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The Red Centre / Central Australia

 

Thorny Devil ? AusEmade PL, 2008

by Emily Simpsons

With its many names, the heart of Australia, The Red Centre, the Arid Centre, the Dead Centre, like a faceted precious stone, Central Australia reflects aspects of all these names and more. Alice Springs and Uluru are recognised as the being in the heart of Australia, neither is really the centre of Australia, although these do provide the main transport hub for those planning to visit.

Having once visited when I was a young backpacker, it hasn't changed much, except maybe Alice, which has a few more people. Of course during the main tourist seasons which can be any time from May through to November, it can be extremely busy according to some locals, although compared to Sydney traffic, it is nothing to worry about.

So what was it like to revisit? Well being older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I know I have enjoyed it more the second time round. My partner, of course had never been here before, and certainly had preconceived notions of what to except... some vast inland desert type places with a rock called 'Ayers Rock', although these days, it is better known by its official name of 'Uluru'. Anyone who has been to Alice Springs, knows that the region is not flat, being located where the East and West MacDonnell Ranges meet.
 

Having flown into Uluru, we booked onto a coach tour. There are a number of choices from the 45 seater coach to the smaller operators, that included the sunrise and sunset at Uluru, and the equally spectacular Kata Tjuta (formerly 'The Olgas'). Uluru still holds that 'spiritual allure' and not surprisingly, touches a number of people deeply.

At the sunset spot, we had a great tip from our tour guide. He said to set our camera up and take the first photo, just before the sun starts setting. Then every four minutes, take another photo. The reason being is that your eyes become accustomed to the fading light, but when you look back at your photos, the changes become more apparent.

Kings Canyon ? AusEmade PL, 2008Of course the lucky ones may get some cloud cover to heighten the dramatic effects of the setting sun. If you are there during the rare occasion of rain, you get to see the rock turn black. We were privileged to see Uluru during a sun shower and the rock take on a silvery sheen.

For those who can afford the time, there are a number of walks around Uluru, the Cultural Centre and either one or both walks at Kata Tjuta that are a must. We did observed the request by the local Anangu community 'not to climb Uluru', the reasons being outlined not only in the local brochures, but also at the Cultural Centre.

In the late morning, we were on the coach to Kings Canyon (located in the Watarrka National Park), enjoying the surprisingly depth of fauna, including the wonderful Desert Oak, with the juvenile trees looking like giant feather dusters. Our ever observant tour guide, did an impromptu stop, and scooped up the wonderful 'Thorny Devil', one of the many non human residents in the region.

At Kings Canyon our tour had the choice of two walks, with the 'Rim Walk' starting at sunrise being a spectacular way to soak up the beauty of the region. We stayed overnight in the Resort, although for those on a budget there are camping and lodge facilities. A tip for unwary travellers, Don't leave your boots outside your cabin doors or tent, as for some reason the local wild dingoes enjoy making off with them during the night.

Things to see on the walk include the sheer smooth canyon wall, the 'Lost City' (a series of weathered rock buttresses), the fossilised prehistoric ripples (this area was once under the sea), the views of the magnificent sandstone domes and the cool sanctuary of the Garden of Eden.

Desert Oak ? AusEmade PL, 2008If you are the first group on the walk, and walk quietly, you may catch a glimpse of some wildlife fauna, such as the Perentie, Ring-tailed Dragon, and Spinifex Pigeon. During periods of rain and wet weather, the lucky tourist might catch sight of the Centralian Tree Frog and the Desert Tree Frog, which despite the name, is not necessarily found in trees. The one we saw were on the steps down into the Garden of Eden. Of course, Euros and dingoes have been seen up on top of Kings Canyon, but remember, wildlife tends to take shelter during the hottest part of the day, especially during summer when temperatures can reach over 40 degrees.

For those planning the Rim Walk, be warned that the start of the walk is up a steep incline. Once up, the walk is fairly easy with steps down into the Garden of Eden. During the warmer months, make sure you take plenty of water, as is the case anywhere you travel in Central Australia.

After the walk, our group headed back to the resort for a light lunch, before our coach took us to our next destination Alice Springs...

For those thinking of heading here, and maybe staying for 2 or 3 weeks, make Alice Springs your base. If you have limited time, fly in to 'The Rock' and take a tour of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, these iconic locations are well worth it. Of course it is not necessarily cheap to eat, drink and stay at these places, but both Uluru and Kings Canyon do offer some choices in the type and price range of your accommodation. For those not wanting to stay at the main resort, you also have a choice of Curtin Springs (for those visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park) and Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge.

We found the coach tours a great way to get around, and even here there are choices between the main players such as AAT Kings, APT Australian Pacific Touring and some of the smaller operators.

For those basing themselves in Alice Springs, it is important to note that Uluru and Kings Canyon is not just down the road. It was funny to hear the tour guide regale us with some of the stories of how some visitors to the region haven't a clue about the vast distances between places. There was a Japanese tourist who wanted to book a room in Sydney with a view of Uluru, and there are plenty of instances where tourists think they can do Alice Springs to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon all in one day.

Uluru ? AusEmade PL, 2008

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