A road trip to get centred is just what you need to get off the grid. Experiential holidays are so much more fun so we challenged ourselves to cycle around Uluru, Walk the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta, do the 6km rim walk at Kings Canyon and explore random places in between. Twelve months almost to the day since we discussed the concept of a road trip, Sara Sarib and I flew from Darwin to met Katharine Wake and Olivia Ansell flying from Sydney in Alice Springs for the Desert Mob Art Fair. We just needed a reason and the art fair coupled with Field of Lights was it. I’d never been to the art fair before and will definitely be going again because there were real bargains to be had, people to meet and yarns to be told.
After a very comfortable night at the Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters and a morning swim in the heated pool, “Tour Guide Barbie”, as I have become, gathered the troops and discussed our road trip plans to pumping 80’s tunes of Water Zumba. With the clock ticking we couldn’t join in but definitely a must for next time. We headed to the Araluen Centre by 10am sharp much like the Boxing Day Sales in Sydney the crowd was formed at the gates waiting for kick off. After two hours of jostling and pouring through canvases we loaded the car with our new treasures and headed off towards Uluru. With 4.5 hours of driving ahead we had heaps of time to stop at Rainbow Valley and drop in on Peter Severin at Curtain Springs.
To digress slightly, Sara lost the sole of her sneaker at the first stop on the trip so it became a patch-up job with glue and tape for the next three days. Feeling a bit like the cast of Bush Mechanic we got through without any other blow outs however it was touch and go there for a while. And I did manage to stick my fingers together at one point with super glue while assisting. Running into Pete at the bar at Curtain Springs was a highlight because I had been doing my usual ‘Tour Guide Barbie’ and entertaining the car with stories I had collected over the last 23 years in the Territory and his was one of them. Peter’s story, told by Steve Strike, is one of my favourites so I have reprinted it following to share in full. Pushing on we made it to Uluru in time for the Field of Lights dinner. A Territory inspired menu, astronomy lesson under a million stars topped off with Lorimer wine were all the right ingredients for a fantastic night.
The opportunity to then stroll through the Field of Lights which is a 50,000 blub light installation was something that is hard to describe and a once in my lifetime experience. It’s also hard to describe the tranquil luxury in the middle of nowhere at Voyage’s Sails in the Desert. As soon as we checked in I was wanting to make it home for at least a few days but up early for a breathtaking Uluru sunrise a Qantas beanie photoshoot then a morning of cycling, Segways, walking and exploring. Tour Guide Barbie rounded up the troops again and headed to Kata Tjuta to walk the Valley of the Winds then back to refuel and have lunch before heading to Kings Canyon Resort. You need a permit to drive the Mereenie Loop so don’t forget to grab one, and I am going to admit that even as a Territory local and ultimate Tour Guide Barbie, I took a wrong turn and got lost. After seeking advice from a grey nomad in a leather hat and a road worker who was missing quite a few front teeth we finally found our way back after a 180 km detour. These are all the good things that go into making every road trip unique.
After 300 km drive including 160km of dirt and corrugations, we made it to Kings Canyon Resort, and two minutes after arriving at a spa villa, I had popped a cork and was soaking in some suds watching the sun set on the red escarpment. Just for a fleeting second I thought how amazing it would be to tweet, insta, snapchat my incredible surroundings to the entire world but remembering we were out of range and off the grid, that moment passed. Top quality night with Michelle and the crew at Kings Canyon Resort with couple of G&T before being spoilt to an delicious meal of softshell crab, pork belly and scallops. What an oasis. It was easy to forget social media for a while and soak up the hospitality in the middle of everywhere. As much as the fire pit and red wine was calling, Tour Guide Barbie was challenged with a pretty bad case of the flu and you should allow three to four hours to hike the Rim so I was off to bed.
There has been talk for years about closing the rock climb at Uluru and to be honest I would recommend the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon any day if you want to challenge yourself to an experiential hike in Central Australia. Depending on the season, you should plan to start early in the morning, at first light if possible as it can get extremely hot later in the day. One of the advantages to getting up at the crack of dawn is experiencing the changing hues and tones of the sandstone throughout the canyon as the sun begins to rise. Also, if you visit after the winter rains you have the chance to see spectacular seasonal waterfalls. I love a good road trip and one of the best things about Central Australia is that it changes every time you go there. Despite feeling pretty fit the walk wasn’t easy; but if you get through the first 30 minutes (which includes heart attack hill), you will be rewarded with stunning scenery and an experience you can tick off your bucket list that few others share.
To tell the truth, I actually didn’t expect it to be as incredible as it was, so I wanted to share it with you all as a must do. A quick chopper flight and back in the car we headed for Glen Helen with a bonus Tour Guide Barbie geology tour of Gosse’s Bluff which is an impact crater site created 145 million years ago by an asteroid or comet. Stopping is kind of a no brainer but I’m surprised how few people do. Next stop was Glen Helen where the showers are hot, the wine list is good and the rack of lamb was to die for. The last night was the only red wine night we had as it occurred to us the end of our little adventure was very near. With a full belly and a few reds under our belt we headed off to bed so we could wake early to do Redbank and Ormiston Gorge, Ochre Pits and Ellery Creek before heading to the airport and home. In the wash up all I would change is to add a couple of days in between to slow the pace and add some down time.
I’m into my food and because of this publication I get around so one thing I really can’t say enough about this trip was how high the standard of food and service was. It takes a lot for me to rave but I have to be honest I can’t actually choose which was my favourite meal out of all four days. Even a quick beetroot and feta salad with a fresh juice from the Dingo Bar and Grill at Yulara took about 10 minutes to hit the table so just because you are on a road trip in the middle of Central Australia doesn’t mean you have to settle for a servo pie and coke. The effort to include bush tucker elements like wattle seed and lemon myrtle was noticed. Trying dishes such as native dukkah crusted kangaroo and lamb cutlets with bush tomato jus made the trip that little bit more special.
The Mereenie Loop Road between the Areyonga turn-off and Kings Canyon Resort is mostly unsealed and the surface extremely variable depending on rainfall (and how long since the grader went through). 4WD vehicles are highly recommended; I felt far more comfortable and safe in one anyway. Speed (60-70 km/hr) and tyre pressure are both important factors, so stop by a garage before you head off and check your vehicle’s vitals. Allow 3-4 hours between Kings Canyon and Glen Helen. If dirt roads are not your thing, you can do tarmac all the way from Kings Canyon, Uluru back to Alice. Some of the roads are narrow and caravans seem to take over the road so be careful of soft edges when over taking. I grew up driving in the country on gravel roads so I really enjoyed the red dust and dirt that comes with an outback adventure. However, the red dust can be thick so leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle ahead, and if you stop be sure to pull right off the road.
On the drive between Kings Canyon and Glen Helen we saw all kinds of incredible wildlife including eagles and even mobs of brumbies and finches everywhere. Some of the horses through this area appear quite tame, they even look ready to throw a saddle on. However, while they are stunning to see up close, you need to be careful as they do hang around the road. Driving at dusk is always a challenge with wallabies, roos and long shadows and no sooner had I instructed everyone to be on the look out, we saw a large wallaby that would have caused a lot of damage had he hopped into our path. There’s also an abundance of vegetation so even though they’re around, camels proved elusive on our trip. Keep an eye out for dingoes and even thorny back devils, however the latter are very small and gifted with natures camouflage; when travelling at 100km an hour spotting one is the most impossible car game.