I didn’t sleep for days although my temporary home in Brisbane was spacious, comfortable and with a stunning view of the river. Every night, spiders and snakes inhabited my mind, crawling and undermining my courage and decisiveness; ruining the sweet feeling of finally reaching the place I wanted to see the most in Australia – the Red Centre. I couldn’t know back then that this trip from Alice Springs to Uluru would be a new beginning for me.
My plans to stay on a remote cattle station in what they call ‘safari cabins’ triggered the anxiety. Little did I know that Kings Creek Station was not at a spear throw from Uluru, as it seemed on the map! It is a working cattle station that offers campground accommodation and covers thousands of square kilometres in one of the most inhospitable climates on Earth. I wanted to witness the life in remote Outback Australia. A world I dreamed of and read about in The Songlines and Tracks. I felt a calling to this land. Like an old path I forgot I had walked. Just like something familiar and yet, new and potentially dangerous.
I knew I had neither the knowledge nor the experience to survive in the wilderness. Without a car, I couldn’t do much either. The bus ticket would cost me a fortune and I would not even be close to Uluru. I’m not sure what I was thinking!
Yet, I HAD to see THIS place. It was stronger than my fears. The kind girl on the other end of the email advised me to cancel the reservation with Kings Creek Station and instead to join a camping tour.
Alice Springs to Uluru – Arriving in Alice
When Qantas’ airplane began descending, I felt myself in a different dimension. Couldn’t believe that soon I will walk the streets of Alice Springs – the iconic town of the Northern Territory. A place with its own character, incomparable to other; impossible to explain. The best description I have read is the one the poet A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote in 1898, and it is still true till today:
“Some day it may be civilised and spoilt, but up to the present it has triumphantly overthrown all who have tried to improve it. It is still the Territory.”
From above, the town looked just like in my books. Dusty, loose-textured, with no particular housing style. Before the shuttle driven by a Steve-Irwin-uniform-dressed middle-aged man entered the first streets, I believed Alice Springs is still the pioneers’ settlement from the past. Once I realised it had Hilton Hotel, the world around changed. It felt safer. From the sky, it might seem like a desert, but there are thirty thousand people living in the town. Many of them live in rural properties in the outskirts and some have swimming pools in their backyards.
First Encounter with the Aboriginal Culture
The Red Centre is not a cheap place to visit. I had booked a bed in a hostel. Hostels are not my kind of lodging and this was a disappointing experience. I remember the first moment I saw Aboriginal people. They were sitting in a circle on the grass in front of the public library. The sight was what I have seen in the movies. But in the real world, they were wearing dusty t-shirts and shorts.
Later, shopping for groceries in the local supermarket, I realised that Aboriginal people are different from any other nation, ethnicity or even sub-culture, I ever met. They are uncommunicative. I don’t mean it in a bad way, they are just different from anything we know and are used to. Have you been somewhere where the locals behave like you don’t exist? Like you are in some sort of another science-fictional dimension – you see them, but they don’t see you?
I would later learn that this is part of the Aboriginal cultural peculiarities. As I mention in Things to Do in Alice Springs and Central Australia, they will chat with you only if you have been previously introduced to them by someone they know and trust.
The Camel Farm
After a terrible sleepless night caused by my hostel roommates coming in and going out of the room as they are pleased, packing luggage, arranging beds, washing their hairs and other odd for that time of the day activities, I joined the tour.
At 5 am, a mid-sized bus stopped in front of the hostel. An energetic young lady with a charming tomboy personality came out. She looked like she knows what she is doing; no doubt in my mind she can handle troubles.
Our first stop was just outside Alice Springs, at the Stuarts Well Camel Farm. A free camel ride was included in the tour. However, I didn’t indulge. All these animal-related activities are not in my interests-portfolio but most of all – it just didn’t appeal to me. Instead, I stayed on the side and observed, as I often like to do.
The Road from Alice Springs to Uluru
Truth to be told, the road trip from Alice Spring to Uluru is a boring one. The sceneries are all the time the same – flat surface, orange hues, grayish-brown bushes. The only sites arising my curiosity were the prolific number of caravans and camper vans and the ever intimidating road trains. You will see the longest road trains in the Northern Territory, they tow up to four trailers; like enormous, fast-moving caterpillars.
There is something warm and magical in the orange colour that Nature had chosen to paint in this chunk of the world. The previous nights had rained. Rain is a rarity and blessing in this desert climate. Now, the pumpkin-coloured dust on the ground featured some fancy trinket decorations. Spinifex and Mitchell grass added a pinch of surrealism to the incredible painting that surrounded us.
On the way, we stopped at two roadhouses. Those are the life-savers in Central Australia. Without them, there is no fuel, no phone receptions … and there is no ice cream so needed in the scorching oven that is the Red Centre in summer.
That was also my first acquaintance with the ‘sheilas’ and the ‘blokes’. (On the photo, someone did misspell Sheila’s. Maybe it was one of the many foreigner workers coming here on a Holiday Work Visas?
Arriving at Yalara
Arriving at Yalara, the resort covering the area around Uluru, is a dramatic experience. Slowly, from the flat red ground, you start seeing the mud-cake-shaped world’s most famous rock. For us, it might be a damn pretty piece of stone, but for the Aboriginal people, it is a divine place.
Our guide (let’s call her Susan) couldn’t make the walk around the rock with us as she burned her back earlier in the day with the hot water coming from the bus’s radiator. She shortly told us some stories about it and let us go on our own. That was fine by me as I wanted to ‘feel’ the place; the one that I had dreamed of seeing for almost twenty years.
In the sweltering early afternoon, our group’s walk around Uluru didn’t last long. And without the guide to tell us details, we could only guess what are the strange forms that we see on the surface of the rock. Afterwards, I would learn that each of these hollows and forms has Aboriginal stories to tell. What they believe was the beginning of the world and how it connects with the land as it is now.
I haven’t yet met a person who walked the Uluru ring and wasn’t touched by it. Not sure if the magic is in the colours, the stillness of the place, or there is an energy that people can’t explain but certainly feel. Luckily for the tourists, there are several viewing platforms around Uluru and Katja Tjuta, that help us to comprehend the mightiness of the landscape here.
Katja Tjuta, or The Olgas as the rock formations were known before, to my surprise, is my preferred.
What the Camping Tour to Uluru-Katja Tjuta Includes
My camping tour from Alice Springs to Uluru and back was operated by Mulgas Adventures. It included:
- 2-nights sleeping in a swag,
- the services of an experienced Australian guide,
- entrance fees for the National Park Uluru-Katja Tjuta,
- hotel pickup and drop-off,
- free camel ride,
- transport in an air-conditioned bus,
- free glass of bubbly at Uluru sunset (believe me, you will love it!),
- and all meals (you can bring some snacks for the road).
This tour has an age requirement – you need to be between 18 and 49 years old. There are long hours of walks and although they take place early in the morning, still the heat and drought of the place are challenging.
Uluru Camping Tour Itinerary
During the three days, you will visit Uluru and will have a drink at sunset while watching the rock turn from orange to red. On the second day, you start early at Kata Tjuta Lookout watching the sun coming out from behind Uluru. It is even more spectacular than the sunset, I dare to say! Then you will do the Valley of the Winds Walk that takes around three hours.
After lunch, the guide will drive you to the Kings Creek Cattle Station (I ended up there even after changing my plans!). On the way, you will collect wood for the fire that will make your last camping night feeling great. Well, I guess the melting marshmallows helped. Next day, you will walk the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. It is the longest of all but it is favourite of many.
For this camping tour, you need:
You Will Have to Work!
If you are used to do nothing when you are on a tour, you will have to make some adjustments in your perceptions. On this tour, everyone is an important part of the team. You will help in cooking, washing the dishes, kneading the dough for the bread, even sweeping the floor on the last day. But that’s the fun of it! You will get to know the other people in the group. But you won’t get awkward as there is not much time to talk a lot.
It is the perfect tour for a solo traveller! You will never feel alone but you will still have your personal and emotional space.
A Bonus – The Magic of Fields of Lights
One of the best experiences I had during this tour was the visit to the Fields of Lights at Uluru. Because it is such an extraordinary sight to see, the exhibition has now been extended indefinitely. At the time I was there, there were two or three options and times of visit. It includes pick up and drop off and if you can spare some additional budget, even a dinner with the view to the lights.
The British artists Bruno Munro who created the Fields of Lights Uluru now has other exhibitions all over Australia. The latest is in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, and recently another one was set up in Albany in Western Australia for Anzac Day.
Why I Said that this Trip will be a New Beginning for Me
I’m not sure what was the moment my life changed. Is it in the years before my trip to Australia, when I first started to feel the call to visit it? Or when I changed my plans to stay in Kings Creek Station and booked the camping trip? Yet, maybe it was the moment when our guide burned her back? It’s a puzzle I will never solve. Undoubtedly, what I know for sure is that this trip from Alice Springs to Uluru was the beginning of a new life for me, here in Australia.
On the second day of the tour, our guide Susan (the name is changed) had to go back to Alice Springs to take care of her injury. So, we were woken up by Toto’s Africa; a song that I associate with my safari trip to South Africa and the article I wrote about for Rovers Magazine.
Our new guide was a very tall, bearded man with the warmest energy I have ever met. Long story short, he is now my husband, and this is why I now live in Australia. Our first ‘date’ was when he joined me in visiting Fields of Lights. I tell you – this is one of the best places for romantic rendezvous! Or even better – to renew your vows.
Don’t plan your trip based on your previous travel experience. When travelling to Australian cities, your previous travel experience can be of help. But once you are out of the cities, forget everything you know. Read a lot, research a LOT. The biggest misconception times and times again mentioned in all kinds of travel tips and guides about Australia is DISTANCE. And still, you can’t imagine the hugeness of the distances if you haven’t been there.
If you meet love during your travels, give it a chance. You never know.
HOW TO DO ALICE SPRINGS TO ULURU AS A SOLO WOMAN TRAVELLER:
Book an Uluru Tour! Unless you travel with a group of family or friends, it is budget-wise and safer for you to join a camping tour. I recommend Mulgas Adventures for their professionalism and good value for money services. At least that was my experience. I loved the tour, the itinerary was well balanced and I had the luck to travel in a friendly international group.
And ah, yes, you won’t meet my ‘guide’. But who knows, you might find your guy!
Please read also my Female Travel Tips for Visiting Central Australia post to learn more about the peculiarities of travelling in this part of the country and be better prepared.
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