This is long because it covers 2.5 days. Scroll down to the amazing pictures if you want the short version.
“Tom” drove up to the backpackers’ motel at 5:30 am. There were to be 17 of us in total, including 15 travelers and Tom’s assistant Chantal. Tom looks like those Australians you see backpacking in Europe: Scraggly blond hair, sunburnt nose and a bushman’s hat that has been around the Outlook block a time or two.
This is our guide, Tom Tom.
Our group of travelers hailed from all over the world, but I was the only American.
Our first hike — this one in 100-degree midday heat — ended up here: the edge of King’s Canyon.
Collecting firewood was a dirty job — check out the soot on the face of the girl on the right.
Tom gets the fire going at our bush camp. The dingos were not deterred.
The morning of the second day started with this hike. The sign up ahead warns about the trail being closed if the temperature rises to over 97 degrees. This is about where I turned back because I was not feeling well.
The domes of Kata Tjuta from afar.
Yup, that’s me with Uluru in the background.
The sunset viewing area was crazy, with varying levels of comfort. We were not the group with the champagne flutes.
The colors of sunset.
And a few short hours later, the colors of sunrise.
The sun rises to promise another sweltering day.
I walked around the entire base of Uluru – about 5.5 miles. Imcredible colors.
Another beautiful shot from the base of Uluru.
It was quite a diverse of old and young from the following countries: Russia, Britain, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Taiwan, S. Korea and Spain. I was the only Yank. Of course over three days we got to know folks and it was great camaraderie.
The first day was a lot of driving, as we had to get from Alice Springs to a place called Curtin Station, which is in turn a couple of hours from the main attraction: Uluru. Fortunately Tom kept a great playlist and had it set to have different types of songs for different moods.
At noon on the first day we arrived at King’s Canyon. We hiked the 2 miles to the canyon in essentially 100-degree heat. Tom inspected our bags before hitting the trail to ensure that everyone had at least 3 liters of water. That’s a lot of water. But if you were to do this and not drink, you could die. Tom was fond of pointing out all the things that could kill us. It became a kind of punchline for the 3 days.
The Canyon itself was a bit underwhelming, but the colors of the rocks were amazing.
This is a good time to mention that a single $8 AUS purchase I made proved indispensible on this trip – a head net for flies. They don’t bite, but damn are they annoying. People without nets were constantly waving their hands in front of their faces.
We were back on the road again and soon Tom had us collecting firewood off the side of the road. Watch out for snakes because … “You could die and we’d all be sad.” It was hard, dirty work and people were fairly well hot and exhausted.
After a stop to get cool drinks, we headed for our camp for the night. This was a private and very primitive bush camp. A large fire pit, place to lay out our “swags,” and a pit toilet. Tom got the fire going for purposes of cooking part of it on the coals. We certainly didn’t need it for warmth. I looked over to a little hill nearby to see a small dingo checking us out. Tom threw a rock near it to scare it away.
Cold beers and stew behind us, it was time to watch the sky, the amazing Outback sky with absolutely no light or air pollution of any kind. My photography attempts failed. But yeah it was pretty amazing. Especially when you lie back on your swag and stare up at that immensity.
A swag is essentially a bedroll for sleeping on the ground, without a tent. You throw a sleeping bag on top of it. It was so warm though, that I probably didn’t get to sleep for hours.
After you set up your swag, you have to prepare for the critters. For the dingos, make sure you have rocks handy to scare them off. For the snakes, use the handle end of a shovel to dig a little gully all around your swag. They won’t cross the trench. For the spiders and scorpions, you sprinkle salt in the trench. Works like a charm.
It didn’t wake me up, but reportedly one member of our group, Jessica, saved us all by actually hitting the approaching dingo with a rock. Jessica, dingo slayer.
We work up at first light on the second day, packed things up and hit the road quickly to hit a hike at Kata Tjuta, a formation similar to Ulrulu and spiritually as important to the Aborigines.
Right about here though was when my digestive track decided to take me down. I’ll spare you the details, but after about a mile of a hilly hike I had to return to base. Simply no energy. I took some pills and hoped for the best. With that midday heat, though, I was about ready to pass out.
I ate like a bird for lunch and dinner, and that seemed to help a bit. We went to the Aboriginal cultural center, and did a short walk at Uluru’s base where Tom told us some the legends of the place. Cool stuff. There is certainly an aura about the place.
Next up was the sunset viewing space. Quite the spectacle.
That night we rolled out the swags again at a place that had showers. For the love of God, wonderful showers. Our van was getting stinky!
Tom had us up in predawn darkness for day 3 so that we could head over to the same spot as last night to watch the sunrise. It was amazing that the sun rose just the left of the Rock as were seeing it.
I was feeling better this morning, so I opted to join most of our group in doing the full base walk. This is 5.5 mile hike that takes you all the way around the base of Uluru. I was tire at the end, but felt way better than the day before.
Tom then played sad music as he took me and 4 others to the Ayers Rock airport — the rest were going back to Alice Springs.
All in all it was an adventure: met some cool folks, saw some amazing scenery, did things like sleeping under the stars that I’ll probably never get a chance to do again.
As I write this I’m flying over to Sydney. And now my stomach issues are flaring up again. Gahhh.
P.S. – I believe a dingo could indeed eat a baby.
As usual, click the pics above to make them larger.