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Rock Tour! Part 1!

Kings Canyon

Where do we begin! This was a great long weekend where we took a couple of days off work and jumped on a plane to the Northern Territory to check out Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and of course Uluru, learn about indigenous culture and sleep in swags under the stars, on the awesome Rock Tour.


We had been recommended this tour by our friend Amy so knew we couldn't go wrong and it passed our expectations mainly down to our fantastic guide/geology teacher/indigenous expert/cook and lion tamer Myles! We saw so much that I think its best to split this out into a couple of posts so here is the first...

Travelling light with just a day bag each of essentials we had a spring in our step as we walked through Melbourne to Southern Cross station to catch the Skybus which only takes 20mins to take you to the airport. We were so excited to be getting on a plane again and going on an adventure.


We were glad we got the airport early as the queues to get to into the Tiger Air terminal snaked outside the building. As we waited in the queue there was an announcement for "Mr J. Bieber", you can imagine the ripple of excitement that went through the crowd as the possibility that such a famous pop star could be in our midst (Dan could hardly contain his inner Bilieber) then to clarify the announcer said "That's a Mr Jack Bieber" resulting in a sigh from the crowds and embarrassed chatter "I didn't really think it was him", "Yes you did, you should ve seen your face!"

After Bieber fever our flight was uneventful. As we started to descend to Alice Springs we eagerly looked out of the window for our first glimpse of the Red Centre in all its glory baking in the desert sun. The weekend before it had been a scorching 40 degrees and so we were prepared for some sunshine! But the clouds never parted and would you believe it we arrived in Alice Springs in the rain! Despite being overcast and a bit drizzly you've gotta laugh and we hopped in the shuttle to Toddys Backpackers (named after the Todd River) where we would be spending the night before the tour began.


This gave us a chance to see what Alice Springs had to offer...which if I'm honest wasn't a lot. Yep Alice Springs definitely seemed like a bit of a dump with not much going on but then again we had gone straight from the city and familiar sites of Melbourne to this outback town so that's probably a bit of an unfair assumption. After all it does boast a bowling alley and a weird second hand shop (took me a while to realise this is what the statue was about!)


As we walked into the town we spotted our first galas and these punk like pigeons


we also saw a parrot on a reindeer....only in Alice!


Alice is very much a town based on tourism a far cry from its origins as an isolated base for a telegraph station. Now there are plenty of shops to buy indigenous artwork and your own Crocodile Dundee hat. Some of the artwork is stunning and I was seriously tempted to get some but we don't have a spare $70 for a hat, let alone a spare $500 to get a painting. We were able to take advantage of the lunch deal given to us by our backpackers to have a yummy burger at the Rock Bar, so ya gotta pick em. Stocked up on salty snacks and large bottles of water for the trip we trundled back to the Toddys to catch up with the others in our dorm doing the tour and get an early night. After failing to remember how to play Yanev we have now been taught a new card game called No Peeky Peeky which no doubt will be used on our travels, thanks Brennon :)

It was a 5.30am wake up call as we had a fair bit of driving ahead of us to get to our first stop which would be Kings Canyon. There were 2 groups going on the tour in different directions and once we were allocated our bus, we found a seat we were on our way. To get everyone to know each other we were given pens to write our names on our windows and draw something which represents you... I think we got this mixed up as everyone else drew their national flag whereas we ended up drawing this...


We were quite a mixed group made up of people from Japan, South Korea and Austrlia but it was the Brits that made up half the group.

It was great to be out of the city and finally in the sunshine! The landscape was so different, we definitely weren't in Victoria anymore...there are even Emus at petrol stations!


Check out its prehistoric feet!


The sun was beaming as we parked up at Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.


Myles got the group together and pointed out to us one of the emergency radio points to be used incase of an emergency. Dehydration and sun stroke are real issues here that shouldn't be taken lightly and can be fatal. We all stocked up on water, hats were out and sunscreen was on as there is little shelter on the rim...we were ready to tackle the Kings Canyon Rim Walk.


Before we hit the trail Myles drew a map of Australia in the sand and told us more about the area. I didn't know that Australia is made up of 250 indigenous countries, with 70 different languages. We were visiting the land of the Anangu people.


I am sad to say that in Melbourne the only indigenous people we have seen have been on the streets, and this was also apparent in Alice too, a stark, uneasy and unfair contrast to the booming tourism in the area. During my time at Save the Children I have become more aware of some of the issues faced in these communities and also made a contact with a lady called Viv who helps support Aboriginal Mens Rehab and Aboriginal Women's Rehab, she has explained to me the problems but also positive that with help things will get better. I was keen to learn more about the indigenous culture and history, and how things have changed to today. Fortunately for us Myles was a fountain of knowledge. He explained that his friends prefer to be called indigenous rather than aboriginal as this word has now been shortened and used with racist connotations. For this reason I will also do the same in this blog. I ll try my best to remember all we were told, one of the first things we were taught was the word 'Palya!' which can mean hello, bye, stop, we're done lets go. This word would become the group motto.

The Kings Canyon Rim walk starts with a steep climb up 'Heart Attack Hill'


When we got to the top we learned that it was so named because a man actually died on reaching the top. He hadn't advised his guide that he had had heart surgery only months before and the exertion was too much for him. If you are fit and healthy though this climb is fine, just take your time.


From up here we were able to start to get a feel of how vast this country is!

We gathered round for one of many geology talks from Myles who told us how Kings Canyon was formed (Dan and I both got gold stars for answering questions correctly :)). 400 million years ago Central Austrlia used to be covered in sand dunes and over the years the wind moved and deposited layers and layers of sand. This compressed overtime with the weight of all this sand and when the sea encroached on the land it cemented all the grains together to make sandstone. Cant imagine this place being under the water! You can see evidence of cross bedding which is found in rocks that were made from sand dunes.


When 2 tectonic plates pushed together it raised the land exposing all this rock that had previously been under the sea, this is also why there are angles in the layers from where it was pushed up. As sandstone is porous it contracts and expands and breaks apart at points of weakness.


Years of erosion resulted in the creation of the canyon we were walking on. Ta Dah!!


So why is the Red Centre Red? This is because when water evaporates it leaves deposits of iron on the stone which reacts with the air to form a layer of red rust on the outside of the rock, if you break this away it is lighter underneath. So now ya know :)


Taking a break in some of the rare shade!


We stopped off at several places along the walk and Myles showed us various plants that were used by the indigenous people who knew exactly how to make the most of the seemingly inhabitable environment they lived in.

This is a Mulga tree and although it looks dead it actually isn't, however it is poisonous so don't touch it. Its wood would be used for spears.


This is the Ghost Gum tree, so known because its white bark reflects in the moonlight at night creating an eerie silhouette in the dark. The white is actually a powder on the trees bark which was used as a sunscreen by rubbing it on the skin. This tree has the ability to loose its limbs if it is not getting enough water, so it will sacrifice a branch (the darker ones in the pic) in order the save the rest of the tree!!


Can you spot the baby koala!


Naturally athletic the indigenous people evolved and learnt to survive in this environment. Fossilised footprints of a hunter chasing a kangaroo have estimated that he was running at 37km! However the introduction of fatty foods and alcohol from the settlers that came here to the present day have resulted in health and social problems as the enzymes needed to break these down have not been needed before. This is one of the reasons why alcohol is such a big problem as the effects happen quicker and last for longer. Many indigenous communities now have 'alcohol free' rules and if you are invited to visit or stay you are asked not to bring any alcohol with you.


We were also shown the Red Bull of the plant world which gives you an energy boost if you chew the leaves. If you hadn't been successfull hunting and needed an extra boost to keep going then this plant could do that. However it was frowned upon if a hunter needed to use it as it showed you werent a good hunter and would result in a punishment such as a stick in the thigh.

This is Rock Mint, which can be used as an anesthetic.


If crushed up and put into a water source any animal that drinks it such as a kangaroo would go to sleep allowing the hunter to kill it. However this was seen as a lazy way of hunting and also destroys the water source bringing with it punishment of death. In an area where it may not rain for 2 years you can see why such an extreme punishment was used as a deterrent!


Another plant we learnt about I think was called Pilpey, it secretes a white sap that could be used to help stop bleeding if you cut yourself helping your blood to clot. This plant also had another use, which would make you think twice about touching this plant and then touching your eyes. It was used as a form of punishment to help people to see the error or their ways. The offender would have the sap put in his eyes when he slept and when he woke he would be blind. He will only see again once he has found water to wash his eyes with and his sight will be restored. No one is allowed to help him do this and in an area of little water it could take a while!

Myles also told us about the significance of a burial site of an indigenous man found in another area that has been dated as 52,000 years old!! His body was covered in red dust which can only be found in Kings Canyon which shows the importance of the man and also the importance placed on this area as people would have had to make the journey to collect the dust for the ceremony.


It was amazing to walk around the canyon and part of the walk took as down some wooden steps into what is known as the Garden of Eden. In the advertised trip you are meant to be able to swim here but at this time of year there isn't enough water and tourism has polluted the water here anyway so you probably wouldn't want to swim in it!


As we started to climb up the steps on the other side our attention was drawn to the sound of a man singing the opening lines to The Lion King. As 'Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba' resonated throughout the canyon Myles slowly stepped out on to what had an uncanny resemblance to Pride Rock, whilst raising Simba to the sky!! Brilliant!!


And of course we all had to have a go :)


We then had the option of jumping over the canyon too! Although I opted for the bridge


Once on the other side we couldn't resist the urge to look right over the canyons edge. Not for those with vertigo!



After all that walking in the heat we definitely needed one of these and a cool drink!


We had some more driving to do to get to our campsite so it was all aboard the bus again. In between dozing we spotted some of the Australian Wildlife including a dingo that ran across the road and a tree full of jet black parrots who all took flight at the same time in a burst of colour as they revealed their red tail feathers...beautiful!

Lazy gazes and snoozing was abruptly interrupted when Myles slammed on the breaks! Everyone was straining to see what had caused such a reaction...had a kangaroo or emu jumped out in front of the van, was it another car... We couldn't see anything and were all confused when Myles excitedly turned the van around say "do you want to see something awesome?" and pulled over to the side jumping out of the van.

Somehow he had managed to spot this little guy crossing the road and miraculously it hadn't been crushed by the van and trailer as we passed over it.


This is a Thorny Devil


This is Fool-uruu....otherwise known as Mt Connor... we all had a moment of questioning each other is that Uluru?? But it is not. The difference between Mount Connor and Uluru is that Mt Connor is part of the land whereas Uluru is a rock (more on this in the next post). Mount Connor is a table top mountain and you can see where it hard rock top meets the sloping land beneath.


As the sun was getting low we stopped off Curtain Springs cattle station to grab some beers and make the most of the blokes and Sheilas facilities. This cattle station on its own is 1.25 million acres and bigger than the size of Belgium! The scale of places here is insane!


On the way to the campsite we pulled over to gather firewood and many hands meant it wasn't long before we had enough. The sun had gone down so we would be arriving at camp in the dark. I ll never forget the moment Myles put on his head torch to strobe mode, started blaring out Prodigy whilst putting pedal to the metal so we had quite a ride into camp. He needed to go fast to get the van through the sand but the music and lighting made it more mental :)

We soon had the fire going and as we were going to be sleeping in swags we didn't have to worry about pitching any tents and settled in around the campfire whilst Myles cooked up a great meal which included bread which you added beer to before cooking to make it rise from the yeast. genius and tasty times.


One of the girls asked about ghost stories but we weren't expecting to be told that the very campsite we were staying at is haunted! I think the story goes that back in the early 1980s 4 indigenous men were on the run, I'm not sure what they were meant to have done but they got caught and were burnt alive in their car. Since then rangers who have slept on that spot (only a few metres form where we were going to be sleeping) have had bad nightmares and so no one will camp on this spot now. The ghosts of the men have been seen several times and only women see them. Apparently on 3 separate occasions on his tours girls have woken the camp screaming in the night having seen them, and he hadn't told them the story! Spooky!

Trying to put this out of my mind we settled into a night under the stars!



Posted by doyledan 14:05 Archived in Australia

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