Day 1:  Our outback adventure started with a 6am flight to Alice Springs, and a 5-hour drive through the desert to Ayers Rock Resort & Campground, to catch the sunset at Uluru.

(Claire, the “Ute” and Mt. Connor in the background)

Australia continues to provide us with strange animal crossing road signs, and animal sightings.  One must watch out for kangaroos and koalas throughout Victoria; cassowaries in Queensland.  And the hallmark of our desert roadtrip – camel crossing.

 

After a short detour to hang out with the camels, we were back on track for our sunset arrival at Uluru.

Uluru is a large sandstone formation in the heart of the Northern Territory (which covers a vast amount of the northern and central continent).  It is a sacred place for the indigenous Anangu, and its surfaces have spawned many stories in the Anangu’s history and way of life.

Day 2: Base Walk to Uluru; Sunset at Kata Tjuta.

The next day, we set out for the trailhead of the Uluru Base Walk.  (click the link for 360 views of Uluru).  The great rock is nearly 350m high (1,500  feet) and the loop around its base, just over 10.5 kms.

One thing we certainly didn’t expect about the outback was the flies – think hordes of them, buzz buzz buzzing around your face.  As one Aussie put it, you kill one and a thousand come to the funeral.  Fly nets @ $6.99 each = best purchase ever!

Properly protected, we set out on the base walk.  Prior to our arrival, I thought the base walk would be a bit monotonous. But, with little other options to view the big rock, that was our planned hike (see below re: climbing Uluru). As we quickly found out, what’s magnificent about the great big red rock is that, from the ground, it truly looks different at every angle.

(Kuniya Piti)

The contrast of red rock against piercingly blue skies was incredible.

(Tjukatjapi)

The real adventure is to climb Uluru, but the Anangu ask that you not climb it, as it is a sacred spot to them, so we were respectful (more than most).  We noticed the large “CLIMB CLOSED” signs at the outset of our hike.  By the time we made it around the base – just under 3 hours – there were heaps of people on the rock’s edge ascending and, as we reached the trail-end, two park rangers pulled up.  Uh oh, big trouble for the climbers, right?

Nope, the rangers just chatted them up, and asked how the conditions were up top. (and yes, that’s a handrail)

After our hike, we set out to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, for the sunset.  Kata Tjuta forms the other half of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Just 30 kms away from the monolith, the Olgas are a series of 36 weathered and worn domes.  After a side detour through the Valley of the Winds, we missed the main event at the “sunset viewing area” but stopped in for a few fly-net free post-dusk snapshots.

(Yay for the first picture of the day sans-fly nets!)

Day 3: Up in the morning to pack up camp and go on a mid-morning camel ride!  When in the desert, why not ride a desert animal?

Like many other species, Australia’s camels were introduced during the country’s formation.  Droves were brought over during the construction of The Ghan – a train that runs from the Southern city of Adelaide to Darwin in the north (think Atlanta to Detroit) – and the species has prospered in the wild.

Camels were, surprisingly, much more comfortable than horseback riding.  Plus, the flies liked them more than me, which was a welcome reprise.

Meet Chester, our camel.

After the camel ride it was off to Kings Canyon, to make camp for the night and get up at the crack of dawn for a hike at the Kings’ Canyon Rim.

Another day, another sunset.  After all, what is there to do when you are camping outdoors and living by the sunlit-hours than watch it come up and go down?

Day 4:  Kings Canyon Rim Walk at sunrise.

After an initial steep ascent, we arrived at the first cliff lookout across from some seriously sheer rock faces. (no foolish attempts to climb these babies!)

The hike continued on for another 5kms or so (6kms, 2.5 hours in total) and offered spectacular sights –ancient waves carved into the rock, a Garden of Eden in the canyon gorge, and beehive-like sand dunes.  To boot, a bit more of a challenging hike than the flat base walk the day before!

From Kings Canyon, we continued north to link up with the West MacDonnell Ranges for the final leg of our adventure.  The road north was rumored to be impassable at worst, rough and tumble at best.  Having previously navigated a mountain with potholes the width of a car every 2 feet in Costa Rica, we thought a desert road would be just fine to overcome.

In fact, this part of the road (though, yes, a bit bumpy) was beautiful and rugged.  We passed no more than 10 cars in 5 hours, and journeyed through a part of the country that was truly undisturbed and natural, in every sense of the word.

Arriving at the west end of the MacDonnell Ranges mid-afternoon, we took a short hike through the Redbank Gorge to an admittedly unimpressive water body, but some brilliant rocky cliffs.

Day 5:  Alas, all good things must ultimately come to an end.

So on our last day in the Red Centre before an early morning flight back to Melbourne, we had breakfast at a nearby “ranch” and set out for a hike through Ormiston Gorge.  Now, let’s just preface this story with an acknowledgement:  we were foolhardy idiots in this tale, no question about it.  Here’s the signs that prominently marked the trailhead – swim required!

Nonetheless, when we reached the waters’ edge, we didn’t feel like getting wet.  From our vantage point, it seemed only a short distance to the next embankment, around a rocky edge.

But, try as we did to just shimmy around the rock’s edge, it became difficult to grapple around various juts and obtrusions, and we went higher and higher in search of the proper route.  The view from the top…

After going up a bit more than bargained for, finding a suitable descent became more difficult.  We walked along the cliff’s edge and headed for a slightly sloping green and rocky embankment at the back of the gorge.  Then, in the valley just before the gorge’s rear walls, a staggered and sloping rockface appeared.  For some reason, we decided to take our chances and start down.  This was not smart.

We set down a series of 4 rockfaces, successfully descending three faces of near vertical degree, with nothing more than muscle strength and adrenaline.  This was stupid.

Here’s us, feeling accomplished at the route we’d just traversed, and a vertical pictorial of that route.

The last leg, which would prove the most disastrous, looked the most gentile.  Turns out that weathered rock on a slight incline may look passable, but is NOT safe.  I set out on the ledge and promptly slid to the bottom, catching myself at the edge.  Thinking we had figured that part out at least, Steve started down, slide x 2, and where I had caught myself instead lunged forward, smacked his head on the opposing boulder and crashed his ankle and foot along the rock face.

Not good. We would later find out that Steve suffered a mild concussion and broke his foot.  But, for the next 5 hours all that mattered was that we needed help, and were miles/kilometers away from it.  Luckily, there were no more rock faces to descend, but we did have a long way (2-3 kms) back to the trailhead (me = trying not to panick that we are alone, in the outback and in the back of a gorge, injured!).

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers…this is an understatement.  After 40 minutes of hiking in isolation and pain, we met Matt and Romina.  Matt helped me carry Steve as we stumbled along the gorge’s rocky edge, and support him as we swam through the gorge (both because it was impassable, and because we thought it was the best route given Steve’s ankle condition).  Romina swam ahead and summoned help from Olivia, who called the park rangers.  Halfway into our journey with Matt and Romina,  we came upon a group of kids (5 from one family; 8 from another) vacationing in the gorge for the day.  Levi and his brother helped Matt support Steve (who was much bigger than all three!), and a gaggle of younger kids ran ahead plotting the safest and most level route for us, and swam ahead and summoned 2 other brothers in a boat.  11 or 12 years old at best, they paddled Steve down the rest of the gorge to the trailhead.  Once we hit dry land, we happened upon a group of doctors picnicking, and met a woman who was trained in first aid.  And this isn’t even counting the professional aid — 2 park rangers and 2 ambulance personnel…

It sounds like a (bad) B-list movie, I know:  Americans go hiking in outback and end up  stranded and injured…. Let’s just say, I have always believed in the goodness of men and the grace of God.  But I have never before been so grateful to have experienced both.