We left Alice Springs early on Tuesday morning, driving south on the Stuart Highway before turning right onto the Lasseter’s Highway which leads out west to the Uluru (Ayres Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) National Park.
On the way we stopped at a Camel Farm, which was a bit touristy offering camel rides around a field but nevertheless interesting. Initially a handful of Camels were brought to Australia in the late 19th century for use in exploring the arid outback. They were used to good effect but soon became redundant to modern transportation methods. The camels were released into the wild and now there are thousands of them roaming the outback, like many introduced animals, they are considered an invasive as they destroy native vegetation which affects the bush land ecosystem. We have seen several Camel herds on our journey through the outback.
Unfortunately when we arrived in the national park it was a very wet and cold day, the area has been experiencing an unseasonably wet summer – much like Sydney. We glimpsed Uluru from the highway and sadly it was looking grey with the sky covered in cloud. We didn’t stop at the rock though, instead we trekked in the Valley of Winds at Kata Tjuta, which means ‘many heads’ in the local Aborigine dialect. It was cloudy here too but this made for a nice temperature for the walk and added an element of mystery to the impressive rock formations.
The rocks were formed from an orogeny thousands of years ago which pushed up large blocks of granite from the Earth’s core, thousands of years of exposure to the elements has shaped them into their present head like form. We hiked up to a lookout point and the view looked like something from the ‘Land before time’.
After out walk we headed back to Uluru to see the ‘sunset’, supposedly to see the rock change colour with the setting sun, unfortunately a bit pointless given the cloud cover. Still our guide produced some Fizzy Wine and we had a bit of fun with the camera.
After camping overnight at the nearby ‘Uluru Resort’, a hotel and campsite complex where the tourists stay as there is no town nearby, we were up at 4am(!!) to see the sunrise over Uluru. We joined the throngs of tourists at the newly built sunrise lookout point, elbowing our way into a vantage point. Unfortunately whilst the clouds had cleared a bit they were still too thick to allow much sunlight onto Uluru – the full moon actually gave a better effect.
Once the sun was up we walked the 10km base walk around Uluru with our guide, Jason, explaining to us the many Aboriginal sacred sites around the rock. The rock looks quite different, but no less impressive, up close with many caves featuring rock art, waterfalls and pools, and strange erosions on the rock such as a head of a mythological warrior.
It took us a couple of hours to walk the loop around the rock and about halfway round the clouds finally dispersed and the sun shone through and brightened everything up nicely – the rock glows orange in the midday sun and we finally got our postcard photo!
After a brief visit to the interesting Uluru cultural centre we had lunch back at the campsite before driving three hours to Kings Canyon. On the way we passed Fooluru, Mt. Connor, which is often mistaken for Uluru by tourists. However, Uluru is formed from Granite pushed up from underground, Mt. Connor was formed by glacial movement – making it impressive in its own right.
Jason was good at spotting lizards as we were driving along and he spotted this tiny ‘Thorny devil’by the side of the road – apparently he isn’t as vicious as he looks.
We stayed at a dusty campsite at Kings Canyon, which featured a lace fly next right in the middle. These big winged flies were attracted to any light and there were masses of them – flying in your face and in your food not nice! Even with yet another 5am start we were happy to leave – we were up early to do a trek around the impressive Kings Canyon.
The trek started with a steep 15 minute climb up ‘heart attack hill’ but then levelled as we walked around the ridge of the canyon. On the way Jason told us a bit about the Aboriginal spiritual places around the canyon and pointed out ‘bush tucker’ that was used by the Aborigines to survive in this arid environment. The scale of the canyon was overwhelming and views were stunning, a very impressive place.
The trek took us about 4 hours after which we drove for 6 hours through endless desolate bush land to the small settlement of Marla. On the way we crossed the state border into South Australia, of course we stopped for the ‘tourist’ photo at the border sign.
There was nothing to see at Marla it was just an overnight stop to break up the journey. As it was a clear night a few of us took the opportunity to sleep in Swags, which are glorified sleeping bags in which one can kip out under the stars.
Despite some initial concerns about snakes, spiders, dingoes, and scorpions we were so knackered from the trekking and early mornings that we soon dropped off to sleep and slept straight through until morning and awoke feeling fresh 🙂
From Marla it was a two hour drive down the Stuart highway to the town of Coober Pedy, which is a Opal mining town that largely resides underground. Houses, churches, and pubs are dug out under hills to offer a cool escape from the intense heat of the desert – this is one of the hottest places in Australia with temperatures regularly over 40 degrees.
We had an interesting tour of an Opal mine where we learnt about the history of the town which was formed after Opals were found here in the late 1800’s sparking an ‘Opal Rush’. 90% of the worlds Opals come from Australia, and with 80% of Australia’s Opals coming from Coober Pedy it is regarded as the Opal Capital of the world. Opals are only found in places where there were once oceans, such as the Outback of South Australia. Drilling machines are used by miners to dig out mines but rocks have to be carefully hand sifted to see if Opals are present.
We stayed overnight in an underground bunkhouse and went for a beer in an underground pub, all very quirky but we appreciated the cool escape from the intense sun outside. We had a chance to sift for some Opals ourselves, a long and dusty process, and actually found a couple of small low grade Opals – unfortunately not worth enough to retire on!
We also checked out the nearby ‘Breakaways’, a stark but colourful area of arid hills about 30km outside of Coober Pedy. The white, orange, and yellow hills are stunning and quite photogenic compared to the repetitive plains of the Outback.
We also saw the ‘dog fence’, which spans over 5000km and as such is the longest man made object (longer than the Great Wall of China) in the world. It was built in the 1940’s to keep Dingoes away from grazing pastures where they would devastate flocks.
Next day was another day of driving as we headed to the town of Quorn just south of the Flinders Ranges, which we had come to explorer. On the way we stopped at Lake Hart, where there was no water to be seen, which is one of many Salt Lakes in South Australia. Whilst very picturesque it allows one to take some funky photos!
Quorn is a small town that was once a bustling livestock trading town, nowadays it’s just a historic country town. The buildings here are some of the oldest in Australia and we stayed in a quaint former Mill that has been renovated into a bunkhouse.
The area was deemed suitable for grazing in the 1800’s but the intense heat and regular flash flooding made life here difficult and most farms closed in the early 1900’s. We visited the remains of a former sheep farm, literally in the middle of nowhere, which gave us a view of how life must have been here for early settlers. The building is actually younger than many in the UK but you wouldn’t think it when you see it!
We also visited some nearby Rock paintings at the Yourambulla Cave, which were a bit simpler than we had seen in the tropical north – unfortunately no one really knows what they mean as the tribe that painted them have now died out.
We trekked through the Wilpena Pound which looks like a meteor crater but was formed from erosion as the inland oceans receded, the name derives from it being a natural sheep pen with mountains all around, no fences required. It was a nice walk and we saw kangaroos, goats (not native and considered a pest), and an old cottage that housed a Shepherd’s family until a flood in 1906 forced them to abandon it.
We had a good view around the pound when we walked up to a lookout point. In the evening as the sun was setting we went looking for some rare, and endangered, Yellow Footed Wallabies at the Warren Gorge. Keeping quiet and waiting a while, they are quite elusive, we managed to spot a few on the rocky ledges.
We stayed in the Mill for two nights before heading to Adelaide, and on our final morning we were up early for a trek up the nearby Dutchman’s Stern. A mountain that was named by the naval explorer Matthew Flinders, whom first discovered the area (hence the name Flinders Range), as it apparently looks like the Dutch ships of the 1800’s. It was a hot morning, South Australia has a very dry heat and the sun is intense, although it is more pleasant than the sweaty tropics of the north. It was an 8km trek up and down, we saw plenty of Kangaroos and Wallabies along the way, but the views from the top were well worth it.
From Quorn it was a 4 hour drive to Adelaide, and about halfway we stopped in the Barossa Valley for some wine tasting at the Knappstein brewery. I didn’t rate the wines much, but the beer was welcome refreshment. 🙂
The final leg of the journey brought us through vineyards and rolling countryside – very different to the red dusty Outback we had become used to. Here we concluded our 3000km (14 day) tour through the centre of Australia from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in South Australia. We were a bit unsure about doing a tour but it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and hassle free trip, and we have met some really cool people along the way. With the vast distances we have covered between places of interest it has been nice to let someone else do the driving, it was the right choice for the trip through the Outback where one must take caution before setting out alone.
We are now looking forward to going it alone again and in Adelaide we have met my Mum who will be joining us for the next few weeks as we drive from Adelaide to Melbourne down the Great Ocean Road before flying over to Tasmania. Today we pick up a hire car before taking a ferry out to Kangaroo Island, which is supposedly something of a wildlife haven so we are excited about that.