After our last trip to Central Australia, where we travelled by bus from Melbourne to Alice Springs, I promised myself that I wouldn't be going back by bus. Don't get me wrong - I loved the company - my lifelong friend Sandy who arranged the trip and her family and lots of other families that we had come to know over the years. I guess I'm just not great at spending hours in a bus (albeit a very comfortable bus).
Despite my promise when the opportunity arose to do a similar trip I reluctantly agreed. I justified this because I couldn't deny my husband the opportunity as he loved the first trip, my sister and her family would be joining us and instead of travelling by bus to Uluru we would fly direct to Uluru then travel by bus to Darwin.
After meeting our driver Malcolm and cook Sheryl (who was our cook on the last tour) from Alpine Spirit Tours at Uluru airport we travelled to Ayers Rock/Uluru Resort for a couple of nights staying in cabin style accommodation.
That evening we headed out to the Rock for sunset and although there were no dramatic sunset shots over the rock, it is nevertheless an impressive sight.
Day Two we travelled back to Uluru for a closer look and after recent rains Uluru took on a vastly different appearance from our first trip. The base of the rock was lush and green with full waterholes and evidence of where the rain had been gushing over the rock.
We had started our exploration of the base of Uluru to the left of the car park only to come across our neighbours - yes our neighbours from Melbourne. Not only were they are Uluru but were staying at Ayers Rock Resort!
We continued back to the carpark and were tossing up whether to join some of the group in the bus or head to the right and continue walking along the track to the water hole. Despite the heat and humidity we made the trek and took a few pics along the way.
That evening we headed for the Field of Lights which is a temporary exhibition which has been extended a number of times due to its popularity with tourists. It is called Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku which means 'looking at beautiful lights' and has more than 50,000 lights spread over the size of seven football fields. Unfortunately tripods for cameras are prohibited (and enforced) which limits the quality of imagery obtained. While the display was definitely worth visiting I thing perhaps the Field of Light Sunrise option where Uluru appears in the background would have been the preferred tour.
The next day we travelled from Uluru to Glen Helen Lodge via lunch at Alice Springs and a visit to Ormiston Gorge; a distance of 591kms. The waterhole was stunning and a welcome relief from the heat.
Travelling through Central Australia in the wet season can be difficult with roads often cut but swollen rivers. We were fortunate to be able to access all of our planned destinations but nevertheless there were still some challenging crossings.
Perhaps my favourite stop along the way was the Glen Helen Lodge. We spent one night here but was a photographer would love to go back and spend a little more time. The accommodation was modest but very comfortable and the lodge is positioned to enjoy the view of the Gorge. During the dry season you can walk between the cliff faces of the West McDonnell Ranges however on this occasion the Finke River prevented access.
Time for a group pic and a kick of the footy at one of our stops.
From the air Central Australia is impressive - the sheer scale of our country, the vast open spaces and unmistakable red centre - but is not until you are driving through it that the remoteness becomes real. We travelled 524km from West McDonell Ranges to the Wauchope Hotel and you can't help but wonder how anyone can survive out there. I was looking forward to our stop at Barrow Creek to get out and stretch our legs after what seemed like hours on the road and to also experience Barrow Creek Hotel which had become famous after one of the outbacks most horrific crimes back in 2001. We had all heard the names and story of English travellers Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees who had crossed paths with Bradley John Murdoch. Murdoch shot Falconio before tying up Lees who managed to escape and hide in the scrub along the highway before being picked up by a passing truck and taken to the Barrow Creek Hotel.
It is only when you are at Barrow Creek with nothing, and I mean nothing around you but red dust and scrub for 100's of kilometres that you realise how petrified Joanne Lees must have been. The sight of the Barrow Creek Hotel and relative safety must have been a relief but after visiting the hotel I fear that Lees must have thought that she was still living a nightmare.
Typical of many pubs that line the Stuart Highway the Barrow Creek Hotel displayed an amazing array of memorabilia, and items left by tourists. In fact the entire interior of the pub is lined with these items along with messages of those passing through. The photos below show the very "Aussie" feel of the hotel but do not adequate convey how claustrophobic being inside actually is. The air is still, the heat is unbearable, there are blow flies inside and the smell - what is that smell!? I do a quick "run through" just so I have a few pics and wait outside for the boys to finish their beer. Just as I am thinking about going to the bathroom I run into a fellow traveller whose description of the facilities makes me wish I could just go behind a tree.
I'm glad I went to Barrow Creek but definitely not keen to return any time soon.
From Barrow Creek we continued on to Wauchope and the Devil's Marbles Hotel - what an oasis!! complete with Palm Trees and all!
The Hotel was an absolute relief after Barrow Creek and the long days drive. We stayed in basic accommodation at the rear of the hotel however it was clean, cool and equipped with our own bathroom facilities (very important). In addition there was a pool and it was so good that I didn't even take any pics but just enjoyed the stay.
The next day we headed to the Devils Marbles or Karlu Karlu. Located about 100km south of Tennant Creek they are giant granite boulders formed as the result of erosion. Again the recent rains resulted us being able to experience the Marbles surrounded by lush greenery and plenty of water in the adjacent creek.
Our next overnight stop was at the Daly Waters Pub which was adorned with all sorts of treasures left behind by tourists. Our accommodation was basic but clean with shared bathroom facilities. Our wonderful cook Sheryl had a break tonight and we all enjoyed a pub meal. The pub is up for sale if anyone is interested!
It was evident that there was torrential rain overnight however it wasn't until stepping out to access that shower facilities that the full impact was realised. Campers from the were huddled up in the outdoor bar area after being flooded and the campground looked more like a lake.
Interested to see what all the commotion was about near the tour bus we quickly realised that it was bogged. The ground that 12 hours ago was firm and dry had turned into a boggy mess. Thanks to the resident tractor we were able to be towed before heading out to Mataranka Springs.
Mataranka Thermal Pools - what a beautiful and most welcome spot on a hot and humid day. Everyone certainly enjoyed a dip even through the water temperature was more like a bath at around 34 degree celsius. The surrounding palms appeared to be the perfect breeding ground for the red flying fox as there were literally 1000's hanging above us!
Mataranka Thermal Pool is located within the Elsey National Park which is a 13,800 hectare park and is home to the Elsey Homestead Replica which appeared in the movie 'We of the Never Never'. The homestead now displays historic information and artifacts.
The next two nights were spent at Nitmiluk National Park where we stayed in very comfortable cabins within the caravan park but the new luxury Cicada Lodge located beyond a gated entrance is definitely the place to be next time. We took a boat tour through the Nitmiluk Gorge which was spectacular but not great for photography on an overcast day. Later in the evening we trekked to the top of the gorge but alas the rain came down again.
We then headed towards Katherine stopping in at Edith Falls for lunch.
We spent three nights at the Kakadu National Park at the Cooing Lodge. The highlight of this part of our journey was taking a 2hr Yellow River Cruise through the wetlands. The guide was very informative and had a great sense of humour. We also managed to get up close and personal with one of the local crocodiles.
With our holiday coming to an end we arrived in Darwin where we all had some free time before saying our goodbyes. Looking back over the images it's amazing how much you can fit into such a short amount of time. Thanks so much to Sandy and Michael who planned and organised the trip for us all and to Malcolm and Sheryl for being wonderful hosts. It was certainly an adventure.
We stayed on for a few days in Darwin and while we were there couldn't help but go to a local game of AFL at TIO Stadium to watch the Tiwi Bombers vs the Darwin Buffaloes. For a full report of the experience watch in the game go to our sports photography business page blog - Frozen Action Photography