A friend of mine recently told me that he had an Outback experience. "So what did you do?" I asked. "Well, I flew into Uluru, walked around the Rock and flew back," he replied.
I don't want to boast, but while his visit to the Red Centre can be summarised in a sentence, mine would need an epic novel to relate. Visiting Uluru is indeed essential (read all about my trip to Uluru). But it was my journey from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs that was the authentic walkabout.
The road less travelled
There is a tarred highway that connects Uluru to Alice Springs. But it's the alternative route - the Red Centre Way - that holds all the adventure. Pick this road for your journey and you'll get a sense of the real Outback, complete with fascinating locals, helicopter flights, hot air balloons and breathtaking hikes. City life will seem a planet away. I'll take you through some of my highlights on this drive. But keep in mind, this is essentially a taste - you can only get the full picture if you experience the trip yourself.
The scenic 300km drive along the Red Centre Way from Uluru to Kings Canyon holds many secrets. The first is Curtin Springs, the closest accommodation to Ayers Rock not owned by Voyages. Here we met charming Pete Severin, the owner of the cattle station since 1956. He introduces himself as "half blind, half deaf and half silly". His sharp wit and intelligence belies his 81 years and boy, does he have stories to tell. He welcomes us into his kitchen for a bush tucker feed. "Sorry, there's no more camel steaks," he says regretfully. "The tourists have eaten them all". His inn can accommodate 72 visitors in basic comfortable accommodation. Oh, and remember to say hi to Mongrel the Emu.
We stayed over that night at the Wilderness Lodge. It features ten luxury fully air-conditioned tents with ensuite bathrooms. There's no TV, no mobile reception and no internet. At first I felt a bit edgy at the void of communication. My fingers twitched to reach for my phone. But even that soon passed and a tranquil calm washed over me. It was the first time in months that I took time to breathe.
All shades of crimson
That evening we went on a sunset safari into the bush. I couldn't get enough of the crunchy ochre soil. The sand was so vibrant, especially when the dusk rays lit the earth into a crimson glow. The view from the hill was breathtaking - dots of colour weaving together like an Aboriginal canvas. It's no wonder that the traditional owners of the land just have to peer out of the window to get inspired to paint.
After brekkie the next day, we headed to Kings Creek Station, where we met owners Ian and Lynn Conway. They are the real salts of the Outback. The pair have dedicated their lives to this harsh terrain and practically bleed red sand. Thirty years ago, they lived under a tarpaulin for eight months before building a thriving resort with 25 cabins, a campground for 600 and a whole heap of exciting activities.
The couple are heart-warmingly supportive of their Aboriginal neighbours. They donate clothes and food to the community as well as sponsoring five children in private boarding schools in Adelaide. They crow about the kids' achievements like proud parents. Make sure you ask Ian about his interesting family - the story will keep you rivetted for hours.
The best view is from the air
Our first adventure was a helicopter flip over the area. This is really the best way to get an idea of the vastness of the landscape. The terrain is so varied - from Kings Canyon cliffs to smooth red plains scattered with the rudimentary huts of the local Aborigine settlements.
After a refreshment break (they apparently make the best coffee in NT), we headed out on the quad bikes for an adrenaline ride through the wild. En-route Ian pointed out Petroglyphs or ancient carvings in the sandstone going back over 20,000 years. There is such a sense of freedom and isolation out here. I felt connected to nature and the history etched into the rocks.
We feasted on camel burgers and chips before driving the 20-minutes to Kings Canyon Resort.
Bubbles with a view
My favourite bit about this lavish hotel was the in-room spa. It's a huge tub with a window that overlooks the rocky outback. I can't remember feeling more at peace than when I was relaxing in a bubble bath peering out onto the red earth.
The king of the desert
We were up at dawn to start our sunrise climb into King's Canyon. As we began the three and a half hour hike, the sun started peeping out from behind the ridge, painting the rocks red, orange and brown. The sandstone, dating back over 400-million years was sculptured into prehistoric looking shapes. Probably the most famous formation is "Priscilla's Crack" where Priscilla Queen of the Desert did her flamboyant jiggling.
Make sure you take the Garden of Eden detour. This short walk to the tranquil waterhole is well worth it. The canyon itself is awe-inspiring - definitely one of the highlights of my Outback visit. The walk is moderately challenging. There are a couple of steep stone stairs to navigate but a sprightly 75-year old woman made it with no problem so don't let the ascent put you off.I felt invigorated when we reached the top. Wow, what a view! The rock was coloured with every hue of red I could imagine and was whipped into chocolate swirls. But we couldn't hang around for too much longer - it was time for our next adventure.