Emily and Terry are two Brits just back from their very first outback adventure. They run driveandhike.com – a website on all things roadtrip and hiking related.
The first time I heard about the outback I was eleven years old and learning about Aboriginal art in a drafty, high-ceilinged room at my brand new school.
Along with twenty nine identically dressed girls, I stared at the shapes and the colours and the animals and tried to imagine myself in the middle of a vast, red openness. Growing up in the damp suburbs of South London, it wasn?t an easy task.
But still, the seed was sown.
Fourteen years later and I found myself sat in a hostel planning what my first trip to Australia would look like.
Where do you want to go? my husband asked me.
The outback, I said, with those colours and shapes and animals suddenly at the forefront of my mind.
I don’t care where else we go, as long as we go there…
Inspired by my eleven year old self, we decided to undertake the hot, dusty drive from Adelaide to Alice Springs. We wanted to visit Uluru and to hike the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta. We wanted adventure and expected wide, blue skies.
So obviously, we set off from Port Augusta and the heavens opened.
We’re used to rain, but not rain like this. The single lane highway stretched into a grey sheet of nothingness. Our car shook with each road train that passed and the emus outside the window peered at us through a wet haze.
The outback was teaching us a lesson in expecting the unexpected – and it was spectacular.
As we drove into Coober Pedy, the weather cleared enough for a pink sun to set over the opal mines.
Our accommodation for the night was an underground room, carved straight into the sandstone hill by the same tunnelling machinery that cuts the mine shafts.
It was a brilliant method of escaping the heat and fascinating to see how generations of outback pioneers have found a way to cope with the harsh conditions.
The next day we headed on towards Uluru. Storm clouds rolled overhead, but this time the rain held off.
Green and yellow budgies flitted past our windscreen – we quickly renamed them outback fairies – and the vibrant red earth rolled out beneath us in every direction.
As the landscape changed subtly around us, we realised how happy we were that we’d decided to drive.
The act of journeying through the outback, mile by dusty mile, was turning our adventure into a pilgrimage through one of the most extraordinary places we’d ever been.
Catching our first glimpse of Uluru from the side of the road, after two days of near constant driving, was a quiet moment of wonder for both of us.
We reached the national park itself with time to visit the cultural centre before sunset.
This was a great opportunity to find out more about the spiritual significance of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Even better, the dream time stories and their importance were told in the words of the Aboriginal Traditional Owners, who refer to themselves as Anangu.
(*NB. Anangu is not the name of an Aboriginal ‘tribe’, it is a word in several local Aboriginal languages that means ‘Aboriginal person’)
Understanding why these sites are considered sacred to the Anangu was a really important part of our journey.
It made watching the face of Uluru change colour at sunset a richer experience and helped us to connect more deeply with the landscape surrounding us.
We sat on the roof of our car and gazed as the rock and the sky glowed orange.
You know, I said, I don’t think I’ve ever driven for so long to reach something so magical.
Well, no, Terry laughed, if you drove for this long in the UK you’d end up somewhere in the North Sea.
We rounded off our time at Uluru – Kata Tjuta with a beautiful hike through the Valley of the Winds.
Getting out and exploring beyond the view points was well worth braving the heat for, but we were glad we set off early! January in the outback is hot!
The next day, we set off for Alice Springs.
We knew from our research on traveloutbackaustralia.com that the Alice Springs Desert Park was a must see, so our only full day in town was spent exploring this brilliant little place.
If driving through the outback had given us a sense of its incredible scale and power, meandering through the Desert Park helped us appreciate all the smaller wonders hidden away within it.
Though all of the exhibits were fantastic, our favourites were easily the walk through aviaries and the nocturnal house.
Watching the shy, secretive creatures of the outback hopping and scurrying around without giving their visitors a second glance was brilliant.
We especially loved the bilbies, with their funny little ears!
We probably spent the most time in the aviaries, sat under the shady trees and listening to the bird song. We even got up close to our favourite outback fairies!
Our return journey out of the outback was a long one. We spent it watching the landscape change slowly back into something more familiar and talking about everything we’d seen.
Were we surprised by what we’d found?
I’d though the outback would be dry and red and dusty, which it was.
But it was also verdant, sometimes even lush, and full of bustling life.
We got to learn about Uluru as a sacred place, not just as a big rock which changes colour.
And we got to adventure through it all along a straight, flat, open road. I think that probably has to be the best way to travel.
Many thanks to Emily for sharing this first time outback experience with us. Emily and Terry are having many amazing adventures here in Australia, and have just returned from hiking the 9 day Overland Track in Tasmania.
Please visit their website, driveandhike.com to read more about their travels.