Camping in the Outback

One of the top items on our bucket lists that I’m glad we finally checked (not off, because we still want to go camping again!), is camping in the Australian outback.

Although initially I was quite upset that I’d accidentally booked us on a camping trip the week of the full moon, it wasn’t an issue in the end. We had the treat of watching the moon rise over Uluru the first evening, and on subsequent evenings, the clouds overhead obscured most of the stars anyway.

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Our first campsite at Ayers Rock Resort. The moon was so bright, I had to burrow under my sleeping bag to escape from its glare

We slept at three different sites on the trip: at Ayers Rock Resort in Uluru, at Kings Canyon Site, and finally at a private bush camp, Curtain Springs Site. Curtain Springs was the most basic of the three campsite, without electricity or running water. Heck, even the “toilet” was a pit dug out with three zinc walls. It was however, the group’s favorite campsite since we had the entire area to ourselves, minus the occasional pack of dingos we could hear howling through the night. By then, we had also grown accustomed to spending time with one another, and happily huddled together by the roaring fire we fed from dead trees we uprooted.

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The dirt track leading to Curtain Springs Site

As with every meal we had outback, everyone pitched in to make dinner. Our guide Chris made soda bread which he baked in a pot heated with glowing coals from the fire, while Luiz, an actual chef in his past life, led the cooking of the bolognese pasta.

Although the evening was the chilliest yet, the heat from the fire was comforting. Bellies full and eyelids heavy after the excitement of the day, we rolled out our swags in a circle around the fire and settled in for the night.

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Initially, we were somewhat worried that it might rain through the night, but it held. At different points through the night I’d open my eyes and see either big patches of clear sky or fast moving clouds rolling across the moonlit sky.

All too soon, the sun rose the next morning, marking an end to our camping in the outback.

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Hiking in the Outback

Our hiking guide from Mulgas Adventures, Chris, actually professed that his favorite time of the year to lead groups on the Rock to Rock tour was in the thick of summer. Ugh. Think 47 degree C weather, hordes of flies. I can’t even remember what his rationale was, nevermind begin to comprehend it. Longer days maybe? Give me winter anytime. Pleasant days that range from mid-teens to high-twenties, cool nights, less flies and mosquitoes (although I still got dozens of bites all over my hands the second night when it was warmer in the high-teens).

Hiking opportunities in the outback abound. We were pressed for time though; our days pretty much packed from pre-dawn to dusk. Consequently, we only got to walk around certain sections of Uluru itself; the trail to circumnavigate the rock takes approximately 3 hours and is roughly 10km. We did not attempt to climb the rock face either, and due to rain forecast, that route was closed anyway.

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Uluru up close

Being essentially a monolith, Uluru, I found, was at its majestic best when viewed from a distance, and in its entirety. Up close, there were interesting features to gawk at, including cave paintings left by the aborigine tribes of old.

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One of the many paintings we found in the shallow caves along the side of Uluru

We much preferred hiking Kata Tjuta to Uluru though, since the landscape was much more varied. Kata Tjuta, 25 km east of Uluru, is made up for 36 domes and at its highest is roughly 200m taller than Uluru. While Uluru is composed of sandstone, sedimentary rock consisting of a mixture of granite, basalt, and sandstone make up the domes of Kata Tjuta. What we found completely fascinating is that both Uluru and Kata Tjuta date back roughly 600 million years old – compared to the Grand Canyon in the US that’s been pegged anywhere between 6 and 70 million years old!

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The view from the second lookout on the Valley of the Winds trail in Kata Tjuta. Reminded us of the scene from “Land before Time”, although that is the Jurassic era, ~200 million years ago, vs. the Pre-Cambrian era, ~600 million years ago…
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We were lucky to do the walk of the Valley of the Winds on a cool, blustery day. In the summer, the trail is closed when the temperatures surpasses 36 degrees.

Of the 3 long hikes we did, by far my favorite – and the entire group’s – was the Kings Canyon walk. Situated approximately mid-way between Uluru and Alice Springs, Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park. We did the rim walk just before dawn, climbing up the aptly named “Heart Attack Hill” to the top of the mesa right as the sun struggled to break through the clouds.

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Our guide Chris explaining how the landscape was formed

The rim to rim walk on took us through some stunning rock formations, some reminiscent of Red Rocks in Nevada. The big difference is though, that the rock faces of Kings Canyon are so old and weathered that they are incredibly fragile (not to mention sacred to the aborigine tribes of the region), while the rock walls of Red Rocks National Park are resilient enough still for us to climb on.

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Our group enjoying a short break at the Garden of Eden, one of the rare – and consequently sacred – permanent waterholes in the area

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I would love, love, love to spend more time just wandering around Kings Canyon, and soaking in the history and the beautiful landscape. Too bad our time didn’t allow for us to do the 22-kilometre 2-day Giles Track which connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs. Something to leave on the bucket list for the future perhaps?