Welcome to our blog — We (occasionally) document our misadventures in travel, on the trail, living in a van, & whatnot. 

The Red Center

Week Seven



Bush-camp + Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park + Ayers Rock Resort + Bush-camp

Expenses (AUD): October 6 - 13th, 2016

Things to Note about the Northern Territory:

  1. It is a Territory, not a state.
  2. The NT has strict rules regarding the purchase and consumption of alcohol.
  3. It is exactly as hot as you would imagine it to be, probably hotter.
  4. Always carry a trash bag and a trowel.
  5. Opal is frequently used in lieu of regular unleaded.
  6. The black flies will haunt your dreams.

In Regards to Uluru:

There are two options for entry to Uluru-kata Tjuta National Park

  • 3-day pass @ $25 per adult
  • Annual pass @ $32.50 per adult

We chose the latter.

Uluru at a distance.

Uluru at a distance.

Uluru is precisely what is promised. It is a great hulking monolith. A shape rising seamlessly from the red sand around it. Closer inspection reveals caves and pocks, the only evidence to eons of exposure. Beyond it, in the distance, are the sisters. The Olgas, aka Kata Tjuta. No less hulking than the former. This is where we are all headed. All of us who have braved the long stretch of the Red Centre. The dirty, road-weary pilgrims of Uluru.

Most will find themselves at the mercy of Ayers Rock Resort, the one and only source of accommodation for the better part of 100 kilometers. If the absolute lack of competition isn’t enough incentive to book with their properties, they also happen to control the only source of alcohol for that same 100 or so kilometers. If you are looking to avoid the inflated resort prices by using a local bush-camp remember to pack a case of stubbies or a bottle of gin to get you through those hot, dry nights.

Bush-camp near Uluru.

Bush-camp near Uluru.

The bush-camp is a mere 50 kilometers outside of the resort and has the undeniable allure of being completely and utterly free. This is where we chose to be. Every night we  would pull in, make camp, and watch the sun descend into the desert landscape. 

Camps like these yield an opportunity to observe the variety of travelers who share the roads. Grey Nomads. Wicked Campers. Van Dwellers. 4WD Roof-top Campers. Hitch-hikers with tents. We jostle against one another each night attempting to carve out just the right amount of personal space and privacy. The free-camp has its drawbacks. There are no facilities here. Not a drop-toilet or trash bin in sight. Trash litters the ground. Paper waves out of the low scrub like streamers. Remnants of some unconcerned camper or another. We do our part picking up after ourselves and others. We dig our cat holes for the evening. Start a campfire to light our night and keep the mosquitos at bay.

The desert heat made us lethargic. Each day we bathed in sunscreen before braving the sun and flies. Every piece of clothing we donned became damp with sweat in a matter of moments.

Eventually, we made it to Uluru itself. We started the Base Walk late, beginning just as the day came into full bloom. We whipped at the flies with discarded layers, drank deeply from our canteens, took off another layer, and so on for 11km of exposed track.

Uluru Base Walk, Liru Walk.

Uluru Base Walk, Liru Walk.

Kata Tjuta, Valley of the Winds.

Kata Tjuta, Valley of the Winds.

Kata Tjuta answers the sun baked trails of Uluru with its own tracks, rolling where the other lays flat. I found this walk to be far more pleasant than the other. It is not as time-consuming and, visually speaking, has quite a bit more to offer.

A Quick Aside Regarding the Flies:

Australians will describe to you in vivid detail the image of some distant gully as it appears in spring, winter, and summer. They warn you not to be fooled by the cool wind that now blows because soon the temperature will climb so high that you will long for the sweet caress of this frigid breeze. They wax eloquent about how this country was twenty years ago and how it will be in another twenty. They will speak at length about absolutely everything under the sun except, it seems, the flies. This doesn’t seem like an overly important detail. Elsewhere it would matter very little. Elsewhere is not Australia. Come spring and summer the nation is plagued by flies. Plagued I tell you, biblically so. You’ll know when you are in an area of affliction. Visitors claw at the air trying to ward off the small black demons. Clothing is stripped off and waved around in an attempt to assuage the onslaught. Uncomely head-gear is acquired and worn in the hopes that the flies will flee before the dangling cork and mesh sacks. This behavior is almost completely exclusive to the visitors. Aussie’s appear utterly immune to the pestilence.

The first time I saw the peculiarity that sets the locals apart, I was confused and disconcerted. I could focus on nothing else. It distracted me to the point of frustration. Good sir, there is a fly on your eyelid…have you not noticed? It is now taking a leisurely stroll from the corner of your eye to the corner of your mouth…do you not feel it? The man did not flinch, he did not reach up a hand (both of which were free) to shoo it away, he did nothing at all but that which he was already doing -- talking to us about kangaroos and how they often drown dogs. Mind-boggling. The less acclimated, have an altogether different reaction. Subdued panic and the overwhelming urge to plunge into a deep well, for starters. We swipe at the air to keep the hoard at bay. We use fallen branches or recently shed clothing to whip at ourselves in the hope of deterring them. We buy fly nets for our faces only to be blinded as they land on the exterior or thrown into a frenzy as one or two ambitious fellows slip below the net. The only warning we received about the Australian fly was from author Bill Bryson, an account that is wildly poetic and terribly accurate. Beware the buzzing bush for it is not the honey-bee that awaits your coming.

Using a buff and sunglasses to fend off the flies.

Using a buff and sunglasses to fend off the flies.

Each day we would break down camp, drive the 50km into Uluru, and explore what we could. This naturally led to fuel consumption, which in turn lead us to opal-fuel. Petrol stations in the area having only two options, premium or opal, we went with the option that seemed most affordable. After a few days of back and forth, Delphine started getting the hiccups. That is a terrifying thing to hear coming from your vehicle. Cue cartoonish-ninety-degree-turn as we veer for the one and only mechanic around. The mechanic allayed our concerns with a simple question. As it turns out, Opal as a fuel is not a hearty enough for an engine as old as ours, despite all the assurances to the contrary.

Given that it was hot and driving about had instantly become less affordable we decided to hit the dunes for a few nights alone in the desert. Nothing like watching the sunset with naught between you and the horizon but vast empty scrub. It's a lovely experience. Even more so after several stiflingly hot nights inside the van. We packed a bag and hiked out over the dunes to find some solitude. A lovely spot 15 minutes from the bush-camp nestled high on the sand and in the distance on one side stood Uluru and on the other Kata Tjuta. We spent a few days out there, occasionally coming back to the van to resupply.

The night before leaving Uluru, we decided to treat ourselves to the Field of Lights.  This art installation by Bruce Munro is incredible to take in. A network of wires and filaments spread out across the desert floor. Tens of thousands of stems rise from the dirt an hold aloft a frosted bulb. Waves of color sweep out across the field and back again. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking one of the later buses and wandering the dark trails for a few hours.

Field of lights, ground level.

Field of lights, ground level.

Kings Canyon to Alice Springs

Pursuit of a Northerly Direction