The Red Centre is truly Australia’s heart (literally and figuratively) and once again has captured our hearts. It’s so unique to our country and people from all over the world flock here to see the landscape and the colours of the ‘real’ Australia – the red sand, the blue sky, the gold spinifex plains and the myriad shades of pink, gold, purple and red in the flowering native shrubs. The sky has layers of pastel shades at dusk and at night it glitters with diamond stars in a inky black nightscape. Statuesque desert oak trees whisper in the wind and of course the sight of Uluru is something to behold. That great big ochre sandstone monolith that juts from the flat spinifex plain and has different moods according to the angle of that ever present golden sunshine. It’s glorious.
The Great Central Road was quite simply a brilliant shortcut from the WA coastline to this region of the NT. We expected a lengthy, sandy, rutted 4WD track over the 1150km distance from Laverton to Yulara but we were treated to a dirt super highway. It was a fraction rougher around the border crossing and sandier on the NT side but not a challenging journey at all.
The road is remote, passing by an occasional Aboriginal community but easy traveling and the sky at night in the Gibson Desert was incredible. For the first time in my life I could see the spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy extend completely across the sky from one horizon to another. That’s the joy of being in one of the worlds great dark night sky regions. Incredible stars.
After the border crossing its only 200km to Yulara and the ‘Namatjira’ colours of the Red Centre become obvious (Albert Namatjira was a famous Aborginal landscape painter who captured the colours to perfection).
Kevin, a bit of a history buff, has had a long held fascination with the tale of Harold Bell Lassetter and his infamous long lost reef of gold. It was a Central Australian yarn and tale of woe that he told with much flourish to his tour groups many years ago. So he was literally jumping out of his seat with excitement to finally have the opportunity to spend a moment or two in THE very cave and the region where Lassetter spent his last 22 days before perishing in the desert. Lassetters Cave is not far from the border and an interesting historic stop on our journey and sadly, although I looked, no gold was found.
Then, 35 km away from our destination, the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) start looming into view and it’s such an incredible sight after over 1000km of flat desert. We approach from the west in the afternoon sunshine and, like huge sentinels guarding the landscape, they glow red against the brilliant blue sky and send shivers down our spine. Stunning sight to behold.
This portion of the trip is nostalgic for us. Kevin and I met 28 years ago here at the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area so it’s a trip down memory lane re-exploring this region, although things change. The natural landscape is unchanged (if anything it’s more beautiful) but since our time here a lot more focus has been placed upon the traditional aboriginal perspective around the Yulara Resort and at the rock itself. It is now seriously frowned upon by the ‘traditional owners’ to climb Uluru, a pursuit that used to be a crowning glory of a visit to this 348 metre monolith. Signs and and all the Park literature ‘suggests’ that visitors respect the traditional owners and ‘don’t climb the rock’.
However, it is not banned and still an optional choice. An optional choice that we and many other visitors choose to participate in willingly on that day. This is not out of any disrespect to the ‘traditional owners’ but simply because it’s what we love to do and while we still can we will. It’s how we savour a place. We walk it and we climb it. That’s how we connect with the landscape. You just can’t get that intimate connection looking out a bus window, riding a Segway or peering through fences.
So on a sunny winters day we climb to the summit marker and feel a great sense of achievement. The views are incredible and I even meditate for a few minutes feeling like an eagle way above the plains. There’s just something really special about being on top of Uluru.We then walk the 10.6 km around the base of the rock. So much of it is fenced off now but Kevin knows this place intimately after many years tour guiding and tells me what secrets are behind the barriers in the silent crevices. The native shrubs are in flower early this year so we walk past mulla mulla, honey grevillea, wattle, acacia and many more in lovely sunshine. The following day we walk the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta, my first time even though I spent time working out here. This was icing on the cake and I was in awe. A beautiful 7.4km walk through the towering domes of the Olgas and once again I had the insights and knowledge of my personal tour guide.
Lastly, Ayers Rock and The Olgas are 600 million years old and it bemuses me that the word owner and the concept of money is bandied around in relation to them these days. This place is so ancient and timeless and its just such a privilege to feel the soul of the landscape. It’s always an amazing experience.
Next stop is an afternoon hiking around the rim of Kings Canyon. The walk was lovely but it has been ‘manicured’ since we last did it 20 odd years ago. No more slithering through slippery caves and perilous clambering down rock faces. Had to happen but the adventure has diminished somewhat. Still nice though as the scenery is impressive.
Then a couple of nights camping at Ormiston Gorge in the Western MacDonnell Ranges where we hiked the 4 hour Ormiston Pound circuit. One evening I was sitting here alone by the waterhole at dusk being mellow and enjoying the stillness and serenity. A hippy chick with dreadlocks walked past me deeper into the Gorge and a few minutes later she started chanting in a pure, high voice. It was magical as it echoed through the gorge. Moments like this make holidays so special.
Next stop on the journey – our old hometown of Alice Springs. Now that will be a jaunt down memory lane.