I had been in Australia for just over two weeks now and today marked the end of one tour and the beginning of a new one. The nine of us who were partaking in this second journey had just landed in Alice Springs, after a two hour flight from Cairns. Our new location was a fairly remote town in the Northern Territory, situated in the middle of the country.
Alice Springs had a half an hour time difference, which was an interesting change and one that doesn’t occur in many places. We met our new trip manager, Cassie and our driver, Dave and set off for the evening’s accommodation to meet our new tour group.
We got acquainted and then drove to the small town centre of Alice Springs for lunch, followed by a trip to Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Here we met tour guide Rex, who showed us many reptiles and had a lot of interesting information to share with us on these creatures. We saw frilled-neck lizards; a bearded dragon named Bolton; a northern blue-tongued skink called Snickers, who licked our noses with his aptly blue tongue; legless lizards, who look like snakes and can regenerate their tales numerous times; the fangs of a juvenile gaboon viper and a tiger snake, the latter is tiny but can kill you in 30 minutes; a northern red-faced turtle; a juvenile green tree frog; a perentie, which is Australia’s largest lizard; mertens’ water monitors; a saltwater crocodile; and an olive python called Barry. These pythons were known as rainbow serpents to the aboriginals because they look rainbow-coloured in direct sunlight.
Back at the hotel there was a mini pool party with a musician singing and playing acoustic guitar. We cooled off from the heat of the day and rested ready for an Aboriginal Dreamtime and Bushtucker tour the following morning.
Our informative guide told us that the aboriginal people have been in Australia for tens of thousands of years and probably travelled to this new land from somewhere in Asia. Around 20 years ago, geneticists wrote a paper on indigenous people around the world and studied genetic markers in their blood. They found that the Australian aboriginals were closely related to Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils. In fact, some Tamils can still understand parts of the aboriginal languages, which is especially fascinating, since they have been apart for 1000s of years. Initially the aboriginals would have come to the north coast of Australia and felt at home in the tropical climate with the familiar wildlife. Over time they spread across the continent, based on an innate human curiosity to explore and move around. The aboriginal men would hunt kangaroos and reptiles in the warmer months and the women were gatherers. They were a very nomadic and capable people.
There were over 300 aboriginal language groups originally and in those groups there were different dialects. Therefore, it was hard for the people to converse with other groups and the languages became very different to each other over time. A sixth of the languages are still spoken now, but many were lost due to the nature of the word of mouth.
I liked hearing about the aboriginal’s shared community and how everything was divided equally. Though they lived a hard life trying to find food and water, they were extremely resourceful and knew how to create food from the wildlife they came across. We tried wattle seeds, which they’d use to make bread and the condiments they would season their food with, such as bush peppercorns. We also tried their tea and dessert bread called damper, as well as kangaroo tail which they would utilise to flavour soup so as not to waste any of their meat. One member of our group was brave enough to try a witchetty grub that the aboriginals would add to their diet for extra fat consumption.
We threw some traditional-style boomerangs at Skippy, a foam kangaroo and I don’t think I quite mastered the skill. We then viewed some authentic aboriginal artwork, which we had the chance to purchase. I bought a small, colourful piece which depicted bush medicine.
Our final stop of the day was to Simpson’s Gap, a gap in the 600km-long West MacDonnell Ranges.
We then drove to Kings Creek Station. They use the profits they make from being the biggest exporters of camels in Australia, as well as running a working campsite, to help children from aboriginal backgrounds go to school.
We cooled off by dipping our feet in the murky-looking campsite pool and set up our traditional swags, which were very similar to sleeping bags and would be our homes for the night. We played some cards and then whilst walking to the canteen for dinner, we came across one of the world’s deadliest snakes, the brown snake. A ranger whipped it to death in front of us, which was slightly traumatic and also terrifying because we weren’t going to be covered by tents that night, so we would have to hope and pray that no other snakes would approach us whilst we slept.
We saw the campsite’s cockatoo and then celebrated one of our tour friend’s 30th birthday with traditional Australian pavlova and party hats, followed by games around the bonfire. The stars were beautiful tonight as the night sky was so clear and uninterrupted by light pollution.
The subsequent morning began at 4:30 am as we set off for a three hour walk around the rim of the Kings Canyon. It was very steep for the first 20 minutes, which I must say I did not enjoy, but it then plateaued out, with the odd set of stairs or uneven rocks. This was an enjoyable walk before the heat of the day hit and we saw some beautiful views of the canyon, even witnessing a spectacular sunrise.
After some well deserved breakfast we continued on our journey, leaving the canyon far behind us. The outback of Australia is so sparse that there are seventy cattle stations, with the biggest one being the size of nine New York cities alone!
We stopped for pictures of Mount Connor and Lake Amadeus, which due to the cloudy weather, weren’t that impressive. Then we had a lunch break in the remote town of Yulara, where only 1,000 people live.
On our next stop we took a half an hour walk to Walpa Gorge, which is said to resemble an ancient temple crafted by nature.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Our last stop was to Kata Tjuṯa, also known as the Olgas (as the tallest peak is called Mount Olga). These are a group of large, domed rock formations which are sacred to the aboriginal people and are believed to be about 500 million years old. Kata Tjuṯa means “many heads” in the Pitjantjatjara aboriginal language. There are a lot of legends surrounding the rocks and one tells the story of the great snake king Wanambi, who is said to live on the summit and only come down during the dry season. The tallest part of Kata Tjuṯa is higher than Uluru and they are located within the same national park, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
We arrived at the lodge which we could call home for the next two nights and got ready for the evening’s activity. Though it was optional, all of us had chosen to attend as it sounded absolutely incredible: Named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku (meaning “looking at lots of beautiful lights”), this activity is known as the Field of Light Uluru. As the evening falls and Uluru is no more than a silhouette, the lights are turned on and stretch as far as the eye can see in stunning hues of what seems like every colour of the rainbow. The exhibition has been critically acclaimed and was created by an internationally celebrated artist; it was originally a limited-time-only experience, but due to its sheer popularity it has been extended indefinitely. The lights in the desert cover more than seven football fields and allow viewers to fully immerse themselves in what can only be described as a dream garden of 50,000 spindles of light.
It really was stunning, but it was admittedly difficult to take photos which truly capture the brilliance (if one is able to, then it is definitely worth a visit to experience the magic).