The Red Centre August 2015

We landed at Uluru Airport at lunch time and climbed down from the plane, directly onto the tarmac, nothing fancy here kids. We walked in extremely bright, warm sunshine under the brightest of cobalt blue skies to the small bush terminal, collected out bags and drove the 10 minutes or so, by coach to the Ayers Rock Resort. The resort itself is a collection of different hotels and camping ground from 3 star up to 5 star, there are staff accommodation, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, a bank, a post office, and a supermarket. Fully self contained, it even has a hop on, hop off bus service. You can walk the entire complex in 30 minutes if you wish. There is a town square and an amphitheatre for lectures, movie nights and live music, as well as a convention centre.

It is all nestled between big red sand dunes and at night they dim the lights, to where it almost disappears. We spent one evening out in the dunes shooting the night sky while listening to live music from the local pub!

Sunrise at Uluru

The dunes were terrific spots to watch the sun set or rise as well, and of course we could see the Rock (Uluru) an Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) from here in the distance as well. We spent our first afternoon exploring the resort, getting the lay of the land, and checking out the views from each of the sand dunes surrounding the resort. We grabbed a bite to eat at one of the nearby restaurants, Gecko’s……it became a local of sorts during our visit. And after dinner we headed out to shoot the night sky.



I guess a trip to Central Australia is not complete without a visit to Uluru or Ayers Rock as it used to be known (especially to us Aussies). We actually went there several times close up and at a distance in our week there. Our first foray with this monolith was from a distance atop a sand dune at Ayers Rock Resort. We then went there on our first full day to view sunrise lighting up the rock. It was quite cold early in the morning, but worth the early rise. We had booked one of the tourist coach tours, which picked us up from our hotel and took us to one of the designated sunrise viewing spots, along with about 10 other coach loads, with 50+ people on each………….do the maths. Instead of scrambling up a sand dune with everyone else (and probably not seeing very much), we actually stayed in a little valley, with perfect views of the Rock and a great silhouette of desert oaks on the ridge where the sun came up. I thought it was perfect and breathtaking.

After the sunrise (in which we were whisked away much too soon), we went for a drive and walk around the base of the huge rock. We visited Mala Walk and the Mutitjulu Waterhole, again not enough time spent at either, plus battling the crowds. We came back later in the same afternoon (On yet another crowded tour) to view sunset over the rock with a glass of champagne and canapes……..a nice way to do it, very dignified and gentry like. However, I felt that during these tours, we were rushed and did not spend enough time to fully appreciate the full sunrise or sunset. Due to the make up and geology of this magnificent monolith, it appears to be different colors at different times of the day, sometimes red, or orange through to deep mauve, especially evident at sunset.

We ended up hiring a car and driving ourselves around, we indeed re visited the rock and re did the Mala Walk in more depth and a longer visit, as we did with the waterhole, we could wait out the tours and have these places to ourselves. Moth even climbed the first part of Uluru, the Anangu ask that you do not climb the rock as it is dangerous and against their cultural beliefs, but they do not stop you; unless they deem it too dangerous on any given day. Many people have lost their lives climbing the rock, whether falling, dehydration or exhaustion, and there have been many more injured or requiring rescue. The rock is extremely steep, slippery and dangerous, often high winds buffet unwary climbers, then there is the extreme heat in Summer as well. There is a chain to help, although it is only knee high. The first part of the climb (which Moth did) is only about 30m off the ground, but even that was enough to make him stop to catch his breathe and decide it was time to come down.

Apart from a lizard, a few birds and a lone Falcon, we saw no wild life at the Rock, they assured us it is there, we just never saw any.

During the day, there are many facets of the rock that people do not realize, they fact that the rock is not smooth it is pitted and full of holes, ridges and rises. It is actually one huge rock of iron ore, it is the surface dust which is rusty due to the elements, giving it the red ochre colors it is famous for. It is magical and mystical, in itself, ad the stories of the local Aboriginals and there are some wonderful tales. Some areas we are not allowed into due to secret rites and rituals, but you can walk around the base of the rock, it is approx 12km walk. I preferred the shorter 2km Mala walk which ended in a green, vibrant oasis, it was such a shame that this waterhole was completely dry. I have been told by fellow travellers, when it rains the waterfalls down the sides of the Rock are something to be seen.

We also photographed the rock from a distance, including sunrise behind the rock from Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), now that was truly stunning, especially with lots of time to truly enjoy the entire sunrise, and of course from the sand dunes at the Resort.

My one wish was to be able to shoot the Milky Way at night up close over Uluru, but this was not to be, the park was closed to the public before it was completely dark, and there for I was not allowed to shoot in the Park at night. I do however have one shot from a distance, you can just make out the silhouette of the rock in the bottom right hand corner. This was from a camp ground sand dune, just out side the National Park gates. I wanted to get a view with the Milky Way running vertical up the middle of the Rock, but we could not close enough on the right angle.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

So many people visit Yulara, also know as Ayers Rock Resort to see Uluru, and yes it is the largest single rock formation in the world, that in itself is impressive, but so are the crowds. For my money I really enjoyed the less frequented Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, a colloquial term referring to Mount Olga, the highest of the domes.

What is it

Based approx 30kms from Uluru, 365km South West from Alice Springs, it is a large rock formation consisting of 36 enormous domes soaring hundreds of meters into the desert air.


Approx 600 million years in the making, of similar granite like iron ore as Uluru, it has more rocky areas surrounding it, Uluru is mostly sand. Some scientist believe they may actually be connected hundreds of metres under ground. Mount Olga was named in 1872 by Ernest Giles, in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg (born Grand Duchess Olga of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I).

There are many Pitjantjatjara Dreamtime legends associated with this place and indeed everything in the vicinity including, of course, Uluru / Ayers Rock. A number of legends surround the great snake King Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Kata Tjuta / Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. The majority of mythology surrounding the site is not disclosed to outsiders in particular to women. As is the custom, should women become known to the “men’s business” they are susceptible to violent attacks, even death. – Wikipedia

Special sights

There are a few things which are extra special about this place, apart from being less crowded, there is actually more interesting things to look at, rather than just one super sized rock. The base area is huge and you cannot venture into most of it due to Aboriginal sacred sites, but the areas you can go to are fabulous, if not difficult. Going to the sunrise viewing deck at sunrise, you can witness the sun coming up from behind Uluru in the distance at the same time as seeing the sun light up the shadowy places, gorges and rock formations of The Olgas. Another truly fabulous must do, is to watch the sunset on the Olgas is from Giles Site (named after Ernest Giles who discovered the area) during the famed Sounds of Silence dinner; glass of champagne, canapés and watch the sun set over this wonder is a sight not to be missed.

Walpa Gorge

Walpa Gorge

Of the two walks you can do around Kata Tjuta, the Walpa Gorge walk is the shortest, talking approx 1 1/2 hours to complete at a leisurely walk (2.6km return), while stopping to take photographs and admire the view. The sides of the Gorge rise up hundreds of metres and create vast canyons and valleys where the wind whips through. Walpa means wind in Pitjantjatjara. There are many loose stones and it can treacherous under foot, a good hiking stick and hiking boots are a must. Don’t discount the area near the car park at the entry to the gorge, there are many plants, bushes and flowering shrubs, with animal & bird life a plenty. Keep an eye out for eagles and lizards.

Valley of the Winds

The Valley of the Winds Walk in Kata Tjuta is a seven kilometre beauty that makes a loop to two spectacular lookout points. The entire Valley of the Winds Walk takes about three hours and is not so easy-going, as they claim and can be treacherous underfoot with loose stones and gravel and many uneven surfaces.

Things of note

Do it in the early morning to avoid the heat, even in winter, as there is little to no shade and the wind truly does howl through the area. There is nothing else in the area, apart from a drop toilet spot a few kms away. The nearest food or water is back at the Cultural Centre, so make sure you carry enough food and water with you, especially on warm – to hot days. Good sturdy foot ware is a must, they claim neither walk is that difficult, but believe me, your knees and ankles will notice the uneven surfaces and loose stones and pebbles. It is a long drive back, after a long grueling walk so take care if driving yourself, consider a short nap before driving back through the park. And don’t forget to stop along the way for photographic delights from various different angles.

Kings Canyon Aerial Shot

Kings Canyon

This was actually our last full day in the Center, so I am kind of working backwards. We were picked up in the middle of the night, 4:30 am, for the 4 hour drive out to Kings Canyon, which is part of the Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory. Sitting at the western end of the George Gill Range, it is 323 km south west of Alice Springs and 1,316 km south of Darwin. The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 meters high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. The first European to see Kings Canyon was Ernest Giles during his 1872 expedition to the North of Australia. Typically, the most amazing sunrise we had seen to date happened that morning, as we were traversing the landscape in a luxury coach, which was not stopping for photographs, we could only look out the window and enjoy the sights for ourselves.

When we finally did arrived, there were two walks we could do, (There are actually three walks at Kings Canyon, but we did not get given the third option). The two km (return), one hour Kings Creek Walk, which follows the bottom of the gorge to a viewing platform, with views of the canyon walls above, and then retraced our steps back again, this is the walk which Moth and I did. The six km (loop) Kings Canyon Rim Walk traces the top of the canyon and takes three to four hours to complete. A steep climb at the beginning of the walk, which locals call “Heartbreak Hill” (or “Heart Attack Hill”, due to its steepness), takes visitors up to the top, with spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape. This walk looked beyond our fitness level, I had been pre warned by on-line friends and travellers, that it is a walk from hell!

The easier creek walk was stunning with majestic ghost gum tress shading the valley floor from the harsh sun beating done from above. Unfortunately the creek was bone dry, it must be truly stunning when running. Surrounded on all sides by beautiful rock walls, with native birds flying, swooping and calling to us from every angle, but rarely seen. It was a leisurely walk (unlike the Rim Walk) and we returned back to the bus and Kings Creek Resort (A pub and camping ground really) with enough time for a Helicopter flight over the Canyon.

Helicopter Flight Over King's Canyon

Yes you heard me correctly, I got up in a helicopter, Moth could not believe it either! I was beyond scared and at the end had difficulty letting got of the grab handles which I had been holding so tight the whole flight, and had to be helped off the helicopter! But it was amazing and I have video footage, shame about the window reflection, however if the door or window had been removed, I may not have gotten in; it was a catch 22.

Other Cool Stuff

Salt Flats near Curtin Springs

There is other cool stuff to do in and Around the Resort as well, On the way back from King's Canyon we stopped at Curtin Springs Cattle Station, Camel Rides, Harley Rides, The Sunrise and Sunset at both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are a must, as is the Sounds of Silence Dinner

Curtin Springs Cattle Station
Camel Rides
Sounds of Silence Dinner in the Desert

The Night Skies

Of course one of the coolest things to do our there is watch and photograph the night skies. In Winter the air is crystal clear and pure, cleaner and clearer than just about everywhere else on the planet (with a very few exceptions). THIS is where the Astronomers, Astrologist, Photographers and Scientist come to play, and so did we.

Astro Photography over the Yulara Skies
Created By
Julie Powell
All original Photos with copyright by Julie & Roy Powell

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