Thursday, January 21, 2021

An outback adventure

Reading Time: 5 minutesHow SHAFEEN MUSTAQ found serenity and tranquillity in the middle of Australia with a group of friends
 website pic
You know those moments in your life when you step outside of the moment, look at yourself and think, this is perfect. This, I can now tick off my bucket list. Well, I had a moment like that recently when I went on a trip to Uluru. The aura of spirituality and peace out there in the middle of the Australian desert is an amazing feeling which everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
We city folk are a closed off lot. We get into our black office attire, hop on a train and shuffle off to work in an endless cycle of striving to achieve financial security. But sometimes it helps to take a break from the rat race and appreciate the enormity of the country we live in. While it is tempting to hop on a plane and fly off to Bali to enjoy the sand and surf, experiencing the real Australia is a much more rewarding experience. Besides my trip to Hajj, this has got to be the most fun I have ever had on a trip.
We flew out to Alice Springs from Sydney on at the unholy hour of 6:40am. After a three hour journey we landed at Alice Springs airport which is so cute and quaint, and if you blink you will miss it. We hired a car and drove into Alice Springs (all of which is still smaller than Sydney’s CBD) and stocked up on supplies for the next five days. This saved us from trying to find halal, or substantial food on location (considering petrol was $2.12/L, you can imagine how expensive food was).
From Alice we drove the 446km that is the Stuart highway and reached Yulara (where Uluru is), making cabin number 7 our home for the next few days. Over these days we experienced Uluru up close and personal.
The actual climb was closed due to forecasted rain (and then actual fog and rain) but the base walk was equally awe inspiring, and 9.8km doesn’t feel so long when you frequently stop for pictures and rest. If you can’t do the whole walk, you can always drive along the looped road around the rock and take the shorter walking trails which lead to some amazing watering holes and art on the rock itself. Walking around the base means you also do not injure any sensibilities, as there is a sign which states the Aboriginals request that the rock not be climbed as it is of spiritual significance to them.
Once we completed our time at Uluru we drove 25km to Kata Tjuta (previously known as the Olgas). Kata Tjuta is a group of rock formations that can be clearly seen from Uluru, and when paired with Uluru, they form the two major landmarks within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The park entry fee is $25pp for a ticket that is valid for three days. At Kata Tjuta, there is a walk called the “Valley of the Winds,” which is a challenging trail around the rock formations and takes approximately 3 hours. If you are able bodied then this is a great experience.
The one downside to all great experiences in the Northern Territory are the horrible flies. If you are planning to go, make sure you invest in a fly hat ($6-7 from the local IGA at Yulara), which will save you much needed energy used to swat away the hordes of determined, and unrelenting flies which follow you from the moment you step out of the car.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta have sunrise and sunset viewing areas which are located a minimum of 10km from the actual rocks, so make sure you finish your walk with enough time to get to the viewing areas for sunset (or sunrise as the case may be).
Our final challenge was Kings Canyon. Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park in Northern Territory, Australia. Sitting at the western end of the George Gill Range, it is 323 km southwest of Alice Springs and 1,316 km south of Darwin.
We headed out early in the morning on a clear skied day and after three hours of driving, arrived at King’s Canyon, which was drenched in rain and fog. Having invested a good part of our day to get here, we were determined to do the walk and set out anyway with our fly hats and rain coats. What we saw was no small sight. The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 metres high and formidable to look at. We found a very helpful map of the walking trails at the base of the canyon which showed us that several walks exist at Kings Canyon. The 2 km (return) and approximately 1 hour Kings Creek Walk traces the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above. We decided to do the 6 km (loop) Kings Canyon Rim Walk which took us 3-4 hours and traces the top of the canyon. The first part is definitely the hardest and is very deceiving considering the rest of the walk was a piece of cake in comparison.
The walk begins with a steep climb which locals call “Heart Attack Hill” and it takes you 100m up to the top, with spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape (you can JUST make out the carpark). About half way around the loop, a detour descends to Garden of Eden, which is a small piece of heaven on earth. It’s all beautiful waterfalls and lush plants (if you ignore the steep stairs).
The last half of the walk makes you feel like you are in a maze of jungle and rock, with weathered sandstone domes all around. Unfortunately it reminded me of stacked pancakes, but that might have just been because of how hungry I was.
A steep slow descent of rock stairs closes the loop and bring you back to the starting point. I’m glad it rained as I don’t think I could have done the walk in high temperatures. There is little to no shade and on a hot day the sun would be merciless on top of a canyon with nowhere to hide. I should also mention that part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from walking off the walking tracks.
The remainder of our trip including a camel ride and a night’s stay in Alice Springs. Going with three close friends meant that our road trip was a lot of fun. Travelling with people always brings you closer, or at least gives you a better understanding of what kind of person they are. This trip was immensely beneficial for all of us as we all needed a break from our lives both professionally and personally. We all agreed that the sense of spirituality and peace at Uluru was no trick of the mind and it was an aura that seeped into the skin and set the heart at ease. The trip eased the aches and tensions of life. Out in the middle of nowhere we all found a serenity and tranquillity that we were hard pressed for in our city life.
The Australian dessert is immense in its beauty as it is in its size. At every turn we saw something beautiful, magnificent or fantastic. These memories will last me a life time and what I have learnt from these experiences will educate my future writings and opinions.

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Shafeen Mustaq
Shafeen is a Sydney based writer

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  1. Day 4 Kings Canyon: This morning make the climb to the rim of the canyon, where you will be rewarded with marvellous views of Watarrka National Park (for those with a good level of fitness). Continue the 3 hour walk around the canyon with your guide as you hear and learn about the geology and history of this amazing formation. Alternatively, take the easier 1.5 hour walk along the boulder-strewn canyon floor. Return to Kings Canyon Resort for lunch (own expense). Travel on to Alice Springs or back to Ayers Rock Resort this afternoon.


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