Several years ago I went to see the film Wolf Creek in the cinema. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s about 3 travellers who get abducted and tortured by a crazed truck driver deep in the Australian outback. I remember at the time thinking ‘jasus, I am not going there – ever’. Yet here I was, on the brink of the great outback, however, it wasn’t scary or horrifying like it was portrayed in the film, it is in fact the most unique and powerful part of the world I have seen.
We left Adelaide early and we boarded a similar bus to the previous tour and met our tour guide. Sam was his name and he seemed like a pretty nice guy; he wasn’t really. He was a legend. And the driving began. Adelaide to Alice Springs on a map looks managable in a couple of days, in European tours however it is like driving from Madrid to Moscow.
As we moved further north into South Australia, the landscape began to slowly change from lush green forests to rolling prairies and soon enough the ground underneath us began turning a redish bronze as we embarked upon the desert. We stopped at the supermarket after a couple of hours and Sam advised us that after this point alcohol would get very very expensive and we should stock up now… for the week. Now if there’s one thing Diarmo and I love – it’s stocking up, 4 cases and 3 bottles of wine for the 3 of us and Diarmo looked like a kid on Christmas.
Sam was very honest with us, he assured us we would see some great sights on our way but that there would be a lot of driving and the first day was actually all driving until we reached our accomodation for the night. We had a little camp ground with a BBQ, a campfire and for sleeping – swags. I didn’t know what a swag was. Essentially it’s a much tougher version of a sleeping bag.
That was it. No tents, no cabins, just our swags and the stars. And the spiders and the snakes of course. No worries mate. On our first night the group already seemed a hell of a lot cooler than the last one, French, English, Germans and Swedes were all present and the most innocent Korean girl who Ela took care of for the trip. Sam made us an absolutely brilliant dinner that night and despite being in the middle of the outback, he would cook us dinners on a barbie over the course of our stay that you would find in high-end restaurants.
So on our 2nd day we began to head towards a place called Coober Pedy – opal capital of the world. This isn’t what is significant about Coober Pedy though, what is significant is that the majority of the people in the town live underground. It really baffles the mind until you actually see it. So we arrived at Coober Pedy in the afternoon amidst the barren landscape and out of nowhere appears this built up town with shops, amenities and houses. Sam brought us to the Coober Pedy museum and we took a tour to learn about this strange little city. They taught us all about opal and how Coober Pedy came to be the opal digger’s paradise and we were taken through a mine as well as underground house.
The thing about Coober Pedy is that it is 40 degrees outside all the time. Oh I forgot to mention, by this point, we began to experience the relentless, painstaking heat of the desert. So living underground means your house will maintain a cool temperature of 21 degrees at all times, no need for heating, no need for air con. The houses actually looked very cool with limestone rock as wallpaper, however the lack of windows would definitely bother me. Now Diarmo was a bit disappointed because in most cases, people live inside hills and mounds, not actualluy below the ground, but it takes a lot to impress Diarmo. So just like the locals, our living space for the night was underground too, a bunk room which looked a little bit like a bomb shelter but much roomier.
On the morning of the 3rd day we saw some awesome landscape at the outskirts of the town, it really looked like the surface of the moon and Sam told us many films like Mad Max and some poor Vin Diesel feature were filmed here. And then we were off again into the barren nothingness of the desert. Many might find the nothingness very boring and repetivitve, I thought it was fascinating, just the sheer size of Australia and how much space existed where nothing lived, nothing grew, except of course venomous snakes and kangaroos.
Our next destination was a place called King’s Canyon. The canyon was very like the Grand Canyon, much less vast, but actually much more climbing and trekking to be done. The iron soaked rocks were incredible and our shoes will eternally be red to remind of us of its vividness! So that night we arrived in our campsite which had a swimming pool, it was 40 degrees outside and jumping in a cold pool in 40 degrees is just magnificent. We were steadily getting through our beers and having a great time with the rest of the group and the pre-dinner drinks we had the following evening were epic, with Ayer’s rock under the setting sun beyond us.
That day, Saturday was a big driving day and to save Sam’s insanity we had us play some team games on the bus, they started off as tame as ‘guess that song’ and ended up with ‘truth or dare’, there were half naked bodies, upside down drinking and asses out windows. Now the little Korean girl was in shock yesterday going in a swimming pool for the 1st time in her life. She most certainly hadn’t seen this kind of carry on from adrenaline filled westerners. In the afternoon, the great rock started to come into view and the sheer size of it made our jaws drop.
Perhaps I had been a little ignorant, but I really though it was about 50 metres high and 200 metres long. It is actually 350 metres high and it has a 9 km radius, a good 5 hour walk in total. Sam found us a spot to watch the sunset beyond the great rock and we got the chairs out and all had a drink just gazing at it. It’s hard to describe why it is so impressive, perhaps because it is a lone rock formation towering above the desert landscape, perhaps it is the redness of its skin, the stillness of the area around it – it is one of the most amazing things we have seen on our travels.
Uluru actually has a friend nearby and its name is Kata Tjuta. This is a bigger rock formation comprising 36 dome shaped features and I thought it was as fantastic as its neighbour, particularly for climbing around in, which we did the next morning. Now our average wake up time during the trip was around 5.00 to 5.30 which as insane as it may sound, was done for good reason. The temperature is very manageable if not refreshing before the hours of around 9,30 to 10.00 and this was when most of our walks and treks were done. Not only that, but we got some fantastic views of places at sunrise, such as Kata Tjuta on this Sunday morning.
The trek at Uluru’s best friend was a tough one particularly for a certain jolly German girl, but very enjoyable again, the early morning sun brings an amazing red glow to the great rock structures. After that it was time for a swim to cool down and some relaxing for the afternoon. We went to the visitor’s centre and learned more about aboriginals. There was aboriginal paintings for sale in the gift shop and their style is truly beautiful; but you need to be a millionaire if you want to buy anything.
In the evening we took our first trip to take a closer look at Uluru. Sam took us on a walk to see what Uluru means to the Anangu, the aboriginals who have seen the rock as their sacred place for thousands of years. He took us to little caves and caverns and to a stream running by the rock wall, there were places where no photographing was allowed, there were places where no talking was allowed, this was their temple and it felt all the more amazing because of it.
He then told showed us using the red sand and dirt as his diagram how Uluru came to be in a geographical sense, millions of years of tectonic plate movement and mineral deposition. Then he told us the Anangu version; it was a much cooler story. Sam showed us the track to climb up the rock if we wished; it looked pretty terrifying. Not only that, but he told us that the Anangu were really upset when people climbed it. Diarmo still wanted to, but that’s Diarmo.
On our final morning of the trip, we took a walk around the eastern end of Uluru as the sun was rising and then we set off to Alice Springs. We did have one last stop to make – a bit of camel-riding. I had heard so many people talking about it from the first day with such excitement, I am not sure why. But it was a good laugh, they’re not as graceful as elephants but when they run at speed, you cannot help but laugh. So we arrived at our hostel in Alice Springs and it was a little comforting to lie on a bed again.
That evening Sam organised a big dinner and drinks for all the group. Some of the girls were unrecognisable, the make-up and hair straighteners were back and Diarmo got very excited. We had a brilliant night out actually, we would be sad to say goodbye to a good few of the group particularly Sam. And even though our beds were so comfortable that night, sleeping under the stars in swags in the still and peaceful desert was something that we would certainly miss. The out back was only a little scary in the end, just because of the spiders, but it was an epic experience and a part of the world that I hope will always be untouched because its peacefulness and beauty cannot be copied.