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Travelling Australia's Outback

Red Centre

Australia – the Outback, the Red Centre, the Never Never, beyond the Black Stump – descriptions of a remote, wild country outside the big cities such as Melbourne and Sydney. A journey from Darwin to Adelaide gives travellers the opportunity to experience Australia’s heart first hand, where the spinifex dotted red earth dominates. A land of cascading waterfalls with cooling plunge pools below, mounds of hole-riddled piles of packed earth reach skywards - nature's sculptures, carpets of colour clothe the barren earth after showers of rain, people live in homes gouged out of the earth while in between are rocks such as the solitary monolith that is Ayers Rocks or smaller rocks balance to form artistic-like piles. It is a land of vast distances and few people but in between are many places worthy of a detour from that ribbon of bitumen. The 3100 kilometre journey to Adelaide begins in Darwin, a city closer to Singapore than to Australia’s capital Canberra. Renowned for being destroyed by a cyclone in 1974 and bombed during World War II, it is a tropical oasis where gardens are ablaze with bougainvillea, a contrast to the trappings of a modern city. For most travellers Darwin is a respite from the isolation and extreme conditions of the surrounding country or a stepping off point for further exploration. Readily accessible from Darwin is the world heritage listed Kakadu National Park. It is 20 000 square kilometres of wetlands, woodland plains, elevated rocky outliers with the Arnhem land escarpment to the east. With these sheer cliffs and heavy rainfall, spectacular waterfalls such as Jim Jim Falls cascade forming plunge pools below.
The adjoining floodplains are home to a rich collection of wildlife including native birds such as the “dancing” brolga and the elegant jabiru. Cruising Yellow Waters is an opportunity to see this wildlife including crocodiles, after which the Alligator River, the park’s main river, is named. Yellow Waters is the park’s main accommodation area with campsites also scattered throughout the park. Interspersed with the stunning collection of natural features are some extraordinary galleries of Aboriginal art. Over thousands of years the Aboriginal people have recorded their history on these rock sites dating back 25 000 years. More than 1000 sites have been recorded but the two most accessible to tourists are Nourlangie Rock and Ubirr Rock. Three hundred and forty kilometres south of Darwin is Katherine and the nearby Nitmiluk National Park, home to Katherine Gorge. These thirteen gorges, began forming 23 million years ago as torrents of water poured through tiny cracks in the earth, are best explored by canoe, on a cruise or by foot on some of the 100 kilometres of walking tracks which meander through the park. The park is also rich in Aboriginal art with rock paintings representing the spiritual “dreaming” of the Jawoyn, the traditional owners of the land. South along the highway is Mataranka, a great place to soak the weary body in hot pools shaded by towering palms. This crystal clear water comes from underground springs that flow year round. Just in case you haven’t managed to catch one of the Northern Territory’s barramundi while out fishing, it is possible to see them hand fed here in Mataranka. After following the black ribbon of bitumen splitting the red sands dotted with grasses and small trees, passing the odd small town or roadhouse every couple of hundred kilometres you realise Australia has space, lots of it. After a mere 800 kilometres, piles of big red rocks provide a distraction. This is the Devils Marbles Conservation Park where rocks weighing hundreds of tonnes balance precariously atop one another on an area of less than a square metre. Sunrise or sunset provides an ideal time to view or photograph them as they change from brown to red to orange to gold. What a sight. Finally after traversing more of the harsh Australian environment with shimmering heat reflections on the bitumen, blue cloudless skies overhead and no apparent water, the sight of a town is welcome. This is Alice Springs, at the heart of Australia’s Red Centre. A service centre to the surrounding area it is also home the Alice Springs Desert Park which has recreated the regions desert environments and enables visitors to see in close up some native Australian birds such as cockatoos and parrots and the nocturnal animals and snakes which are rarely seen in the wild. Also worth a visit in Alice Springs are the School of the Air, the base from which many children living hundreds of kilometres away have been educated via radio, and the Royal Flying Doctor Base which provides a medical lifeline to those people living and travelling the remote areas of Australia. Alice Springs is also the stepping off point to explore the Red Centre including Simpsons Gap and Stanley Chasm to the west, Arltunga and Ross River Homestead to the east, but most commonly Ayers Rock, the Olgas and Kings Canyon, 500 kilometres to the south west. Ayers Rock. This monolith towers 348 metres above the surrounding flat plains. Layers of sandstone appear vertical which indicates a giant geological upheaval must have up-ended the rock and the biggest proportion remains underground. Take a nine kilometre walk around the base of the rock which gives an appreciation of the rock’s size and vast history, climb the rock - even though the aboriginal owners request that you consider it seriously - the decision is yours, take a guided walk around sections of the base where the Aboriginal significance and traditional use of plants is explained, watch the colours change at sunrise or sunset or take a flight either by helicopter or light plane. The climb is hard work and is best done early in the morning. The rock is closed for climbing when hot temperatures are forecast. Nearby, thirty kilometres to west, is the Olgas - thirty six conglomerate domes up to 546 metres high. An excellent time to visit is at sunrise when these reddish domes are touched with a tint of gold and there are few, if any, other visitors. Less people visit the Olgas than Ayers Rock. One of the best options here is to do the Valley of the Winds walk either the eight kilometre loop or six kilometres to the saddle and return. As with Ayers Rock, wildflowers abound if the season has been right. The foreground is a riot of colour - gold, white, pink and purple. The other popular destination is Kings Canyon tucked away in the George Gill Range. It is a spectacular mixture of hidden waterholes such as the Garden of Eden, sheer colourfully lined cliff faces, abundant plant life, hidden gorges and the conglomeration of layered domes whimsically called the “The Lost City” due to its resemblance to an archeological site. Again, a range of walks are the best option for exploring of Kings Canyon. Be prepared for “heart-attack hill” the steep climb up to the ridge top. There is a circular walk, which goes around the canyon or for the more energetic there is the option of extending the walk along the ridge top. After testing out the leg muscles and overworking the shutter finger it is time to head south again, leaving the Northern Territory and heading into South Australia. The scenery is still dominated by red sands, rings of prickly spinifex and the occasional patch of colourful wildflowers. The sight of another vehicle provides a welcome distraction. Watch for wandering kangaroos, camels and cattle. A long days drive of 750 kilometres nears its end as the tree-less landscape becomes dotted with piles of dirt in whites, yellows, browns and pinks. Not termite mounds, these are mullock heaps, evidence of the adjoining opal mines. Welcome to Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. Seventy per cent of the world’s opals are found hereabouts. Here most people live in dugouts - underground houses dug into the sides of hills with underground hotels and motels providing the same opportunity for visitors. The reason is evident, insulation, as temperatures often reach 54 degrees Celsius in summer. Explore the mining history, shop for opals or explore the Breakaways Reserve nearby which has provided the backdrop for many films such as Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert . It is still another 500 kilometres before the outback ends and civilisation reappears at Port Augusta. An industrial city it is best left as soon as possible to head east to the Flinders Ranges. This is a dramatically beautiful area with a wealth of geological, wildlife and Aboriginal and European cultural heritage. Wilpena Pound, one of the best known landmarks in South Australia, forms the hub of the park and offers visits to early pastoral ruins, Aboriginal art sites and extensive walking trails. Watch for eagles soaring overhead, kangaroos grazing as the sun sets and, during spring, the area becomes a blaze of gold, white pink and reds and the wildflowers bloom in profusion. If you can finally drag yourself away from this plethora of natural attractions or crave the civilised lifestyle of restaurants, movies, theatres or sports such as cricket, golf and Aussie Rules, Adelaide is 450 kilometres to the south. Its gardens and beaches await. Finally the journey is over, Australia has been crossed from north to south, a taste of travelling the Australian outback.

Article By Heather Farish

Tags
Red+Centre, Outback, Alice+Springs, Ayers+Rock

WordCount: 1562
Published: 2/18/2013 7:11:09 AM

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