The Rock, Olgas and Kings Canyon are all breathtaking..
– I had been living in Melbourne for just over 5 months. My bicycle had taken me nowhere off the cycle path. It was time for me to indulge in some culture and natural beauty for the first time since arriving in Australia.
From 3 epic months in Asia to 5 months of hard work in Melbourne CBD – I was about ready to see some of Australia. Leaving Melbourne to go back to England in 1 months time, I was extremely happy to be going to Alice Springs to see Uluru, Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and the Olgas with my work colleague and close friend Cristiana.
We booked direct flights from Melbourne Airport to Alice Springs with Tiger Airways. This was around $180 dollars return and ‘The Rock Tour’ operator actually told us that they had seen a large increase in business in the last 4 months since the low budget airline had been offering cheap flights direct from the major cities to Alice Springs. Because we were limited on time and on a budget we booked through Greyhound tours online and signed up for the 3 day ‘Rock Tour’ with ‘The Rock Tour’ company…
The flight left at nine in the morning and we had to be at the airport stupidly early. I don’t actually think I went to sleep the night before because I was so excited. The Tiger Airways flights leave from terminal 4 – which is kind of a crude, bolt-on terminal that looks like it has hastily been thrown together from a left over / disused warehouse on the airport grounds. Here we bought coffee and toasties before the flight which were actually not bad considering the price and the overall look and feel of the hangar we were waiting in.
The flight was around 2 hours and was pretty comfortable. We slept most of the way and woke up a few times to admire the arid desert views from over the wing with flat visible plains and waterways for miles around.
Once we had landed we walked straight of the small Alice airport and immediately found the shuttle to the town centre which was $15 each. Everyone here we spoke to was super friendly and helpful and it felt great to experience the friendly communication you get from small towns with people appreciating the interaction and embracing it instead of having their heads glued to the screen of their mobile devices.
From the airport to the town it took around half an hour with the shuttle making a few stops along the way at the various different accommodations. In Alice there is backpacker double rooms for around 60 dollars per night and even cheaper dorms with Hotels and park lodgings at the more expensive end of the scale also. We opted for a low-mid range motel room at the Diplomat Motel in the centre of town. This place was rated very well on trip advisor and for $100 per night we had a nice, clean double en-suite for the first night in Alice.
The population of Alice Springs is around twenty-five thousand and its made up (from what I could see) of country boguns, travellers and Aboriginals. A typical gateway town, living off the influx of tourism that comes in search of the neighbouring natural wonders.
The Rock Tour office was 2 minutes round the corner from the Diplomat Motel and we checked in here soon after arriving to confirm that we would be ready for pick up at 6.00am…
After a good night sleep at the Diplomat (in the centre of town near Woolworth’s) Josh our tour guide picked us up and we set off picking up the rest of the group. Once we had a mix of around 20 people from various nationalities, We made our way to Kings Canyon.
Here there is a hill-top circular walk that circles around the main features of the canyon and allows you to see all the great views and wonderful scenery in the area. At ground zero there are toilets and drinking water taps – but no water when you get up top so be careful to fill your canteen first.
The flies here are annoying on the ground but get less needy when you are atop of the canyon. We spent most of the day walking around here, great sunny weather and not a cloud in the sky. There are some nice features like over-hanging cliff edges and some natural pools but its the rich red colours and views that make this place truly breath-taking.
We left Kings Canyon at around five and set off to gather fire wood from a ‘controlled fire’ blanket area that had an abundance of dead wood available on the side of the main road. Once we had enough wood for the evening, we headed to the campsite which was basically just a field with a tin shed toilet and a tin shed roof for sleeping under. We made a big fire in the circular fire pit area and cooked the evening meals out of the back of the trailers that came with our mini buses. I was on ‘fire detail’ which meant I did not have to wash-up (result) although this did not stop some of the less naturist nations sticking fire wood on the fire in a manner that could only be classed as well, detrimental to the fire… but I let it pass or corrected it.
We slept out under the stars in Swags. Like a roll-up pea-pod style tent that acts as a secondary sleeping bag and can enclose your face in also. The whole of the second group completely monopolised the spaces around the fire, so we had to find a space a little bit away from the warmth. Needless to say, Cristiana woke up several times in the night freezing and she was a little upset and cold by the morning.
Next morning we warmed her up with lashings of coffee and slept warm in the van on the way to the next destination of interest. Today we were visiting the Olgas and these were my favourite part of the journey. Set away from Uluru, the Olgas are made up of lots of smaller domes than Uluru but they are still extremely impressive in their size and the curved shape of them is calming and they look beautiful in the surrounding landscape.
Here we were able to do a walk that goes right around them and ends through the middle of them through small canyons and gullies that have naturally formed. This place was surreal and reminded me of Jurassic Park. The plant life and arid planes really gave the sense of prehistoric times and with the rich red domes it almost felt like another world or planet. This walk was long but there were two water stations at two stages of the walk.
The most breathtaking part of the Olgas walk was the gorge and lookout point. It had a name (can’t remember it) but the view from here was breathtaking and it really felt like another world from a 1950’s sci-fi movie.
On the second night we camped at a proper campsite which had hot showers and toilets and power-points so that everyone could charge their devices. I didn’t need to charge anything but this did come in handy for the camera batteries as we only had one set of rechargeable batteries.
This second campsite was a lot more homely and the weather was warmer on this evening. We were able to sleep right next to the fire, looking upward with trees over head framing the beautiful array of stars with the moon just off to the side. Laying warm on the ground looking up at the stars with a close friend smoking a joint was a highlight of this trip and being so far removed from corporate and working life was amazing and only reinforced my feelings for never wanting to work in an office or corporate environment ever again.
On the last day of the tour we were all up at 5.30 so that we could arrive at the Uluru viewpoint and see the sunrise over the monumental protrusion. Before the sun came the glow on the horizon was breathtaking and as the sun came up the whole of Uluru glowed a bright red that made it feel alive or a part of a mountain range on mars.
We took a lot of photos and had breakfast out of the back of the trailer whilst absorbing the beautiful views with instant coffee and cigarettes.
As the day progressed we visited the Aboriginal cultural centre where we read about the natives views and stories that are attached to all the sacred sites in the area.
The Rock Tour took the stance for not climbing Uluru on safety and respect of the people in the area. By lunchtime many Australian tourists were already climbing up the shady trail up the shallowest side of Uluru where a crude and low metal fence was erected some 40 years ago.
The rest of this day was spent walking around the perimeter of Ayer’s Rock and we all walked the 10 kilometre trial in good time. We stopped to take many photos and to embrace the huge natural formation that lay before us. There are sacred areas dotted around the side of Uluru where you cannot take photos or shout or do other things that are not aligned to the natives belief systems and most people respected this. I was also able to film a quick video for my friends back home who were getting married a few days later – which was nice as I had not seen them in eight months.
By the last day everyone was super tired and everyone slept in the van. The tour was finished off nicely by visiting one final view point which allowed us to see a great view of Mount Conner and a vast dry lake bed in the opposite direction.
On the drive back to Alice Springs we stopped off for a spot of Camel racing which was great value at $7.00 each
When we got back to Alice Springs everyone was dropped off at respective lodgings and we all re-met at 8.00pm where we had a nice meal and drinks at The Rock Bar. A kind of ‘exit through the giftshop’ for backpackers and it worked really well. We had a great night dancing, prancing and talking and this was a splendid way to finish the trip and say good bye to the fellow travellers we had shared the experience with.
We booked into the Diplomat motel again for the last evening and got an even nicer room than the first night.
next day we got the plane back to Melbourne with no hick-ups except for us leaving the camera on the plane (which we luckily got back).
I can safely say that I am so glad that I went on this trip and actually saw some natural beauty in Australia with my own eyes and for the experience we had it was great value and I would recommend it to everyone.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Flights $180
- The Rock Tour $350
- Diplomat Motel $100 (per night – we needed just 2)
- Airport transfer $15 each (each way)
- Snacks (expensive – but the food that the Rock Tour provided will fill you up)
Our guide was called Josh, he was awesome and gave us some valuable insights into bush life, bush tucker and Aboriginal culture. He was a laugh, but still very professional with bags of integrity. I recommend him – Joshtherocktour@hotmail.com