...The Red Centre!
I don't think you can visit Australia properly without travelling into the Red Centre.
Mythical part of the country, many sacred sites for Aboriginal people are found here. On board the Ghan, we made our way to Alice Springs, the 2nd biggest town in the Northern Territory. We decided to spend one week in the Red Centre, split between enjoying the town itself and going on a 4WD adventure with a guided tour in Uluru and surrounding. A week full of surprises and emotions before hoping on the Ghan again direction Darwin and the Top End.
Here my 8 reasons to convince you to visit the Red Centre!( if you need to be convinced!!)
23rd, June 2014
reasons to visit the
N°1: To Marvel in front of the most iconic Australian Landmark!!!
No matter how many times you have seen it on pictures or on tv...it's way better in reality where you stand in front of it and can appreciate its beauty!
Feel the moment at sunset, when the rock changes colors, it's enchanting!
Uluru is actually the biggest monolith on Earth but did you know that it is higher than the Eiffel Tower?!? (About 20 metres higher indeed!). Of course this is a bit impressive as the land around Uluru is so flat! You feel so small next to it! But something even more crazy is that scientific research has proven that the rock goes very deep underground, on about 6000 metres!!! This is 6 km, wow!
On site, everything is very well organised for tourism (signs everywhere, sunset or sunrise viewing platforms etc), and very quickly you will realise you are not the only one there! This is The popular spot, competing only with the Opera House in Sydney!
Many tourists come and go away without understanding the importance of the site to the Aboriginal people living here. Before Europeans settlement, they had been living on site for 10,000 years in total autonomy, but once Australia was colonised, they were set apart. Rename Ayers Rock, after Sir Henry Ayers by explorer William Gosse, when he discovered it in 1873.
Tourists arrived per thousands from all around the world to climb the sacred mount.
After many years of fighting, Aborigenes finally got their rights back and have been working in a joint-management since 1985 with Australian Government. A symbolic date for indigenous people but with compromise: they have to leave people climb if they wish too. However, this Rock is sacred to them and they only climb it for special ceremonials. That's why they ask us to show respect and not climb it. No need to climb it to appreciate this natural wonder, believe me! Walk around it which takes you on a couple of hour walk and you will find magical places like Mutitjulu Waterhole. Sit, breathe, listen to the birds and enjoy the view over the red rock :-)
N°2: To discover aboriginal culture and traditions
Before European settlement, Australia was separated in 250 parts, each one occupied by a different aboriginal group with distinctive language and traditions.
In the Red Centre, the Anangu people are the traditional custodians of the land. When you visit Uluru, take time to check out the cultural centre to learn about them. Discover the basis of their life: the Tjukurpa, it explains the relationship between people, plant, animals and land. Tjukurpa records the creation of all living creatures & landscape.
Aborigenes lived in perfect harmony with nature and their surrounding environment. Very clever, they knew how to use at its best the natural resources available around them, cope with seasonal changes and could as a consequence survive even in the most extreme conditions (severe drought, flood etc).
During our bushwalk, out tour guide Kate, tells us more about the way they hunt, use plants as bush tucker or medicines. We taste, we listen and realise that every plant has a story and use :-)
Family is a very important notion for Aboriginal people, traditions are transmitted by the older (parent and grand parent) to the young, learning is done through ceremonials as well. Men and women have distinctive duties and responsibility. I find it very interesting to learn about them. I'm also very impressed as I imagine I would die in a few days in such an hostile environment..
N°3: To sleep in a undred million star hotel !
Sleeping in a swag, a mix of sleeping bag/tent is a truly Aussie experience. As a French girl, I found it very quirky to sleep direct on the sand floor in the middle of the desert!
But the swag is such a great invention! Easy to carry it around and pretty comfy, even on a freezing winter night in the desert, I wasn't cold :-) but so hard to wake up in the morning!! No late check out here..!
Gazing at the milky way, laying in my swag next to the campfire was definitely one of my highlights in my trip with Wayoutback. The 10 of us tried the experience and it was really cool! Who could spot the most shooting stars?!? I'm very lucky as I even saw a meteor! First time in my life and it looked surreal!
N°4: To be Amazed by the beauty of Kata Tjuta (Las Olgas)
Less famous than Uluru, Kata Tjuta national park (50 km from uluru) is just as breathtaking!
Kata Tjuta means “many heads” in Aboriginal language as there are like 36 giant sandstone boulders here, eroded by the wind and looking like heads.
When we arrived to the carparkt, we were all already smiling: the view was stunning!
We went for the full circuit walk in the Valley of the Winds, they announced 4 hours to accomplish the 7,5km of the track, but honestly, you don't need as much if you are reasonably fit and go early in the morning when it's cool.
The landscape is spectacular, the red of the rocks contrasts with the deep blue of the sky and the lush green of the vegetation. It rained a few weeks ago and it's unbelievable how green this is.
This walk is one of the best I did in my entire life! Crazy Mother Nature!
N°5: To Shout loudly "Echo" in the giant Kings Canyon
I loved my tour with Wayoutback Safaris as every day had a new surprise! After Uluru on day 1, Kata Tjuta on day 2, we discover a new natural wonder on day 3 with Kings Canyon!
We made the most of it by doing the Rim Walk, a 6 km circuit which takes you along the cliffs with amazing scenic views, then down through the gorge and the Garden of Eden Waterhole, and back on the other side of the canyon. The walk is very entertaining as there is always something to see and marvel at on the track! Like the West Mc Donald Cycad,a prehistoric plant looking like a palm tree , still living here. The colours are intense, and at some point, the landscape seems to have been built by humans, it looks like temples built one next to the others!!
Crossing bridges over the gorge, I felt like in an Indiana Jones movie for a minute!
We enjoyed yelling “echooooo” in the canyon and tested the resonance!!
Who's shooting louder, we or the people in front on the other cliff?!?
N°6: To ride a camel!
Camels are not an endemic Australian species, they were first imported in the 1840's in order to carry goods for explorers venturing inland. Camels were ideally suited for the harsh landscape of the Red Centre. Today, we count over a million camels running around (which is more than in North Africa!).
There is as a consequence many opportunities to go on a camel back. In Alice Springs, I tested the sunset tour with Pyndan Camel Tours, and I reckon it's something to do once in life!
These animals are friendly and very faithful to their handlers.
Did you know that their hump is made of fat? They stock this there and thanks to that, they are able not to eat and drink for days! Ask all you want about camels, the tour guides love answering questions!
Cost: about $60 for an hour ride per adult.
N°7: To fly over the red Earth at sunrise
What would be more magical than watching the sun rises over the Red Earth from a hot air balloon basket? Ok, you need to wake up early and brave the freezing morning temperatures but it is definitely worth it!! Very spectacular taking off when it is still dark and all of the sudden, seeing the sun coming through the horizon. The landscape changes colours, wildlife is waking up (so are you..) and this is simply spectacular :-)
I enjoyed the silence aboard the basket, the balloon floats in the air and every time the pilot pulled on the gas, it surprised me!
After the flight, we had a drink with champagne in the middle of the bush, funny!
The Outback Ballooning team has been flying for 25 years and they are friendly, great experience!
Cost: about $290 for a 30min flight with Champagne (not French, ahah) and snacks.
N°8: To discover the vibrant Alice Springs
Our travel tips
Alice Springs is a typical Australian outback town located in the centre of the country, almost at equal distance from Adelaide in the South and Darwin in the North.
The town has grown 4km south of its original site at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. The Station was an important repeater station along the Overland Telegraph, which was completed in 1872. Before then, 7 months were needed to communicate news between North to South, thanks to the Telegraph, only 7 hours were required!! You can imagine how it changed the life of Australians.
Today, you can still visit the old Telegraph Station, a visitor centre has been built and you can even go for a mountain bike tour from there! New trails especially for bike riders have been done. Discover the historical reserve, follow the telegraph paths. A great way to visit the surrounding of the town actually. If you like the adventure, you will like some of the tracks! Riding on sand, narrow passages and a few stones! Great fun and good work out as well :-)
Cost: from $70 per person for 2-3 hour ride with a local tour guide
About 25,000 people live in Alice Springs, in a desert area. If you would like to learn more about this special area, its fauna and flora, I recommend you visit Alice Spring Desert Park. A very good place to discover the different desert habitats and get up close with the wildlife. It's better to go on a guided tour with an Aboriginal guide, as you will learn way more about the environment and traditions. How they survived in such extreme natural conditions. A few shows and talks are accessible along the day as well, like the one with the birds of prey. Finally, I can tell the difference between a kite and a falcon!
Cost: from $25 per adult
Where to stay in Alice Springs?
We stayed at the YHA. Very well located in the town centre, a swimming pool to cool down on hot summer days and an open air cinema in the courtyard! Bring the pop corn!
Cost: From $25 in share dorm and $75 for a double room.
How to get to Alice Springs ?
> Travel with the Ghan
The Ghan itself is a great experience! This is a different way to travel Australia and Maxime and I really wanted to test it after having been on buses, cars, 4WD, vans and many planes.
Landscapes change through the window as we are enjoying delicious meals and cocktails at the restaurant carriage, talking to nice fellow travellers. We had the chance to travel in Gold class which is the way to do it, I reckon. Meals, drinks, some excursions and nights in your private cabin are included. Travelling in style :-)
During the peak season (June to October), there is a train twice a week departing from Adelaide or Darwin getting to Alice Springs.
More information about our journey on board the Ghan, the different packages and photos here:
> Via the Stuart Highway
The Stuart Highway crosses all Australia from Adelaide to Darwin (about 3000km), going through Alice Springs.
Stuart was the first explorer commissioned by the British government to find a way to cross Central Australia. He received £2000 for this hard job and he achieved his mission thanks to the precious help of camels.
> Attention, a little precision for those who believe (like me before...) that Uluru stands close to Alice Springs. There is 500 km to drive, so about 6 hours to go before seeing the Rock from Alice Springs! However most of the tours start from Alice Springs.
You can fly directly to Ayers Rocks but will be more expensive. Depends on what is your priority, time, budget.
How to travel the Red Centre, Uluru ?
> Book a guided tour
Plenty of options there! This is a very popular spot! You can choose excursions from 1 day to 5 days or more departing from Alice springs.
For those who want to plan their holidays in Australia, you can think Real Aussie Adventure for great advice. They are specialised on small tours. The team at Real Aussie Adventure will find the tour operator which best matches your budget, profile (family, backpacker, age...) and wishes.
Thanks to them, we went on a great adventure with Wayoutback Safaris. Interesting and knowledgeable guide, good bunch of people travelling and we were only a dozen for 4 days.
When to go ?
Other myths believed by many, it's always hot in the desert...No summers are very hot, but in winter the days are clear and cool. Expect to be cold at night (less than 10°C) Bring a warm jacket, a scarf and a beanie and you will be fine.
Actually winter (June-Septembre) is the best time of the year to visit the Red Centre. With about 20 degres during the day, deep blue sky, you will enjoy visiting the region.
In Summer, the walks have to be done before 11am ! Then it's too hot...
A Grand Merci to:
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