It was a cold morning as we woke up. Slowly coming to senses our first priority was to get our morning rituals done. With only one cup/mug of ice cold water at each disposal, we somehow brushed. In the meanwhile, our guide has started a fire. Next was to see if we can make any coffee or tea. Water was getting boiled over coals, and soon each one of us either had a black tea or a black coffee. It was welcoming to kick start the day. Breakfast was anything possible.
Bread was being toasted over coal. Not sure how many we did but that was the only means for a breakfast that morning. Hence most of us happily agreed to this method and stuffed ourselves. Being a native site, we had to leave it clean. Once the swags were all rolled up and into the storage cart, some of us started leveling the sand where we have slept and trundled. We took turns, getting into the van, to change in our day gear and pack our belongings. The makeshift kitchen was dismantled, utensils were getting cleaned up and wiped/dried off with a cloth towel. Garbage was in place, nothing left behind.
“During the trip, our guide gave us information about everything local, whys and hows. One of the interesting remedies I never heard was a solution to repair chapped (dry) lips. He mentioned that in the outback none knows or uses fancy products. Rather they settle on what’s nature produces and is usable. Our skin produces oil which we all know. The oil around our nose can be rubbed by fingers and then rubbed over our lips to reduce or get rid of dry lips. And this you can do as many times as you like.”
“Traditional owners refer to the West MacDonnell ranges as Tjoritja“
So, after the cleanup and the breakfast and saying goodbye to the region we crossed the famous Hugh River Stock to reach our new destination.
This morning we were visiting an inspirational Oak Valley Aboriginal Community. There was a small office which also housed their only grocery store and mostly everything that the community needs on a daily basis. We roamed around and waited for our tour guide to join us. He was going to take us around the area and explain to us the Aboriginal cultures, its values, their problems and issues they faced on a daily basis and how he fights for their rights. Our guide was one of the Traditional Owners of the land – a son of an elder – English speaking so we could ask him numerous questions we have on our minds. He took us on a hike, showed us caves and rock dwellings where the carvings were visible and explained to us what they meant. After a short hike under the blistering sun, our guide asked us to halt and he sat on a perched rock and requested us to sit around him and listen.
He had a canvas bag with him. Opening up the bag, he pulled out various ancient tools used by the Aboriginals in ancient times and few are even used today. There were boomerangs, a dish type wooden object which they use to build a fire in, a pair of music sticks which on slight tapping produced a sharp and well-defined sound. Boomerangs were also used as clapsticks, one tapped on another. After explaining us all about the instruments, rock utensils, and native plants, he gave us many accounts of the fights and arguments the indigenous people had and were having with the government. I could have written more on this but it will take another blog to appreciate the facts and figures that were told to us. So let’s keep on with our agenda.
Few hours exploring the rugged terrains and full of information, we all headed back to the community center, where something interesting awaits us. We were to paint…!!. A long table was being arranged and chairs for all of us including our guides. A rectangular canvas was given to each one of us with painting materials. Our local tour guide then popped in to administer the activity. He explained to us a few forms of aboriginal paintings, showed us a few samples and asked us to free draw. We all were unexpectedly thrown in this activity and took a while to digest and decide what to paint. Most of us copied the theme they were seeing around. I drew something that showcased the key elements of the region, like the Uluru and neighboring mountains, flora and fauna of the region, including the traditional dots around the boundary of the canvas. All of us did well. The paintings were for us to keep. Once everyone was done we moved to the nearby art centre. It was an art workshop and a gift shop too. Many indigenous women were sitting at the tables or down on the floor, each painting a large canvas. It was mesmerizing to see how intricate their artwork was. It is painstaking to draw thousands of dots or thousands of small creatures (one woman, see below, was painting just bees on the entire canvas) without making any mistake or incorrect hand movement.
(The above snap was taken with the permission of the artist seen in the picture. To retain the authenticity and respect for the artist I didn’t smudge the picture to hide her identity)
If one wants to buy original artwork, this would be the place. No gimmick, all authentic, straight from the artist to you. Few among us purchased a couple of canvases. Not all could afford. As the group members were admiring the work, shopping in the store, few wondered outside the shop. There were plenty of Aboriginal people around us, taking the advantage of the shade and the centre. Kids were playing outside in the sun. Young ladies from our group couldn’t resist and joined them in skip rope, experiencing fun and joy. Where would you get something like this?
Our time was well spent with the traditional owners exploring the land, trying our hands at Boomerang throwing, see ancient rock art paintings and carvings and gain a personal experience of the profound understanding the owners have of this pristine remote environment.
Around 5pm we started our journey back to our original destination, our respective hotels in Alice Spring. No one wants to just depart. All of us still had the enthusiasm to do more and meet more. So we all decided to meet again for a team dinner. This idea was thrown in by our guides and we all happily agreed. Because after this evening, all of us were going to depart our own ways the following morning and who knew when we could meet again. Soon we entered our hotel, I had a short (water is scarce in this region, hence they have a permanent water saving rule) hot shower, changed into fresh attire and was ready. Before I step out, I had another chore to take care of. The Laundry. By the time others were getting freshen up, I took all the clothes down to the laundry room and put them to wash and later dry. The restaurant/bar we were supposed to meet was walking distance from our Hotel. A couple (from Melbourne) in our group were staying in the same hotel so we all decided to group in the lobby and together headed towards the Hotel. As we reached and settled in, others were pouring in and soon we were all together once again..Long Time No See….!!.
That was a night of sheer fun. Drinks were flowing around, transitioning from the DRY to the WET after so many days :-). Most of us had to catch a flight in the morning back home, hence we heavy hearted moved out saying final goodbyes. To our surprise, we were joined by the UK team of 3 from our group boarding at the same time and same flight to Melbourne. So we 8 met again. Relived our experiences of the past 5 days. The HOME was calling but we didn’t want to leave :-(.
I have written this blog after almost 3 years since we took this tour. It was a challenging task to remember everything we did every day and hence the blog has been shortened. Most of my memories were jogged by looking at the pictures I took and other shared and that’s the only reason I could write something. Else it would have very well been a short book, believe me.
Trust readers will be very keen to take this ‘Red Centre Kangaroo Dreaming’ tour, at least once. My trip was completely booked by Flight Centre.
See you all soon. Probably on a different journey.
The mountains to the west of the gap (Heavitree gap) are called the West MacDonnell Ranges. Alice Springs itself is located at this gap in the MacDonnell Ranges (source: https://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/west-macdonnell-ranges.html)
Ormiston Gorge showcases the spectacular geology and landscapes of the ranges. The Gorge has a near-permanent waterhole, estimated to be up to 14 meters deep. Contrary to previous walks, this area had an interesting variety of native flora and fauna including a number of relict plant species (‘Living Fossils’) remaining from a tropical past.
To get here we traveled off to Ormiston Gorge. Another great hike. This time it was the ‘Ghost Gum Walk’ or ‘Pound Walk’ – not sure which one we took. Access to the Ormiston Gorge is via Larapinta and Namatjira Drives. We begin our climb, another arduous one, but was different than previous as it had much greenery and water holes. All of us had an urge to dip in the waters, but couldn’t since few were not so clean and were extremely cold. It is said that prolonged exposure, even during summer can result in hypothermia. Few of our team members still endured a waterhole which was just near to the visitors center. I and my son took off to take a dip. Our feets touched the water and…..a cold wave went through our spines. The water was indeed extremely cold. There were few swimmers in the pond mustering all the strength they have. My son still wanted to get in and he got in only to stay in there for less than a minute. He was literally shivering and eager to get back under the blistering sun. Who would have imagined such a cold phenomenon in the middle of a desert? The following picture is of another waterhole we found out during our hike.
We were experiencing an arid landscape, high cliffs, waterholes, and plenty of native flora and fauna. While walking we came across small creatures which we all could see far on the rocks. These were no monkeys or mountain goats. They were Black-footed Rock Wallabies, perched high up on the rocky slopes. If you see close to the picture on your left, you would see one bang in the center soaking under the sun. They were far on the cliffs and this is what I could capture from my telephoto lens. They were everywhere, popping out of nowhere, jumping around dangerously (at least for us) from rock to rock.
Earlier in the day, we had encountered one of the venomous – the Redback Spider, a female, and it was right under the bench we were sitting while reading the information boards. Though they can be found everywhere in Australia, I saw it for the first time. If you find one in nature, you are not supposed to kill it but let it be. Our guide slightly pulled out the web where she was so we can take a closer look. At 1 cm body size, she occurred harmless to us as she was lazily hanging there in her messy web, oblivious of her surrounding. Let me rest this case here or we might go on a tangent giving a zoology lesson..!!
Coming towards the end of the walk, we experienced something which we haven’t seen. The Ochre Pits. We could see the yellow and red layers in the ochre walls in abundance on the banks of a sandy creek. This is the area where the Aboriginals mined ochres for their ceremonies – raw material for paintings and ceremonial body decoration. Certain kind of ochres is rarer and more valuable. Being a culturally active site, we were not allowed to touch, use or remove the ochre. Took it all in and moved on.
The landscape had so much vegetation and a much-required shade from the blistering sun and the oppressing heat, we decided to spend more time mucking around, taking photos of surroundings and the group. All of us had a very good time here. Soon it was going to end as we were to regroup and join at the parking lot where the van was parked. We drove through the Owen Springs Reserve following the footsteps of the first European explorers. Tonight we were to rest at Owen Springs, spending another beautiful night under the southern stars, complete with campfire, cooking a hearty meal on the coal, and sharing today’s experiences and wondering what’s next. Tomorrow was the final day of the camp, so we’re sad too. The group has already said goodbyes to two families (couples, who were visiting from Holland) yesterday since they had only booked a 3-day trip.
This was a different night. This site was completely Outback, Wayoutback. No tents, no commercial activity, no establishments of any kind, no water, no nothing. We and our van, that’s it. We camped next to a river bed which was now completely dry. As we have planned to reach this site with ample daylight we were able to check around and set up things before it was dark. Few of us hiked another hill to watch a spectacular sunset. Few of us took out all the swags that we have carried from the previous campsite since this site had no such facility to store them. We made a makeshift table which was going to be our food work area for that night. A partner of our guide joined us at this location. He was another guide working on a different route and company but from the same hometown. Time was our enemy. We had to race to set up everything – our swags, our belongings required for the night, torches, food preparation – before it went dark. And soon that area was engulfed by the darkness and a light fog started building up. The campfire was now on. Production of coal had begun. In all that chaos we lost a crucial ingredient, I think it was the wheat flour or something. Since it got all mixed up with the sand we couldn’t save much.
You could see in the above picture how prepared were we. A toilet roll secured in place for an emergency, swags ready, food and fire being prepared. This log was the only sitting area above the ground. The damper was being cooked once again, so we all were very happy. The entire crew was huddled around the fire as the temperature continued to drop. This was our last camp of the trip and was purposely set it up that way to give us a complete native feel of what’s it like living in the outback.
After another hearty meal, we jumped into our swags, bundled up and started chitchatting. No one wanted to sleep. Few of us – the Bravehearts – thought of taking a quick stroll in the night so we did. Some of us found good old trees as a barrier to getting the unwanted fluids out..:-). Soon the entire area was covered with moonlight. It was such an amazing scene. So serene and sublime. Stars were shining brightly. It was an open sky amphitheater, way away from every man-made thing. Just us and the sky above. Nothing artificial. It was late and every one of us begin dozing off and soon slept. All was eerie and so quiet other than occasional stirrups and someone waking up for bathroom breaks. I am sure most of us didn’t sleep at all due to the chillness and openness we were put into. Awaiting for the sun to come up and another day of the hike.