Experience slow travel in the Red Centre – part 1
“There are benefits to slow travel, of not trying to see and do everything all at once. As a tour guide, I’d visited the Red Centre many times before, escorting groups on a whirlwind tour of Uluru – to watch the sunrise and sunset before flying out.
But travel is about connecting with people, nature, culture and place and I was always left with a sense that there was so much more. There is no better way to connect with the outback than to strap on the hiking boots and walk across it.
So when I saw Life’s an Adventure offers a five-day tour to the Red Centre, including Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Uluru, I jumped at the chance to go.
Day 1 – Alice Springs
With time to spare before meeting our group that evening, I set out to see the sights of Alice Springs. The best vantage point for a panoramic view of the city, and the stunning backdrop of the MacDonnell Ranges, is to head to Anzac or Billy Goat Hill. Historic sights are also worth a look, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service, School of the Air, Old Alice Springs Gaol, Old Telegraph Station, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, and a stroll by the Todd River.
Day 2 – Watarrka National Park – Giles Track
Signalling with a thumb’s up, our pilot soon had us on our way. Flying at low altitude over the West MacDonnell Ranges in a Cessna reveals so much about this vast arid landscape. The earth below coloured a deep red, is slashed by solitary roads and swaths of brown bush, salt pan lakes, and the sandstone bluffs and cliffs of the ranges, pocked and corrugated, was an endless expanse before us.
Arriving on the landing strip at Kings Creek Station, we were met by our guide Danny, who drove us to begin our hike.
The 22km Giles Track follows the rim of the George Gill Range between Kathleen Springs and Kings Canyon. We commenced midway at the Lilla turnoff. It was one of the most memorable walks I’ve done and challenging due to the varied terrain and big changes in topography. I tuned myself to the sounds, smells and sights of nature, of bird calls and the rustlings of lizards in the undergrowth. For the duration of the 14km walk we enjoyed the solitude and did not cross paths with anyone.
The scenery changes frequently in unexpected ways, from flat open grasslands – with a variety of desert plants including spinifex, graceful cassia, and witchetty bush – to gullies, bluffs and lookouts.
With a steep ascent to a ridge to begin with, the track then descends across a rocky gorge before switching back down to several creeks. It then continues to an ancient labyrinth of giant beehive domes standing 15m tall. After a gradual ascent the track then passes Reedy Bluff, weaving its way through gullies and gorges of weathered ancient sandstone, before reaching Watarrka lookout.
This is an environment requiring interpretation to yield its full value. Danny explained the geology, flora and fauna to us and showed us examples of earlier habitation by the Matutjara people, including grinding stones. He also set a comfortable walking pace and intuitively knew when we were beginning to tire. Going on ahead he had the kettle ready for a cuppa.
At the conclusion of the walk, we joined our coach for the short drive to Kings Canyon Resort, where we viewed the sunset as the cliffs glowed red and stars lit up the brilliant outback night sky.
Words and photos_Petra O’Neil.