the rock, it's just huge, and took us over 2 hrs to walk around the base of it! But no, I didn't climb it, mainly because you are climbing an Aboriginal sacred site, and also because it looked bloody dangerous. There is just one chain that you haul yourself up along the side of the rock with no safety harness or anything! And 38 people have died climbing it, so knowing how accident prone I am I decided against it! That night we watched the sunset over Uluru, and were up again at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise before setting off for our next stop at 'the Olgas'.
The 'Olgas' or 'Kata Tjuta' (the aboriginal name meaning 'many heads') are a formation of 36 dome like rocks that look a bit like heads I suppose. We took a walk through the 'Olgas' called the 'Valley of the Winds', and we soon found out why this walk was called that by the temperature and the winds that hit us as we started the walk!! But I suppose the cold has got to be better than the extreme temperatures that the Red Centre reach in the Summer! After having completed a 3 hour walk through the Olgas we then set off for our campsite for the night - the outback!! We camped in the grounds of a cattle station but due to the amount of land in the cattle station it was really like being in the outback, with no one else around us, just our group and the wildlife - cattle, camels, dingos etc. We spent a second night under the stars, sleeping in swags (which are Australian sleeping bags that are waterproof and covered with tarpaulin and padded with a mattress), and what an amazing sky we saw that night, it was so clear, and I don't think I have ever seen so many stars, the Milky Way, and a shooting star (my first one, at long last)!!!
The next morning after a slight lie in, we packed up camp and set off on the final day and last bit of sightseeing on this tour. Our main stop for the day was at King's Canyon, which to me looked like any pictures I have ever seen of the Grand Canyon, it was pretty impressive to say the least. We did quite a long walk around the edge of the Canyon and through the 'Lost City', and past a picturesque waterhole called the 'Garden of Eden'. The first part of the walk was a bit strenous to say the least, and the name of the first hill that we had to climb didn't really help - Heart Attack Hill!! But after a breather at the top and some refreshments, off we went to continue on the walk with no casualties!
All in the all the tour was great fun, and one I would certainly recommend to anyone coming to the Red Centre if they have a bit of time. A lot of people just fly into Alice Springs (or to Ayers Rock) and spend a day seeing the Rock and don't stop off at some of the other amazing sights in the Red Centre which is a real shame. But this tour certainly gave me a taster of what the outback and the centre of Australia has to offer!! I've now got a couple of days left to kill before heading north (on another tour) to Darwin, where hopefully there will be slightly warmer weather! This afternoon I visited the Royal Flying Doctors Service which has a base in Alice Springs, and tomorrow I am hoping to hire a bike and cycle out to the original waterhole where the name Alice Springs comes from, the School of the Air (which is where they broadcast school lessons out to children in the outback over the radio), and the Desert Park all depending upon time.