After our two weeks on the farm we repacked out rucksacks and were back on the road again...well actually a flight to Alice Springs as it would have taken days to drive!
Arrived in Alice around lunchtime, picked up our campervan, bought some food for the trip and we were off. Took a little while to get used to driving the van, I don't think Duncan or I has ever driven anything so big and tall. The directions to Uluru from Alice were pretty straight forward, drive 200km on the Stuart Highway, turn right onto the Lassiter Highway and drive another 250km, given that there were no other proper road turn-offs even stupid people couldn't get lost on this road-trip!
The driving got boring pretty quickly, as the road ran straight the whole way, and there was only outback scrub-land to see. The most interesting, and scary, thing we saw on the first day was an accident in which a 4WD car and caravan had overturned across the highway, completely written off. Thankfully no-one was seriously hurt but the caravan was smashed to pieces...made us quite cautious about driving for the rest of the day. Stopped 100km from Uluru for the first 2 nights, a place called Curtin Springs, which allowed free camping. Our first night in the van was comfortable once we got to sleep, but whilst awake it was a bit cramped as there was only space for one of us to move about at any one time.
Next morning we were up in the dark at 5.30am to get to Uluru for sunrise. We made it in time, but were disappointed as the day dawned grey and cloudy and the promised golden glow of Uluru in the sunshine never appeared. Nevertheless, Uluru is a very impressive 'lump of rock', rising up out of nowhere. With the clouds Uluru was a rusty orange colour, but you could really see the features of the rock. After breakfast in the van we went to the cultural centre where we had a very intersting chat to one of the rangers, she told us all about the local Aboriginal community living by Uluru. Next up was the 'base walk', a 10km walk all round Uluru. Despite a bit of rain the walk was great, and it was really cool to get up close to Uluru and see the different rock types and formations, and some rock art. By the end of the walk we were pretty glad it was a cool damp day, as walking round in 40C+ heat of Summer would have been awful.
In the afternoon we headed over to Kata Tjuta (The Olga's), another rock formation 50km away from Uluru in the national park. We hadn't heard of this before, but it was anothe impressive red rock formation, but with more peaks and gulleys than Uluru's solid mound. We did the 8km 'valley of the winds' walk. This had some fantastic lookouts with views across the valleys behind Kata Tjuta. We had a couple more photo stops on the way out of the park, then headed back to Curtin Springs for the night after a long (but really fun!) day.
Day three of the road-trip, up early again to drive 260km to Kings Canyon (another red rock formation). Didn't take too long to get there and we were off walking again by 10.30am, again in the cloud and rain. We started with the 'Creek walk' along the relatively lush, green, valley bottom, with good views of the canyon rim above. This was only a short walk (about 1.5km return), so next we walked the longer 'Rim walk' (about 7km), all the way around the Canyon edge. The climb up to the rim from the valley was tough, but the terrain evened out once we made it up. Again, I was glad it was a cool day as there were numerous warnings on the climb up about 'heat safety' in summer. The rim gave amazing views down into the valley and across the surrounding plains, and the top looked like I imagine a lunar landscape to look, with interesting rock formations all over the place. The walk was incredible, and probably my favourite so far on this trip as the landscape was so interesting. I took way too many pictures but I don't think any of them do it justice! We made it back to the van for a late lunch, then hit the road again back towards Alice Springs to get as far as possible while it was light, stopping on the side of the Stuart Highway about 200km south of Alice.
The final day of our road-trip we went back to Alice first thing, then headed out West towards the MacDonnell Ranges, a mountain range starting just outside of Alice. We had a brief stop at Simpson's Gap to look around, but after Uluru and King's Canyon it was not all that impressive. Next stop Stadley Chasm - a sheer sided gorge through the hillside. This was more impressive, but so it should have been with a $10 entrance fee each! Also had a little walk into the mountains here, up and down a very steep path, with some great views of the valleys from the tops. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for free camping in the area...and failing miserably. First up we tried Ellery Creek Hole, camping was fine, but it was still 100km from Alice and down an unsealed road, which we weren't meant to go on. Next we tried a rest area on the highway slightly closer to Alice, but got a little bit scared by the group of local men there as we were the only tourists there and we had been told horror stories of lone campers getting attacked at night. Our third port of call was back at Stadley Chasm, where camping was cheap, but unfortunately we arrived after the gates had been locked for the night. Finally we gave up and headed back to Alice for the night...although this meant more of a lie-in before our flight out, it did cost a lot more. But, in the morning we had a relaxed breakfast and it was nice not to have another long drive ahead when we got up.
Overall we had a great road-trip. Clocked 1658km, and didn't get lost! Uluru and King's Canyon were amazing, and thankfully I haven't been put off living in a campervan again! Would love to do this trip again with some sunshine, and in a 4-WD so we can go to some of the other places en-route that weren't on the sealed highway.