Photojournalist David Savage travels Australia on the OZ Experience…
It was an early rise from hostel in Alice Springs to meet the NTAT (Northern Territory Adventure Tours – 1300 654 604) twenty-one seat bus. NTAT is one of the largest company’s of its kind in the world. They specialise in adventure styled expeditions out into remote parks of the Northern Territory, Red Centre and Tasmania.
Our driver and guide for our adventure into the Red Centre was Sean or ‘Seano’ to his mates. Sean, formally a pilot, told us it was going to be a smooth, low altitude ride with little turbulence and a lot of jumping ’3000, 2000, 1000 pull chord’ out to see the marvellous sights of the Red Centre.
Our itinerary was a little off beat due to the Olympic Torch Ceremony at Uluru. But essentially we did the usual things but in an unusual order. Uluru was to be our first stop. It took us a few hours to get there but we had a few breaks to stretch legs, empty bladders and buy chocolate.
For the unwashed, Uluru is the Aboriginal name of Ayers Rock and this is what it is most commonly called by guides operating in Australia. In full cruise control and with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers blaring from the funky-fat-flavour stereo we spotted Uluru from forty kilometres off. Despite having been flooded with images of this massive rock in the media, it was still quite an awe-inspiring sight. It captivated our attention as we got closer and closer.
Uluru is within the Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park and once we’d checked in we made our way to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This extremely well funded centre is a great way to grasp an idea of the ancient Aboriginal Culture of the Red Centre. The displays are both creative, easy to understand and well presented using the great flare of Aboriginal art.
The Aboriginal people of the Red Centre ask all visitors not to climb Uluru as it is a sacred site. There is a path to the top and visitors are free to legally make the climb. It is a personal decision. The climb is sometimes closed when the wind is too strong or it’s raining. When I got there the wind was quite high and the climb had been closed. My personal decision would have been not to climb based on my principle that respect for local culture is paramount. Before I got to the Red Centre I had met several people who had climbed Uluru. One guy told me it was the best thing he had done in Australia. On that basis maybe it is something you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
After lunch we moved on to the rock. An alternative option to climbing is to walk around the base. We only had time to walk a small section and it amazing how the shape and colour changes with the light. At various points around the base are particular sights and formations that are relevant to the ‘Dreamtime’, some are sacred to women only and other to men. There have been Aboriginal people in this area for some 30,000 years and the stories of the ‘Dreamtime’ are largely connected to the land and the animals.
A great book to read whilst you are in the area is Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan. Supposedly a true story, it depicts a journey by an American woman who is guided through across Australia on foot by an Aboriginal tribe that the rest of the world does not know exists. Just to spin right off on a tangent, I met an Aboriginal Law Man in South Australia. He went to the Red Centre for initiation and went ‘Walkabout’ for some fourteen months in the desert. He once came across a ‘Mob’ (group of people) who jumped back in fright when he produced a coke can.
From the rock we took off to Kata Tjuta. For the unwashed, Kata Tjuta is the Aboriginal name of The Oglas. Like Uluru, Kata Tjuta is sedimentary sandstone rising from the ground in almost vertical fashion. In geological terms, over millions of years there were mountains, throw in an ice-age and they crumbled, creating river beds. Things dried out, heated up, the Earth tectonics’ shifted (impressed) and up came Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Then over another few million years the rock actually turned red due to what is known as Strata Sun Burnâ€¦ (er, blown it). Another little fact to amaze you is that the mass of Kata Tjuta reaches down another six kilometres beneath the surface. This is significantly more that Uluru which reaches a still impressive two and a half kilometres down.
Kata Tjuta are again awe-inspiring. A lot of people here feel an energy when the see these places. I think in the simplest form, these places demonstrate the might of the Earth and the amazing places that we need to conserve for future generations.
Back on the bus, we then raced back towards Uluru to catch the sunset. A few kilometres away from Uluru is a view area. The car park there was pretty full with buses and people from all over the world. This was the spot to see Uluru glow bright red as the sun approached and dipped below the horizon behind us. It didn’t disappoint, the red is hot iron bright and again, a sense of energy enveloped us all.
That night we stayed at NTAT’s permanent campsite near to Uluru. The tents were already assembled and a feast was served in a tented dinning room. Outside we had a huge fire roaring and the sky was blissfully filled with stars. I was making my visit in the wintertime and temperatures had recently dropped to below freezing. We were all issued with Swags and Sean gave us a demonstration on how to fit the sleeping bags inside and zip your self up all cosy. A word of warning, always take the mattress out of the swag and check for bugs. A girl in the camp next to our unrolled her swag only to be greeted by a scorpion.
Everyone selected their tent for night except me and an American lady. She challenged me to sleep outside because the stars were so brilliant. They were, so I joined her, but not before I acquired another sleeping bag. We slept in just about every item of clothing we had with us and put some bigger logs onto the fire. The night was just right and we were toasty!
Our day began an hour or two before the sun’s. We were off to King’s Canyon and on the way we stopped at a lookout to view Uluru at sunrise. It was well worth getting up early for. We had quite a trip ahead of us to get there, but when we made it we found some fantastic scenery. We did a short hour long hike to the Canyon to look at the Garden of Eden from above. The Canyon has huge vertical sides and as we approached the edge most people elected to crawl on their belly to pear over the edge. This for me was the highlight of the two-day tour. The hike, although short, took us along a steep path winding higher and higher. The stark contrast in the colours of the rock against the blue of the sky made me feel I was walking in an overly polarised movie.
Our hike took us back to the bus and we set a course for Alice Springs. Once again, included in the package was a fair well dinner at Malenka’s Hostel. FREE Pizza, cheap beer, oh yes it had been a good two days.