I don't think anyone can disagree with the fact that the best part about studying abroad is the abroad part and the opportunity to see more of the country you're studying in or neighbouring countries. This past weekend I embarked on my first extended Australian trip to the Northern Territory and outback Australia. To sum up the trip in one word - incredible.
Using budget airline Tiger Airways, three other girls and I were able to get a relatively cheap flight to Alice Springs. We then bought a discounted three day tour with The Rock Tour. While food was fairly expensive in the city, it was still a relatively inexpensive trip.
Before arriving, I didn't quite know what to expect out of the city. While it was very flat, there were still surprisingly quite a few shops/stores. And it was sunny and hot - a nice change from the winterish Melbourne weather. There also seemed to be lots of jobs available - people come and go and work while they stay before moving on to the next place on their list. It's a very laid back city and everyone was friendly. Surprisingly, I didn't mean a single American the whole trip - I'm usually never the only one! There were heaps of English and German folks though, especially on our tour.
While in town we checked out the Botanical Gardens and went atop Anzac hill to watch the sunset over Alice Springs. It was so pretty!
The Rock Tour.
My main reason for wanting to go out to Alice Springs was to check out Ayer's Rock (Uluru). With the tour, 19 of us were able to hike King's Canyon, walk through Kata Tjuta and do a base walk of Uluru, viewing it at both sunrise and sunset. While parts of the hikes were really strenuous in the heat, it was good fun. It was exactly how I pictured the desert to look - dry with lots of red sand. I was bummed that we didn't see much wildlife, but I still have time!
King's Canyon was pretty neat - we started the hike going up a hill called Heart Attack Hill. The name suited it - after getting to the top with my 7.5kg backpack on, I wanted to die. That was the worst part though and from there on, it got better. There was an amazing echo throughout the canyon and we were able to see fossilised ripples of water from when the area was once covered by water. Our guide also told us that a species of fern extremely close to a species found in Darwin can be found in the canyon, indicating the rainforest once extended all the way down from Darwin to King's Canyon - really amazing since it's so far away!
The first night, we stopped on the side of the road to get firewood and then drove off to our campsite in a remote area for the night. No bathrooms or running water. The guys quickly got a campfire going and we laid out our swags around the fire. Basically, a swag is like a heavy duty sleeping bag with a cushion at the bottom. Each side zips up to the top where there is a "monster flap" as our guide called it that we could put over our faces while sleeping to attempt to keep "monsters" away. Essentially, anything could crawl in while I slept. But it was okay though, since when I looked up, I could see millions of stars and the Milky Way Galaxy. Our group also took turns helping to cook dinner using coals from the fire!
The second night I even saw two shooting stars. It was just amazing. It was the first time I've ever slept outside in the open like that and it was so much better than I anticipated.
We also did a hike through Kata Tjuta. It was a lot less work than the King's Canyon hike. Many aboriginal rituals were held in Kata Tjuta and the Valley of Winds. It's a bit difficult to imagine how these sacred areas were used and I definitely plan to do more research on this. Before the end of our Kata Tjuta hike, our guide pointed out bush plums. I tried one - very gross but high in Vitamin C. Afterward, we checked out the Aboriginal cultural centre and learned a bit more about aboriginal culture and the symbols.
Uluru was beautiful. I never could've imagined a rock could be so enchanting. At sunset it's bright red. Breathtaking. And the silhouette at sunrise was spectacular. Instead of going to the sunrise viewing area, our guide took us back to the sunset viewing area so we could see the colour change from the same view as the night before. None of the ither tours do that, but I'm happy we did. But better than Uluru at sunset and sunrise, there is just so much history around it. It's very sacred for the aboriginals and it is said that every mark on Uluru has it's own story. It's just incredible.
When we did our walk around Uluru, we saw many people climbing it. Some tours even advertise that they climb it. Our guide, rightfully so, was against climbing it. First of all, it's sacred to the natives and they prefer if people do not climb. Second, the footpath that people use to climb up is eroding the rock - looking at it, there's a white path going all the way up from where people continuously walk (you can see it in the picture). Third, although you can see for kilometres at the top, all there is to see is flat desert. Nothing that great. It's not worth disrespecting a sacred monument of another culture.
On our way back from Uluru to Alice Springs, we stopped at a camel farm. It was my first time riding a camel. It was so bumpy and a bit painful, especially when the camels started running. Still awesome riding one though!
Great Trip, Great People.
If you plan on seeing the great Australian outback, I'd highly recommend doing The Rock Tour. It was a great value for what we did and our guide, Nate, was awesome. After the tour, we were able to go with our group to The Rock Bar to enjoy food and drink specials, along with some live music. Some drank a bit more than others. But hey, after giving a three day tour, guess he deserved it!!
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