A town called Alice

6 Jan

Sunday

Well, a quick(ish) jaunt on a plane to Alice Springs. It was warm in Melbourne… it’s in the mid 40s (and we’re not talking fahrenheit) here in Alice Springs. Which isn’t, as it happens, a very exciting town. Neither is it actually anywhere near any of the exciting places like Uluru or Watarrka.

Hold on a minute. I’m in Alice Springs. ALICE SPRINGS! I’ve always been fascinated by this place, right in the middle of this huge continent, where the doctors fly helicopters and aeroplanes. Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of going to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs (2)Alice Springs (3)

Anyway, Annie’s Place is a nice enough hostel, where the receptionist (from Rochdale, as it happens) torments me mercilessly about asking so many questions in my emails. We’ve got a bar. A pool. $5 meals. Free internet (although it isn’t working). There are cool photographs and posters glued to the walls and bicycles hanging from the roof.

Annie's Place (1)Annie's Place

Alice Springs is the home of the Henley on Todd Regatta where the competitors run with their feet through the bottom of boats on the dry bed of the Todd River. It’s been cancelled before – when there actually was water in the river.

Monday

So, up at 5:15 to join the tour…. Mulga’s tours are based at Annie’s Place so it’s easy enough.. and off on the first stop on this crazy three day tour. It’s 400km from Alice Springs to Watarrka, or King’s Canyon.. we stop along the way to grab some photos.. but it’s flat, flat, flat.

On the Bus (2)To Wattarka (1)

With the occasional bump. The ground is arid as hell – the bushes get their moisture from the air (and there’s precious little moisture in the air) as the ground is totally dry. The crew for today are a mix of Taiwanese, Indonesian, German, Dutch, French, Norwegian – and four Brits, who rib the driver mercilessly about cricket.

And so to Wattarka. This place is sacred to the aboriginal people in the area (and remember, there were 200 + mobs (tribes) in Australia. The huge canyon (also known as King’s Canyon) is awesome – although the first climb up Heart Attack Hill soon sorted out the men from the boys..

Wattarka (16)

Wattarka (6) Climbing Heart Attack Hill

Wattarka (18) Ghost Gum

Wattarka (26)Garden of Eden (12)

The Canyon is truly incredible though, gorgeous rock formations that stand out – the aboriginal people saw them as the dead warriors

Garden of Eden (15)Garden of Eden (5)

And hiding deep inside the canyon, if you avoid the obvious track, is a beautiful oasis called the Garden of Eden. It’s been dry, so there’s no waterfall, but we edge ourselves across the pool and its population of ‘nearly frog’ tadpoles to the other side and look over the edge. It’s another glorious view, even if the water isn’t running..Garden of Eden (6)

Through the Wedding tree – we’re very careful who accompanies who through there – and on to the end of the trail.. and back to the bus. It’s a 6km trail, and it’s taken us just shy of four hours in the heat of the day (and that’s like, 46 degrees). Lots of water consumed – and by the end, it’s warm enough to shower in.

Wedding Tree (2) The Wedding Tree

And off then to our camp site. Another long drive, with everyone excited at the appearance of Mount Conner – another mesa in the middle of the outback.

Mt Conner Viewpoint (2) Not Uluru

We’re staying overnight just outside Curtis Springs but on the Curtis Springs land – this million acre cattle ranch is bigger than the Netherlands. But we really are in the middle of nowhere.. we receive dire warnings about shaking clothes and boots before putting them on, in case something nasty has taken up residence – and make sure your boots are carefully secured in case the dingos take them. (The owner of Curtis Springs also owns the land that Mt Conner is on – and buries his family members at the base). Paul, our guide, cooks us kangaroo tail for dinner – one of the moments I am truly, deeply glad I am vegetarian.

Curtin Springs (6)

We’ve all got swags, which, for the uninitiated, are canvas zipped bags with a hood and a mattress. We only need the mattress, it’s so damn hot. But we sleep well, which is just as well, because we’re up at 5:30 to make our way to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. It’s cloudy at first, but eventually the stars peer down at us – in the bush, nowhere near light pollution, the stretch across the heavens.. the Milky Way is an iridescent cloud of light, while Orion still looks down from his inverted (to Northern eyes) viewpoint. And every now and then a shooting star arcs its fiery path across the blackness.

So, up and out after a camp breakfast and a meeting with another psycho in a tutu – or an emu, to you.

Curtin Springs am (3)Curtin Springs am (6)

Sunset might have been a bit lame, but sunrise does not disappoint us…

Curtin Springs (11)Curtin Springs (2)

Today, it’s a visit to Kata Tjuta – this crazy rock formation is part of the skyline with Uluru, and in some ways is more beautiful than the better known monolith. We walk the Valley of the Winds, a climb up through the wonderful rock formations to look out at the incredible vista below..

Kata Tjuta (23)Kata Tjuta (39)Kata Tjuta (2)

 

I elect to take the longer walk back to the bus – it’s an easier walk this time, but the solitude and beauty simply amaze me.. I’m quite a fast walker, scrambler, falling downy sort of tramper – but I just want to linger and absorb the tranquillity, the beauty and the energy of the place..

Kata Tjuta (6)Kata Tjuta (58)

And then a brief drive across the park to Uluru. And perhaps we’ll save that story for another day… but i am already torn by a question: to climb the mountain or not? The aboriginal peoples ask for people not to climb – they do not climb, as it is such a sacred place. The rangers ask for people not to climb, as there have been 40-50 deaths on the rock due to heat exhaustion. For me, I want to respect the people – yet I also feel that the rock belongs to the world – and that there is possibly a rite of passage to be experienced.

My friend Lisa wrote her thoughts . . .

There is no natural feature on earth which does not show the greatness and beauty of its creator. They are gifts to us all. I believe there are good ways to experience everything we wish to – and still respect another’s beliefs. If you decide against climbing the rock, you may find it is more spiritual, for you, to look up at it from the earth below. If you climb, you may gaze at the horizon in wonder.

. . . and what will I decide…..?

First Sight of Uluru

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