19 July 2010

the outback!

So once we left Sydney we headed to Alice Springs, which is a 'thriving outback town' in the Northern Territory. Something I read mentioned that it's sometimes mistakenly referred to as a city. Funny. This was our base for the next week or so, to explore the outback (I just like saying that), seeing the big rocks (Uluru, Kata Tjuta, etc) and finding some good walks.

We wandered around town first, and also went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base, where they have been running this service for the past like 80 years. And it's a non profit organization! It provides emergency services and even things like GP and specialist visits to remote areas. They now get grants and things, but is still dependent on community contributions. Pretty cool, huh? The mural that Josh is checking out is pretty cool too. We watched a video about the service, saw the actual base area where they take the calls and route the planes and stuff, and saw the small museum that they have set up. Lots of old equipment and the old medicine cehst they used to bring, as well as a mock up of what the plane really looks like inside, complete with mannequin patients and nurse/doctors!

The sunset in the desert.

We rented the big caravan (which is a manual and I am so bad at them, so Josh, bless his heart, did most of the driving...and by most I mean all but about 15 minutes) and headed off to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which was a long, flat 4 1/2 hours. On the map it has at least 4-5 areas marked as areas that have petrol and food and stuff, and I assumed were towns...oh no, they were just petrol stations or accommodations and cafes. There was seriously not a town to speak of for about 440 kilometers. Crazy just how expansive the land is.

Here's Josh, looking HOT as we walked around Uluru. Uluru is a 'world-renowned sandstone formation that stands 348 m (1,142 ft) high (863 m/2,831 ft above sea level) with most of its bulk below the ground, and measures 9.4 km (5.8 mi) in circumference. There is a climb up to the top, but there are signs everywhere asking you not to, as it is a very sacred place to the Aboriginal people, especially the Anangu Traditional landowners. So we didn't, but there were lots of people who did, and actually lots of people who have died (most due to cardiac arrest). You'd think that people would have more cultural sensitivity. But anyway. They also have a great cultural center there with lots of the info relating to the Dreaming stories of the Aborigines, as well as some of the bush foods (aka 'tucker') and other things that have been used to survive in the outback.

Who knew that Australia has camels? Not I, said the fly. They apparently were brought in to the country and were used in the outback. Now they just wander. We saw a herd (is it called a herd??) of them at the base of Uluru. Aren't they cute?

Then we hung out at a good spot to watch the big rock turn colors at sunset.

Glorious red! I actually took a bunch of pictures, but I had quite the time trying to upload these, so there's just the three shots...daytime (above), red at sunset, and the sun leaving the rock.

Disappearing sun!

The next day we went to see Kata Tjuta. These are a group of large domed rock formations or bornhardts, which are near Uluru. Funnily enough, Uluru and Kara Tjuta are the big attractions in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It has 36 domes, and covers an area of 8 sq mi. They are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1,791 ft above the surrounding plain (650 ft higher than Uluru). A number of legends surround the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. The majority of mythology surrounding the site is not disclosed to outsiders because it is so sacred.
We went on the Valley of the Winds walk, which was supposed to take about 3 hours and unfortunately only took about 2...unfortunately because it was so beautiful! While Uluru is the big attraction, we actually both liked Kata Tjuta better...the walk was amazing, the scenery was ridiculous, and it was just plain awesome.

Trying to get all the coolness of this place into one little picture!

Kangaroo signs!

And camel signs! Again, who would have thought??

After that fabulous time, we drove another bunch of hours (okay, only three this time) to Kings Canyon. Remember when I mentioned that Josh bought a pair of stubbies? Here they are!

More gorgeous scenery. I can't get enough of the blue sky/red rock combo.

Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park. The walls of Kings Canyon are over 300 meters high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. We walked on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, which as it sounds, traces the top of the canyon. It starts with a nice steep hill (but unlike NZ, you don't climb for 2 hours or more to get to the top!! This one only took about 15 minutes) but has spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape. We also passed the 'Garden of Eden,' a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life.

These are called the Beehives, and look like a lost city on top of the canyon.

After Kings Canyon, we headed back to Alice Springs. We made a day trip to the Standly Chasm, where we hiked up a bunch of stairs and had a great view of the MacDonnell Ranges and the surrounding land.

Check out this ghost gum!

Here's Simpson Gap, another quick trip from Alice. Apparently the region had been getting an unusual amount of rain, and all the rivers that say 'usually dry' on the maps all were flowing! it was great.

Simpson Gap has rock wallabies that you can watch--they are super nimble and fun to see. Unfortunatley they're too far away to get with the camera well!

And a spectacular sunset for our final night.

The next day we had to head to the airport, but not before we went to the Alice Springs Desert Park and the Reptile Center. Amazing. Here's a Thorny Devil. They are the coolest things ever.

And finally a red kangaroo for Josh!

Josh getting cozy with a Bearded Dragon.

And this guy is a Blue Tongued Lizard. Aptly named. The blue showed up better in person. :)