Day 6 – The Valley of The Winds, Kata Tjuta National Park

Written by: Brandon

Goddamned Rain

Dian woke up at about 6 plus first to check if it was still cloudy due to scattered showers over the night in the surrounding area (it remained dry in our area) and unfortunately, the skies were still overcast and gloomy which meant no Uluru sunrise for us, sigh.

But more rest for today, since we’ll explore Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park!

We initially planned to start our first hike at Kata Tjuta at 9am but when we woke at 8am, it was 10 degrees, windy and freezing thanks to the cloudy weather and recent rain and to make things worse, it started drizzling! We had long pants and jackets but they were far too thin to do hiking in this weather and we’d probably make for a pair of very unflattering human popsicles.

So we decided to make breakfast at the dining area instead of eating and driving to Kata Tjuta to wait for the weather to warm slightly.

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Gotta fuel up for that long day!

After breakfast, we checked with reception on the weather around 9am to ensure that it was not raining at Kata Tjuta. “Nope! You’re all cleared to go!” and with the weather warming up to about 12-13 degrees, it was time to set off to Kata Tjuta!

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“Can you please tell us that our day is not ruined, Sir?”

From the lodge to Kata Tjuta, it’s a whopping 54 kilometres which roughly translates to a 45-minute drive!

Before entering the park, we reached a toll booth where we had to purchase our Adult passes at 25 AUD each for 3 days to enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Even if you want to visit for just a day, you still have to get the 3-day pass.

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Admissions to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

If you are visiting the park for the first time, remember to filter to the right lane on approach to the toll booth to purchase your tickets. Filter left if you already have your valid passes!

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Image from Parks Australia

Do be mindful of the speed limit signs when driving in the park as the ranger at the booth told us that the Popo do regular speed checks and just pulled two cars to the side for doing just slightly over the limit (60km/h and 100km/h in certain stretches) and it’s a hefty 1000 AUD fine. So just be safe, and enjoy the scenic drive.

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Despite the all clear, it was still slightly drizzling!

We eventually saw this:

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Yesterday, Kata Tjuta was just this mysterious small bunch of rocks in the distance silhouetted by the setting sun from the viewing platform at our lodge, today, though slightly covered by the morning fog, Kata Tjuta loomed into view and good god she was massive! All her definitions and lines started to show and even then, it was still a 18 minute or so drive to reach the start of the hike!

About Kata Tjuta

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Before we take a hike (hahahaha) (Dian: ._.), lets talk about this huge rock formation in the middle of nowhere that’s Kata Tjuta.

Formerly known as The Olgas, Kata Tjuta (silent ‘T’!) is an estimated 550 million-year-old formation of 36 sandstones packed closely together forming huge gorges and valleys in a 20 kilometer area with Mount Olga as its tallest peak standing at about 546 metres!

Kata Tjuta means “many heads” to the Anangu People whom have lived in this area for thousands of years. Many stories and legends of this place can be discovered at the cultural centre (more on that in the next post!). This place, like most places in the Red Centre, are often sacred under the Tjukurpa and Anangu men’s law and as such, always respect their wishes, and pay attention to signs around the park indicating the dos and don’ts!

Hot Hot Hot!

Heat exhaustion and dehydration are very common and real risks at Kata Tjuta as the walks are rocky, rugged and remote.

Like all walks, always remember to have sufficient plain water (No Sports Drinks) with you before starting. A good rule of thumb is to have approx one litre of water per hour of hiking activity, Though the walks have water tanks at certain points, always assume the worst and go well prepared!

Aim to finish your walks by 11am on hot days. The afternoon Australian heat can be very unforgiving especially during summer.

Kata Tjuta has two major walks to suit (almost) everyone’s appetite for adventure!

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No, it’s not a treasure map

If you are looking for something mild, there’s the Walpa Gorge Walk, which is graded as a moderate 2.6 km walk which includes a 1 hour return walk.

Then there’s the Valley of The Winds Walk. Depending on your taste for adventure, the walk is split into 3 tiers:

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Of course we opted for the full circuit, the 7.4 kilometre walk. We did not travel so far to not get the full experience! With the weather still hovering around 13 degrees and cloudy, it was time to start the Valley of The Winds walk!

The Valley of The Winds

After we parked the car, got all our gear and found our way to the entrance of the walk! At the entrance, there was an emergency radio post, and signage with maps and a brief description of Kata Tjuta.

Though the entrance is covered by a lot of bushes and trees, the path eventually expands out into this:

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Tiny people somewhere in the middle for scale!

The first thought that ran through my mind was how much the landscape reminded me of planet Mars with its massive brownish-red sandstones and the very rocky grounds that make up the whole area. If you wanted to know how would Mars have probably looked like with foliage and fauna, this is probably the closest you’re gonna get!

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It just boggles me how huge these sandstones are. Pictures never do justice to them. Everywhere we walked, they were like skyscrapers that carved huge beautiful valleys and gorges along the way.

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It was still chilly and windy at this point in the morning, so we had our jackets on.

After about 40 minutes of hiking up a gradual slope, we reached the first checkpoint of the walk, Karu Lookout! From here, we were treated to the view of the other massive sandstones in the distance! From here, you can choose to loop back to the car park or continue on to the second checkpoint, Karingana Lookout.

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It’s important to note that walks beyond the Karu Lookout are closed after 11 am if the temperature is forecast to reach 36 degrees and above, for safety reasons. Hence, do proper planning and aim to start all your walks early to avoid disappointment! 

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This is the part where it gets rougher!

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The start of the second part of the hike!

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Tread carefully! Loose rocks eat ankles for breakfast

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As we hiked along, the amount of foliage and fauna that dominated the area astounded me. It’s amazing how this seemingly inhospitable place full of sand, rocks combined with the blistering heat still allowed trees and flowers to bloom.

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Look to the sandstones as it gives you a clue to their survival. The dark algae marks on them shows where fresh water from storms and rains would pool up and cascade down the sandstones, giving them the much need water supply.

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Algae marks seen on the left sandstone!

Birds can be seeing flying about chirping and going about their daily business. I’m pretty sure that more animals reside in Kata Tjuta but we didn’t see anything else other than a couple of lizards darting about. Maybe you might be luckier?

The hike to Karingana was a less straight forward one. The paths can get very rocky and fairly steep in some places.

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It’s highly recommended you wear a good pair of shoes for this and tread carefully. We crossed dried creek beds and narrow rocky paths, some with stunning rock formations.

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Eventually it opened up to incredible wide open spaces:

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Around the corner, we were met with this steep and very rocky incline up. It was the steepest part of the walk, so you have to take great care when climbing up or you’ll end up tumbling down.

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Feels like we’ve disconnected with Earth and connected with Mars!

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It took us about 10-15 minutes to slowly inch our way up the hill and when we did reach the top, this was the view:

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The Karingana Lookout!

The Valley of the Winds!

The first thing that hit us was the really strong cold 13-degree wind blowing in our faces followed by the sheer size of the valley and the incredible view of the valley below and sandstones in the distance. They say that the Karingana Lookout is well worth the hike and I agree without a doubt. Just remember to hold on to your hats! They call this The Valley of The Winds for a reason!

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We still have a long way to go!

From here, you can turn around and backtrack your way to the carpark, or head down to the valley to see what else this amazing place offers. For us, we were just about halfway done with the hike!

The trail that leads down to the valley from the lookout via a rocky and sometimes unclear and steep path eventually expands out to a vast plain where you can see tons of flowers in bloom, another few lizards darting about here and there and find very picture worthy trees!

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Upon exiting the valley

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As we moved along towards the last leg of our hike, it was a pretty tiring one. Though less narrow, it was a series of gradual uphills and downs and of course, more rocks!

It was starting to get warmer, so we took off our jackets.

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But before we made our way out of the plains, we turned around and saw this:

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It’s just a great pity that though the weather was a cooling and windy, the cloudy skies sapped away all the beautiful blue skies that would have made many of the photos today even more vibrant!

You’ll know when you’ve reached the last leg of the hike when the trail eventually leads you back to the 1st lookout (Karu). From there, it’s just a relatively tiring backtrack back to the carpark.

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ALMOST THERE, JUST A FEW MORE HILLS

So it took us about only 3.5 hours instead of the Visitors’ Guide estimate of 4 hours. But of course, your attempt will vary according to your fitness level, rest stops and instagram-whoring/spamming (which I’m shamelessly doing now)!

Once we made it back to the car, we immediately opened the mobile fridge and got out our bottles of ice cold Sprite and  Ice Lemon Tea to celebrate our accomplishment! It was utter satisfaction.

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Not Pictured: two tourists downing cold drinks like no tomorrow.

The time was about 12ish and with so much of the day left, we decided to drive over to the next star of the national park which we’ve traveled so far for, Uluru.

More on that in the next post!

Day 5 – Kings Canyon to Uluru

Written by: Dian

Leaving for Uluru (Ayers Rock)

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After two nights, our stay at Kings Canyon Resort was coming to an end! We had a 4+ hour drive ahead of us so we had to pack up and hit the roads by late morning. We were going to miss having such a spacious room to ourselves, we figured we would probably have roomies at Uluru.

Settling our Accommodation

Remember the tent problem from Day 3? After thanking our lucky stars that we got a complimentary upgrade, we had to use a phone booth to book rooms at our remaining two stops, Yulara (the service village for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park) and Stuarts Well Roadhouse (a roadhouse along the highway which would take us back to Alice Springs). Had to make sure we had proper shelter for the remaining nights!

We had to pay 150 AUD more than we originally intended for accommodation, but we didn’t really have a choice. Still not really happy about how the rental company handled our faulty tent. It felt like they were trying to taichi responsibility by saying they couldn’t do anything since the camping stuff was complimentary… which I don’t buy, given that people would naturally plan their trips around the gear they get with their car.

But, well, at least we saved 100 AUD thanks to the kind people at Kings Canyon Resort. Going to leave them a good review for sure.

So at Yulara, we would be staying in a dorm room as well. Given how touristy Yulara is, there was a high chance we’d have to share a room with other people.

Next Stop

But first… we had to make sure we had a full tank. Fuel prices at Kings Canyon are a rip off – they are the MOST expensive in the Red Centre. You can expect to pay ~1.20 AUD per litre at Alice Springs, but here, it’s easily close to ~2 AUD per litre.

99 AUD to make it a full tank (From slightly under half a tank). Oh well.

And with that, we dropped off our room keys, passed a little token to the lady at reception and went on our way!

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We eventually reached our first pit stop, Mount Conner. Locals like to call it Fooluru because many tourists mistaken it for Uluru.

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Mount CON-ner indeed

It’s flatter on the top and sides though, surely you would be able to tell the difference..?

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?_?

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 Curtin Springs

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Next up on the road to Yulara was Curtin Springs!

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It’s a quaint little roadhouse. We decided to have a look around.

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Free camping!

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Showers for sheilas and blokes

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They had their own aviary, so we went around looking at the birds and cockatoos.

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I grew up with a cockatoo at my grandparents’ place so I am quite fond of them. Such intelligent creatures!

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Fancy some souveneirs? Maybe outback sand, salt or even shit? e_e

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Arriving at Yulara

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After another hour of driving (we really didn’t walk around much that day, felt like a sloth), Uluru aka Ayers Rock came into view in the distance! It really is magnificent, and the fact that we could even see it that far away was a testament to its sheer size.

Eventually, we arrived at Yulara and checked in to our dorm room at Outback Pioneer Lodge!

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We noticed that there were definitely more tourists in Yulara – a far cry from the emptier places we’d been to so far.

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There was a couple already checked in. It was a very basic dorm, but they can afford to charge more for it because it’s Yulara. We paid ~50 AUD each per night.

It was too early for dinner, so we took a shuttle bus down to the nearby town centre and supermarket. It dawned upon us just how touristy it was when we a bunch of middle-aged Japanese ladies boarded the shuttle. But eh, we’re tourists too, so there’s that.

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Not much in the area aside from souvenir shops and a cafe, so we got our extra groceries from the supermarket and headed off!

One good thing about the Outback Pioneer Lodge was the shared pantry. It was big, clean, and had lots of kitchenware we could use.

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The outdoor dining area

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Chef at work

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For dinner, it was hobo dining again but with an upgrade – mess tin cooking! Cocktail sausages, canned beef stew, instant noodles, and mac & cheese (my choice, hehe). Cheap and good.

A Cloudy Uluru Sunset

After dinner, we headed off to a sunset lookout where you could see Uluru. It was a short 3 minute drive away. Sadly, it was cloudy, so there wasn’t much of a sunset to see 😦

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We were not the only ones hoping for a good sunset!

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So when the sunset was over, we started walking back to the carpark. To our surprise, a couple of people chatted us up, asking us “How was it?”. We thought it was really nice that they would randomly chat with tourists like us that way. Pleasantly surprised that Australians can be such a friendly bunch 🙂

We didn’t get the sunset we wanted, but no matter – we would get an even closer look at Kata Tjuta and Uluru when hiking on Day 6 !

Day 4 – Doing the Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Written by: Dian

Seriously though, words don’t really do Kings Canyon justice, so here’s a picture to start this post:

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Kings Canyon is an ancient sandstone canyon and an icon of the Red Centre. We decided to do the Rim Walka 6 km walk that would take you 3 – 4 hours to complete – which, as the name suggests, brings you around the rim of the canyon.

It turned out to be the BEST part of the entire trip for the both of us!

So we got up nice and early-ish, had another simple breakkie of bread and / or cup noodles and went on our way! We drove for 15 minutes and got to Watarrka National Park.

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Do checkout this board for the day’s temperature forecast!

The walk won’t actually be closed off under any circumstances. However, in summer months, it’s better to start hiking early in the morning before temperatures get hotter at noon. It’s best to avoid doing the walk altogether when temperatures are forecast to be above 36 degrees.

We didn’t have to worry about the temperature because it was forecast to be cloudy, with temperatures no higher than 20-ish.

Some info:

The Rim Walk

The Rim Walk begins with a challenging 500-step climb. But it’s worth every step. Upon reaching the summit, you will marvel at the breathtaking views of Watarrka National Park and into the canyon itself before descending into the green oasis of the “Garden of Eden.”

At sunrise and sunset (the time most walks take place), the colours of the canyon are ever changing. The Rim Walk is a strenuous walk, meaning people who are in good health, lead an active life, play sports or walk on a regular basis will be more than able to complete the walk in around 3.5 hours.

Alternatively, you may wish to explore the canyon floor, an easier shady walk that follows a trail between the two sheer walls of the canyon.

The obvious option was to do the longer walk for the full experience!

Beginning the Ascent

First, you follow a trail until you eventually see the first steps of the initial climb, the steepest part of the whole trail.

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Train of thought at this point: Oh, that doesn’t seem so bad.

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Then we started to climb.

To preface the rest of the post: I’m scared of heights. Brandon is not.

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*SWEATS NERVOUSLY*

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Of course Mr. Photographer had to get the shots in!

Climbing up the 500 steps was a bit of a task, but tbh I think I was more concerned about falling down the steps and dying.

You should definitely stop along the way and look back to admire the view, but naturally if you were afraid of heights too, you would do it like I did: with great caution, apprehension, and very firm footing.

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BYE

The climb up IS tiring though. It didn’t help that I was winded from the climb and the height. The air there is dry, but we both found ourselves sweating.

Notice the arrows that appear in some of the pictures? They’re meant to guide you along the trail. They’re colour coded, because the different trails might intersect.

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Gulp

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If you’re into geography, you’d definitely be able to appreciate the rock formations around you. We took time to admire them along the way. Look at those layers, the result of years and years of erosion.

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What a view!

Tried to get a photo of Brandon looking cool climbing up those steps but ended up with this. I cry

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“When you value your camera more than your life” – his words

Eventually, you will get to the end of the climb with actual flatter terrain. From here, the walk will be more leisurely.

Exploring the Kings Canyon Rim

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Pretty amazing to think that the weathered landscape here was that much different all those centuries ago.

The climb rewards you with spectacular views of the canyon from the cliffs. There are signs warning you to keep at least 2 metres away from the cliff edge. Apparently the last deaths here happened back in 2014, and then in 1996. Basically, don’t be an idiot and you’ll be fine.

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Before moving on, obligatory cliff photo!

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You can be sure I kept a safe distance away from that edge…

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All that red! Brandon was saying it makes you think of a Martian landscape. Maybe without all the fauna.

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Hundreds of millions of years ago, there were sand dunes where the rock currently stands.

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Yet again unfazed…

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The terrain isn’t always smooth, but it was a lot of fun climbing here and there. Made us feel like Indiana Jones-esque ~explorers~.

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Look at this model right here

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Abandon all hope ye who cross

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It’s a LONG way down

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With the help of the trusty tripod, we tried to take a pic with the two of us.

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Aaaand we got it!

We walked a little further until we got to this little detour. To get to the Cotterills Lookout, one of the highest points on Kings Canyon, you would have to cross a bridge perched on top of a gap.

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N O P E nope nope

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Its as steep as it looks!

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The best thing to do when you’re afraid of being on a precariously-situated bridge is to run across. Maybe more of a jog with some squawking in my case, but still.

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Worth the amazing view, though!

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Incredible, isn’t it, the sheer vastness?

 

 

Along the way, we bumped into other hikers – some on their own, some on a guided tour. We liked how friendly they were, and how they normally greeted you when you passed by.

We got to a wooden stairway which would take us some way down and lead us to the Garden of Eden.

Stairway to Eden ♪

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Stairs are narrow and very steep. Vertigo is a real thing at parts of the hike!

The Garden of Eden is a gorge in Kings Canyon, an oasis of sorts among the dry rocks.

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It’s a tranquil place. Nice to just sit, listen, and look out for wildlife.

We lingered for a while before moving on. What goes down must come up. The climb UP the stairs was definitely draining, what with the steepness. We were definitely winded when we got to the top. Phew!

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These domes are some of the more distinctive features of Kings Canyon.

And with that, we were done with most of the walk! Unfortunately, it was only then that the skies were beginning to clear. Ah well.

Brandon got these lovely shots though:

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Eventually, we got to these downward-sloping steps which led us all the way to the carpark.

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3.5 hours since the start, and we were done!

All in all, Kings Canyon is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the outback. We HIGHLY recommend doing the Rim Walk to anyone for the amazing rock formations! It’s worth the initial climb (and the added anxiety that comes with a fear of heights).

As for the fitness level needed? You don’t have to be super fit to do the Kings Canyon rim walk, but you should ideally be moderately active since there is a lot of climbing. Nothing some cardio won’t fix!

Kings Creek Station

It was only 12-ish when we were done, so we headed back to Kings Canyon Resort, bathed, rested and then drove out to the Kings Creek Station nearby to explore. It’s a roadhouse situated just 36 km from the resort.

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I’d read a website recommending the roadhouse camel burger (!), so we decided to give it a shot.

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Imagine our surprise when we found that the kitchen was staffed by Koreans. Not the ‘Strayan we were expecting at all. They were probably there on a working holiday or something.

We got ourselves…

… a kangaroo steak sandwich and a camel burger! First time for everything, right?

Kangaroo is similar to beef – on the tougher side, pulls apart just like beef. The camel meat came as a patty, so it’s harder to describe, it did taste gamey but overall it reminded me of chicken while Brandon thought it tasted like beef!

They also had two adorable resident dogs and a souvenir store with reasonably-priced hats… so somebody got himself a hat again! (I also got one because I’m a sucker like that.) Yay, we can walk around being obvious tourists!

By the time we got back to Kings Canyon Resort, it was sundown so we went out to the sunset viewing platform:

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The Platform featured a mini bar if you wanna buy expensive wine, laugh and look like people in  outback holiday stock photos.

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After nightfall, we had the one and only outback steak dinner for the trip to end the day:

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The rib-eye cost us 48 AUD but it was a sizeable portion of medium rare (fite me on this) goodness which came with an unlimited side of mostly-sauce-laden salad. We were stuffed!

Finally! Clear Skies!

Our stargazing attempts were hindered on the first two nights. The first had an early-rising full moon and the other, cloudy skies. Boo!

Finally, after sunset, the skies were nothing but clear, indicating an amazing night for stargazing. The moon was only slated to rise at about 10 pm, giving us ample time to stargaze (something he was very excited to show me).

Well, it was like he said; hundreds, if not thousands, of stars dotted the ink black skies. We could even make out the famed Milky Way.

For Brandon, it was the perfect opportunity for him to attempt his very first foray into astrophotography. The photos came out perfect! He’s very happy with them.

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The star field over Kings Canyon. Kind of looks like warp speed

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Brandon’s very first Milky Way shot!

It was an incredibly fruitful day. On day 5, we set off from Kings Canyon to Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park!

Day 3 (Part 2) – Goodbye Bitumen, Hello Dirt!

Written by: Brandon

The Red Centre Way

As mentioned earlier, to get to Watarrka National Park we had to drive through the famous Mereenie Loop which also known as the Red Centre Way!

Touted as one of the must-drives when doing the Red Centre, the Mereenie Loop is a scenic 225 kilometre drive that connects Glen Helen, Hermannsburg and Watarrka National Park. It features a 151 kilometre stretch of unsealed road which is basically a dirt road instead of nice bitumen roads we’ve all come to know.

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The roads are normally open but subject to closures due to things like road works or heavy rain. As such, a Four Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicle is highly recommended for the unsealed portion.

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Always take note of signs like these. Even if it means travelling the longer route to your destination!

Depending on your luck, the road can be full of corrugations, washouts and flooding if a storm has recently swept through the area. You COULD attempt it in your own 2WD sedan but it’s an almost guaranteed uncomfortable drive that can damage your car. Even with a 4WD, you risk breaking down or blowing out a tyre in the middle of nowhere! Murphy’s Law everyone!

#Wandernot

Some vehicle rental companies have very strict policies on taking your rented vehicle onto dirt and unsealed roads. Do check with them before going all Mad Max in the outback only to have your security bond forfeited, insurance voided and to have to foot the ENTIRE repair bill in full if shit happens!

Gosse Bluff (Tnorala)

The Red Centre Way offers a few notable sights. The first one was Mount Zeil, the tallest peak (1531 metres) in the Northern Territory! You could even climb it if you wanted to!

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The next we encountered was Tyler’s Pass after a 40 minute-ish drive, which can be accessed by a small turnoff from the main highway and a 5-minute steep rocky dirt road up to the top of a hill which offers some shelter and an AMAZING view of Gosse Bluff (Tnorala).

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It looks small here, but trust me when I say it’s massive!

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Here’s one for the postcards!

In a nutshell, a comet struck earth millions of years ago leaving a huge-ass 20 kilometre-wide impact crater that is now the Gosse Bluff. Although it’s along our way, we decided to give this a miss as we were worried that we couldn’t reach Watarrka before sundown. But it is open to the public and it’s a 10km 4WD-recommended unsealed road into the Tnorala Conservation Reserve.

If you decide to pay Gosse Bluff a visit, do be respectful to the area and be mindful of signs restricting access to certain areas as the bluff is considered a sacred site to the aboriginal people.

We met a couple there who did the Red Centre loop in reverse. They had set off from Kings Canyon Resort at 7am and only just reached Tyler’s Pass when we were there (noon-ish). “The road’s really beat up and harsh today!” the wife exclaimed referring to the Mereenie Loop. Her husband told us that we should be fine as our car wasn’t hooked to an additional carriage like theirs. We parted ways and made our way down on our last few kilometres of sealed bitumen road.

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Starting the Mereenie Loop

We drove for about 35 minutes, and eventually, we reached a T junction at the end of Namatjira Drive which was intersected by dirt roads on both ends. Going left leads to the small town of Hermannsburg, right is the start of the famous Mereenie Loop!

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I love long drives like these!

Almost immediately after turning, the car started vibrating violently thanks to all the corrugations on the track and this was the worst dirt road we’ve encountered so far! The sound of the vibration rivaled the volume of our car’s stereo and our voices. Incidentally, George Michael’s Careless Whisper started blasting above the noise of the corrugations. I thought that was pretty funny. HA.

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Model for the trip!

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I had one job. That was to point AT the road.

So this was basically it, 150 kilometres of straight up off-road driving. As conditions were really dry, I decided to maintain a speed of about 80 km/h to minimise the impact of the really corrugated road – fast enough to ensure the nuts and bolts on our car didn’t rattle loose (going slower on heavily corrugated roads turns your car into a vibrator, the unsexy kind), but slowly enough to dodge crossing animals, and huge potholes and obstacles (sharp rocks and various debris) on the ground.

The Mereenie Loop Road Permit states you are not allowed to stray from the road. No parking your car to explore somewhere else, no picnicking and camping.

The only place you are able to stop, park and explore is Ginty’s lookout which we will touch on further into the post!

When they said that the Mereenie Loop was one the most scenic drives in Australia, they weren’t kidding. The view and the skies were AMAZING.

Long roads that seemed to stretch on forever, greenery and rolling hills as far as the eye can see and perfectly match with the bluest of skies. Everywhere was a perfect photo opportunity!

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We expected kangaroos to be crossing the roads but all we got were lizards, horses and cows. I wonder where all of them were hiding.

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The loop also featured some unique pieces of art as well. A tree decorated with underwear and boots, the famous “Lift ’em Foot” painted on a oil barrel telling you to slow down indicating a bend ahead with a sharp 45 degree turn.

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After about 3.5 hours or so we reached Ginty’s Lookout, the only place you are allowed to stop your vehicle, walk around, camp and rest! Ginty’s Lookout is the last landmark and point of interest of the loop road before you enter Watarrka National Park! Don’t be fooled though, it’s still an approx. 38 kilometers of dirt road before you enter the park’s boundary!

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We completed the Mereenie Loop! All 225 kilometers of it, no flat tires, no engine overheats and half a tank of fuel left! The Mereenie Loop was an unforgettable 4-hour drive into the heart of Australia’s outback but make no mistake, she’s as harsh as she’s beautiful.

During the journey, we drove past many abandoned flat tires, bits and pieces of vehicles here and there and even the abandoned wreckage of two cars. One just looked really rusted out with graffiti and the other had its front all mangled and windows shattered.

Enjoy your drive but remain alert and safe! We may or may not have gone airborne for a split second when I missed a rather large pothole :p

What a feeling of accomplishment it was to finally see this:

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Watarrka National Park

While it was a relief that we got to Watarrka in one piece, it was a bigger relief that we were on nice smooth bitumen roads again. To only hear the sound of the stereo instead of every atom around us vibrating violently was nice. My hands had gotten slightly numb from the steering wheel vibrating.

We took a turnoff for a short rest, checked the car to make sure that all’s well. The car is covered in a layer of fine sand and the entire front of it is covered with splattered bits and pieces of bugs; bull-bars, windscreen, front grille, headlights, EVERYWHERE.

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And eventually the view of the canyons crept into view.

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Such a majestic sight innit?

Eventually, we reached Kings Canyon Resort, the only major resort that services the national park. It features a gas station with a really overpriced convenience store, a holiday park / campground, hotel rooms, bars and restaurants.

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Image Credit: Kings Canyon Resort

We found ourselves at the reception to check in to our powered campground. The campgrounds are situated just a short drive away from the reception and it was more than big enough for our car and tent.

However, to our dismay, we found that the tent supplied to us was faulty! The stretchy string connecting the bendy tent poles was broken.These poles would hold up our tent, so there was no way we could have pitched our dome tent successfully. This left us basically homeless for the rest of the trip. Well shit.

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We headed back to reception to use their phone to call the car rental office. They said that we could get a replacement tent but the kicker was that it was at Yulara (Ayers Rock), where we would be going next, but not for another two days. The sun was already beginning to set, so we had to settle this fast.

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After reasoning with the car rental, they offered to put us up at one of the lodges they owned but that didn’t work out, probably due to those lodges being fully booked.

They also did say that because the tent came complimentary with the car, they couldn’t do anything about it, and that we should call their parent company. The other option left was to shell out an extra 100 AUD per person (we already paid 50 AUD per person for 2 nights for the powered campsite) for the shared room…but we would have to pay for it with our own money.

Some back and forth later, we were told the company would be sending someone down to have a look at our tent. So we sat, and we waited at the reception area.

We waited for around 45 minutes, resigned to our fate and deliberating whether or not to just pay for a room… until the girl at the reception, Tracey, came over to ask “Still waiting?” with a look of sympathy. She then informed us, to our surprise, that they would be giving us a free upgrade to a shared room for the next two nights! We think she told her manager Michelle about our tent situation!

“Wait what? Really?” We were utterly shocked at the incredibly nice gesture and very gratefully accepted her offer. Now that’s some excellent customer service! I don’t even think we’ll get this level of service on our future travels. (We made it a point to give the staff on duty a token of our gratitude before we left the resort. Still very thankful!)

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We weren’t expecting fantastic rooms but holy shit, there was a TV, air con, kettle and beds for five people with clean pressed sheets and towels, floors and furniture. Plus we had the room to ourselves! I guess travelling during off-peak season played a part as well.

Later, we decided to catch the sunset at the viewing platform nearby. It was cloudy so we could only see streaks of dark red. That also hampered our stargazing chances for the night. Bummer!

But we did explore the Thirsty Dingo & Outback BBQ & Grill as they were linked. I love that they have live country music sessions at night which really adds to the atmosphere, even better that the musician was great as well!

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We had our simple hobo dinner of cup ramen, watched trash TV and turned in early.

A longer day awaits tomorrow, when we attempt the Kings Canyon Rim Walk!

Day 3 – Cold Beginnings

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Looks nice and warm but it was actually 11 degrees!

Written by: Brandon

I’m not sure what woke us up first, Dian’s alarm clock, or the 11 degree morning air. We didn’t think to check our rooms for a heater last night and only realised that that small circular thing in the corner was actually the damn heater.At least there were enough blankets to go around!

Well, no time better than 9am to be up anyway! It was gonna be a long day! Today, we would drive from Glen Helen to Watarrka National Park, where Kings Canyon is located. That’s about 225 kilometers of driving!

But this stretch is special. Of the 225, roughly 151 kilometers is made up of the famous Mereenie Loop Road.

More on that later, there are more important things to do first. Like have a super filling breakkie!

Glen Helen’s breakfast menu serves all the essentials for their breakfast as seen in the picture below:

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Dian had a simple bacon and eggs set and I got the full breakfast set because I’m a slut for full breakfasts… if I actually manage to wake up for them.

After ordering breakkie, we bought our Mereenie Loop permit. Do be reminded that before you attempt the Mereenie Loop, you must purchase a permit which you can get at either Glen Helen Lodge or at Kings Canyon Resort (depending on which direction you are heading towards). We got our permit for 6 AUD which lasts for 4 days.

Road permits and your holiday in the outback

An important thing to do if you are planning on travelling through an area that cuts through Aboriginal Lands that are Indigenous owned is to check maps of the surrounding areas for roads that indicate if a permit is required. Travelling without a permit will land you a fine of up to 1000 AUD if caught! That is a lot of beer money wasted! More information on Permits of Aboriginal lands can be found here and it’s highly recommended you read this article as it has a list of roads throughout Australia that require permits and instructions on obtaining them. The list is not exhaustive, but it should give you the majority of areas affected.

Make it a point to spend some time exploring the reception areas or the bars when travelling to lodges and roadhouses. Some have walls filled with stories and memories of many people whom have come and gone by this place just like us! I personally find it really interesting and maybe you may contribute to them as well?

With still some time to spare before we headed off, we decided to explore Glen Helen Gorge which was literally the backyard of our lodge. It’s about a 5 minute walk to the pavilion where informative billboards of the gorge could be found followed by a rocky and sandy path that eventually leads to the gorge.

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The view when you exit the lodge

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The small pathway behind the lodge that leads to the gorge

After a bit of bashing in, we decided not to continue as the path was covered with a lot of tall grass and mud. We didn’t make it to the waterhole but even then, the view of the gorges against the morning skies were incredible!

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So it’s back to our room, pack up, load all of our stuff back into the car, check out and refuel the car to a full tank before it was time to leave for Watarrka National Park!

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Goodbye, bunk beds

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“Oh Shit, we’re out of gas!”

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We used about 1/4 tank the previous day so diesel cost us about 33 AUD at 1.20 AUD/litre. ALWAYS remember to leave with a full tank of gas before heading out on long distances. The last thing you want is to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Plan ahead and estimate the amount of fuel you have against the distance you will/may cover and the cost of fuel (E.g if you know that the next stop has cheaper fuel and you have enough to reach that stop, refuel at the next stop instead!)

In part 2 of Day 3, we detail our off-road journey on the Mereenie Loop to Watarrka National Park!

Day 2 – The Road Trip Begins! + The West MacDonnell Ranges

Written by: Dian

Setting off from Alice Springs

After around 11 (!) hours of much-needed sleep (legit knocked out), we got up near 9 am the next morning to collect the car which would take us around the Australian outback for the coming week. Lyn kindly offered to drive us over to the rental place and accompany us while we filled out the various forms.

We had opted to rent this car from a company called Australian 4WD Hire. We paid a 20% deposit when booking the car online, and then paid the remainder a month before the trip.

The rental place was actually run by NT Outback Tour Services, a subsidiary of Australian 4WD Hire.

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At the office, we were briefed about the car and had to sign a contract for the rental. We also had to pay an 5000 AUD bond which would be refunded when the car was returned in good condition. Any damage to the car would be deducted from this amount.

CAR BOND OPTIONS:

  • A 5000 AUD bond, with no additional fees
  • A 2500 AUD bond, with a non-refundable fee of 15 AUD for each day
  • A 1500 AUD bond, with a non-refundable fee of 25 AUD for each day

The latter two would work better for you if you have a smaller budget to work with / a lower credit limit / don’t want to charge a large amount to your card. But we went with 5000 AUD, thinking we could get a full refund.

(Side note: we were actually charged ~5400 SGD on the credit card after factoring in the exchange rate and merchant fees :O After returning the car, they refunded the bond without the merchant fee. We emailed to ask about the rest of it which they eventually refunded (more than 300 SGD). I’m not sure if they forgot to refund it to us, or whether you’d have to request for it, which is kinda shady… but at least we got it back. Always worth checking your statements!)

After settling all the admin stuff, the manager showed us to our car and the gear that came with it. We didn’t get the car we booked online, they told us we had been upgraded from Mitsubishi Triton to a Mitsubishi Pajero:

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Explaining to a sleepyhead all the equipment provided

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It was a relatively new car, complete with complimentary camping gear, e.g. a tent, a portable stove, chairs, etc. We were shown all the existing scratches and damage on the car from previous use, so we wouldn’t be penalised for those when we returned it.

Once we decided all was good to go, we drove back to Lyn’s place to have breakfast and pack up.

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Good ol’ cereal and toast

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BUDDY

We also had to do some last minute prepping before hitting the road.

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Our emergency water supply for in case we get stranded, Touch wood!

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We called out to her and she came scurrying out, getting in last pats! BYE ALICIA 😥

So we said our goodbyes to the two ladies (we would see Lyn again after the road trip) and Alicia, and off we went!!

Exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges

The West MacDonnell National Park is massive. We covered quite a lot of ground that day. Long post ahead!

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And that’s not including all the turn offs into the various gorges!

To get to our first stop for the trip at Glen Helen Lodge, we would have to drive 132 km past the West MacDonnell Ranges. We weren’t planning to rush the drive down though, because we intended to make some stops along the way to see the natural sights.

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We started our drive at around 11.30 am.We were both pretty excited at this point! The sun was out, but it was a cooling 20 degrees or so that day.

First up was the picturesque Simpsons Gap, which was actually one of our favourite places in the entire trip:

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First selfie on the road!

Take note of the hat Brandon is wearing (with a fly net over it). He bought it at a store in the Alice Springs town centre, unbeknownst to him that his ownership of the hat would be short-lived.

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Simpsons Gap is named for… well, the gap. Apparently, people like to come here at sundown to attempt to catch the sun in just the right spot for the perfect sunset photo. It’s apparently a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing.

We think the sandy areas in the picture above are filled with water in wetter months!

After snapping some photos, we walked closer to the gap. It was quite windy.

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Out of nowhere, an especially strong gust of wind came, blowing Brandon’s hat into the water. Of course I asked him to scramble for it but he didn’t want to get his shoes wet so he didn’t attempt to.

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We were the best of friends. But we must part ways.

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Can you see the defeat?

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No? Here’s a close up. It’s somewhere among all those pixels

RIP in peace – 16th Oct 2016 – 17th Oct 2016

He would spend the next few days looking for a replacement hat. But that’ll be detailed in future posts.

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That view when you face away from the Gap! @_@

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Always up for a photo!

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We both seized this photo op because ~wanderlust~ tbh

Next up, we drove for 40 minutes and got to Standley Chasm, an Aboriginal-owned natural reserve. It’s called Angkerle by the Aborigines.

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When you first arrive, you’ll see a cafe. This is where you can buy admission tickets.

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The following information will help you enjoy your visit:

  • Entrance fee is paid at the café
  • Gates open 8:00am – 5:00pm no entry after 4:30pm
  • No pets are permitted
  • Do not feed the dingoes
  • All native plants and animals are protected
  • Limited access for large caravans

Entry fees:

  • $12 Adults: Self-Guided Access To ALL Walks
  • $10 Concessions-Seniors, Students, NT Residents
  • $7 Children Under 12
  • $30 Family of 2 Adults/2 Kids
  • $18.50 ppn For Overnight Camping & Access

It was the only stop along the Ranges where we had to pay an entry fee, but the money does go toward preservation and the local Aboriginal community, so we decided, eh, why not?

We decided to grab a bite (pesky flies kept trying to land on our pies, grrr) and then pay the fee to do the Chasm walk, which was a 45 minute return journey.

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Flies the WHOLE way, hence the stupid fly net

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The trail branches out into this harder path which is part of the famous 223 km-long Larapinta Trail. Ain’t nobody got time for that

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And finally we got to the actual Chasm itself:

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It’s bigger than it looks!

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Tiny tourist for scale.

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On the way back.

There were barely any people on the walk. We appreciated the quiet, taking in our surroundings as we walked. Mind you, it would have been a lot more peaceful if not for the flies you have to keep swatting away.

So, moving on, we had to go on over to the next stop right away because we were strapped for time. The next stop was an hour away.

We stopped by this Red Centre Way signage along the way for photos! You can see these signs from time to time along the way.

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With the proud driver!

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After an hour of driving, we reached Ellery Creek. It was a very short 5 minute walk from the carpark. Lovely view, with the red cliffs and the waterhole.

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Inviting waters, yes. But it’s freezing!

Many websites will claim you can swim here. When we asked our Airbnb host Lyn about it, she scoffed and said “good luck”, because the water is freezing even in summer. We were there in spring. ;'(

We didn’t even bother, and we were right not to. We dipped our hands in the water, and found it was COLD. There were still people who swam though, I don’t know how they did it. Shame, but it’s still a nice spot for a picnic.

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Our next-to-last stop, the Serpentine Gorge, was a shorter drive away but we had to go off-road, meaning we were in for a rocky drive! This was the most bumpy drive that day.

Our bumpiest drive on the trip would happen on day 3, so watch out for that!

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This place is apparently good for wildlife sighting, but we only caught sight of a few birds.

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Absolutely gorgeous scenery!

This walk was the quietest of all. Good for quiet reflection.

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For the last stop before Glen Helen, we dropped by Ormiston Gorge. This was another bumpy ride since we had to go off-road again.

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Because it was nearing sundown, there weren’t many people there, only a family swimming and having a picnic. Water was chilly though. Pass!

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We admired the view for a while, then set off for Glen Helen Resort where we would be spending the night.

Glen Helen Gorge and Resort

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The resort was located right in front of the Glen Helen Gorge!

We had to check in over at reception first.

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The reception was in the same place as their Restaurant & Bar! Talk about convenient.

We decided when planning the trip that we would get hostel beds for that night, so we could adjust to the outback.

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The resort is actually quite old and run down. But they get away with charging high prices for rooms because they have the monopoly that far out in the desert. We paid 35 AUD per person for the cheapest accommodation.

Good news was that we had the room meant for four to ourselves! Actually, I think that whole block we were in was empty. That’s the shoulder season for you.

We wanted to explore the place but first things first… dinner!

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The pantry and washing machine areas… also quite old.

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0 Michelin Star dinner!

All about that hobo lyfe. Free tea from reception, canned pasta in a mess tin, cup noodles and instant mashed potato. Restaurant dining would have cost us at least 20 AUD each.

Some photos from when we went exploring afterwards:

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The colours in the sky tho *_*

Before turning in for the night  (it was starting to get chilly!) we headed out because Brandon wanted to show me the stars and take photos of the Milky Way.

We tried walking out to the resort a bit to get away from the light and then we heard growling in the grass. We were legitimately concerned. Dingoes? Demons? Stomachs hungry for supper? We hastily made our way back to resort only to realise the growling was coming from one of the nearby campervan’s sliding doors. Goddamnit.

The moon was full that night though, and it rose fairly early, so there weren’t so many stars but we did get to see a large full moon that day.

We slept through a cold night (12 degrees!! And back in the Alice Springs Desert Park it was 34 degrees! Desert y u do dis), ready to go on a long dirt road drive the next day – day 3!