Best make a cup of tea, this is going to be a long one, and picture heavy. There is just so much wonderful country and things to see in this area.
Kings Canyon – Sun 2nd Aug
From Boggy Hole the track continues south. Contrary to what the ranger at Palm Valley had said, the track to the edge of the park was an easy drive – high clearance required but nearly all high range driving.
The trickiest section was the last Finke River crossing. Lots of rocky ledges, many with scars of vehicles taking the wrong line – happily, with Hils directing we avoided adding to them.
Once outside of the park the initial track becomes a rough station road leading to the Ernest Giles road, which although a main road was in rough condition. Back to corrugations!
Back on the bitumen you can turn south towards Uluru, or take the west road to Kings Canyon and ultimately back to Hermannsburg via the Mereenie Loop. There is a resort near the canyon however, beyond this, where the road climbs over Morris Pass, there is a great free camp.
Up on the ridge the camp looks back towards Kings Canyon, a wonderful place to spend a peaceful night, watch the sun go down and enjoy dinner over the fire.
The local scorpion seemed to enjoy the warmth too.
Uluru / Kata-Tjuta (via Kings Canyon walk) – Mon 3rd to Thu 6th Aug
Access to Kings Canyon is not through the resort, but a few km along the road. Whilst there is a walk along the base the main event is the rim walk, a fantastic path along the top of the canyon.
It starts up a steep climb to the left edge of the canyon. Ascending straight up rocky steps this is a real heart starter, with benches in a few places along the way if you need a rest. From the top you start to get a feel for the size of the canyon.
The canyon cuts into the George Gill Range, an intersection of three major landforms. To the northeast are the Macdonnell Ranges, to the south and west the sandplains of Lake Amadeus and the western deserts and to the southeast is the Simpson Desert.
Once over the climb the walk is relatively flat, running through interesting sandstone formations and then giving birds eye views of the sheer canyon walls.
The rock here is sandstone, and there is some interesting evidence of the its origin – formed in layers as a shallow lake repeatedly flooded then dried, the ripples left by the water can be seen in places.
The plateau around the canyon is eroded into dome shapes reminiscent of the beehives of Purnululu. To the Luritja people the domes are kuninga (desert quoll) men who travelled through here in dreamtime.
Just before the halfway point the canyon takes a 90 degree turn to the left, and the trail climbs down into the Garden of Eden, a protected oasis sitting protected between the canyon walls. With permanent water holes this is a beautiful place, home to a range of birds and animals which would otherwise not survive in this area.
Crossing to the other side of the canyon and heading back towards the start gives more incredible views of the sheer rock walls. The red-brown colour is only a thin veneer on the surface of the Mereenie Sandstone, compacted white beach and dune sand from 360m years ago. The last known rockfalls were in the 1930’s exposing the lighter patches on the cliffs.
It is not all about the rocks. In sheltered spots various relic plant species have survived from when dinosaurs were around. The cycad is one example, a fascinating glimpse of the past.
Some of the local wildlife is also not too camera shy.
All in a brilliant walk, well worth the three hours it took to get round.
Driving on to Uluru brought the first sighting of wild camels, in this case running down the highway. An interesting sight, wouldn’t want to hit one in the dark as they are not small.
Also along the road is Mount Connor, an impressive rock outcrop which no doubt catches a lot of visitors out. It certainly fooled the girls, who were convinced it was Uluru. It is actually a lot bigger, and one of the giveaways is the scree slope, which Uluru does not have.
Ayers Rock Resort
Originally there was a camp ground next to Uluru. However the resort now sits outside Uluru/Kata-Tjuta National Park, catering for all budgets, from backpacker through to the luxury Sails in the Desert. Suffice to say the campground is not scenic, but is comfortable enough.
There is an enormous range of things to do with the resort as your base. Some are free, like the local man talking about traditional weapons on the green, but from there your wallet is the only limit. One the girls enjoyed hugely was the astronomy talk under the stars.
One of the most recognisable landmarks of Australia, and sacred to the Anangu people, Uluru is 9.4km around and 348m high. It is also a fine example of an inselberg, or an isolated knob in an otherwise flat lowland. Statistics aside it is magnificent, changing colour through the day.
Viewed at dawn Uluru slowly transforms from a black mass, stark against the dawn glow, taking on its familiar red hue as the sun rises.
Then as the sun sets it darkens again from red to purple.
Uluru Base Walk
To appreciate the scale of Uluru it is best viewed from a distance, however to see its features the base walk is well worth doing, although being a flat path it is nowhere near as dramatic as the Kings Canyon Rim walk.
Along the walk you are requested not to photo certain sites, as the rock features themselves represent sacred stories, so a picture of the features would reveal those stories. Frankly that seems odd, if the stories are not shared how would an outsider know what the rock feature represents – we avoided taking pictures of those areas in any case.
Close up Uluru is nowhere near as smooth as it looks from a distance, around its base are various caves which provided shelter to the Anangu, higher up erosion has left the surface folded and pitted.
Some of the caves had specific purposes. Walking clockwise you first see where young boys being trained into manhood lived, a place of teaching to prepare them for adult life.
Then just around the corner is the men’s cave, close enough to keep an eye on the boys! The rock lumps are supposedly old men continuing to keep watch.
Water, despite being scarce, clearly plays a part in shaping Uluru, carving out channels and waterfalls, and leaving black stains on the rock.
This one caught our eye, it looked a bit like a head with the face on the left.
The girls certainly enjoyed themselves, although it was pretty hot – would be a hard walk in the summer.
Uluru / Kata-Tjuta by Helicopter
Now this gives a completely different perspective. Hils had been wanting a flight for ages, and what better place to do it at sunset. She had a fantastic time.
Not only do you get a great view of both formations, but also of the surrounding area rippled with ridges and dunes.
When Ernest Giles came across Kata-Tjuta he named the highest peak Mt Olga, after Queen Olga of Wurttemburg. In Pitjantjatjara Kata-Tjata means “many heads”; Mt Olga is just one of the 36 sandstone domes which make up this fascinating landscape.
We walked into the Valley of the Winds. Although from a distance the rock looks smooth like Uluru, in reality it is a conglomerate of sand and larger stones. Being so close to the rocks, vivid red in the sun, it was a good time to dig out the panoramic camera.
It is a much more up and down walk than around Uluru, picking its way between the domes. The full route goes round in a circle, a pretty long walk, but you can turn around at a great lookout.
Another great walk, but again not one I’d like to do in summer, even though Valley of the Winds is aptly named which helped cool things down a bit.
Uluru Camel Farm
This was a great hit with the girls. The farm is adjacent to the resort and, as well as longer treks, offers short rides around the paddock. Bonnie was delighted to hear her camel shared her name.
I’d had a sunrise trek on a previous visit to Uluru, an amazing experience but not really for young kids, so sat this ride out.
Rainbow Valley – Fri 7th Aug
With Hils, Charlotte and Bonnie due on the 10th to fly from Alice to the UK it was time to start heading back, so a long day in the car. We’ve been experimenting with trying to get schoolwork down whilst driving – it seems to work OK on bitumen but off-road is too bumpy.
Rainbow Valley is a small conservation park about 90km south of Alice Springs. The colours in the cliffs are very striking, from vivid red at the top to chalk white at the bottom. In front of the cliffs there is a clay pan, after rain it fills with water and gives great reflections of the colours; sadly it was dry, a lovely view in any case.
Alice Springs – Sat 8th Aug
Back to G’Day Mate to refresh and prepare for our journeys; Hils, Bonnie and Charlotte to the UK, Pippa and I south into the bush.