Hey how ya goin’?? Today’s post is going to cover all things Northern Territory, Australia. Commonly known as “The Outback”, the Northern Territory is the vast and desolate “Red Centre” of Australia that contains Uluru, Kakadu National Park, Darwin, and the remote country town of Alice Springs.
I knew nothing about the Outback prior to study abroad, as most student travelers tend to stay on Australia’s east coast, until my good friend and fellow travel lover, Becky (check our her travel insta here!), told me about her solo trip with the Rock Tour and how it was the highlight of her semester abroad! I was planning on booking this tour with my friends for June 2019 but ended up doing it solo. This trip turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!
May 30, 2019: Day One
I flew alone from Sydney to Ayers Rock/Uluru. Landing in the Outback was an adventure within itself- because we were landing in the middle of a desert, the wind was so strong that the plane had to do multiple circles above the minuscule airport to get in position to land. Also, the only life below me was the occasional dried up plant in midst of infinite red rock. It looked like I was about to touch down on Mars.
When I arrived at the airport I was greeted by my guide, Mishkah, and the rest of the group who had already arrived. The only seat left in the bus was shotgun- it was mine for the next three days.
Our first stop was to Uluru’s Cultural Center and then to our first base walk. Mishkah led an educational walk around a section of Uluru, pointing out various Aboriginal paintings and significant caves. It was in this moment that I became fully aware of the sheer size of Uluru; I felt like an ant walking along next to it.
I was also made aware of the sacredness of the site. It is extremely disrespectful for people to climb Uluru. During the 1970s, a chain was built on Uluru to help guide hikers to the top. This was the largest tourist attraction in the area at the time and put Uluru on the map. Despite the efforts made by locals plus the addition of many new attractions in the area, the rock is still climbed multiple times each day. On October 26, 2019 the climb will be closed for good, a decision made by the traditional owners of the land and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board!
After the first walk we cruised to another point at the base of Uluru for a dusk walk. I really enjoyed myself in these moments- breathing in the fresh air, chatting with new friends from various countries around the world, and appreciating the unique scenery around me.
Our next stop was the sunset viewing area! Uluru is famous for its scenic sunsets and sunrises, so by the time we got there, it was already packed with eager tourists and inspired photographers. I took some pictures with my new friends, Flo and Anna, and enjoyed champagne and dinner as we witnessed Uluru change in color from a golden orange to a deep purple. It was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen!
After dinner we checked into our accomodation for the night. Home sweet home consisted of a large patch of dirt and a fire pit. No inside, no beds, no cots, no tents, no nothing. I slept on the literal dirt floor in a sleeping bag and a swag. A swag is essentially just a larger, thicker sleeping bag that you put your actual sleeping bag in to help you stay warm. So ya. To say I was out of my comfort zone is a massive understatement. I was so nervous to sleep that I avoided setting up my “bed” for the first hour on site. When I finally got around to it, I conveniently positioned myself in the middle of everyone else, forming a human barrier and sense of comfort around me. I slept between Anna and Flo, and actually had a lot of fun setting up my bed. We used sticks to draw lines around our swags in an effort to keep snakes away. Apparently they sense the human activity and leave once they approach the line. We also sprinkled (or if you’re me- poured) salt all around our swags in an effort to poison any curious spiders. I later found out both of these tricks were BS, but they did bring me peace of mind each night!
Luckily, I had no encounters (at least that I know of) with any critters. I definitely didn’t sleep my best, especially since the temperature dips below freezing in the Outback when the sun goes down, but I was so proud of myself for surviving my first night in the desert!
May 31, 2019: Day Two
Today was a very busy day. We woke up at 4:30 am when it was still pitch black out and freezing, but I can’t complain because the first thing I saw after opening my eyes was a sky full of stars. Incredible! We packed up and drove to Uluru’s sunrise viewing area for breakfast. It was still dark out as we boiled water and ate, but getting up early was so worth it as I got to see the most heavenly sunrise from start to finish! This experience was so peaceful and one I will always remember.
We hit the road and drove to the Olgas, or Kata Tjuta National Park, another famous series of large rocks that we got to hike! This morning’s hike was through the Valley of the Winds. It took 3 hours to complete and was quite challenging at times, but the views were incredible!
After our hike we hit the road and drove north to Kings Caynon, stopping along the way to collect firewood. This was the weirdest, but also the most fun part of the tour. We literally pulled over onto the side of the road and collected logs so that we could cook our dinner over the fire. It felt so barbaric, but was also so efficient! Maybe I’ll utilize my new skill and never pay for firewood again??
We reached Kings Creek Station around 6 pm and set up camp. We were at a campsite tonight with proper showers, but still no shelter! I again set up my swag, still between Anna and Flo, but this time I had the campfire in front of me and the vast unknown at my feet. Mishkah told us that dingo (wild dog) sightings were common at this location, so I was a little nervous to sleep tonight, but luckily I had my swag to protect me!
We cooked homemade chili on the fire. All 20 of us had a role, whether it was cutting up the pototos and carrots, or collecting embers from the fire to put the pots on. Once dinner was ready we all enjoyed it around the campfire, sharing stories from our home countries and learning from each other. Once dinner was cleaned up I showered (thank god) and enjoyed s’mores and some wine! I slept really well tonight since I had the fire to keep me warm and the stars above to enchant my dreams…
June 1, 2019: Day Three
Last day in the Outback! We woke up again this morning before 5 am to eat breakfast and clean up the campsite. It was so dark and so cold that we lit another fire this morning and all sat around it while eating our cereal, wrapped in our sleeping bags. Once we hit the road we drove straight to Kings Caynon. Mishkah accidentally made a wrong turn and got us stuck in mud on the side of the road. The adventure was just beginning.
We arrived at the base of Kings Caynon before sunrise. We started our hike in the dark, using flashlights to guide our feet up the steep incline. We hiked like this for about 20-30 minutes until the sun began the rise and the canyon came to life. Birds chirped, my skin warmed from the sun, and the canyon illuminated an array of oranges and reds. We hiked for over three hours!
Once we got back to the van it was time for lunch. We went to a nearby campsite for sandwiches and hit the road to Alice Springs. From Uluru to Alice is a 5 hour drive, but since we broke it up by hiking at Kings Canyon, the drive was only 2-3 hours. We reached Alice Springs by dinnertime and checked into our hostel to freshen up.
Later this evening the whole group met up at the local Rock Bar for dinner and drinks. The restaurant transitioned into a bar scene, full of adventurous tourists and local Aboriginal people. I had so much fun dancing with my new friends and meeting all the other guides! Alice Springs is a really interesting little town, so I was glad to have spent a night there.
June 2, 2019: Day Four
I had breakfast in the hostel this morning and took a cab to the Alice Springs airport and flew solo to my next destination- Perth!
If you’ve made it this far- thanks for reading! I really lived life to the fullest during the three days on tour and am so grateful I experienced this trip solo. I was the only American on tour and having the chance to put myself out there and meet so many new people was so good for me.
I definitely am not the most “outdoorsy” person, but am really proud of myself for hiking, camping on the desert floor, and loving every minute in spite of all the flies (we wore fly nets around our heads to keep them away- look them up for a visual)! I look forward to camping again soon, but hopefully this time in a tent!
Here’s my exact itinerary if you’re interested: https://www.therocktour.com.au/tours/3-day-uluru-rock-pick-up
Stay tuned for my next post- I spent three days solo in Western Australia after the Outback!