29 May 2015
It was a noisy night: there were lots of goings on around the wider campground, lots of snoring, and we were right next to the camel farm so could hear whatever it is that camels do at night as well. Thanks to still being on NZ time I was wide awake at 4.00am. Even though it was the right side of the time zone to bee, it was still far too early for our 5.15am wakeup, 5.30am breakfast and 6.15am departure. About 4.30am I decided to go and luxuriate in a hot shower (I hoped). There is a huge ablution block with about 20 showers and 20 toilets each for males and females – and hot water although not much pressure. At that hour there was only one other person up. But eventually everyone was struggling out of bed and heading to the kitchen where Cindy had hot porridge, cereal, toast and hot drinks waiting for us.
We were up early to go for a 2 hour Base Track walk around Uluru. We got to the start of the track while it was still dark and we could just see a dark blob (Uluru) on our right and a slight red glow on the horizon (but still a lot of cloud cover). After an induction by torchlight to the signs marking “Sensitive Areas” where you aren’t allowed to take photos, we set off on our walk – not knowing quite where we were going but that we had to keep the rock on our right (apparently some people have trouble with that concept!).
As the morning light started to strengthen, we started seeing the markings appear as deep shadows on the rock but not yet enough for cameras to pick up. After about 30 minutes walking the fire on the horizon started to glow and we got some great shots of trees silhouetted by the sunrise – but the rock still looked dark. And then all of a sudden the rock just lit up with a startling bright orange glow – it was spectacular. But then almost as suddenly as it had appeared, the glow vanished leaving just a dull grey colour behind. It really was a magical sight to see especially as we hadn’t seen a sunset the night before.
Walking around the base track at dawn is a must-do activity and you get the added bonus of completing the walk before it gets too hot. This wasn’t a problem for us – a cool wind kept it to a very pleasant walking temperature. It is hard to imagine that you could be inspired to take yet another picture of the same rock every few meters but the caves, fissures, colours and shapes kept presenting fabulous new vistas constantly as we walked around. There were some great viewing points of water holes and special aspects that were well signposted. We finished in under 2 hours despite the constant photo stops.
By the time we got back to the vehicle it was cold and drizzling. Kelly was a welcome sight with fruit and cake. We only had enough time to grab a bite and some warmer gear before we met our local Aboriginal guide Vincent from the Anangu tribe who tookus for a guided walk around the Mala trail to see some of the Sensitive Areas. He told us wonderful stories of the legends of the tribe and area. Their ancestors are the Mala people, named after a tiny wallaby. We were told of how grandfathers pass their skills and stories down to grandsons and grandmothers to granddaughters. He showed us how plants were used for making hunting weapons, food and as a pharmacy – complete with having samples of various plants for us to crush and smell.
Vincent showed us the boys’ ‘primary school’: a cave area under a ledge with rock paintings, and a bigger cave where adolescent boys were shown the responsibilities that came with their increasing maturity. The tribe have been willing to share many of their men’s stories with the world but they still hold their women’s tales sacred. We are shown the caves where grandmothers take their granddaughters but Vincent can’t tell us any more – the men are forbidden to go in.
Vincent also takes us to a cooking/eating cave and we all sit on rocks that form a great little amphitheatre and he shares creation legends and history with us, making drawings in the sand to illustrate. He has us hooked but then suddenly gets very political and tells us that the Government wouldn’t provide schools for them; they had saved to build their own school but the government closed it down and wouldn’t provide teachers. There are still many issues to resolve with the Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Uluru was only given back to the local people in 1985 – and leased to the parks service for 99 years. It was very controversial at the time.
On the way back to the vehicle we see an amazing ‘sliver’ of rock resting against the side of Uluru just like the spear in the legend.
There is still a track up the side of Uluru but lots of signs asking people to be respectful and not to go up. There are also a lot of conditions listed under which the track will be officially closed. But people still go up and defile the site with rubbish and excrement which all gets washed down when it rains and pollutes the surrounding area and water supply. People also regularly don’t heed the warnings and fall off, killing themselves.
Next stop is the Cultural Centre, which has great displays with explanations and videos, art gallery, shop and café.
Then we head back to the campsite where Cindy has lunch waiting for us: Camel burgers.
After lunch we are back in the vehicle for a long 4-5 hour drive to Kings Canyon. It is very boring countryside to drive through for the most part: flat and featureless. In some places the shrubs are just high enough that you can’t see over the top anyway. Perfect for an afternoon nap!
Kelly does wake us up every now and then to get up and stretch our legs. One such spot is a view to Mt Connor in the distance looking like Table Mountain sitting on a tray. Apparently the other side is a ‘U-shape’ and it is thought to have been formed by a glacier. On the other side of the road we climb up a sand dune to see Lake Amadeus, a salt lake: evidence of previous inland seas.
Next stop is to get out and collect firewood for our fire that evening – and to select a toasting stick for marshmallows. We load as much firewood as we can fit into the back of the truck.
The truck is quite an amazing vehicle, perfectly designed for outback travel. It has a truck cabin at the front, joined to a comfortable air-conditioned ‘bus’ behind, and at the back there is a large room with shelving to take all our bags and other supplies/equipment. Kelly sleeps in there in a ‘swag’ at night. It has a 400l petrol tank so can travel very long distances.
A bit later on we have another stop at Kings Creek Station for a walk around. Their main attraction was Nibbles – a 3 month old orphan camel; and some great icecreams.
Our campsite at Kings Canyon is a real bush camp up a hill via a very dodgy road that we definitely needed to put on our seatbelts for. We have a last chance to pick up snacks or drinks at the petrol station and The Thirsty Dingo pub.
The bush camp is outside of the main resort area and only Intrepid/Adventure Tours camp there. It is beautifully situated – nestled against some ‘cliffs’ that we promptly climb. The set up is the same as our last camp but with a much smaller, gas-fired, ablution block: 3 showers and 3 toilets each. We claim our tents and meet our host, known as Blanket (apparently because he used to have longer hair and looked like Michael Jackson, but Michael is dead so he must be Blanket….). We couldn’t really see that but he was a good camp host.
Dinner is a casserole with rice, with wine, and a delicious chocolate cake for dessert. After dinner we migrate outside to sit around the fire and toast marshmallows. This is a familiar treat for me from my past camping experiences in NZ but it was interesting to see people try for the first time: initial disbelief and scepticism and then sheer delight as they tried the (variously charred) melting balls of bliss.
Most of us retired early to bed, tired after our early start, walks and travel – and for another early start in the morning. Phillip and Cathy decide to sleep under the stars (which did come out later in the night) and had their swags beside the fire. A swag is a portable bedroll, with a waterproof outer covering and a mattress inside that you put your sleeping bag into.
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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