A Wanderer in the Outback

Day One:

On Wednesday, June 13, I landed in Uluru in Northern Territory of Australia, a.k.a. the oldest desert in the world. I planned a four-day camping trip…yes, traveling by myself. When I told some friends I was going alone, they gave me the: “Aww, but you’ll have fun,” comment. For some reason, there’s this popular opinion that traveling alone is sad and pathetic, but this was the best experience I had in Australia so far.

Once our plane touched the runway, a strip of asphalt in the middle of miles of red sand, I grabbed my bag and hopped on The Rock Tour bus. Our tour guide was named Andrew, a very knowledgeable man on all things astronomy, Australian geology and Aboriginal culture. After picking up everyone from the airport, we met with the rest of the group at Uluru and learned about its importance in Aboriginal culture.

The night began to creep in as the warmth of the sun fell beneath Uluru. Andrew cooked dinner at the back of the van and we quickly ate our food before the heat left the plate. We packed into the van and headed to our campsite.

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About to watch the sunset!

It was almost 8 p.m. when we stepped off the van and looked up at the sky. The stars swarmed its midnight-colored canvas, so bright, so unbelievable. That night, Andrew told us the “White Fella” star talk, which was the white man’s version of the existence of stars based on science. (Fun fact: In the Northern Territory, and mainly Uluru, we are on Earth’s most southern part of its axis, which means we get a direct view of the Milky Way!) Once we situated our sleeping bags on the red chalky ground, I stared at the stars until I fell asleep.

Day Two:

As we unzipped our sleeping bags at 6 a.m., the cold bite of the desert night was bone-chilling. We rolled our sleeping bags away, ready for Andrew by 6:30 a.m. to drive us to Uluru to watch the sunrise and eat breakfast. I attacked four pieces of toast with strawberry jam and two cups of coffee as I watched the hues of color unfold behind Uluru.

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Uluru Sunrise

We finished breakfast, cleaned up, and took all the pictures we could before we drove to Kata Tjuta, the neighboring rock to Uluru.

We hiked Kata Tjuta for almost two hours. Andrew shared stories about the formation of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. (Fun Fact: Uluru is only red because it is made of iron, therefore it is a rusting rock!) Once we took our pictures, we trekked our way back to the van to head out for lunch at a picnic area. Following our salami wraps with lettuce, corn, tomato, and cheese, we hopped into the van to start our drive towards Kings Canyon for the next day. Along the way, we stopped at Mount Conner, formerly known as Attila, saw the largest salt lake in the world, and collected firewood from the side of the road on our three-hour drive. We set up at another campsite, unloaded our firewood, and ate dinner: pasta with chili and roasted potatoes and carrots.  We hiked a bit away from our campsite to reach complete darkness to see the stars in their absolute prime. Andrew gave us the “Black Fella” star talk, which was how some Aboriginal cultures, mainly Pitjantjatjara, believe the stars came to be where they are.

Day Three:

Even earlier than the morning before, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. rolled our sleeping bags and prepared for breakfast. By 6:30 a.m. we were filled with toast, coffee and cereal, and off to Watarrka National Park, also known as Kings Canyon. Andrew began to tell us what our three-hour hike would consist of –– adventure, sore legs, and dangerous cliffs. He starts by explaining Heart Attack Hill, over 500 steps of staggered rocks at different heights leading to the top of Watarrka. At first, I thought my boxing and workout sessions would pay off while climbing these stairs…but I was completely wrong!

Andrew also told us about the look-out points –– we were to remain 3 meters away from the edge because the rocks are made of sandstone and are capable of crumbling beneath our very feet. If anyone went over the 3 meters, Andrew threatened they would have to eat a spoonful of Vegemite (trust me –– yuck!). After about an hour of hiking, we approached the highest staircase I had ever seen in my life.

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Kings Canyon is over 100 meters high (that’s over 328 feet!)

Wooden stairs supported by wooden beams hanging off the side of the canyon was not an ideal view. I slowly worked my way down the steep stairs, trying to steady my breath, not look down, not cry, and not vomit at the same time. Once I conquered the thought of falling for hundreds of feet (and the stairs), I took my photo and went on my way. Back at the van, we prepared for another three-hour drive towards Alice Springs. We stopped at the oldest river in the world, the Finke River, and even a camel farm.

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When we arrived at our hostel in Alice Springs around 5 p.m., we took a long-needed shower and met Andrew and the group at The Rock Bar for a final dinner and a few beers.

Day Four:

5:20 a.m. waiting at the bus stop to drive six hours back to the Uluru Airport. None of us knew why we drove all the way to Alice Springs, but sleeping in an actual bed for the night was beyond rewarding. I slept for most of the drive, and soon enough, we were at the airport, waiting two hours before we headed back to Sydney.

Four days in the desert with a group of strangers, sleeping under the stars, and spending hours in a van is the best way to turn those strangers into friends. I went on this trip by myself, but I felt like I was surrounded by familiar faces. This camping experience was filled with adventure, nature, knowledge, laughs and a lot of red sand.

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Check out the video of my adventure here!

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