I didn’t sleep for days although my temporary home in Brisbane was spacious, comfortable and with a stunning view of the river. Every night, spiders and snakes inhabited my mind, crawling and undermining my courage and decisiveness; ruining the sweet feeling of finally reaching the place I wanted to see the most in Australia – the Red Centre. I couldn’t know back then that this trip from Alice Springs to Uluru would be a new beginning for me.
DISCLOSURE: I was compensated by Mulgas Adventures after publishing this post, as part of their Monthly Writing Competition. It first appeared in 2019 on my previous blog When Woman Travels.
My plans to stay at a remote cattle station in what they call ‘safari cabins’ triggered the anxiety. Little did I know that Kings Creek Station was not at a spear throw from Uluru, as it seemed on the map! It is a working cattle station that offers campground accommodation and covers thousands of square kilometres in one of the most inhospitable climates on Earth. I wanted to witness life in remote Outback Australia. A world I dreamed of and read about in The Songlines and Tracks. I felt a calling to this land. Like an old path I forgot I had walked. Just like something familiar and yet, new and potentially dangerous.
I knew I had neither the knowledge nor the experience to survive in the wilderness. Without a car, I couldn’t do much either. The bus ticket would cost me a fortune and I would not even be close to Uluru. I’m not sure what I was thinking!
Yet, I had to see this place. It was stronger than my fears. The kind girl on the other end of the email advised me to cancel the reservation with Kings Creek Station and to join a camping tour instead.
Alice Springs to Uluru – Arriving in Alice
When Qantas’ airplane began descending, I felt myself in a different dimension. Couldn’t believe that soon I will walk the streets of Alice Springs – the iconic town of the Northern Territory. A place with its own character, incomparable to others; impossible to explain. The best description I have read is the one the poet A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote in 1898, and it is still true today:
From above, the town looked just like in my books. Dusty, is loose-textured, with no particular housing style. Before the shuttle driven by a Steve-Irwin-uniform-dressed middle-aged man entered the first streets, I believed Alice Springs is still the pioneers’ settlement from the past. Once I realised it had Hilton Hotel, the world around changed. It felt safer. From the sky, it might seem like a desert, but there are thirty thousand people living in the town. Many of them live in rural properties on the outskirts and some have swimming pools in their backyards.
The Road from Alice Springs to Uluru
Truth to be told, the road trip from Alice Spring to Uluru is a boring one. After the first stop at the Stuarts Well Camel Farm, the sceneries are all the time the same. A flat surface made of orange hues and dotted with greyish-brown bushes. The only exciting sights were the prolific number of caravans and camper vans, and the ever-intimidating road trains. Like enormous, fast-moving caterpillars, the latter can tow up to four trailers.
The previous nights had rained. Rain is a rarity and blessing in this desert. Now, the pumpkin-coloured dust on the ground featured some fancy trinket decorations. Spinifex and Mitchell grass added a pinch of surrealism to the incredible painting that surrounded us.
On the way, we stopped at two roadhouses. Those are the life-savers in Central Australia. Without them, there is no fuel, no phone receptions … and there is no ice cream so needed in the oven that is the Red Centre in summer.
That was also my first acquaintance with the ‘sheilas’ (sometimes spelled as ‘shielas’) and the ‘blokes’.
Arriving at Yulara
Arriving at Yulara, the resort covering the area around Uluru, is a dramatic experience. Slowly, appearing from the flat red ground, you start seeing the mud-cake-shaped world’s most famous rock. For us, it might be a damn pretty piece of stone, but for the Aboriginal people, it is a sacred place.
Our guide (let’s call her Susan) couldn’t make the walk around the rock with us. She has burned her back earlier in the day with the hot water coming from the bus’s radiator. That was fine by me as I wanted to ‘feel’ the place, the one that I had dreamed of seeing for almost twenty years.
In the sweltering early afternoon, our group walk around Uluru did not last long. And without the guide to tell us details, we could only guess what are the strange forms that we see on the surface of the rock. Later, I would learn that each of these hollows and forms has Aboriginal stories to tell. What they believe was the beginning of the world and how it connects with the land as it is now.
These stories are many and sound complicated. Nevertheless, if you want to learn about them, read ‘The Songlines’. This book was my first introduction to Dreamtime, a compilation of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs.
I haven’t yet met a person who walked the Uluru ring and wasn’t touched by it. Not sure if the magic is in the colours, the stillness of the place, or if there is an energy that people can’t explain but certainly feel. Luckily for the tourists, there are several viewing platforms around Uluru and Katja Tjuta, that help us to comprehend the mightiness of the landscape here.
What the Camping Tour to Uluru-Katja Tjuta Includes
My camping tour from Alice Springs to Uluru and back was operated by Mulgas Adventures. It included:
- 2-nights sleeping in a swag,
- the services of an experienced Australian guide,
- entrance fees for the National Park Uluru-Katja Tjuta,
- hotel pickup and drop-off,
- free camel ride,
- transport in an air-conditioned bus,
- free glass of bubbly at Uluru sunset (believe me, you will love it!),
- and all meals (you can bring some snacks for the road).
This tour has an age requirement – you need to be between 18 and 49 years old. There are long hours of walks and although they take place early in the morning, still the heat and drought of the place is challenging. Also, sleeping in a swag under the richest of the skies on Earth is a beautiful experience. But it is not the most comfortable way to recover after a physically challenging day.
Uluru Camping Tour Itinerary
On the first day, you will visit Uluru and will have a drink at sunset while watching the rock turn from orange to red. On the second day, you start early at Kata Tjuta Lookout watching the sun coming up from behind Uluru. It is even more spectacular than the sunset, I dare to say! Then you will do the Valley of the Winds Walk that takes around three hours.
After lunch, the guide will drive you to the Kings Creek Cattle Station (I ended up there even after changing my plans!). On the way, you will collect wood for the fire that will make your last camping night feel great. Well, I guess the melting marshmallows helped too.
Next day, early in the morning, we will do the Kings Creek Canyon Rim Walk. It takes from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the pace, and offers spectacular 360 degrees views.
For this camping tour, you need:
A good quality sunscreen, use on all exposed parts of your skin. Don’t forget, the Ozone Hole is comfortably sitting above Australia! My personal favourite for face sun protection is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer, which works wonders even on my very clear skin. You need to re-apply every two to three hours.
A brimmed hat, preferably one with UV and UVB protection and an adjustable chin strap. Look for one that is also long at the back to cover your neck and made of non-crushable material to pack flat but keep its shape. This hat is a good choice and is elegant too.
Sturdy shoes, lightweight and with a good grip outsole. You probably don’t need a waterproof but even in the desert, you never know. Have a look at some options if you need to buy.
Bring your own water bottle (at least 1.5 l) that will be refilled on the tour.
Except for a swimsuit (yes, there is water in the Red Centre!) or warm clothes depending on the season you will visit, you need toiletries and a towel.
You can bring your own sleeping bag or rent one from the tour company. I didn’t really need one as my trip was in the pick of the summer. I didn’t need a pillow either. As I was so tired at the end of each day, the bundle made of my jacket was as comfortable as a feather pillow! However, you might want to bring your own pillow. Here is one ‘roll and go anywhere’ option. You might enjoy having a travel pillow for the long drives; as I said, the distances are huge.
You Will Have to Work!
If you are used to doing nothing when you are on a tour, you will have to make some adjustments to your expectations. On this tour, everyone is an important part of the team. You will help with cooking, washing the dishes, kneading the dough for the bread, and even sweeping the floor on the last day. But that’s the fun of it! You will get to know the other people in the group. But you won’t get awkward as there is not much time to talk a lot.
It is the perfect tour for a solo traveller! You will never feel alone but you will still have your personal and emotional space.
A Bonus – The Magic of Fields of Lights
One of the best experiences I had during this tour was the visit to the Fields of Lights Uluru. Because it is such an extraordinary sight to see, the exhibition has now been extended indefinitely. At the time I was there, there were two or three options and times of visit. It includes pick up and drop off and if you can spare some additional budget, even a dinner with the view of the lights.
The British artist Bruno Munro created the Fields of Lights Uluru. He continues to create other exhibitions in Australia.
Why I Said that this Trip will be a New Beginning for Me
I’m not sure what was the moment my life changed. Is it in the years before my trip to Australia, when I first started to feel the call to visit it? Or when I changed my plans to stay in Kings Creek Station and booked the camping trip? Yet, maybe it was the moment when our guide burned her back? It’s a puzzle I will never solve. Undoubtedly, what I know for sure is that trip from Alice Springs to Uluru was the beginning of a new life for me, here in Australia.
On the second day of the tour, our guide Susan had to go back to Alice Springs to take care of her injury. So, we were woken up by Toto’s Africa; a song that I associate with my trip to South Africa and the article I wrote about for Rovers Magazine.
Our new guide was a very tall, bearded man with the warmest energy I have ever felt. Long story short, he is now my husband, and this is why I now I live in Australia. Our first ‘date’ was when he joined me in visiting the Fields of Lights. I tell you – this is one of the best places for romantic rendezvous! Or even better – to renew your vows.
HOW TO DO ALICE SPRINGS TO ULURU AS A SOLO WOMAN TRAVELLER:
Book an Uluru Tour. Unless you travel with a group of family or friends, it is budget-wise and safer for you to join a camping tour. I recommend Mulgas Adventures for their professionalism and good value for money services. At least that was my experience.
And ah, yes, you won’t meet my ‘guide’. But who knows, you might find your guy!