A spot where the days are 30°C and the nights 10°C or less, is not an easy place to set up camp, especially when the flies are out. The Red Centre is known for its harsh conditions, sparse vegetation, canyons and gorges. Doing 90Km/hr with a nice cool breeze coming through the windows, I finally had the World famous Uluru, better known as Ayers Rock, in my sight.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve read about this magical red rock. The stuff of dreams I remember reading, now I find out these are the Aboriginal bedtime stories and that Uluru is more than just a rock, it is a living cultural landscape, which is considered sacred to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people. Legend has it that the spirits of ancestral beings continue to reside in these sacred places making the land a deeply important part of Aboriginal cultural identity. The 500 million-year-old sandstone rock is a geological wonder and was formed when the crustal blocks of the Australian continent came together. The red colour comes from the oxidisation of the iron minerals in the rock. Basically, the mountain is getting rusty!
Kata Tjuta, known as The Olgas, is just 50km away from Uluru. In all honesty, I wasn’t even aware that Kata Tjuta existed until my second week into this road expedition. The closer I came to the area, the more I heard about it and the more people who really enjoy exploring were saying that even though Uluru is truly unique and stunning, it was Kata Tjuta that stole the show in the end.
Well I was about to find out, with the red mountain of Uluru only a couple of kilometers away and Kata Tjuta in the distance, I needed to find a place to camp for the night. Since I am on a tight budget because my travels are self-funded, I need to camp in the bush or in free camp sites around four to five times a week.
As the Red Centre is understandably a tourist hotspot, there are very few free campsites. The options are WikiCamps – the TripAdvisor of camping – and your own GPS to navigate to good spots that might or might not get you in trouble with the local rangers. WikiCamps is an app that helps other travelers find a spot to camp at night. If you pick one of these locations you are safe in the knowledge that someone else has been here and will usually leave all the info necessary to help you figure out if it’s safe or not.
Luckily with the help of both my GPS and WikiCamps I did find a spot. It was on a sand dune that overlooked Uluru, about 20km away. The thing is you could only get there by 4×4 and luckily that’s exactly what I’m riding. It was super exciting getting there, night was falling and dunes in my spotlights looked impressive. It didn’t take too long and once I got to the spot I found myself all alone. There was one caravan and one camper van just before the 4×4 track started about 4km before and then there was just me. It got cold fast, so I lit a small fire and cooked up a meal, then I opened the tent windows and just enjoyed passing out under the stars with the sight of Uluru slowly being lit up by the rising moon.
Waking up to a clear sky and a perfect view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta was up there with some of my best moments on this expedition. The biggest challenge was dealing with the attacks from relentless flies. They are bad in most of the Red Centre, but here they were insane. They try and get into your nose, eyes, ears and mouth. There’s two ways to go about it, wearing a fly net around your head which is not the most comfortable of apparel, or giving into them and only waving them away when they really try to penetrate those openings, is the only way to go. If you manage the second option then I can guarantee that you have mastered the art of Zen.
Navigating around the Uluru touristic area was pretty straight-forward, you have a central outdoor and indoor market with cafes and restaurants, and then you have a cultural centre and the resort. Since it’s a monopoly nothing is cheap but they aren’t extortionate either. It’s a cool, little, made-up town and has everything you need to stock up. Fuel was even cheaper than in surrounding area.
The following day I did a full day’s trek of Uluru though I couldn’t get to the top because of the wind, which was picking up, though I managed to navigate around the circumference of the rock to admire the view from all angles.
When I had my fill of Uluru, I set off to Kata Tjuta and set camp just outside in the car park where I started out some treks. The solidified sandstone of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta was exquisite, such perfection in its textures. There was an interesting array of flora and wildlife around also, no dingos (wild dogs) though which was a bit disappointing.
Camping outside offered me one major advantage. I was able to get up an hour before sunrise, one and half hours before the bus-load of tourists), and head into the Kata Tjuta rock complex. Being almost alone in this place gave me a sense of being lost in the ages. You could feel an ancient spiritual presence and the environment was so unique. The tracks themselves were also so much fun to navigate and I only came across a solo American woman and a couple from Germany – all of us pretty much sharing the same feelings. I could understand now why I was told that Kata Tjuta offered more than Uluru did. This was easily the best day hiking out of the four days I spent exploring the area.
From here I set off back into the bush in the direction of a place called Rainbow Valley that was on the path back to Alice Springs. This 1,300km drive around the Red Centre surely shared with me some truly spectacular moments.
Until next time, let the world be your playground.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Marc Casolani