Uluru & Kata Tjuta

After a hot and fly hassled lunch at the junction of Lasseter’s Hwy and Luritja Road we pulled into Yulara which is basically the Ayers Rock Resort township. After our super early morning start and the climbing temps we retreated for an early dinner at mum and dad’s apartment in the blissfully cool air conditioning. With temperatures forecast to reach 40 C on each of our 3 days and most walks being closed early if temps are forecasted above 36 C a strategy of early starts seemed to be in order.

Uluru DSC_3687

So on our first morning we checked out Uluru in the car. None of us had been here before and as a rock it certainly doesn’t disappoint. What surprised me was the landscape around the rock. The land was undulating and dotted with desert she-oaks. Around the base there are small patches of dense trees with lots of folds and gullies. Overall much more variety than I was expecting.  We did a few short walks and checked out the cultural centre/visitor info centre before retiring back to the air-con.

Uluru DSC_3662

DSC_3659Oh – did I mention the flies were out in force.


Julian and I headed out later in the day (childless), chilled champagne and “Ayers Wok” takeaway in hand to watch the sunset over Uluru and belatedly celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. On the way out we spotted some shafts of sun breaking through to highlight Kata-Tjuta.  Given the cloud cover we only got a few minutes of “colour” on Uluru before the sun went down but we both thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet!

Kata Tjuta DSC_4097Uluru DSC_4177 - Copy

Next morning it was up-and-at-em – the Olgas or Kata-Tjuta. At our first stop, a “viewing platform”, we met Grandma and Grandpa and enjoyed looking at these amazing rock formations in the early morning light.


Next stop was Valley of the Winds walk. The grandparents wilted after the first 1.5km, the kids and I bailed at the second lookout after walking 4.5km leaving Julian to complete the rest of the 7.5km loop walk. The second lookout was spectacular and the rocks seemed even more impressive than Uluru mainly due to them towering above you on all sides. (J – Kata Tjuta is almost 200 m higher than Uluru).

Kata Tjuta DSC_4526Made it to the second lookout!

With all the boys keen to climb Uluru we were up early again the next morning. If temps above 36 degrees are forecast the climb is closed at 8am, given they don’t open it until 7am this leaves only an hours window in which to commence your ascent. There was disappointment all round when the sign read ‘closed due to wind’. Plan B sprang into action and we unloaded our bikes and rode around the base instead.

Uluru DSC_5025

DSC_5023_thorny devil compositeA master of disguise.

We were thrilled to spot a thorny devil on the path about half way round and glad to have completed the ride by 10am. (J – the changes in the shape of the rock are really noticeable on the 9 km base ride. The typical steep-sided postcard views are those taken from the designated viewing platforms).

The Brain_Uluru DSC_5009DSC_5028Uluru DSC_5007P1070945James with his version of Uluru captured at a painting workshop later that day.

As a treat on our last night Grandma and Grandpa took us all out to dinner. The boys were in seventh heaven and were very excited, it was like no buffet they’d seen before. Lots and lots of delicious food and a chocolate fountain to top it all off! We tried to instil all of the important strategies of buffet dining – do not fill up on rice, bread or pasta – leave room for desert. Sam did well managing to leave room to try all seven deserts plus have two attacks at the chocolate fountain. Luckily he’s a growing boy. James made a fatal error with a big bowl of rice early on. Not to worry as they both loved it.


Kings Canyon – Watarrka National Park

Another ‘bucket list’ stop and a rendezvous with Geoff and Sue. The ‘resort’ caravan park is the only accommodation option available, meaning it’s expensive and pretty tatty, although admittedly the pool was good. The days now are regularly hitting 40 C, so all walks are relegated to early morning or very late afternoon. After setting up and having a quick dip, we drove the 10 km or so to Kings Canyon and walked along the valley floor. Pretty with the towering cliffs rising sheer above the cycads in the afternoon light. A little lizard provide some free entertainment by jumping onto my hand to eat the free meal of flies. We coaxed it onto James’ hat with the temptation of more flies, but it seemed to tire of this game after a while.


Sam excitedly checking out some ancient sea floor.


These lizards were quite tame, especially with a free lunch on offer.

Next morning we were up at dawn to start the rim walk. This is closed after 11 am because of high temperatures (anything higher than a forecast of 36 C). This unfortunate nanny state is obviously a consequence of silly tourists attempting this fairly moderate 6.6 km walk blissfully, or perhaps even hazardously unprepared. We certainly saw our share of this. My favourites are the Europeans; shirts off, no hat and little or no water! I far prefer the approach we saw in WA, which is to ‘clearly advise the risks, therefore all care, no responsibility’. We were to encounter this almost extreme ‘nanny state’ again at Uluru.


What do you call a cliff that’s more than vertical? Extra scary!


Flies and baking heat could not take away from the incredible landscape.

The Rim Walk really is excellent. A short sharp 130 m climb takes you up to the rim of the canyon, then begins the walk around the rim, with various lookouts. The views are breath taking. We stopped at The Garden of Eden, a water hole at the far end of the Canyon. It still held water and would be spectacular after rain. The rest of the walk takes you across the top of an enormous cliff that is sheer well beyond vertical. Quite terrifying! The sandstone here reminded us all of mini Bungle Bungles! We were finished after about three hours, leaving time for a swim before heading off to Yulara at Uluru.

Henbury Meteorite Crater

With only 150 km to drive and no need to arrive early, we had time for coffee and a few odd jobs, including gas bottle, larder and fuel refills. We then bid a temporary farewell to Geoff and Sue and headed south, arriving at our camp at Henbury Meteorites Crater National Park some two hours before dusk. This provided ample time to walk around several of the 4700 year old craters. There are twelve in total, ranging from 6 m to 180 m in diameter, the deepest is 15 m deep. We picked up fragments of what may well be bits of meteorite before the sun set – I just need a magnet to check what is potentially meteorite and what is stone. Because I missed out on Wolfe Creek and Gosse Bluff, I was keen to see these craters, and they didn’t disappoint, being exactly how I imagined them, almost perfectly formed and very ‘cratery’.


Next morning we were rudely woken before dawn by the arrival of a 4WD. After watching the sun rise together Kris and Sam went back to bed while James and I, keen to see the craters in the dawn light, went out to investigate. The culprit turned out to be a bloke called Andrew Gregory, a long time photographer from Australian Geographic magazine, here on assignment. He had a quad-copter drone and was videoing and photographing the craters as part of the magazine’s 30 year anniversary special on the Red Centre. He had driven here from Sydney in two days, and was off to Uluru for lunch! Someone doing something crazier than me for a photo!

Soon we were alone again at the craters. We packed up and headed east on the Ernest Giles road, a 100 km dirt road shortcut towards Kings Canyon.


Alice Springs – revisited

After a not so quiet night in remote Hermannsburg (I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be woken by wild brumbies with the early morning munchies snacking near our van) and with no reason to linger we were back in Alice Springs by mid morning. We decided to try out a different van park which was closer to the attractions we were hoping to see over the next 5 nights. (J: another unadvertised benefit was free WiFi).

DSC_2673Unfortunately the ‘Welcome to Alice’ sign had been defaced so we had to make our own ‘A’ & ‘L’. It’s unfortunate that it spells a horrible truth about the drug issues here.

Firstly though and to the boys great delight we had an important job to do – pick up Grandpa Geoff and Grandma Sue from the airport! Yes, it was time for another visit. This time mum and dad were joining us for 12 nights and taking in Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru before flying home again. After they picked up their hire car and we checked out their flash studio apartment it was back to the caravan for us, much to the boys disappointment. The disappointment was short lived as mum and dad joined us for some late afternoon nibbles at the van as well as for some itinerary planning before heading out for a great (but spicy) meal, tapas style at Epilogue Bar in the middle of Alice. Before calling it a night we decided to head up to Anzac Hill to look out at the lights of Alice. It was a pretty popular pace for a stroll on Friday night and lovely in the warm night air.

DSC_2573BBQ at the caravan.

It has been gradually heating up since we arrived in the red centre with the tops of 33 and 34 of the MacDonnells now becoming 35 and 36 with 40 predicted for our stay at Uluru. Practicality wise, this equates to early mornings to sight see before it gets too hot and late dinners because lets face it – who wants to cook in a caravan at 5:30pm when it’s still 34 degrees. Luckily our CP had a pool to cool off in each afternoon. The other unanticipated thing about our stay was the noise at night. I don’t think the cars or trucks ever stop here, seriously. Where they were all coming and going from will no doubt remain a mystery to me and maybe the surrounding hills reflected the noise somewhat but for such a small town it is far from quiet.

The next four days were filled with visits to the various attractions around town. We checked out the cultural precinct (conveniently over the road) which housed an Art Gallery and Aviation Museum. Grandpa Geoff then took the boys to the Kenworth trucking museum which they described as “awesome” as you were allowed to climb up and get inside most of the trucks.  We also enjoyed a rest day to do boring things like shop, cut the boy’s hair and swim in the pool.

DSC_2584Waiting for the bird show at the Desert Park.

We spent a day (with a break to escape the midday heat) wandering around the Desert Park Complex. This was a real highlight despite the heat. After watching the bird show with owls, kites, falcons and eagles swooping overhead we checked out the bilbies and other small marsupials in the Nocturnal house before learning about Bush Tucker at another “info session”.  The boys also enjoyed an up close session with a wedge tail eagle.





It was much more pleasant later in the afternoon and we had a more relaxing stroll around the park checking out all the aviaries and animal exhibits.

DSC_2655Our coat of arms.


On our last full day we visited Alice Springs school of the air which we all really enjoyed – even the boys!  This really is an amazing service for the 145 kids enrolled but clearly requires huge commitment from their parents to employ a full-time tutor or commit one parent to schooling from 8am to 3pm each day.  Later we headed out to the Royal Flying Doctors Centre which we all decided didn’t live up to expectations.


Iconic of the red centre.

On our final morning we enjoyed a slow start and a late checkout before heading out to stock up again before travelling south (our aim was to arrive at our next bush camp late in the afternoon to avoid the heat).  First stop was Millner’s Butcher, a great tip from our Swiss friends Oliver and Jeannine.  We had already tried their Moroccan lamb sausages (delicious) earlier in the week and were keen for more.  So after loading up with such treats as Camel and Date snags, thick cut beef steaks and Cattatori salami we were off to do more mundane shopping at woollies before heading out of town.


There is a 100 km short cut between the end of the West MacDonnell Ranges and the little Aboriginal community of Hermannsburg. This short cut has a fearsome reputation for being stony and corrugated. And whilst it does go past the 4.7 million year old, 5 km wide meteorite impact crater of Gosse Bluff, it also saves you only 100 km. Whilst I was very keen to see the crater, the potential for new stone chips on the van won out and we decided on the chicken run on the bitumen. It was a wonderful treat to drive back past the ranges, aptly described by one scientist on a National Parks podcast as ‘a pile of Persian carpets folded up with the top then cut off’.

Hermannsburg was founded in the 1880’s as a mission by a few German missionaries, one of whom was Finke, who was lucky enough to have the local river named after him. Nowadays, it is separated into the aboriginal community (with no white access), and the original mission, where we camped. The story is unusual in that Finke, Schultz and the other missionaries were progressive enough to try to retain and not completely destroy the indigenous culture. Although as history is typically written by the victors and not those they oppressed, there were certainly very clear elements of westernism that crept into the mission statement until it was handed back to the locals in the 1920’s.


Our whole raison d’etre for coming here was to use it as a launch point to visit Palm Valley, a short drive on a 4WD track noted as ‘severe’. The first 22 km you could probably do in a Corolla, the last 2 km however, were pretty rough and we needed both inches of the Cruiser’s lift kit to avoid scrapes. Our first stop was Kalarranga lookout, about half way to Palm Valley. This offers breath taking views of the surrounding iron oxide red sandstone cliffs and boulders that rim the lookout.


Views from Kalarranga lookout. Really sensational.

I thought ‘even if Palm Valley is a dud, this will have made it worthwhile’. Lucky we stopped there, because we all felt that the actual Palm Valley was a bit underwhelming. The red cabbage livistona palms, nestled in a shallow valley, are well away from the walking tracks, so rather than walking through the palms, you walk beside them in the sun. Not entirely pleasant in our case on a 35 degree day. I did the longer 5 km walk whilst Kris and the boys did the shorter 1.5 km walk. They didn’t miss anything.


After a fun 4WD trip back (meaning lots of video of me going over rocks – which looked rather tame in replay), we visited the Hermannsburg museum for its famous apple strudel and a walk around the mission buildings. A gallery houses some original works by Albert Namitjira, the famous Indigenous landscape painter who was born here. Tragically, after being granted citizenship in 1957 (I’m pretty sure the aboriginals were here first), he died two years later after a spell in prison for selling alcohol to a mate(aboriginals were not able to buy alcohol at the time, only white ‘Australians’). The gallery also had a few similarly styled paintings by his children. They were not even a pinch of his quality, but as Wilde once quipped, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.