15th January 2013 04:58
One thing on the agenda here - Ayers Rock, otherwise known as Uluru. It would have been almost criminal for me to visit Australia and not go there.
My options again were limited - I ended up booking a three day tour including Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Far more convenient than trying to arrange things yourself, and the added benefit of a group to go with to make it a bit more fun!
"Here's something for ya, the first of our two right hand turns for the day. The other one is 200km's down the road. If you want to go to Kings Canyon it's a little more complicated. That's three right turns...". Our tour guide fancied himself as a comedian. In fairness, he was actually quite amusing.
On the drive out we were treated to some information about snakes. Apparently, around 90% of the venomous snakebites in Australia are "dry bites". This is where the snake doesn't actually inject any venom. The reason for this is because it is defending itself, and warning you away - if it were to inject venom it would be left defenceless and have no other means of protecting itself. If we were to encounter any snakes during our tour, it would likely be the inland taipan or the king brown - in number one and two spots on the twenty deadliest snakes in the world. One drop of venom can kill twelve people. Reassuring. When they're looking straight at you, they're aiming for a strike and you really should be in another place. Swiftly.
I got lucky with the temperature, the week before I'd arrived it was in the 40's - I literally would not have been able to move. While I was there it was in the mid 20's, which was nice and comfortable. We stopped at a lookout on the way to Uluru, across to Mount Connor (shaped like a toothbrush!). At first glance when you see a big rock on the horizon from the window of the bus, you think it's Uluru. It's not.
Our first stop was straight to the rock (the real one, not the imposter!). We got off the coach and were told of the importance of only taking photographs in the designated areas. Certain parts of Uluru are seen as extremely sacred areas, and the aboriginal people do not allow photos to be taken at those points. The rock has an 11km walk around its base - which we eagerly began. The guide didn't - he obviously had more important things to do, like sitting in the coach. It was quite a spectacle to look across and see such a huge object in front of you, at first... if I'm honest it gets a bit "samey" after a while. For the whole 11km you pretty much have the same view, and while it's an impressive sight, you don't get a sense of the enormity of it all - as you do when viewing it from a distance. Learning from my experience in Darwin with the most annoying flies in the world, I'd bought a baseball cap and fly net to keep the buggers at bay. It worked brilliantly, and the best bit was it was highly fashionable and made me look cool.
You have the option of climbing the rock at one point - at least you normally do, it was closed on the day we went due to high winds. The aboriginal people politely request you do not climb - due to the sacred nature of the site. But if you are so inclined, you are allowed to do so. Regardless, we didn't need to make that decision as it was already made for us that particular day!
After completing the base walk, and returning to the coach, we headed off to join the masses (and I do mean masses!) of people gathering at the best vantage point for viewing Uluru at sunset. The number of people here was just staggering - and apparently it's like that 365 days a year, without fail. Crazy, you might think initially - but as the sun begins to set you really do understand why. The view is quite incredible, with Uluru displaying beautiful red colouring from the warm light of the sun. And what better way to enjoy it than with champagne, crackers and dips?!
After the sun had set, and the crowds of people had abated, we made our way to our campsite for the night. Pulling up to an open stretch of grass with a shelter next to it to eat, we unpacked our swags and settled down for the evening. For those who have no idea what a swag is (like me when I first heard about them!), it's basically a really posh sleeping bag. The outside of it is waterproof - and has a flap that covers your head at night if it does decide to rain - ensuring you stay dry. Inside there's a thin foam mattress with a pillow, all inside the traditional sleeping bag padding. It was so comfortable you wouldn't believe it. All swagged up, we lay beneath the stars on a beautifully clear night. This was seriously one of my favourite bits of the tour - it's only looking up at the stars and actually taking the time to appreciate them that you realise just how tiny everything really is. I saw some shooting stars as well which was amazing, and I lay there for a long time in awe before finally drifting off to sleep.
The next morning we rose before the sun, to make our way to a different viewpoint in order to catch the sunrise over Uluru. Our campsite location and early start meant we got to the site before everybody else, and were in front row seats for the view. Unfortunately, I'd failed slightly with my camera - I'd forgotten to charge my spare battery, and the one in the camera was virtually dead. This meant I wasn't my usual shutter-happy self, but luckily I still managed to get a few pics I was happy with. By being very selective with the photos I took with my camera, I managed to make it last for most of the rest of the tour, using my iPhone as a substitute in the meantime. The viewpoint we had gone to also gave great views over Kata Tjuta - double bonus!
Coincidentally, Kata Tjuta was our next destination - where a windy walk awaited us in The Valley Of The Winds. It lived up to its billing, with high winds channelled through the valley towards us. Apparently, they also filmed scenes from Priscilla Queen of The Desert here.
Leaving the high winds of the valley behind, we made our way to our next campsite, stopping along the way to gather firewood. It's while you're doing this you become acutely aware of the possibility of being bitten by a camouflaged snake. Good fun.
On the menu that night was kangaroo steak and camel burger. Both were delicious! Kangaroo is very gamey, and camel basically tastes like beef. Eat them. I still need to try crocodile and emu...
Our final day was spent at Kings Canyon. You had a choice of two different walks here, one in the canyon itself where you were more likely to see wildlife, or a longer one climbing to the canyon ridge for the views. The majority went with the latter option, and we soon found ourself gazing spellbound across the outback.
My favourite bit was arriving at a point where it was safe to get down on your stomach, and wriggle to the edge of the rock to poke your head over the side, peering down into the canyon below. Quite a feeling, and certainly not one to try if you're not fond of heights, or falling from them!
There was also a point where you could straddle a huge crack in the rock, where literally the whole of the side of the canyon is gradually coming away. If you throw a rock down the gap you can hear it fall for a long way down deep into the rock. At some point the whole lot will eventually give way and slide off the side.
The fun continued, as we made our way in the coach to a station where they keep camels, dingos and so on. For a small fee, you were able to ride one of the camels for a few minutes around a small compound on the farm. The one I ended up on was extremely grumpy, and did nothing but moan from the first person to ride him. We were walked down to one end of the pen, before being bumped around mercilessly on the way back as the camels ran to keep up with their handler. Good fun, but probably not a pet I'd consider getting anytime soon.
Alice Springs itself is unremarkable, and really the only good reason for going there is to visit the attractions surrounding it. I also visited Ellery Creek and Standley Chasm while I was there. Ellery Creek was very cool, a beautiful spot to swim, in a secluded cove with a beach, surrounded by rocks and trees.
Standley Chasm was also nice. Until I broke my camera.
I'd set it up on my mini tripod, on a rock. It was just about to take the photo when a gust of wind must have caught it and slowly tipped it over. It literally happened in slow motion. The annoying thing is, it toppled over so slowly I probably could have run to catch it, but I didn't bother as I thought it would move a lot faster than it did. The best bit was, it fell in a pool of water which had collected at the side of the chasm. I quickly pulled it out, took the battery and memory card out, and stuck it in a bag of rice to dry out when I got back. A few days later I tried to turn it on: