October 24, 2004

Into the Red Centre

Our last Australian trip before heading back to Canada was into the Central Australian outback, also known as the "Red Centre." Unfortunately we only had 5 days including travel time, but we managed to squeeze a fair bit in.

To start with the obvious, the Red Centre is indeed red. The big famous rock, the desert dirt, the sand dunes, and even the kangaroos are all red.

But there's also more green than I thought there would be. When you're driving through the outback, you're surrounded by flat plains covered in different kinds of desert scrub and trees. The sky is huge and bright blue, and you can even spot the odd camel! (They were brought to Australia as work animals in the 19th century).

If you fly into Alice Springs, as we did, you don't immediately see that landscape though. "Alice" is a pretty big town now, all grown up from its early days as a telegraph station relaying messages across Australia. We did pay a visit to the telegraph station. Because it's in a nature reserve, we saw a lot of the relatively rare and very cute black-footed rock wallabies there. The station also had a lot of interesting historical info about both the telegraph station itself and early encounters between the Aboriginals and the white settlers in that area. As you would expect from other countries that were colonized, the "encounter" didn't go very well for the Aboriginals. You can still see the effects of racism and socio-economic disadvantage on the Aboriginal people living in this area today. It's too complicated and difficul to write much about here, but too important to not mention at all.

After Alice, we headed out to visit the main attraction in the area: Uluru (Aboriginal name) or Ayer's Rock. Australians often describe Uluru as "iconic", and no matter where you are in Australia you do end up seeing a lot of pictures of it. But no matter how many pictures you've seen, it's still an absolutely incredible sight. It helps to drive for five hours through flat terrain to get there, so that you can appreciate how crazy it is for an enormous rock to be sitting there in the middle of nowhere. It's a very sacred site for the Anangu (the local Aboriginals), and when you're there you can see why. We did all of the usual Uluru touristy things: walk around the base (4 hours!), watch the sunrise and sunset, and visit the Cultural Centre explaining its significance to the Aboriginal people and how they are administering the site jointly with Parks Australia. The one thing we didn't do was climb to the top of Uluru; the Aboriginal traditional owners ask visitors to respect the sacredness of Uluru by not climbing.

We also visited another crazy rock formation in the same park, called Kata Tjuta or the Olgas. If it weren't so near to Uluru, this site would probably be equally famous. It's just as tall and red as Uluru, but it's made up of 36 "domes" instead of just one big rock. We went on an incredible four hour hike through the area - not only are the rocks amazing, but there are lots of beautiful plants and birds there as well.

When you're visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta park, you pretty much have to stay at the Ayer's Rock Resort, the only sizeable accomodation option for hundreds of kilometres around. Since it has to cater to all tourists' needs, it has everything from a couple 5-star hotels, to a motel, a hostel, and a campground (where we stayed). The restaurants are equally diverse; we mostly cooked our own food at the campsite, but we did visit the "Outback Pioneer Barbeque." Here tourists can barbeque their own food Aussie-style. Of course we had to try the Outback Combo: emu, kangaroo, and crocodile. It's a good thing it was fun because the food tasted terrible! I think croc is never good, but our bad barbequing was probably responsible for the taste of the emu and kangaroo. It shows how many tourists visit the area that the Resort has heaps of shops, including Aboriginal art shops, souvenir shops, a grocery store, a post office, and a bank.

On our way back to Alice, we stopped in at Simpson's Gap. As Lonely Planet pointed out, it's pretty amazing for a big chasm to be carved out by a river that's nearly always dry. We also saw more rock wallabies hopping up and down the sides of the canyon, and even saw some of them wrestling - pretty cute! If you want to hear Anatole rant and rave at great length, ask him about people who pass the time visiting a beautiful spot full of endangered species by screaming and yelling at each other.

Overall, it was one of our best trips and we are definitely hoping to go back to the outback next time we're in Australia!

Pictures of our outback trip are here: Red Centre, Uluru (Ayer's Rock), and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

Posted by miriam at October 24, 2004 02:26 PM

Yes, Olgariffic!

Posted by: Lana at October 24, 2004 10:34 PM
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