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(2011 - Fall Issue)


Standing on the hard red sand, interspersed with Spinifex grass, low shrubs and wildflowers, we are overcome by the tranquility as the sunrise casts a red and yellow glow over Uluru, the sacred red rock formation within the vast reaches of the Australian Outback. 

One of the many highlights of our time in Australia is travelling along the Red Centre Way. This 460-kilometre route from Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, to Alice Springs allows us to get close to three of Australia’s iconic landmarks located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Watarrka national parks.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a World Heritage area with both cultural and natural values, permits us to experience the region through its Aboriginal people, the Anangu who are believed to have first inhabited this region more than 24,000 years ago.

A Step Back in Time

Our first full day starts early with a 5:30 a.m. hotel pickup to ensure a timely arrival at the viewing area and our much-anticipated Uluru sunrise. With hot coffee in hand, and adhering to the request of our Anangu host to respect the land, we stake our claim along the established walkway. Looking out over the red desert toward Uluru, it feels like we are on the ocean viewing a distant iceberg, which in this instance, is the red sandstone mound rising 348 metres above the desert floor.

As the rock gradually comes to life with the help of the rising sun, we along with digital trigger-happy tourists from around the world capture the moment. However, no photograph can do this impressive site and experience justice.

With memories saved, our next stop is the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre set in the shadow of Uluru. The words written on the wall of the Cultural Centre offer a guide to gaining the most from our experience:

Tjukurpa wirn piluntm kulinma munm nyangama

 [Watch and listen quietly to these great stories]

This cultural journey offers both interpretive and interactive experiences for visitors. It includes not only audiovisual, art and crafts, but also storytelling and interpretive walks.

Having fortified ourselves at the Ininti Café, we prepare to tread in the footsteps of the Anangu. We are led by two guides, our Anangu Aboriginal guide Alwin, who shares life experiences and knowledge gleaned from his ancestors, speaking only in his native language of Pitjantjatjara, and John, our interpreter guide, who handles the translation. In addition to sharing the spiritual significance of Uluru, Alwin demonstrates and encourages everyone to participate in traditional survival skills such as making bush glue, starting a fire and throwing a spear. These experiences are all from a man’s perspective, as men and women are separately trained with gender-assigned responsibilities, which are strictly adhered to.

The afternoon is spent at Kata Tjuta, a Pitjantjatjaraword meaning “many heads.” Aptly named, this site consists of 36 massive rock domes. Access is restricted to certain areas in order to respect the sacred Aboriginal men’s ceremonial locations. As we embark on the 2.6-kilometre Walpa Gorge walk, the wildflowers are aglow. Interpretive signage answers questions about the region’s geology, flora and fauna. Reaching the end of the pathway, we find ourselves dwarfed by the two mounds that envelop us.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park does not offer accommodation. However, just minutes outside the park gates, Voyages Ayers Rock Resort caters to all markets with campsites to five-star resorts, dining and a wonderful opportunity to shop for Aboriginal art and crafts.

As we prepare to depart from Uluru, the sky opens up with torrential rain resulting in the closure of the road servicing the Red Centre Way. Luckily, the desert absorbs water quickly and after a short delay, we are able to access our next stop, Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge.

Memorable Outback Experience

Situated on a secluded section of Kings Creek Station with the George Gill Range as its backdrop, Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge is an idyllic setting for our third Outback landmark, Kings Canyon.

Ten deluxe tented cabins offering air conditioning, full ensuites, and yes, even hot showers, giving the lodge a four-star rating, are nestled within a forest of desert oak trees. A fully accredited eco business, the Wilderness Lodge is recognized by Ecotourism Australia.

Joining fellow travellers on the open veranda of the main lodge we enjoy fine Australian wine and the hospitality of our hosts, Ian and Lynn Conway. A spectacular sunset greets us as we sit down to a gourmet meal of camel, kangaroo and barramundi.

Rising early to the rustling leaves and chirping birds, we enjoy a hearty breakfast prior to embarking on a hike through Kings Canyon. The initial plan was to do the Rim Walk. However, the preceding rains make the steep path to the ridge dangerous. As a result, we settle on the just-as-rewarding Kings Creek hike, which takes us to “The Garden of Eden.” The plus side of the rains features rushing water, lush foliage and an abundance of wildflowers, as we venture deep into the canyon between its towering orange walls.

Adrift Above the Australian Outback

Our final day in Alice Springs begins with yet another early start at 4 a.m. But, it is definitely worth the effort as we finally enjoy a clear sighting of what has been an elusive Southern Cross. And, what a memorable way to bid farewell to Australia—a hot air balloon ride. We float silently, with the exception of the blasts of propane-heated air, our eyes peeled for wildlife sightings as the orange red orb of the sun rises in the east.

After a spirited race with other balloons, our adventure concludes with a thump and laughter as we land. We were forewarned there is no such thing as a soft landing. The traditional champagne toast ends our journey and leaves us with a strong desire to return to this magnificent land.

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