They say the best things in life are free, they happen when you least expect and can be found in the most unusual places.
A trip to the Northern Territories in Australia is not free and far from being cheap. It was not on my bucket list and so it was decided quite on the spur of the moment with not too much hope of returning home with a burning desire to go back.
Despite all my apprehensions and preconceived ideas, here I am, back home, feeling the call of those vast arid areas of land: the land where the dingos roam freely and the wild brumbies reinvent to notion of freedom.
My one week trip to Northern Territory has now a special place in my heart and after 3 years of living in Australia I can say one more time that I do not regret the moment when I decided to move here.
Alice Springs and the surroundings in 2 days.
I arrived in Alice Springs in May, the best time to visit Central Australia.
I was expecting to find a fairly big town with lots of Aboriginals. I was only half right.
The place is quite small and for the first time in my life, in a record time, I was comfortable navigating the streets without feeling lost. All the streets lead to the same main street where you can find the grocery store, the police, the hospital and the post office. Some will say quite boring. I would simply say quite charming in all its simplicity. And, I believe another 2000 Americans who choose to call Alice Springs their home will agree with me.
Alice Springs lies at the junction between the East MacDonnell Ranges and West MacDonnell Ranges.
Most of the sites in the East MacDonnell Ranges can be accessed by a conventional vehicle and can be seen in half a day. In our first afternoon there, we have stopped at Emily and Jessie Gaps, then at Trephina Gorge and at Ross River Resort. The last one looked like a quite lively place, very popular for families, but I could definitely say it was not my cup of tea for a comfortable, rather romantic holiday. It looked quite basic and a little bit rundown.
As darkness fell, we pulled over on a little dirt track to look at the sky. It was pitch dark, cold, complete silence, and from time to time you could see shooting stars. It was magical.
We have stayed at Desert Palms Resort, not a fancy place but otherwise quite clean and pleasant.
The next full day was entirely dedicated to West MacDonnell Ranges.
Our first stop was at Standley Chasm found 50 km from Alice Springs. From the parking lot it is a 15 minute easy walk. At the end you will find an amazing deep red cleft crowded on both sides by craggy 80 metres tall slopes.
If you are up for a challenge, then on your way back to the car, you can try a one hour section of the Larapinta trail. The hike is strenuous but well worth it. After the steep climb, at the top you will be rewarded with 360 degree view over the MacDonnell Ranges where the tallest mountains in the Northern Territory are located. Not too many people adventure so high up so our only friends up there were the flies which quickly became our enemies. Needless to say who won the war. The flies easily outnumbered us and their persistence was far stronger than any Deet might be. At the end, we had to admit defeat and to start out retreat back to the valley.
Our next stop was at Ochre Pits, a sacred but not a secret place. From the parking lot, after walking for 10 minutes on a paved road, you can see the splendour of the different shades of red of the pits. The multi-coloured, layered mineral ochre pits was, and still is, traditionally used by Aboriginals in ceremonies to paint their bodies.
The last stop was at Glen Helen Gorge. The place looked more like a desert oasis and just after a few minutes walk we could admire the beauty of the gorge. But, like everything else in life, which comes too easy, somehow I cannot say that I was too impressed with the place. The highlight of my day remained that strenuous walk on the Larapinta Trail followed by a cup of tea at the top while defending my own piece of Northern Territory against the flies.
We ate at the salon bar in Alice Springs – a place full of character which made me think of western movies, cowboys and beer. The ceiling of the place was decorated with boomerangs, old boots and the toilets’ seats were quite a masterpiece and a one of a kind attraction (for me at least).
Kings Canyon in 2 days
We reached Kings Canyon after driving a 4WD on a dirt track about 357 km via the Mereenie Loop Road. The road was not bad at all. At times we were able to travel at 90 km per hour. It took us probably around 5 hours from Alice Springs with couple of short stops in between. We have spotted our first dingo and our first beautiful bright coloured finches. Some good music and high spirits really came in handy, as the drive was quite boring and with nothing to see in between.
We booked a deluxe spa room at Kings Canyon Resort which is the closest place to stay near the Canyon, just 10km away. Camping is not permitted. The room was beautifully decorated and the indoor spa surrounded by red rocks was magnificent at night and well worth the extra money.
There are 2 main restaurants where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner. Both of them are very good and the portions are quite generous. We had kangaroo steak and barramundi which were both delicious.
One restaurant had live entertainment with country Aussie hits such as Waltzing Matilda and Give Me A Home Amongst The Gum Trees. The atmosphere was quite congenial, very friendly and relaxing. A big group of French tourists were dancing and it was just lovely to see people coming from all parts of the world indulging in pure Australian cuisine and music.
Somehow it reminded me of the times in Canada when I used to go line dancing in cowboy boots, listening to American country music. The vibe in the room made it for me and I could not have thought of a better place to have dinner. I guess slowly by slowly the beauty of the outback Australia and its spirit was catching up with me.
Most of the staff is seasonal and they are usually young, but very helpful people travelling around Australia.
The petrol was very expensive, but I guess it should be expected given the remoteness of the area.
In the first day it was raining heavily and we were told we were “in luck” as the rainfall in the previous 72 hours had been equivalent to the 12 months average for the Kings Canyon area.
After a rainy night, we awoke into a fine day with beautiful sunshine streaming in through our bedroom window.
We had a generous buffet breakfast and decided to head off to the 7 km Rim Walk at Kings Canyon. We were told it should take us about 3 to 4 hours. However, it took us about 6 hours with all the stops in between for a cup of tea or simply to admire the impressive views looking out over the sandstone cliffs and down over the cliff faces.
The trail is very popular and very well marked so unless you are keen to know about each and every plant or story of the place you will not need a guide. I was definitely there for the experience, for some peace and quiet and I really enjoyed taking my time and feeling lost in the beauty of the scenery.
The trail started with a steep climb for about half an hour , but after that most of it was flat.
One place we really enjoyed was the Garden of Eden, a spectacular oasis where the natural spring waterhole was surrounded by greenery that we did not expect to see amongst the predominant rocky and harsh landscape. We were truly blown away by the beauty of it all. Despite the freezing water, we decided to give it a go and go in for a swim. It was a surreal feeling.
Kings Canyon was the highlight of our trip. We promised one day, when we will grow old and feel overwhelmed by memories, we will come back.
Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park in 2 days
From Kings Canyon it took us about 4 hours to get to Uluru. The roads are sealed and there are no places of interests in between.
At Uluru we stayed at Sails in the Desert Resort which I believe it was the best place to stay at. Very secluded, quiet and elegant. The rooms were spacious and tastefully decorated.
One night we ate at the hotel’s buffet restaurant. The food was decent, but nothing quite special and I have to say I was a bit disappointed, given the 65$ per person price. The following night we ordered room service and the red curry chicken was just delicious and at a fraction of the price.
We have tried the Red Ochre Spa, but I was not impressed at all and probably I would not do it again. Overall, the value for the money was quite poor.
In the first day, we drove around the base of Uluru to Mala Walk. Mala Walk takes about half an hour and is the most impressive part of the entire walk. You can see some of the sacred caves where the Aboriginals live and prepare for ceremony. The rest of the walk is along the bush, in full sun and you are entirely at the mercy of millions of flies. So, we decided to skip the rest of it, jumped in the car and drove around the Ayers Rock.
I felt overwhelmed by its monolithic size and I wish we could have been allowed to climb it. The ownership of Uluru rests with the Anangu Aboriginal Community which traditional leased the land to the Australian federal government for 99 years.
The sunset was spectacular and I felt I could have just sit there the whole night just looking at this magnificent 348 metres high rock. For a second, I was wondering how many people from all over the world have the chance to experience these incredible moments and suddenly I just felt blessed and incredible happy to be there.
The next day we have visited The Kata Tjuta area, also named the Olgas. The place is a collection of rock domes extending 6 km into the ground.
We have done the 2. 6 km Walpa gorge walk which was nice but very windy.
Then, we have commenced the walk into the Valley of the Winds, stopping to the Karu lookout first. The scenery was beautiful and then the walk between the domes seemed to be out of this world. The hike is challenging at times and sturdy hiking shoes are a must, unless you are truly an acrobat with a keen desire for injuries.
All my life I felt I am chasing the time just so I can see places like these ones. All unique in their own right, all having a story of their own, all beautiful and waiting to be discovered layer by layer. Some places strike you with their beauty, like North Queensland in Australia. Others, hiding their beauty, challenging your mind and your senses are waiting to be found, understood and ultimately loved. Northern Territories in Australia is one of those.
My short trip to Central Australia was just a reminder that true beauty can be found even in the most arid and unwelcoming places and that attaining true happiness is entirely within our power no matter if we are laying on a beach in Hawaii, in an expensive resort in Tahiti or just hiking the Kings Canyon in Australia and having a simple dinner at a local pub.