As a break in between au pairing jobs, I spent a week in Alice Springs and the surrounding national parks.
Alice Springs is the nearest town to Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Watarrka National Parks, even though it is nearly 500 kilometers away from them. Alice is a very small town which thrives on the tourists that stay there before and after visiting Uluru, and in the busier months tens of thousands of tourists pass through.
Because it is such a small town, there isn’t too much to do so it was nice to have a relaxing break instead of trying to cram loads of activities into my four days there. My first stop was the Anzac Hill, which is a short climb up a hill which allows you to see the entire town. The hill is a monument to Australians who have died at war, and gives information on plaques about each war Australia has fought in since it became a country.
I also visited the Reptile Center, which has a collection of snakes, geckos, monitors, and dragons that can be found all over Australia. There is also a saltwater crocodile. For whatever reason I was the only visitor while I was there, so I was able to get as close as possible to the animals.
I also walked to the Cultural Precinct, which is an area with a few museums. The Museum of Central Australia had a lot of information on the geology and animals that are found in the region, but not very much about the history of Alice Springs. Another museum in the precinct is the Aviation Museum, which had stories about first flights around Australia and unfortunately a lot of stories about planes that crashed while flying over the middle of the country trying to explore it.
My favorite day in Alice Springs was the one I spent out at the Telegraph Station, which is 4 kilometers from the center of town, so I rented a bike for the day to make my journey out there easier. The bike path to the station goes through kangaroo country, and I saw a few on my way out there and tried to race one on my bike.
The Telegraph Station today is a historical reserve, but when it was built it was the start of the Alice Springs township. It was built in 1871 to serve as a communication center between Adelaide in Darwin, and also linked up with an underwater cable that connected to England. Because there is no longer a need for a telegraph station, today it is set up as a museum. Alice Springs was named after the wife of Charles Todd, who received the money from the government to start the construction of the telegraph line, and a waterhole that was first thought to be a spring. Alice Todd never actually went to Alice Springs, meaning the town is named after a woman who never visited and a spring that doesn’t exist.
The real highlight of visiting the Red Centre is Uluru, and I signed up for a three day, two night tour of the two parks. Because Uluru is almost a 5 hour drive away from Alice, we had to leave before 6am. With all of our things packed away in the trailer of the bus, our group of 20 plus our very energetic tour guide were off. Along the way, we stopped at a few roadhouses and cattle stations, where we were able to stretch our legs, see some camels, and feed some emus.
One of our stops was Erldunda, which is the closest town to the geographical center of Australia. Fun fact!
Once we finally arrived at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, we first stopped for a look at Uluru. I wasn’t sure what I would think of it since it is essentially just a giant rock, but it was incredible. The Anangu people have stories for every rock formation, crack, and cave on the rock. We did a short walk alongside it, but it was getting very hot by this point so we didn’t stay for too long.
It is possible to climb Uluru, but discouraged by the Aboriginal people. They know it is dangerous, but it also erodes the rock more quickly when people climb on it and leave trash behind. Additionally, in their culture, the Aboriginal people believe that if someone is harmed or dies (36 people have died since the rock was returned to it’s traditional owners in the 1980s) someone in their community will be hurt in a similar way.
Uluru was used as a meeting place for the people from the 4 Aboriginal countries to join in celebration every 3 to 4 years. It was also an opportunity for young people to meet future partners.
There were caves for the men to discuss hunting, for the women to cook and exchange recipes, and many teaching caves for the grandparents to pass on knowledge to their grandchildren. In their culture, the children are taught by their grandparents and their parents are more disciplinarians.
When children are born, they are given a totem. The animal could be a kangaroo, goanna or another animal found locally. If a kangaroo is your totem, you aren’t allowed to eat any kangaroo.
The Aboriginals were very conscious of not using all of the resources in an area. They were nomadic, and occasionally burnt the land behind them in order to spur regrowth and offer protection from bushfires. If a bushfire started, the people could head to a place that they had burned themselves and stay safe.
For our first night, we stayed at Ayers Rock Resort, where we would be camping. Our site had a tented kitchen/dining area, and permanent tents set up around it in a semi-circle. There was also a camel farm on the resort, where visitors can get rides or just wander around.
One of Uluru’s most interesting characteristics is the fact that it seems like it changes colors during sunset and sunrise, so after a break at camp we headed back to the rock to watch the sun go down. Sunsets are best when there are clouds in the sky and we had none, but we could still see Uluru go red, orange and brown.
Back at camp, we settled in for the night. We had the option of sleeping in the tents, but everyone in our group chose to sleep outside in swags. Swags are a type of canvas sleeping bag with a built in mattress which you tuck your sleeping bag into. Since we were so far away from anything, the stars were amazing.
We woke up at 4:30 the next morning in order to see the sunrise, so after a quick breakfast and pack up we were off for the day. The sunrise lookout was crowded, but the colors of the rock were even better than they had been the night before. From the lookout, we were able to see Kata-Tjuta, the second rock the park is named for and the one we would be spending most of the day exploring. After seeing the sun come up, we drove closer to Kata-Tjuta, and did the Valley of the Winds walk. The walk goes alongside and into the gorge.
Kata-Tjuta means “many heads” and is so named because the formation is made up of 36 rocks, some of which are taller than Uluru. This walk was my favorite hike of the trip.
Our camp for the second night was a more secluded campground than the night before, and we slept in swags again. Around 2:30, I woke up because I heard a plastic water bottle crunching and Joey, the tour guide, saying “go on, get outta here!” I opened my eyes and there was a dingo a meter away from me. With Joey’s encouragement, he stood up, stretched lazily, grabbed the water bottle and wandered out of camp. The next morning I wasn’t sure if it’d been a dream, so I asked Joey and he said “yeah mate! It was right next to your head, I thought you’d be eaten!”
We were up at 4:30 that morning as well, in order to drive to King’s Canyon and hike the Rim Walk. We had to start the hike early because the rangers close the walk at 9am if it is forecast to be over 36C (97F) because it can get up to 45C (115F) at the top of the canyon.
The trip was incredible and I’m so glad I got the chance to explore the middle of Australia.