The Red Centre
I stood in a crater surrounded by red dirt, wildflowers, and surprisingly; dandelions. I wasn’t expecting to see such a nostalgic flower in Australia’s Red Centre. In fact, I wasn’t expecting to see anything but desert. Mother Nature still manages to put on a spring time show in these harsh conditions. It’s surprising where you find beauty sometimes.
My legs were aching from the short hike up one of the rocky hills on the edge of Tnorala, the aboriginal name for the crater; which is sometimes also referred to as Gosse Bluff. It probably would have been a lot easier had I not been carrying my 18 month old girl in a baby carrier.
I logged over 3,100 km to reach The Red Centre of Australia and well over 6,500 km by the time I returned to the east coast two and a half weeks later. My once white four-wheel drive was a dusty red both inside and out, and the tent mounted on the roof was not spared either.
This surprising find wasn’t the first stop on my travels through Central Australia, nor was it the last. My journey around the Red Centre started a few days earlier when I reached Alice Springs.
Alice Springs is literally in the middle of no-where. The closest coast line is a 12-hour drive South to Port Augusta, or a 14-hour drive North to Darwin. There was 452 km of smooth tarred highway between Alice Springs and my ultimate destination of Uluru (Ayers Rock). However, I had no intention of taking this easy route.
I wanted to drive a 4WD route known as the Red Centre Way. I wanted to experience red dirt, outback waterholes and the West MacDonnell ranges. I wanted to experience the real Australia.
It was on this route that I found a piece of myself that I had lost. When you become a mother, you lose a big piece of yourself for a couple of years. In that moment standing in the crater, I finally got a huge chunk of it back with the realisation that yes, I could still see and do adventurous things with two young kids.
This adventurous route also saw me exploring some other memorable places with my family, including: Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge, Kings Canyon, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjua (The Olgas).
Standley Chasm (Angkerie Atwayue) is a deep red cleft in craggy 80m high slopes. The magic in this place happened at noon when the sun was directly above. The walls of the chasm changed from an earthy brown to a bright glowing orange as the sun’s rays reached down its walls.
Ormiston Gorge was an extremely picturesque outback waterhole where you could easily spend a few days relaxing on the sand, cooling off in the water or doing one of the many hikes in the area. This particular mix of sand, rocks, cool water and scattered white gums; all with a stunning gorge backdrop, have been saved to a special spot in my memory.
Redbank Gorge required a short 30 minute hike to reach the actual waterhole. The easy hike itself was enjoyable with the high gorge walls on either side and a dry river bed to trudge along when the track disappeared. If you are brave enough to enter the cold water, you can even wade up a narrow section of the gorge and float back down.
Kings Canyon was everything I dreamed and more. I completed the well-known 6km Scenic Rim Walk. When I first looked up at the initial ascent, my anxiety voice told me to find an easier walk or wait until the kids are older. I nearly turned back; but I took a breath and told that voice to get stuffed. The hike turned out to be a truly enjoyable and memorable experience.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) dominated the landscape. At 348m high, it is higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I couldn’t help but feel that this sandstone monolith is literally, the heart of Australia.
I was surprised at its texture. Whilst incredibly hard to touch, it was full of crevasses, lumps, bumps and small caves. Its texture was perfect in its imperfections, and varies depending at which point of it 9.4km circumference you are standing next to.
You are legally allowed to climb Uluru and many people come here specifically to do it. However, the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land prefer that you don’t so for many people; it’s a bit of a touchy subject. I chose not to attempt the climb.
Even though I came here to see Uluru, I actually fell in love with Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), 35km away. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 sandstone domes, of which the highest at 546 metres, towers above Uluru.
Here I attempted the well-known Valley of the Winds Walk, a 7.4 km circuit that winds through and around these massive domes. Whilst the walking track was obvious, unlike Uluru; it is not maintained to make it easy for walkers. The path is extremely rocky underfoot and the landscape is far from flat. In fact, I was amazed that I didn’t roll an ankle as my little girl's head in the carrier partially obstructed the view of my feet.
As I lay in the tent with the flaps open on the final night, I experienced the vastness of the outback sky in all of its glory. There was no light pollution out there and the stars were so bright it prevented me from drifting off to sleep.
I feel extremely wealthy to have the opportunity to explore this part of the world. I witnessed the heart of Australia glow red at the setting of the sun, and saw the great ancient domes of Kata Tjuta rise majestically behind a field of purple, yellow and red wildflowers. I get the impression that I will re-visit these memories often.