Thursday, 11 January 2018

August 2009 - Alice Springs, Uluru and Kings Canyon, Northern Territory, Australia

Back to Australia in 2009, we had an early morning flight from Darwin to Alice Springs, arrived and transferred to our hotel, a little more upmarket than the two we had stayed in while touring Kakadu.  You realise that Australia is a huge country when it is a two hour flight and you remain in the same sate.  You also got to appreciate how dry and uninhabited the land is when looking out the window and seeing just red sand and pin pricks of vegetation spread for miles.   

Alice Springs is situated in a region known as the Red Centre, and consists of several different deserts, looking out from the hotel, you could see the contrast between the irrigated and cultivated gardens of the modern city and the desert.




In 1861–62, John McDouall Stuart led an expedition through Central Australia, to the west of what later became Alice Springs, thereby establishing a route from the south of the continent to the north.


A white settlement was started ten years later with the construction of a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph Line (OTL), which linked Adelaide to Darwin and the UK. The OTL was completed in 1872. It traced Stuart's route and opened up the interior for permanent settlement. The Alice Springs Telegraph Station was sited near what was thought to be a permanent waterhole in the normally dry Todd River. The settlement was optimistically named Alice Springs after the wife of the former Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd. The Todd River was named after Sir Charles.



In the afternoon we were taken on a tour of the city, and the old telegraph station outside the city.  We walked around the old wooden buildings, and you could imagine the colonial atmosphere. 



Bizarrely the only Kangaroo I was able to photograph on the trip was this one hopping around the telegraph station.




  
Here the site of the water hole and the optimistic Alice Spring.




Around the trees and on the grass were Port Lincoln Parrots.



Another huge coincidence was that while on the bus we started talking to some other British people, and it turned out that one used to be the secretary at Four Marks golf course, living between Four Marks and Farnham, and still had friends in the village.

Alice Springs today is the third largest city in the Northern Territory with a population of 20,000 so that says a lot about how many person live in the territory.  The town centre is laid out as a grid, and has a mall at its centre.  From the World War two memorial overlooking the town you could get a view of the place.



Today Alice is the gateway for tourists to the major sites of the Red Centre, namely Uluru, or as it was named by the British, Ayres Rock.  However before we visited there we were off to explore the desert, and the area around Kings Canyon.  We were staying in the Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge, a retreat of 10 tented cabins set amongst Desert Oaks.  We were only staying for one night, so in the afternoon we were going to walk around the Kings Canyon.

We were picked up in the morning by coach, this seems to be the means of transport for tourists around Alice Springs.  As we headed west into the desert the skies clouded over and we were afforded a strange site, a desert rainbow.


The area is the western half of the George Gill range, a huge escarpment that runs across the area.  The western half is the Watarrka national Park, and within the park Kings Canyon.  We were going to walk the canyon rim, and drop down into the gorge

We settled into the Wilderness lodge, and then in the afternoon, in scorching sunshine we were taken to the canyon car park, where we climbed up a rocky slope.  Eucalyptus trees were dotted about a sure sign that there is water here, albeit very deep down below the rocks.


The white bark of the Eucalyptus, stands out against the red of the surrounding sandstone rocks.  These trees are known as "ghost gums".


The trees grow in the most unlikely of places.


This pass through the rocks was used in, and made famous in the movie "Pricscilla, Queen of the Desert".


Everywhere there were weathered sandstone rocks sitting on top of domes, their creation being mostly due to the effects of wind and water erosion.


Once on the rim of the canyon the trail skirts around the western rim, and there are stunning views out across the desert.  In places showing the scree slopes created by the falling rocks, the slopes now being occupied by the spinifex grasses.



But on the eastern rim there are some stunning views of the sheer cliff faces, where despite the dry conditions and the lack of any nutrition, gum trees still grow.



Here you can see the sheer cliff faces,a nd appreciate how they have formed as the rock layers have just fallen away.


The trail descended down into the canyon, by a set of wooden steps, and we walked along the bottom past pools where mallard ducks could be seen!  This was not something I expected.  Here there was a lush oasis of ferns, and cycads.

Coming out of the canyon we walked past more of the sandstone domes, then dropped down a series of steps back to the car park.  A lot of the aboriginal art features red background and dotd and it is believed this comes from the views of the landscape, with the red sand and soil and the dots created by the clumps of spinifex grass.


Back at the lodge we prepared for dinner.Outside the landscape consisted of spinifex grasses and desert oaks.  There were a few Galah around but very little other wildlife.


The dots of the spinfex grass everywhere.


Unfortunately due to the high winds the plans for an outside barbecue were cancelled and we ate in the main tented area

The sunset though was beautiful, the night under canvas in the desert quite cold


The next day after breakfast, we were taken around the ranch.  This is a working ranch, and the due to the size of the area and the amount of cattle, a lot of the mustering is done by helicopter.  Once again we saw very little wildlife, mostly domesticated camels and cattle, there was though a brief sighting of a lone Red Kangaroo in the distance.

late morning we were picked up by coach once again and transported to the Ayres Rock Resort, where there is a selection of properties depending on how much you were prepared to pay, although all in the same compound.  We were staying in the Desert Gardens, checked in and settled in before our tour starting in the afternoon around Uluru.

Uluru is Australia's most recognisable natural wonder, and tourists come from around the world like a moth to the flame, and didn't we know it!

Archaeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal people have lived this part of Australia for at least 10,000 years.  According to Aboriginal lore all landscape fatures were made by ancestral beings, and the Yankunytatjara Aboriginal Peoples (who refer to themselves as the Anangu) are the descendants of the ancestral beings and custodians of the land.

According to the legend, Uluru was built by two boys who played in the mud after rain, it is at the centre of a series of "dreaming"tracks that criss cross Australia.  The Anangu officially own the national park, and they receive a rent from Parks Australia, and apercentage of the park entrance fee.  Today they were doing very well by the number of coaches about.

As the coach drove into the park we had our first glimpse of the rock, surrounded by desert oaks and eucalyptus trees, and above fluffy white clouds, the characteristic postcadr profile, that were probably sold when we were there, but not today!


We stopped a rest area where we could glimpse the rock again through the trees.  We were going to tour around the area, and in places walk at the base of the rock, along with thousands of others!


There is a trail that goes around the whole 9.4 kilometres of the base of the rock.  We did not walk the whole circumference but were dropped at various places where we could walk and take in the enormity of the rock from ground level.

The rock is a coarse grained sandstone known as arkose, that was formed from sediment that eroded from granite mountains.  These sedimentary beds were laid down over 600 million years ago in a shallow sea.  Various periods of uplift caused the beds to fold and buckle above sea level, and the beds that form Uluru were turned almost vertical, so Uluru represents a form similar to an iceberg, with much, much more below the surface, that is known to extend over five kilometres.

Over the last 300 million years the wind, sand and water have sculpted the surface of the rock, and as we walked close to the base you could see quite clearly the effects of this.

Here ripple effects on the surface of the rock from water

Again water cutting out valleys, and the remains providing sustenance for the many small trees and bushes.



The water would have cut the valleys across the rock, and the wind and sand would then round of the peaks and edges.  There is one permanent water hole, Mutitjulu, which has a boardwalk overlooking it


There are many caves created through wind and sand erosion and in these are lots of images drawn on the wall by the Aboriginal people.  much of the art depicting the surrounding landscape



Driving and walking around the rock we saw waves of smooth stone, areas of honeycomb shaped rock, many ridges and spill ways that link lots of small rock pools.  It made you wonder what it would be like to experience the rock in a torrential storm wwith water rushing off the rock.

Looking up some of the sides of the rock are steep and the red in the sandstone contrasts with the deep blue of the sky.


Still today water is playing a part in the sculpture of the rock, here deposits laid down on the rock as it finds its way down the side.


After our tour around the rock, the coach pulled into a large car park, that was position between the setting sun and the rock.  This is the sunset viewing area, like everything here it was geared up for the many tourists that visit here everyday.  As is always the case where human beings congregate, there is opportunity for the wildlife, and we were joined by Crested pigeons that showed no fear, and came very close.


As the sun set the colour on the rock changed considerably, at one point I feared that the cloud would come in and obscure the sun, fortunately it didn't and this is the best picture of quite a few that I took.  It was very impressive, but we both had wished we that we didn't have to share it with so many, it sort of took from the experience.


We celebrated with a glass of red wine provided by the tour company, then boarded the coach and returned to the resort for dinner.

The next morning we were up before dawn to witness the sun rising on Uluru.  This of course meant a trip to a different car park where we joined more tourists all brought in by coach.  We bundled out were given coffee and stood staring at the big red rock.  Unfortunately the eastern sky was shrouded in cloud, and the sun never actually lit up the rock as it rose in the sky, and the best view we obtained was this.


So from Uluru, we were now going to explore another clutch of rocks, the Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas.  This consists of 36 textured pink red domes that as the sun shines reflect different curves across the landscape.

Again as we approached in the obligatory coach we were afforded a distant view


Looking back there was also a spectactular view of Uluru.


While Uluru was formed as the bed of sedimentary rock was tilted almost vertically, Kata Tjuta were only tilted by about 20 degrees.  The wind, sand and water erosion though has once again left them rounded, but with deeply cleaved and narrow gorges that are decorated with tufts of vegetation and surrounded by the spinifex grass.


Close up you can see the clumps of grass.


Kata Tjuta was discovered first by white man, Ernest Giles sighting the rocks as he attempted his crossing from the Overland Telegraph line in 1872.  It was another year later when a party led by William Gosse set out to cross to the west that they came across Uluru.  At that time he named the rock after Sir Henry Ayres, the then premier of South Australia.

Kata Tjuta means many heads, and there are 36 domed rocks shoulder to shoulder forming valleys and steep-sided gorges.  The tallest rock, mount Olga is nearly 200 metres taller than Uluru.

We arrived at the main car park, and embarked on a walk through one of the many valleys.  Rain from a recent storm was still visible in many of the potholes in the rocks.


Further on many more pools that reflected the steep sides of the valley.



The sun was now high in the sky, and it was warm, but the steep sides of the gorge and valley shaded us from the heat of the sun.


Once again the evidence of the wind and sand erosion following the deep valleys cut by water.


The red sandstone and the accompanying scree makes the whole area take on an unworldly presence, and in fact areas in the Red Centre were used to train astronauts for excursions on the moon.  With the red colour it was more like Mars.


We returned to the resort around mid-day, our next rip was to be just before dusk, we were to have dinner in the desert at the celebrated Sounds of Silence dinner.  We were taken to a site central to views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, where tables were set out in the sand.  As the sun set we were treated to fantastic views of the both rocks.


Kata Tjuta


We were served by smartly dressed waiters, but the real show was going on around us, and also yet to come.


As the sun finally set we were surrounded by darkness, and above us gradually the stars appeared.  With no light pollution it was an incredible show, clearly being able to see whay the Milky Way is so called.  I can't ever recall seeing stars so clearly.

part of the show was pointing out the key stars and formations with a laser, and the telling of Aboriginal stories.  It was quite frankly an unforgettable experience.

The following morning we were transported back to Ayres Rock airport by coach, and deposited at the terminal, the coaches went off to pick up more tourists and we checked in for our flight to Cairns in Queensland for the final leg of our trip.

As the plane headed away from airport we had one more chance to gaze upon Uluru, this time without the crowds.

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