But we're really enjoying the travel, even the seeming nothingness always has surprises in store. And the parks we've been visiting have all had spectacular hiking trails to explore, with each better than the previous. Here's a bit of a travelogue of the past couple of weeks:
Coober Pedy: This oddity of a town is situated literally in the middle of nowhere.....no rivers, no mountains, no nothing to explain it's existence.....except one word, O-P-A-L. The hard scrabble hamlet sits within and is surrounded by thousands of underground opal mines and shafts. (the name, Coober Pedy, is said to be a rough spelling of the aboriginal words meaning "white fella in shaft"!!!)
|Typical home vent pipes in middle of photo|
We toured an old mine which has been turned into an opal mining museum. Pretty interesting, the exhibits were well done, and gave a good feel for what the life below ground was in the past, and, to a large extent, remains today. (CP boasts a population today of around 3,500, with about 60% migrating from southern and eastern Europe after WW2, following the opal boom. )
|We loved the retro look that is oh-so-popular here in the Outback!|
We continued north up the Stuart Highway to Yulara, home of Uluru, formerly known as Ayer's Rock, in the Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park. Iconic Uluru is an area of great spiritual significance to the Anangu aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the area. Carved out of a dedicated aboriginal reserve by the government in the 1960's to create the national park to promote tourism, Uluru's rightful ownership remained a source of contention and controversy for many years. Finally, in 1985, an agreement was reached between the Aussie government and the Anangu whereby the government would lease the park area back from the aboriginal owners.
Climbing of Uluru remains one of the biggest remaining controversies surrounding the Rock. As part of the terms of the land lease, 2 of 3 conditions must be met to close the rock to climbing altogether. Without getting into too much detail, it seems that 2 were in fact met in 2013, but the climb remains an available option. We hope it is closed soon.
Though the aborigines do not climb Uluru, due to it's spiritual importance, and they clearly request that visitors respect this custom, there remains a handrail up one gentle ridge, offering tourists an assisted walkway to the top. We were pretty amazed at the insensitivity of these "guests" of the Anangu people, as we saw hundreds of folks happily running up and down the rock.
Instead of climbing the boulder, we opted instead to hike the 10km trail around it's perimeter. The trail leads into various caves and canyons around the base, some with old petroglyphs and other signs of early uses of the ceremonial rock. The colors were amazing, constantly changing in the varying light at different times of the day. Here are a few shots taken along the route:
The day after hiking around Uluru we headed over to check out Kata Tjuta, Uluru's often overlooked cousin, about a 30km drive away. We found this part of the park actually much more interesting to explore. WAY fewer people than in Uluru, and the hiking more rugged and remote. There's a terrific 8 km hike, Valley of the Winds, which takes heads deep into various canyons around the stone mounds. We had a perfect day, and all of the recent rains have made the desert landscapes amazingly green, with terrific wildflowers blooming everywhere. Sweet as!
|Flies can be a bit intense, but at least they don't bite!!!|
The drive back to our campsite provided beautiful sunset views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the changing evening light.
After Uluru/Kata Tjuta, we headed north to visit Kings Canyon, part of the Watarrka National Park. Although also a busy place, it was not nearly as jam packed as Yulara. And the canyon indeed delivered the goods, offering an incredible place to hike and explore the terrific sandstone canyon.
We did the rocky Rim Walk, which takes us up to the canyon rim from the valley, then around the rim, dropping down into a canyon oasis, descriptively, though hokily known as the Garden of Eden. All was spectacular desert scenery.
After Kings Canyon, we were feeling the gravitational pull of the big city, Alice Springs. But first it was time to get a bit of dirt on old Tojo, so we headed off the blacktop and onto the 130 km of gravel road toward Glen Helen in the West MacDonnell National Park. The little resort of Glen Helen had a genuine, old rustic feel, and a ranger there gave us some great info on things to do in this special park.
At his advice, we headed up a gravel track to a place known as 2-mile camp, along the Finke River. What a sweet spot to camp. Not many people, or flies, and the evening on the river was spectacular. Water birds everywhere, and the sound of dingos howling into the night put us quickly to sleep up in our tent. Much like coyotes or wolves in other favorite camping areas we've enjoyed.
|The night sky has been amazing here in one of the darkest spots on land on earth.|
|Locals told us they'd never seen the desert this green|
|Car park faintly visible near the end of the valley below|
|Heading towards the Ormiston gorge in the distance|
|Ochre pits where aborigines mined ochre for ceremonial face and body painting|
But first, and this is important.......tomorrow is the annual Camel Cup, an all-day event here in Alice Springs of camel races and parades.......yes, your ever diligent reporters will be there to cover the big event!