The Red Center, Australia
The first part of my Southern Hempisphere trip was to the "Red Center" of Australia. I took a few days to drive a route from Alice Springs around King's Canyon, Uluru (Ayres Rock), and the Olgas. It was a beautiful and memorable trip, although the driving was exhausting.
I flew from Sydney to Alice Springs, staying at the Alice Springs YHA, an old outdoor cinema with Art Deco stylings.
In Alice Springs I climbed Anzac Hill for both sunset and sunrise, which was worth it for the view over the city. I visited the Reptile Center, a small but worthwhile tourist stop. It was quite an intimate location, where you can get up close to a variety of snakes and other reptiles.
On the first full day I rented a van from Apollo Campers, and then started the very long drive to King's Canyon. There isn't anything between any of the locations, just desert, with a small number of stations for gas, food and a rest. I was surprised at the amount of bush there was, and the sections with lots of small purple flowers.
Day two was King's Canyon in the morning. As the morning was overcast I decided to do the full rim-walk around the edge of the canyon, plus some side routes. It was very windy at the top, I occasionally thought I'd get blown off the edge. Worth it for the dramatic views. The rocks were beautifully patterned, from wind erosion, and the old markings of tides and water from millions of years ago. I took a video of the walk:
Inside the canyon you drop down to the "Garden of Eden", an oasis in the middle of the red rocks. No one was around, so I spent 15 minutes sitting at the edge of the pool enjoying the silence. The clouds lifted as I exited the canyon, and I was treated to blue skies and orange rock, with the desert extending into the distance.
That afternoon I drove down to Uluru, getting there in time for a late afternoon walk around the base. The weather wasn't strikingly sunny, making the walk very pleasant, but the photos less so!
It was amazing to see such an iconic natural monument up close. It was far more pitted and scarred than I have previously imagined. There was a lot of wildlife and flowers around the base. It was strange seeing the important places for cultural ceremonies. I got the strong impression of the fragility of life on the edge, and of a distinct ecological niche for humans in this wild area.
The last day of the trip I spent the morning walking in Katja Tuja National Park, seeing the Olgas. These are an impressive collection of rock formations, rising out of the desert 45 minutes drive from Uluru and Ayres Rock Resort. There is a viewing platform towards the Katja Tuja end of the drive, and it has to be one of the best natural views on earth: in one direction Uluru sits in the distance, a vast sweep of desert, and then the Olgas rise up.
I walked through the Valley of the Winds first. It was fairly busy, with several walking groups there. The view from the Karingana Lookout was spectacular, a long gorge with a trail of trees leading off to more rock formations. There were lots of plants to look at, and flocks of small birds chirping away.
Most of the tour groups returned back down the path after the lookout, but I pressed on around the full route as the weather was overcast, so perfect for walking. It was a great feeling being so alone, I certainly got a sense of the grand scale of the place.
After walking through the Valley of the Winds I just about had enough time to walk up the Walpa Gorge, another impressive formation close to the entrance to the park. It started to rain a bit as I got to the end of the gorge. The crowds dispersed, and I had a nice sit down at the viewing platform at the end.
I drove back to Alice Springs that evening, and returned the camper the next day. My one disappointment for this trip was that I didn't see a single kangaroo! I guess I'll have to come back again!