The Big Walkabout Part Five – Uluru to Kakadu

Uluru

It was my seventeenth day of The Big Walkabout and we had just seen the incredible field of lights surrounding Uluru in the night sky. After this magical experience, we headed back to our accommodation to find a singer and guitarist performing. One of my tour friends asked if I could sing with him (probably because I never stopped singing along with the music on the coach!), so the evening ended with some duets and drinks, before hitting the hay ready to see Uluru at sunrise the following morning.

After a 3:50 am wake up, we sauntered sleepily onto the coach in the dark and drove to “Ayers Rock” to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, an overcast day and an abundance of clouds meant that it wasn’t quite as impressive as it may have been, but it was still a cool thing to experience.

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Uluru is 348 metres high, but it is believed to have another two to six kilometres underground. Geologists have found that Uluru used to be part of a mountain range named the Petermann Range, with the highest peak being taller than the Himalayas. There was no plant cover however and the mountains therefore eroded rapidly, leaving Uluru behind.

We completed a three hour walk around the base of the rock. It was enormous to behold and there were some areas where we weren’t allowed to take photos due to their cultural significance.

We then visited the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre and learnt some important information. On 26th October 1985, one of the most sacred sites in Australia, which had been called Ayers Rock by settlers, was given back to the local aboriginals and hence regained its aboriginal name of Uluru, which means “Great Pebble”. Now, with the blessing of its original inhabitants, Uluru is part owned by the government to help them preserve it.

We listened to some dreamtime stories of Uluru and heard its aboriginal creation story. Uluru was believed to have been created at the beginning of time by ten ancestral spirits. The world had been a featureless place, but the ancestors of the Aṉangu (the traditional owners of Uluru and its surroundings) travelled across the land and designed features like Uluru. Now, past spirits are said to live inside the structure.

After an insightful and fascinating morning spent absorbing the wonders of Uluru, we explored Yulara, catching the shuttle bus from our lodge. Upon our return to the accommodation we contemplated sunbathing, but it was far too hot and instead we spent our free time having a much-needed swim in the cool waters of the pool.

That evening, needing to view Uluru one more time before departing the ravishing red rock, we went to view it at sunset. We drank champagne and ate nibbles whilst we enjoyed each other’s company, watching the sun go down and the dusk begin to fall.

Click here to view my 360° tour of sunset at Uluru.

Returning to the lodge, we continued in our merriment and were entertained by the musician from the previous evening.

The next morning’s 8:20 am start was a blissful lie in compared to some days and we even started the day with a cooked breakfast. Once on the coach, we watched a film and were sent to sleep by the bumpy roads of the outback. Before we knew it we arrived back into Alice Springs and went for dinner in a quirky local bar and restaurant.

Enjoying the swings in Alice Springs!

Much to our delight, we found out that Alice Springs has the highest murder rate in Australia, but thankfully we were leaving almost as soon as we arrived, and we departed the subsequent morning for Renner Springs.

Renner Springs

On our drive we passed the Tropic of Capricorn and became engrossed in today’s coach movie, Gone Girl.

We then stopped off at Wycliffe Well, the self-proclaimed “UFO capital of Australia”. Its association with UFOs started during the Second World War when servicemen living in the area started keeping records of unidentified objects they viewed at night. Somebody then found the book and the records were blown out of proportion. We visited the Wycliffe Well Holiday Park, who say that “UFO sightings are so common here, that if you stayed up all night looking, you would be considered unlucky not to see anything, rather than lucky to see something”.

Our next stop was to Karlu Karlu, which means “round boulders”. An aboriginal dreamtime story tells of Arrange, the Devil Man who travelled through the area, making a hair-string belt (a traditional adornment worn by men) and dropping clusters of hair on the ground as he was twirling the hair into strings for the belt. The clusters then turned into big red boulders.
Karlu Karlu’s nickname is Devils Marbles as an explorer viewed the boulders and is said to have exclaimed, “this is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!”.
Back on the road again, we drove past lots of termite mounds. They looked like mini tombstones and the reason for the vast amount of them was because there can only be one queen per mound, so each new queen would create a new mound.
The day ended with us arriving into our accommodation in Renner Springs. We were staying in a lodge by the roadside and it really did feel like we were in the middle of nowhere here.
Our restful night made us fresh enough to play a quiz led by Cassie (our trip manager) on the following morning’s bus journey and my teammate and I came a respectable second.
We then arrived into Daly Waters historic town and visited the Daly Waters pub, built in 1930. It is said to have witnessed murders, shoot outs in the main street, cattle stampeding through town and the odd drunken brawl. But now it is a great place to visit to witness some Australian history and outback hospitality. Since the 1980s, women have left their bras here and it is now custom to leave a part of you behind upon visiting the pub. We left a Polaroid picture of our group.
The pub is also famous for its delicious barramundi wraps (an Australian fish) which I tried as we sat in the heat before continuing our journey.
Once back on the bus, we performed some “coach karaoke”. As we continued on our drive we saw some land that had been purposefully burnt. The burning is good for the ecosystem and stops bushfires.

Elsey National Park

In the early 1900s, a couple settled at Elsey Homestead and became friendly with the local aboriginals. The woman later wrote an autobiographical account of their time there, entitled “We of the Never Never”.

We then visited the Mataranka thermal pool, where soldiers from World War Two had previously bathed to rest their weary bodies. Despite the fierce heat of the day, it was lovely to float in the warm waters.

Katherine

We arrived into Katherine and stopped at a supermarket, where a couple of us were delighted to find Love Actually on DVD, to add some Christmas spirit to our coach-movie time!

The day ended with a Domino’s delivery by the pool and it was interesting comparing it to our British equivalent (they were pretty similar, minus the infamous garlic and herb dip – you’re missing out Aus!). We finished the meal with an Australian lamington and these are cakes I wish we had at home (sponge cakes with coconut, chocolate, cream and jam).

We awoke the following morning ready for our Katharine Gorge river cruise. We entered the Nitmiluk National Park and began the cruise with tour guide Jamie. He told us the history of the gorge and we saw some crocodiles in the water. We took a break from the cruise at the halfway point to see the art of the Jawoyn people, the original inhabitants who have now reclaimed the land as their own. Their art dates back to 30,000 years ago and they have even painted animals which have since become extinct. We were informed that the aboriginals believe that their famous Rainbow Serpent rests in the corners of the 30-metre deep river.

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After stopping in Katherine’s small town centre for lunch, we drove on to Edith Falls and swam the length of three Olympic-size swimming pools to get to them. The cascading waterfalls were beautiful.

Kakadu National Park

That evening we were staying in Kakadu National Park and the following day some people took a scenic flight over it. I didn’t do this activity so I instead visited the uranium mine. The mine was first spotted from the sky in 1969 and 400 million dollars have since been put into it, as the uranium is a hot commodity sold internationally and worth 25 billion dollars. It is good for the Australian economy but it is not so great for the environment.

Kakadu National Park is home to 10,000 crocodiles, 10,000 types of insect, 280 bird species, 74 types of mammal and 117 types of reptile.

After some of our tour friends had finished the flight, we visited Nourlangie Rock and partook in the Aboriginal Rock Art Walk. We viewed the rock paintings, which were all painted for a purpose, to tell stories and mark ceremonies. The art here is 2,000 years old, which is relatively new compared to some aboriginal art. The artwork has been coated with silicon to stop the rain ruining the paintings. We were informed that the aboriginal culture is the longest continuing culture in the world.
In the next blog I will be talking about the end of my Australian adventures, so watch this space for more!

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