It was pitch black when we set off into the outback and cold. You definitely don’t envision hats, jackets and scarfs to be worn in the middle of the Australian outback but at 5:30 in the morning at the beginning of June – quite necessary. We stood huddled outside the van as Jodie, our Wayout back guide, story teller, chef and driver laid out the plan for our next three days. We would head towards Urulu arriving there late afternoon and then sleeping near it so we could catch it at sunset and sunrise. The next day would be more Urulu and the Olga mountains with day 3 mostly being driving except for a hike in the morning around Kings Canyon. There were 24 of us packed into a mini bus equipped with a trailer on the back to carry provisions, bags, and anything else was deemed necessary for the trip.
Our first stop was at Outback Camel Farm for coffee, and of course camels! My first camel! They are so big, awkward and funny looking and if they were human, they would have horrible eating manners chewing mouths open, grinding teeth. The stop also had a Dingo. The only one we saw on the trip. I would never have known it was a Dingo as I thought it just looked like a small dog. It looked similar to the African Township Dogs but heftier.
From there we were told we had a firewood pick up. Which we learned was quite literally searching the ground around the side of the road for fallen branches about as thick and long as your arm. I was petrified of running into spiders or snakes while doing this but thankfully we ran into none of those lovely Aussie treats and I made a mental note to where sneakers the nex time we did this. However, it was slightly satisfying knowing we had gathered our own wood! So with the trailer loaded on top with firewood for our campfire that evening we were off to the next stop next – The Cultural Centre and entrance into the Kata Tjuta National Park.
The centre is brilliant. Explaining how the Aboriginals lived and survived in the outback, along with the tales of the first white men who arrived into the outback and how it has changed since then. It covers as much of the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories as allowed. These stories are the basis of their culture, traditions and society. They explain how the lands were shaped and teach the history of their ancestors. Hearing the stories is one thing but when you arrive at Urulu and walk up to it and see the crevices in the rock or bolders which symbolise their ancestors they all fall into place. Images of their tales such as the battle between Liru and Kuniya float into your mind. Urulu is impressively large and what you see is only 1/3 of the actual rock which makes up the mountain. The rest is underground. As a non Aboriginal we are not privy to the full extent of their dream landscapes only the basic ones which they tell their children. We walked to a lake in the back which was a drinking hole for local animals that they would have waited outside for and once they had come out hunted down. Rock paintings under an overhang depicted the animals that they used to hunt in the area. We walked half way around the base of Uluru, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to do the full loop. You can still go up the mountain if you wish however as it is a sacred site to the Aboriginal people and with erosion and health and safety they ask you not to climb it out of respect and for your own safety. They are trying to pass a law so it is illegal to do so and I think within a couple of years it will be forbidden to so. Truthfully after hearing their beliefs and feeling the atmosphere of Urulu, I don’t think it feels right to climb it.
We set up camp in a small campsite not too far away from the base of the mountain and then headed to the best view point for the sunset and watch the rock fade from rusty orange to a deep red. It was beautiful and pretty special. One of the tours next to us even had champagne and I won’t lie it would have felt appropriate to raise a glass.
Dinner was cooked over fire and as always with food cooked over the fire it was delicious! Rice, chicken and vegetables with an Australian outback speciality, Damper. We had both the savoury Vegemite version and the sweet Nutella version. Recipe to follow. Then we had to face our first night under the stars in the outback. We circled the fire, head towards the flame and learned how to unroll and cuddle up inside our swag. A swag is basically a canvas sleeping bag which fits around your actual sleeping bag and pillow. It zips up so you are pretty much cocooned inside. Surprisingly cozy but it can get damp if you don’t have an extra blanket between your sleeping bag and the ground. However, I loved it, after the initial fear of creepy crawlies was abated, I felt a bit like a cowgirl lying under the stars. And oh the stars! They were out in full force! And as the fire died down, they just became brighter and lit up the night sky creating a map of different stories. It didn’t take long to drift off to sleep already looking forward to what the next day would bring.