Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Red Dirt Is What You'll Find

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Northern Territory

This is a post most travellers to Oz might find useful should they be headed to our Red Centre… and yes, red dirt is what you’ll find. Uluru and Kata Tjuta (also known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas but this blogger has a preference for traditional names) are two majestic eyesores everyone should take in, even if it’s just once in your mortal lifetime. No trip to Australia is complete without this stop, said a musical man whose name I can’t remember, but I know that he exists.                                

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Northern Territory (taken 2001 and 2005)

I came here in 2005 on the momentous ‘secondary school central camp’, which could in some way be considered a ‘rite of passage’ for Victorian teenagers. Whilst up there I even ran into a friend from primary school. At the time this was traditionally a year eleven camp, but we were short on numbers so the school decided to bring the year tens along. Not too fussed about the situation, we shared our objections during a lunchtime meet which evidently went no where. However, I think it was day one when we realised that we didn’t have a problem with the arrangement whatsoever.

Moving on, my older sister and brother both did the trip before me, with the latter repeating non-stop for many years just how great it was (to the point that I wanted to say ‘I’ll go if you shut up!’), and I must admit that partaking in such an experience, especially with my friends, was one of the best in my life.

About 461km south west of Alice Springs, the drive is pretty relaxing but the option to fly from Sydney is also on offer. In this case I’d recommend going by road because it’s one of those things you just have to do; many people prefer this option, and remember I’m all about the scenery. In finding a place to stay, the town of Yulara is the only option on offer. This town was built especially for the tourists so remember to book in advance. It’s here you can find all of the bare essentials and plan scenic flights, camel rides and guided walks amongst other activities.                                  

As for our own sleeping conditions, we camped here in a bit of comfort (the ground was soft and the toilet block was nearby is what I mean) but we did underestimate just how cold it could get. The winds of winter caught up with us on day one so having some warm clothes on standby will do you a load of good.                                                                                 

Having gotten all of that out of the way, let’s talk about all things iconic and amazeballs. I’m going to start with Kata Tjuta (the Olgas if you’ve forgotten) first because to be honest, I enjoyed them a little more (I also believe it doesn’t get as much time in the spotlight either). Before reaching Kata Tjuta itself, you’ll definitely have to make a stop in order to get a shot of the place as a whole, but this can still prove difficult even from the viewing platform. Seeing it with your own eyes is still enjoyable and walking through them is an experience you have to try.    

Kata Tjuta, Northern Territory (taken 2001 and 2005)

Kata Tjuta stands at 546m above the plain and comes in every shade of earth you can think of. Be sure to remember a pair of good walking shoes because the path can get bumpy. Passing through the corridor of giant rocks comes with its tranquillity, but it’s not what you’ll find at the end that’ll be your reward (in my opinion); by turning around to face the way you’ve come, you’re given a view of the outback complete with its own bookends. Getting from point A to B you might just see some bleach white animal bones and little rock towers and if I remember correctly you’re better off leaving these alone. Memories and photos are all you’ll need, minus the bad selfies.    

Kata Tjuta, Northern Territory (taken 2005)

Moving on, we’ve now come to the juggernaut of Australian tourism. Uluru (still commonly known as Ayers Rock) pretty much reaches the top of every traveller’s itinerary. Standing at 348m above the plain and with a circumference of 9.4km, this wonder of nature can satisfy anyone in a number of ways. Literally, just by looking at the thing you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished so much, or you could drop your jaw completely.

Uluru, Northern Territory (taken 2005)

What I enjoyed most were the simple things, like walking around the base looking for Aboriginal artwork (be sure to have a guide with you and ask permission before taking pictures) and watching the rock at sunset. This is when Uluru changes colour and is something you cannot miss.

Uluru, Northern Territory (taken 2001 and 2005)

Now to bring up something that crosses most people’s minds; should you climb Uluru? The option is there, provided the weather conditions are good and you’re up for the challenge, but it is respectfully asked by the traditional owners, the Anangu people, that tourists do not. There have also been accidental deaths in the past.                                                

I myself was going to make the climb and almost made it halfway to the chain climbers can use for assistance, but my nerves got the best of me and I went back down. I did get a bit teary because going up the bloody thing had been my plan for a long time, but I’m happy to say that this was a decision I’ve never regretted. I think I remember my spirits being raised soon after when a fellow student thought to treat the rock like a slide and came down with torn up shorts. There was also someone saying that they wanted to see the drink machine up there also. But whilst I’m told that this is one of those ‘you’ve just got to try it’ experiences and that the view is spectacular from the top, the choice to climb has started to lose its hype in recent years, and this is mostly coming from Australians also.                          

In addition there are several other facts travellers should be aware of. The Anangu people, who reclaimed their rightful ownership of the lands in 1985 during ‘the hand back’, can close the park at any time they wish, usually when particular days hold cultural significance for them. They also ask that you don’t take any smaller rocks home as souvenirs as this is taboo, and the same goes for taking photos of cave paintings (a mistake even I’ve made). Some may disagree but the Anangu have a reputation for being very welcoming and it’s always a positive when guests respect hosts and their wishes; it leads to good karma. This tribe has even been known to invite visitors to witness their ceremonies take place.             

Altogether, my time here was certainly unforgettable and worth the wait. These camps do continue to run, prompting this sheep to shout out, ‘Teenagers, you need to do this camp!’                       

In addition to those unique memories one holds dear, I’m reminded of a contribution that I and one other made to the whole experience. A year ten girl and I got the job of designing the camp tops we had printed in Alice Springs.        

Drawn by Hannah Peters and the Sheep, 2005
The rock at the top was my contribution and the rest was her brainchild. This is the one trip I’ve been on where I can say, ‘been there, done that, drew the T-shirt!’   

A BIG PS here, but I want to thank my brother Graeme for loaning me his shots. I'd of mentioned his name many times above but I'm a lazy little brother.

Links: www.travelnt.comwww.parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/index.html

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Just Start Going North

Cooktown, Queensland

Cooktown isn’t hard to come by when sitting behind the wheel; just start going north of Cairns and stop before everything turns wild, which is roughly 329km. This is one of the many stops you’ll make if doing the drive to Cape York (for which you’ll need a 4WD), but if Cooktown’s your goal than any beaten up wagon should do you proud. Country Road Coaches has a few bus services headed up there during the week, taking either a coastal or inland route so different travellers should be satisfied. I spent a night here with a camping tour during my ‘hugging Australia’ odyssey and a nice time was had. If peace and tranquillity is what you want, this is a place to look out for.

                            Cooktown, Queensland (taken 2011)                                 

Now for the historical part; Cooktown has gone down in western history as the landing place of Captain James Cook, the guy who supposedly discovered this great southern land. In truth his ship the HMS Endeavour got snagged on a reef in 1770 but the moment was grand enough to get the town named after him. Once a gold mining community made up of Indigenous, European and Chinese peoples, it’s remained largely unchanged since its establishment. You will find very little a commercial element in Cooktown i.e. no McDonald’s. But before I really start talking about what it has become today, I want to share a few words about the road I took to get there.                            

Heading out of the Daintree (which I’m saving for a future post), you’ll come across a few locations worthy of some camera time. First up are the waterfalls in Wujal Wujal, itself meaning ‘many falls’ in the local Indigenous language, which had our immediate attention; the falls are a curtain of hard white water and the home of the odd crocodile. One story I’ve since heard is that the other falls may only be looked upon by the women of the native Indigenous tribe. This is a sacred site and should be treated in a respectful manner.    

               Wujal Wujal, Queensland (taken 2011)                 

A few more things I learnt along the way was that alcohol has been banned in Wujal Wujal (there are heavy fines if you’re caught) and the tour I was on wasn’t a ‘glamping’ one; glamour camping is an idea I’ve refused to accept so I was most relieved for the remainder of the trip.                                                                                                                           
Along the way you should stop in at the Lion’s Den Hotel, described as Cape York’s most iconic pub. Built along the Little Annan River, the Lion’s Den has been standing since 1875 and surrounded by tropical landscapes. We were here for maybe a few hours where we found it really inviting; we mostly played pool (I was awarded a tin of spam meat by my tour group for pocketing the 8 ball in advance – anyone who shamed themselves had to keep the spam. The second time I got it was further north and involved a roll of toilet paper) and read the messages that past guests had written on the walls, but you need to have stayed here overnight to write something down. This pub provides a good atmosphere for everyone who stops by.               

                                                The Lion's Den Hotel, Queensland (taken 2011)                                                                            
Lastly and before you reach Cooktown you should definitely look out for the star attraction of Black Mountain National Park. We didn’t enter the park itself but we were able to get a great view of the mass of granite boulders (the mountain in question) from the boarder. Some of those boulders can rival the size of a family home and really heat up when things get hot. The Indigenous people, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji, call the mountain Kalkajaka and it’s another picturesque element on the drive north. Looking back at it now, I’m almost reminded of the scenery back home in Victoria.  

                                                    Black Mountain, Queensland (taken 2011)                                                                             
That all said we’ve arrived at the ‘needs a good ending’ end of the post where I should really bring up more about the top destination. Sounds like a done thing to me.  

When arriving at Cooktown you’ll find a place that can be got around with little trouble and where the locals are most welcoming. If you’ve come for fishing then that’s what you’ll get. If you’ve come for Aboriginal culture then that’s also what you’ll get and so on. During our short stay we spent a night in one of the caravan parks but we got enough done to create a few memories. There are two of them that I’d like to share.                                

If you’ve arrived towards the day’s end, be sure to head up to the Grassy Hill lookout to take in the glorious sunset; there weren’t many people up there so you’ll have a good seat to see everything happen. It did get windy but the view was pretty rewarding, and if it hasn’t sunk in yet, this sheep is all about a good view. Grassy Hill is also the site where Europeans first saw kangaroos, or kangooroos, which was one of the variant spellings at the time.    

              Cooktown, Queensland (taken 2011)                                                                                                                                                     
The following morning is when this second memory took place. After a walk along the jetty we made a visit to the James Cook Museum (as seen above). Housed in a nineteenth century convent that’s certainly not shy on its history (I know, that probably wasn’t funny at all), it is here you’ll learn about the town from past to present and the people who built it. Being all about diversity, I walked through it and was surprised to learn just how many prominent interracial couples (Chinese and European) there were back in the 1800s. There should be something that interests everyone; the museum has a variety of books for sale.                                                                                                                               
At the end of it all, having written this I’ve realised just how refreshing Cooktown was to me. Back home I’ve got an interest in historical sites but some of them have fallen victim to commercialism (which I find a little disappointing), so I found this town in the north as a bit of a blessing.
It’s a place you might enjoy.

PS I've since learnt that Country Road Coaches have gone into receivership. However, if you can get yourself a car or good tour the roads are still there.

Links: www.tourismcapeyork.comwww.nationaltrust.org.au/qld/JamesCookMuseumwww.bloomfieldlodge.com.aulionsdenhotel.com.au