During our 5 days in the desert we drove over 1800km, flew in a hot-air balloon, dined under the stars, ate kangaroo, emu, crocodile & camel, rode camels, walked around Ayers Rock, RAN around Kings Canyon, saw a desert rally, encountered dingos in the dark and much more.
We landed at Ayers Rock airport early afternoon after a 3hr flight from Sydney. Bizarrely Ayers Rock is in one of the only half hour timezones in the world, so naturally we had minor jet lag 😉
We were booked in for the ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner that evening and were being collected from the Ayers Rock Campground at 5pm. This meant that we had a couple of hours to work out how to get out tent set up.
It’s a simple ‘town’, a circular road set up purely for tourism boasting a couple of hotels, a police station, supermarket, restaurant, cafes, tourist shops (of course!) and the campground.
Now, Smart was initially very hesitant at the concept of camping, but when I pointed out that we could put all the money saved towards ACTIVITIES he accepted. “So much extra space for activities”
Sounds of Silence was an awesome introduction to the area. We were picked up and driven out to a ‘sunset viewing point’ where we had some fizz and canapes. Here Smart and I marked ourselves out from the other civilised guest by being the only ones to have seconds (okay maybe thirds) of fizz, and fifths of canapes.
The view of the rock as the sun went down was stunning and we then made our way down to where the tables were set-up in the middle of the bush. The dinner was very tasty, the highlight being the kangaroo fillets but for me the real highlight of the evening was the ‘star-talk’ from the resident astronomer.
He pointed out Jupiter and Saturn, Scorpio, Leo (I was dubious of this one – looked more like a dog than an upside down lion) and the Southern Cross. He also taught us how to use the two ‘pointer stars’ to the left of the Cross and use the intersection of their linage with the vertical axis of the Cross in order to find South.
He did all this using an incredibly powerful torch, the beam of which shone far into the sky, making it easy for us to pick out the stars that he was talking about, and to envisage where the pointers and the Cross would intersect and how the line would come down to the horizon to find South. I did however point out to Smart that if you were lost in the Southern Hemisphere and needing to use the stars to navigate then the chances of you having an industrial powered torch were slim. Spoil sport.
We were then allowed to look through their telescopes at Saturn and Jupiter and you could see Saturn’s rings and two of Jupiter’s moons! I asked to look at Earth’s moon but my request was rejected as they didn’t have their ‘moon lense’.
For any space geeks amongst you I was just reading this article about how Saturn’s moons could actually be one of the nearest likely place for extra-terrestrial life to prosper.
The best part of the dinner was when they turned out all the table lights and we could just look up at the stars and listen to the ‘Sounds of Silence’ (cheesy I know). It was the most stars I have ever seen in my life and there was only about an hour where they looked like that before the moon rose and lit up the sky.
After dinner we went back to the tent and crashed out. Well, Smart crashed out and began heavily snoring, whilst I lay there prodding him progressively harder…”Smart can you please lie on your side instead?”…”SMART try lying on your other side”…
A pattern that would continue throughout the long weekend….
At 5.30am Smart woke up refreshed, and I, well, woke up. However I was quickly energised with excitement for the activity that lay ahead: Camel riding!!
We were booked onto the ‘Camels to Sunrise’ tour with Uluru Camel Tours and it was such fun! They collected us from the campsite and we drove about 10 minutes to the camel farm where we were taken into the yard to meet the camels.
There were a line of about 20 camels, and Smart and I picked the best looking one to stand beside in the hope of riding it. Of course we were assigned the only one with a muzzle on!!
They were dromedary camels (1 hump instead of 2) and the seats were set up either side of the hump so that two of us rode the same camel. We were assured that when camels worked transporting across the country they would carry up to 400kg on their 700kg frames, so hopefully Smart and my combined weight didn’t trouble them too much, even after the big dinner the previous evening.
We were told that the biggest person should sit at the back, which Smart attempted to nominate me for, and from the look of these photos he might have been right:
The views of Ayers Rock and Kata Tjutu as the sun rose were incredible.
Despite our initial disappointment at being assigned Stirlo as our camel we grew very fond of him during the ride, and I think him of us.
After the ride we were given cups of tea and beer-damper. We didn’t know what it was either! Smart’s ears pricked up at the mention of beer, but we quickly learnt that it was in fact a type of soda bread, traditionally cooked in the coals of a campfire.
We headed back to camp, feeling very accomplished for the day and it was only 9am! With the rest of the day stretching ahead of us we first decided that we need to sort the music situation in the car. We had hundreds of KMs ahead of us, and no USB port in the car.
Now, this became an almost farcical situation over the weekend, with us ending up buying no less than 5 different types of charger/adapter gadgets to attempt to get music to play. In the end we settled for the offerings of the campground service station:
With tunes sorted we set off into the national park to go and see Ayers Rock. You can either buy a 3 day pass for $25 or an annual pass for $30. We knew that we’d be back in the area on Monday so Smart and I are now proud annual members of the Ayers Rock national park. If anyone’s heading there soon just let me know!
I didn’t even realise that it was an option to climb UP the rock, but it turned out that tour companies had imbedded a metal railing up the side of the rock years ago and there were various out of shape tourists happily marching past the sign asking that you don’t climb the rock as it is sacred to the Aboriginal people and struggling on up. If you want to find out more there’s an interesting article about the issues surrounding the climb.
Instead, Smart and I opted for the 10k base walk. Now I’d happily run 10k (well, maybe not happily!) but walking it was loonnnnng. We’d decided to do the loop before lunch, so we got about half way around with me loving it until I morphed into a petulant child complaining about the flies, the fact that the picnic was so far away in the car, the fact that the rock looked the same from all angles 🙊🙊🙊
When we EVENTUALLY made it back to the car we rewarded ourselves with our picnic. This had to be eaten in the car due to the insane amount of flies. We played a game of “guess how far the unfit people will make it up the rock before sitting down/turning around”
Once we got back to camp we had 2 hours of ‘scheduled relaxation’ by the pool before scrubbing ourselves up, AKA wiping the top layer of dust off and heading over to the outback BBQ. We tried a bit of everything new; kangaroo, emu, crocodile and camel (sorry Stirlo!)
After a couple of games of pool it was back to the tent for another dreamy night’s sleep for Smart and another night in the earthquake simulation chamber for me.
Saturday morning we packed up our tent like pros and hit the road to Alice Springs with RnB superclub hits for company.
For anyone who goes to visit Ayers Rock and flies into Alice Springs, just be aware that they are not close!! Lots of people appear to be caught out by this since the majority of flights go to Alice Springs rather than Ayers.
Notable events along the 460km journey include:
- Spotting a far away rock (Mount Connor) rising out the desert that looked equally impressive to Ayers Rock, we felt bad for it that it doesn’t get the same attention!
- Almost every car coming in the opposite direction waving at us. At first we thought there must be something wrong with the car but 3 hours into the journey when you’re only passing a car every 15 minutes we totally got the excitement and became waving fiends ourselves.
Once we arrived in Alice Springs we checked into our AirBnB house. Well, strictly speaking first of all we went to the wrong house, walked in the back gate, only to be faced by 4 camels in the back garden! We turned around quite quickly. Once we got next door to the correct house our neighbours told us that their neighbour is famous in the UK as ‘Kangaroo Dundee’ and has a Kangaroo Rescue farm up the road. I think they were quite disappointed in us that we hadn’t heard of him!
We dropped our bags and went to explore Alice Springs. Despite the protestations of everyone who lives there, there really is not a huge amount to see. We went up Anzac Hill and looked through ‘The Gap’ in the Macdonnell mountain range out to the outback. We went to the casino resort (somewhat depressing!) for lunch in the sun and then headed to the golf course where Smart showed off his swing as I chipped away at the grass 🙂
After two days of camping we made the most of having a lovely non-communal bathroom and showered for about an hour each. Apologies desert water supplies! Then that evening we went for an Italian dinner at a place called Casa Nostre in town. The food was good but it took about 2 hours to come! Petulant h-angry Caitlin almost made a return.
Early to bed in preparation for Sunday morning’s activity: HOT AIR BALLOONING!!!
We were picked up at 6am by Outback Ballooning and driven out to near the airport. As we drove down a dirt road in the pitch black our driver asked “Can anyone see the balloon yet?” and suddenly we spotted it, this amazing glowing orb which looked like a sun rising over the trees.
I had expected a whole heap of safety briefings and waiting around but we were able to hop into the basket about 10 minutes after arriving (I make it sound more elegant than it was – read ‘hop’ as ‘throw myself over the side’)
So for those of you who haven’t been in a hot-air balloon before, let me explain the set-up. I’d assumed that it was just one basket which we could all merrily stroll around in, but the basket was in fact divided into 6 little sub-compartments, each holding a few people. There were probably 14 of us in total in the balloon, including our pilot, and Smart and I were sharing our compartment with an American tourist called Paul.
Paul definitely judged us (me) for taking so many photos when he was trying to serenely watch the sunrise. Especially when I requested that we swapped places halfway through so I could be near the edge!
Anyway, all of that aside, I can honestly say that it is one of the best experiences I have had in my life. It was completely incredible. We could see for miles and miles across the desert and as the sun came up over the Macdonnell range it lit up the mist over the outback with this amazing morning glow. Combine this with kangaroos hopping below us (really!) and the spectacular clouds above us as the sun came up and it was just perfect.
It wasn’t scary in the slightest either. Given that I’m not a huge fan of flying I was worried I might get scared but it was the smoothest ride. I didn’t even realise we’d taken off until we were at tree level!
Now, we unintentionally timed our balloon ride superbly well. Given that there’s not a whole lot going on in Alice Springs we’d picked the one day of the year when 100 rally cars and 600 motorbikes were setting off on a 2 day sand rally called the ‘Finke Desert Race’.
The cars started at 7am and we saw the start from the air, it was incredibly peaceful as we couldn’t hear the engines up high, but could just see this plume of dust rising behind the lead car and eventually stretching as far as we could see across the desert.
We’d opted for the hour-long balloon ride rather than 30 minutes and I’m so glad that we did. It was the perfect length. Once we landed we helped pack the balloon away – obviously after all our practice with the tent Smart and I were pros, and were then rewarded with some champagne and breakfast snacks.
An absolutely ideal start to the day. Smart and I began pondering what it would be like to have your commute in a hot-air balloon, it wasn’t long before the guy who was driving us back to our AirBnB told us in no uncertain terms to let that dream go.
Almost as soon as we got home we hit the road again, this time with Kids Party Pop (CDs 1 AND 2) for company. We went slightly ‘wrong’ en route to Kings Canyon campground. Well, not technically wrong but we followed the Sat-Nav, which resulted in us doing a far bigger loop than necessary, but also avoiding 100km of unsealed roads.
In fact, I’ve only just discovered right now when writing this and checking google maps that we did go ENTIRELY wrong compared to what I’d originally planned. This is the loop that we intended to do:
but instead we just did the right-hand and bottom sections twice each 🙂 next time eh….!
So, given the slightly longer route, we made it to Kings Canyon about 3pm, still waving madly at all the other cars en route of course. Still singing along to “Wiggle wiggle wiggle”, of course.
We quickly got our tent set up and asked in the visitors centre about the Kings Canyon rim walk. We were told that you should allow at least 3 hours. The problem being that sunset was at 6pm, meaning we needed to get to the ‘sunset viewing platform (and bar)’ around 5.30pm.
What does one do in this situation? Save the walk until the morning? Or…..RUN! Let’s just say that Smart’s face did not light up when I suggested an afternoon run in the hottest part of the day – unlike some climates the desert gets hotter all day until about 5pm and then suddenly the temperature drops as the sun goes down.
But, he obliged and we had an amazing little run around the canyon rim. We did obviously stop at points to take it all in and also do a bit of walk-running. It was such fun though, and a great work out running up and down all the natural rock steps.
It was a really cool place and I’d definitely recommend a visit if you get the chance, it was like a little lost world up in the sky!
We made it to sunset drinks in good time and then headed over to the outback BBQ at camp. There were signs all around the camp telling us to “Beware of aggressive Dingos” but we didn’t really take them very seriously until the sunset was accompanied by a choir of howling dingos not too far away.
I rose in the night to head to the bathroom and as I stepped outside the tent I came face to face with a big old dingo. He was just chilling on the grass about 2m away and we had a little stare-down. I suddenly became very conscious that I was dressed as a zebra in my onesie and so decided to slowly back away before his inner-hyena emerged.
Our final big day of driving back to where we started: Ayers Rock Campground!
By this point we could just click our fingers and the tent was constructed, giving us plenty of time in the afternoon to go and explore the other natural wonder in the national park: Kata Tjuta (or ‘the Olgas’)
I enjoyed walking around Kata Tjuta more than Ayers Rock, it was a really interesting landscape and you could actually walk in-between the rock domes. Smart and I were also super hiking savvy by this point, and after being tormented by hundred of flies during our Ayers Rock loop on Friday we made sure we were fully equipped this time: FLY NETS BABY!!
We were the coolest kids on the block (sorry – rock!)
We spent a couple of hours exploring Kata Tjuta. We didn’t do the full loop walk as this was another 3 hour jobby and we’d had our fill of hiking, but we did go out to the second viewpoint, it’s definitely worth going that bit further from the first as you get deeper into the valley of the wind and there are some awesome views.
Once the walk was over we decided to put our wheels to the test and go for a spin on the dirt road that leads out of the national park near Kata Tjuta to the Western Australia border. It was totally deserted meaning we could pretend we were taking part in the Finke rally.
We had a little picnic and wine by the pool and then played catch with our mini-Roosters rugby ball until the sun went down.
For our final night we returned to the outback BBQ for our final fill of bush-meat. Then, we got snug in the tent and…SMART DIDN’T SNORE, 🎉🎉🎉 hallelujah. This was because we made a giant pillow out of his sleeping bag-cover and filled it with desert laundry, mmm. Elevating his head sufficiently to stop the roar.
I’m so glad we figured it out on the last night…!
Tuesday marked the end of our desert adventure. We couldn’t resist heading back to the dirt road for a final cruise with ‘Maximum Bass’ blaring out. Lads.
Then it was back to Ayers Rock airport, returning the rental car (and getting totally stung on the 100km a day limit, whooopsy!) and hopping on the plane back to Sydney.
Poor Smart was then heading on to Perth to stay with his brother for the week but there were no direct flights from Ayers Rock to Perth, meaning he had to fly halfway across Aus just to fly the whole way back again. But he got to spend the last week with me, sooo swings and roundabouts!!
I on the other hand was starting a real office job again on the Wednesday so had to get myself out of holiday mode. The job’s only a short term contract, so no more trips planned in the near future, but New Zealand and the Barrier Reef are still well on my radar.
Well done if you’ve read this far, or even just skipped through the pictures 🙂