Wild Junket » Australia http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Tue, 24 Mar 2015 14:30:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland — Part II http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/18/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part-ii/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/18/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part-ii/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 16:02:13 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17036 Lawn Hill Gorge  Read Part I: Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland Day 2: Hike, paddle and drive The next morning, I awoke just in time to see the sun slowly rising above the tree canopy. With my guide, John Warren, I headed for Boodjamulla National Park (just 10km from Adels Grove) first thing in the morning [...]

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 I’ve just returned from a four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove that got me out and about in the Boodjamulla National Park and Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland. Here’s Part II of my story on the trip.

Read Part I: Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland

Day 2: Hike, paddle and drive

The next morning, I awoke just in time to see the sun slowly rising above the tree canopy. With my guide, John Warren, I headed for Boodjamulla National Park (just 10km from Adels Grove) first thing in the morning with the hope of avoiding the blazing mid-day heat.  A kind and wise man in his early fifties, John has worked at Adels Grove for seven seasons now, and he’s a certified Savannah guide just like Rod. I asked what was it about the area that keeps him coming back every season, he explained, “I love being outdoors and active and I enjoy learning. With this job, I never stop learning.” It was clear that I was in great company.

Covering an extensive area of over two million acres, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is a fauna sanctuary with rich geological and ecological diversity as well as Aboriginal history. The Aboriginal Waanyi people have lived in the gorge area for over 30,000 years and know this place as Boodjamulla or Rainbow Serpent country. It is sacred to the Waanyi people who believe that Boodjamulla, the creator of all the animals in the Dreamtime, made all the animals in the Lawn Hill area and created the rivers as healing waters. Waanyi people believe when Boodjamulla is disturbed, he will cause thunderstorms, hail and floods; and he will stop the water.

Lawn Hill Gorge

When the European explorers arrived, they opened up the area and started the pastural industry. Until December 1984, the park was part of Lawn Hill Station, which was once one of Queensland’s largest cattle properties.Sebastian Maia, a Brazilian prospector who owned the land, returned 122 square km on the lease to the state in 1984, on the condition it be managed for the public’s benefit. In 1992, another 1,350 square km was given to the crown to extend the park’s boundaries. Today, the Waanyi people help manage the park along with the mining companies who help fund the maintenance.

The main attraction in the park is the Lawn Hill Gorge, which cuts through the sandstone plateau of the Constance Range, on the eastern extremity of the Barkly Tableland. The gorge has been carved out by Lawn Hill Creek, which flows all year and is fed by numerous freshwater springs from the limestone plateau to the west. There are six hiking trails that weave in and around the gorge and most of which are easy to do on your own. They’re relatively short well-signposted — but it can be very easy to get dehydration or even a heat stroke in the extreme heat. Even in winter, temperature can rose to 39 degrees Celsius at noon, making hiking quite a challenging feat.

View of the creek

Island Stack Walk

John chose to bring me on his favorite hike, the 4km Island Stack walk that island that leads to the top of the island stack. The first part of the hike took us through shaded flat land past cascades composing of unusual concrete-like tufa formations. As John explained, tufa are porous, spongy rock made up of calcium carbonate, which accumulated when the water level around this middle gorge was higher. We weaved our way through a wet river forest packed full of cabbage palms, fig trees, melaleuca and pandanus trees. “This gives us a glimpse of how the area must have looked like 20 million years ago when it was full of thick tropical rainforest.” John explained.

At the bottom of the island stack, we started the steep climb up the rocky trail that meandered it way up the surface of the stack. It didn’t take long to get to the top and within half an hour we were on the lookout point approximately 250 feet above the ground, overlooking the surrounding gorge and Lawn Hill Creek. The panoramic views were impressive: acres of green forests rose alongside the orange sandstone cliffs that seemed to surround us. I stood there with John, drinking in the view and counting my lucky stars for being here.

Island Stack lookout

At the Island Stack Lookout

Flora and Fauna

We then continued on the 1.7km loop walk  that took us around the table top of the stack to get a 360-degree view of the area. It was a different world out here: spinifex burst out from within the red rocks, tiny termite mounds popped randomly, while pink turkey bush flowers and red holly grevillea flaunted their colors. Every turn we took revealed even more stunning views and I couldn’t stop snapping photos, only to have John remind me to put down my camera once in a while and take in the view with my eyes.

As soon as we reached the bottom of the stack, we headed to the water’s edge for a 6km canoe trip on Lawn Hill Creek. I learned from John that the water in the creek flows all year as it is fed by the underground Georgina basin. Even though this area is extremely dry, almost like a desert, the creek remains a year-round oasis where visitors can paddle and swim in. It’s also home to several different types of fish including the archer fish and black striped grunter, as well as the Gulf snapping turtle and freshwater crocodile.

“Don’t worry,” John assured me. “Freshwater crocodiles are timid and they only attack when provoked.” I gulped, praying that our canoe wouldn’t capsize.

The gorge as seen from the water

Kayaking in Lawn Hill Creek

Deeper into the Wild

The spearmint water glittered under the bright sunshine, with so much clarity that I could see the fish swimming beneath us. According to John, the water is green because it has between 70 and 80 milligrams in every liter in the form of calcium carbonate. Limestone waters lack particles like sand and clay and there is no rain during winter months to wash those silty particles into the river, therefore ensuring the water is clear as glass all year round.

As we paddled towards the gorge, I felt like we were leaving the world behind and heading deeper into the wild. Thick forests flank both sides of the river bank, spilling onto the water surface. The sandstone walls towered overhead, as we glided in between them. There was silence except for the sounds of our paddles moving through the water. When I spoke to John, the sound of my voice echoed into the distance.

Within half an hour, we reached our destination: the Indarri Falls, a series of small cascades that separate the upper and middle gorges in Lawn Hill Creek. John explained that it was a natural tufa barrier built up over a period of many thousands of years from the bedrock gorge floor. The falls remain about 1.5meters high whilst during flooding, increased river discharge reduces the height of the falls. We took a break and paddled close to the falls, taking the chance to splash some water on our faces to cool off from the heat.

Approaching Indarri Falls

Swimming in Indarri Falls

Day 3: No pain no gain

Since I couldn’t get enough of Boodjamalla National Park, I decided to head back to the gorge area the next morning to explore more of its hiking trails. There are seven trails in the national park all together — this time I chose to do the 7km hike to the Upper Gorge, which would join two other trails and end at the highest lookout point in the park.

It was the first day I could sleep in since landing in Australia, so I started my hike only at 9am, foolishly thinking I had the full day ahead of me. It was silly of me to be so naive as the sizzling temperatures at noon would prove too much for me to handle during my hike.

The first part of the hike was easy and pleasant as it led me through flat land and forest, running parallel to the creek. I could hear the sound of the creek and catch glimpses of the emerald green color of the water. Then I found myself at the foot of another red sandstone mount — it was time to climb. The trail was similar to the Island Stack walk from yesterday, snaking its way up the craggy rock mount with naturally carved steps on the rock face. It wasn’t difficult, just a short upward descent.

Time to climb

Trail that snakes up the mountain

Unearthly landscapes

Soon enough I was on the top of the mount surrounded by rose red boulders and the verdant greenery of the forests beneath my feet. The landscape reminded me of Uluru and Kings Canyon, except that the Red Center was much more barren and harsh. Here, it felt more like an oasis with lush green forests, a running creek, waterfalls amidst the dry, hot conditions.

A further walk up the steep ridge through the unearthly landscape brought me to the Duwadarri Lookout, where an outrageous view of the creek and gorge awaited. Only superlative words could describe the scene before me — it was serene and calm yet dramatic and mind-blowing all at once. The green color of the jungle, juxtaposed by the rose red mounts and turquoise water, was such an artful assemblage. Beneath my feet, the cliffs plummeted vertically straight down to the creek. Besides the railing, there was nothing separating me and the drop-off.

The hike towards Duwadarri Lookout

Duwadarri Lookout

An Oasis in the Desert

After taking time to soak it all in, I continued on the trail which would first brought me right along the rim of the gorge, at a dizzying height above the creek. Eventually, the trail veered off towards a flat, open area studded with spinifex and snappy gum. By now, the sun was right above my head and the temperature was soaring above 35 degrees Celsius. This was winter in Queensland, just imagine how it would be like in summer!

Thankfully, it took me just under 45 minutes to get to the Indarri Falls Lookout, where I drank in panoramas of the entire creek below me. From here, the picture-perfect view of the creek cascading into a series of small falls off the tufa formations looked spectacular and tempting, so I didn’t waste any time lingering around and carried on down the trail to get to the creek’s edge. I was running out of water — even though I’d brought 3L with me — and my head was aching; I needed to cool down immediately.

As if on cue, the foliage cleared up to reveal the Indarri Falls before me. Without hesitation, I peeled off  my clothes and plunged into the fresh creek water. The water was such a fresh respite and I could feel my body temperature slowly going down to normal. I also met a few other friends who were staying at Adels Grove and they were kind enough to spare me some extra water for me to continue on my journey.

View from Indarri Falls Lookout Indarri Falls from above

A Long Walk to the End

Not long after, it was time to head further up the gorge. I knew I had to get to the end of the gorge, if not I just wouldn’t be satisfied. The trail continued along the water’s edge under the shade of palm trees. It was pleasant to escape from the sweltering heat for a few moments, but of course it didn’t last long. A few kilometers later, I was trudging up steep craggy rocks again without any shade and my water supply running low. It wasn’t a long climb, only 790m to reach the Upper Gorge Lookout, but under the extreme heat, I was seriously struggling.

Eventually I made it up there for the best view of all — the long creek meandering through the thick forest like a snake, between tall red mountains and through brown earth. Despite the exhaustion and dehydration, the view proved to be a great distraction. I soon forgot about the heat, sat down and contemplated life.

Best view in Lawn Hill NP The walk here wasn’t easy, but this view at the end made it all seem worthwhile. Isn’t that like life itself? The journey towards achieving a dream is never simple but once you get there, it’s always worth the pain.


More Information on Adels Grove:

Adels Grove is a large camping park located 10 km from the Lawn Hill Gorge, Boodjamulla National Park and 50 km from the world heritage Riversleigh Fossil fields. Lawn Hill Creek runs through the campsite, so there’s plenty of swimming spots to relax in after a day of exploring.

There are various accommodation options available: from camping in their large, spacious tents (equipped with double bed and porch) to air-conditioned rooms. Meals are provided at the on-site restaurant where delicious and high quality food is served.

You can also sign up for tours at Adels Grove which are led by licensed and experienced Savannah Guides. Some of these tours include catching the exclusive 4WD Escarpment Tour, Harry’s Hill Sunset Tour and hiking/kayaking Lawn Hill Gorge (as described in my story above).

I was on the four-day tour that included transfers to and from Mount Isa (four-hour journey each way). It was also fully inclusive of accommodation, all meals and tours of the World Heritage Riversleigh Fossil field and Lawn Hill National Park.

Cost: AU$1,220.00 per person twin share.


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland and Adels Grove for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

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Skydiving Gold Coast — Plunging Off at 12,000 Feet Above Ground http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/17/skydiving-gold-coast-plunging-12000-feet-ground/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/17/skydiving-gold-coast-plunging-12000-feet-ground/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 15:34:06 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17033 Preparing to take off“Are you ready?” David, my skydive master from Gold Coast Skydive, shouts from behind me amidst the strong winds and the roaring engine. I’m sitting at the ledge of the plane’s opened door, about to jump from 12,000 feet above the ground. Looking down at the earth far beneath my feet, my head spins deliriously and my heart races faster than [...]

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“Are you ready?” David, my skydive master from Gold Coast Skydive, shouts from behind me amidst the strong winds and the roaring engine.

I’m sitting at the ledge of the plane’s opened door, about to jump from 12,000 feet above the ground. Looking down at the earth far beneath my feet, my head spins deliriously and my heart races faster than before. Seconds later, the strong wind slaps me back into reality. David signals to me a thumbs-up — it’s time to jump. Oh shit.

I’ve done this before. I remember how much I loved my first skydive, why the hell am I still freaking out?

Within seconds, we are air-borne, surfing on a powerful upward force of wind. For 60 seconds, we plummet through the sky at almost 100 miles per hour, heading straight for Earth at a speed so fast it’s hard to fathom. The rush from the free-fall sweeps through me like an electric current and my mind is on overdrive. I feel an adrenaline high, a sensation that I’m addicted to.

Suddenly, I feel a jolt that pulls me up into the air. David has pulled the cord, releasing a parachute that sends us gliding smoothly through the air. We break through the clouds and the beautiful Gold Coast now sprawls beneath our feet. My eyes are now wide open; I try to soak in the view and remember just how stunning the Gold Coast looks from above: huge lapping waves, wide sandy beaches and the different shades of blue in the Pacific Ocean.

Skydiving is a different experience each time you do it, but one thing never changes: it definitely makes you feel alive.

Preparing to take off

Taking off on our small airplane at Gold Coast Airport

Sitting in the plane

I look surprisingly calm in the plane

Sitting at the ledge of the plane

Sitting on the ledge of the plane

Skydiving!

Air-borne!

Yehhaaaa!

Yehaaaaa I’m flying!

AWESSOMMEEE!

Awesome sauce

Breaking through the clouds

Breaking through the clouds

Steering the parachute

I get to steer the parachute?! YES!!

Preparing to land

Gliding above Coolangatta

Beach landing

Preparing to land

TOuchdown!

A perfect beach landing

This kicked ass!

 Special thanks to the best skydiving master ever!


Additional Information:

A tandem skydive with Gold Coast Skydive costs AU$345 per person. If you’d like DVD and photos included, the total price is AU$510. Skydiving tandem means that you will jump with an instructor who will be attached to you throughout the jump.

The Gold Coast Skydive office is located just two minutes away from the Gold Coast Airport in Coolangatta. You will land on Kirra Beach, right in front of the office.


Disclosure: This experience was made possible by Queensland Tourism and Gold Coast Skydive, but all opinions as always remain my own.

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Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland — Part I http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/21/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/21/exploring-adels-grove-outback-queensland-part/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 14:30:22 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16798 Constance Range Flying over the vast savannahs, I feasted on amazing views of  orange earth and green spinifex cacti that ran for miles and miles. The terrain twisted and curved around gentle hills and long dirt roads, and cattle herds ran in all directions on the dusty plains. This was my first glimpse of Outback Queensland. It [...]

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I’ve just returned from a four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove which got me out and about in the Boodjamulla National Park and Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland. Here’s Part I of my story on the trip, stay tuned for Part II. 

Flying over the vast savannahs, I feasted on amazing views of  orange earth and green spinifex cacti that ran for miles and miles. The terrain twisted and curved around gentle hills and long dirt roads, and cattle herds ran in all directions on the dusty plains. This was my first glimpse of Outback Queensland.

It wasn’t easy getting to Mount Isa (actually involved five flights), but this view from the air already made it well worth the effort. Even before I stepped foot in Outback Queensland, I already knew I loved it.

Constance Range

Outback Queensland: Beyond the Tourist Trail

Outback Queensland takes up roughly half of Queensland, sprawling across the areas west of the Great Diving Range. The Outback is often described as the vast, remote and empty inland Australia — but I can’t disagree more. It may be vast and remote, but it’s far from empty. It has a rich history, shaped first by the Aboriginals who arrived some 40 to 50,000 years ago, weaving their stories, dreamtime, across the landscapes, leaving behind a legacy of cave paintings and heritage. The explorers came next who opened up cattle stations inland which still underpins the Queensland economy. Today, it’s a treasure trove for travelers with its hidden gorges, ancient Aboriginal rock art, waterholes and wildlife-rich wetlands.

In north west Queensland lies Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, a two million acre reserve studded with rose red sandstone ranges, deep gorges and a limestone plateau with significant fossil fields. This part of Outback Queensland resembles the Red Center — after all, it is just 50km from the Northern Territory border — but you won’t see any crowds here. It’s hot, dry and harsh, studded with gorgeous unearthly landscapes and criss-crossed with excellent hiking trails and waterways. Yet, it seems to be a secret even among Australians. It’s thousands of kilometers from the coastline that Queensland is so well known for, but as I found out last week, this is a part of Australia that is just as stunning as many of the country’s renown attractions.

View at Harry Hill

Day 1: Driving from Mount Isa to Adels Grove, and everything in between

My four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove started in Mount Isa, an unattractive mining town and the main gateway to the Lawn Hill and Riversleigh area. Rod, the fun and wise owner of Adels Grove, was my guide for the journey and I couldn’t be more honored. He has more than 20 years of experience guiding and is a fully certified Savannah guide. Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides and tour operators based in the tropical savannahs of northern Australia and their guides withhold the highest of standards. Guides have to go through months of training and at least two schools (they organize two learning schools per year) to qualify.

From Mount Isa, we had almost 330km to cover to get to Adels Grove, but thankfully Rod had planned a few stops to show me some interesting sights along the way. Leaving the town and mines behind, we were instantly surrounded by vast fields of red sand mounts, green spinifex and small termite mounds. Rod pointed out the vegetation that were typically found in this open savannah habitat – snappy gum tree (a type of eucalyptus), holly grevilleas, acacias and silverleaf box that was used by the Aboriginals to make their didgeridoos.

Rod and his 4WD

War Remnants and Fossil Sites

Our first stop was a World War II site, where remnants of the old Barkly Highway are still visible. The rugged track was built during the WWII period by Italian soldiers and was used for over 50 years before the completion of the new Barkly Highway in 1996. Rod said that it used to take him twice the time to get to Mount Isa on the old road but these days it hardly takes more than four hours to cover the distance. The highway now forms part of the national highway system and joins up with the Stuarts Highway in the Northern Territory.

Soon enough we veered off the road into a dirt track and arrived at a big acacia tree, where a plaque had been erected. This was apparently the site of an old boarding school dating back to 1898. Rod explained, “Back then, there were no cars or motorways. Horse carriages and wagons used to pass through this area as people made their way to the coast in search for work. Enroute they left their children in the boarding school for months before picking them up again on their way back home.” We could still see the remains of the school gate, made from acacia tree trunks that had stayed strong despite centuries of wear and tear. It was just incredible to find the remains of a school that was more than a century old here in the middle of nowhere.

The remnant of the 1898 boarding school

Continuing our drive, we passed through several creeks like the O’Shannassy River and Gregory River before coming to a stop at the Riversleigh (Miyumba) Fossils Site, a World Heritage site that covers approximately 10,000 hectares in Boodjamulla National Park. The Riversleigh fossils are among the richest and most extensive in the world, revealing mammalian evolution since the Gondwana period. Almost 25 million years ago, this was home to an inland sea and because the freshwater pools  were so rich in lime that they petrified the fossils instead of compressing them, and thus most of the animal remains retain their three-dimensional structure and can be clearly seen today encased within the limestone rocks.

Rod led me through Site D, the only site opened to public access. There are plenty of individual locations in the area where fossils have been found, but all of them are under private property. On this site alone, paleontologists have dug up remains of more than 200 different species of animals most of which are early relatives of many familiar present-day animals, including possums, wallabies, koalas and Australia’s oldest venomous snakes. Less familiar animals lived here as well such as gremlin-like possums, marsupial lions, flesh-eating kangaroos and thunder birds. These creatures left no living relatives, although many of these lineages continued to evolve until they became extinct during the last 100,000 years.

Riversleigh Site D
fossils dating back to 25 million years old

Sunset in the Outback

By the time we arrived at Adels Grove, it was the perfect time to join the sunset tour up to Harry Hill. With a group of other travelers, we drove up to a nearby lookout point for a panorama of the surrounding Constance Range. While we snapped photos of the beautiful golden lit skies and outback landscape, our guide Les had set up a table full of nibbles and drinks. He shared with us some general information of the Lawn Hill area and Adels Grove, before letting us mingle and chat with one another. It was plenty of fun getting to know my fellow campers – a Australian family of three including a jovial and sweet 83-year-old lady, an outgoing Brisbane couple who were traveling around the country on their caravan and a Singaporean-Nigerian doctor couple exploring their new backyard.

Les our guide

The sun was slowly making its way below the horizon and the color of the landscapes changed quickly from sandy brown to orange and eventually bright red. By 6.30pm, Constance Range was shrouded in a shade of vermilion red, glowing like a tungsten light bulb against a clear cloudless sky. Everyone went silent, watching the phenomenon in awe. As the magical moment passed us, we clinked glasses in celebration of the moment. Platters of cheese, crackers and olives and endless glasses of wine were served; everyone was in high spirits by the end of the evening.

That night, we gathered on Adels Grove outdoor dining deck to enjoy a hearty meal of beef steak and roast potatoes drenched in thick mushroom gravy. The group of us spent the evening chatting and laughing as we swapped stories and learned all about this new part of the world. Under the starry skies, I went to bed in my spacious and comfortable tent (with a double bed inside) and dozed off to the hypnotic sound of the river flowing just a few meters away from me – dreaming about what would await me the next day.

Sunset at Harry Hill

To be continued…

Exploring Adels Grove in Outback Queensland — Part II


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland and Adels Grove for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

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The Great Barrier Reef from the Air and Underwater http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/14/the-great-barrier-reef/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/14/the-great-barrier-reef/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 14:30:43 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16804 20140514-152634.jpgJust this morning, I hopped on a day trip from the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot Island, an islet in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. The 100-acre coral cay is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane, Queensland’s southern capital, and is easily reached by plane. To get there, I flew on a [...]

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Just this morning, I hopped on a day trip from the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot Island, an islet in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. The 100-acre coral cay is the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane, Queensland’s southern capital, and is easily reached by plane. To get there, I flew on a Cessna six-seater plane, feasting on spectacular views of the gorgeous coastline, river system, outlying islands and of course, the reef. I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the outrageous views, and thankfully had two hours to completely soak it all in.

As part of the Marine National Park ‘Green Zone’, the island is home to over 1,200 species of marine life: from turtles to sharks and dolphins to even humpback whales. It’s also known as the capital of the manta rays thanks to its plankton-rich waters; these creatures have over a wing span of five meters in length (being one of the largest fish in the ocean) and don’t carry possess stinging barbs in their tails. I got an opportunity to see a few of them swimming at the bottom of our glass bottom boat and they were an absolutely impressive sight.

While out snorkeling, I also had the chance to swim with a few turtles and saw hundreds of trevallies, emperor fish, giant Napolean wrasse and even octopus! My guide Marty was full of fun facts and went all out to made sure we saw as much as we could, and despite having been working here for over 10 years, his enthusiasm for marine life was infectious. If you ever find yourself on the Gold Coast, I highly recommend taking visiting or even better, staying overnight, at Lady Elliot Island for an experience unlike no other.

Here are some quick snaps from my iPhone to give you an idea how the day goes:

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Flying over Lady Elliot Island from above

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Flying is the only way to get to Lady Elliot Island

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Sand formations and different shades of blue

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A panorama of the lagoon and its reef

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We found a turtle just 50 m away from the beach

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Upclose and personal with the turtle

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A New Caledonian sea star

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 The reef actually rises above the water at low tide

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 The northeastern side of the island has great snorkeling sites such as the coral gardens

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 Flying over the Gold Coast back to Coolangatta

Live Updates from the Road

These photos and words are uploaded straight from my iPhone while I’m out and about – be it in Antarctica or Zimbabwe (as long as there’s internet access). These short snippets will hopefully give you a glimpse of my life on the road and bring you here with me.

For full stories and SLR-shot images, please continue to read and explore the rest of the blog.

Join me in Queensland

Over these two weeks, I’m traveling around Outback Queensland and the Gold Coast with Tourism Queensland and sharing live updates on our social channels, internet-permitting. You can follow my journey on Twitter @WildJunket and @Queensland or on our Facebook page using the hashtag#thisisqueensland and #seeAustralia.

Disclosure: This trip was made possible by Tourism Queensland but all opinions as always are my own.

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Outback Queensland: Red Earth, Emerald Water and Blue Sky http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/12/outback-queensland-photo-essay/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/12/outback-queensland-photo-essay/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 12:13:32 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16776 Sunset at Harry HillRose red sandstone mountains rise from parched grey earth dotted with lime-green spinifex grass and eucalyptus tree, while emerald water runs through the gorges lined with green palm trees. This part of Outback Queensland reminds me of the Red Center (specifically the area around Uluru) — but  without the crowds. It’s hot, dry and harsh, studded with gorgeous unearthly landscapes and criss-crossed [...]

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Rose red sandstone mountains rise from parched grey earth dotted with lime-green spinifex grass and eucalyptus tree, while emerald water runs through the gorges lined with green palm trees. This part of Outback Queensland reminds me of the Red Center (specifically the area around Uluru) — but  without the crowds. It’s hot, dry and harsh, studded with gorgeous unearthly landscapes and criss-crossed with excellent hiking trails and waterways. Yet, it seems to be a secret even among Australians. It’s thousands of kilometers from the coastline that Queensland is so well known for, but as I found out last week, this is a part of Australia that is just as stunning as many of the country’s renown attractions.

My four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove took me in and around the Boodjamulla National Park and Riversleigh area, discovering an off-grid area of Queensland that few visit. During my stay there, I hiked in the Lawn Hill Gorge, canoed in the creek, drove off-road up to the escarpment of the Constance Range, swam in the waterfalls of the national park, and even found million-year-old fossils at Riversleigh. There was so much to do and too little time. I absolutely loved getting active in such a rugged and stunning terrain and most of all, I loved having the place to myself the whole time.

I’ll be writing more about my time in this well-kept secret of Queensland, but meanwhile here are some of my best photos from the past week, enjoy!

Sunset at Harry Hill

Enjoying a beautiful sunset at Harry Hill with wine and nibbles

Indarri Falls lookout

Hiked 3.8km to the Indarri Falls Lookout to find this view of the upper and middle gorges of Lawn Hill Gorge

Walking on the top of the gorges

Rose red sandstone, eucalyptus tree and spinifex abound in Boodjamulla National Park

Canoeing on Lawn Hill Creek

Seeing the gorge from a canoe and gaining new perspectives

Swimming hole at Indarri Falls

A swimming hole at Indarri Falls

The trail that leads to to the gorges

The craggy trail that weaves its way up to the steep rock face

Duwadarri Lookout

Hiking up to the Duwadarri Lookout

Indarri Falls
Indarri Falls resemble an oasis in the middle of a desert

Canoeing in the Upper Gorge

Canoeing on the emerald waters surrounded by lush vegetation

The viewpoint at Upper Gorge lookout

After a grueling hike under the blazing sun, this is the view that awaits at Upper Gorge Lookout

Nellie at the Island Stack lookout

That’s me at the Island Stack Lookout

Constance Range

The Constance Range surrounds the Lawn Hill area

Constance Range from the Escarpment

Getting a 180 degree view of the area on our escarpment tour

A wallaby

Look who we found – a wallaby!

My ride from Adels Grove

The trusty trooper from Adels Grove


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland and Adels Grove for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

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Up Next: Australia, New Zealand and Singapore http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/05/next-australia-new-zealand-singapore/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/05/next-australia-new-zealand-singapore/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 10:02:38 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16687 Escarpment_reflections_2-800x534By the time you read this, I’ll be making the long trek down to Queensland, Australia for an exciting trip around the region. For those who have been following us for a while now, you would probably know that Australia is somewhere special for me. My first real trip abroad was to Australia and that was almost 15 years ago when I [...]

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By the time you read this, I’ll be making the long trek down to Queensland, Australia for an exciting trip around the region. For those who have been following us for a while now, you would probably know that Australia is somewhere special for me. My first real trip abroad was to Australia and that was almost 15 years ago when I was a wide-eyed teenager backpacking with a bunch of girlfriends. We had the time of our lives seeing new sights, meeting people at youth hostels, exploring national parks, and having an adventure of a lifetime. It got me hooked, seriously hooked to seeing the world. Since then, I’ve traipsed around the world and returned to Australia three times, but I’ve never forgotten that first trip when I fell in love with travel.

I’ll also be taking the opportunity to hop further south to New Zealand, a country that I’ve heard so much about but still haven’t been, and also do a short stop in Singapore for a TV interview. Here’s a look at where I’m going and what I’ll be up to. Come say hi if you’re in the area!

Outback Queensland

For the next two weeks, I’ll be traveling solo with Queensland Tourism and the main aim of my trip is to uncover some of the less visited parts of Queensland. In line with our philosophy here at WildJunket, I hope to travel beyond the beaten path and explore the unconventional sides of the region. Outback Queensland is a great place to do just that and I’m excited to be spending most of my time hiking, kayaking and bushwalking in and around Boodjamulla( Lawn Hill) Gorge National Park.

To explore the region, I’ll be flying into Mount Isa, the gateway to outback Queensland. As the administrative center of Queensland’s north-western region, Mount Isa is mining town that was first founded because of the vast mineral deposits found in the area. As you would imagine, all of its attractions lie underground which I’ll be exploring on an underground tour with Outback at Isa. I’m hoping to have time to visit the National Trust Tent House and the World War II-era Mount Isa Underground Hospital, an historical building that’s on the Queensland Heritage Registry.

From there, I’m heading out on a four-day camping trip to the spectacular Boodjamulla( Lawn Hill) Gorge National Park and Miyumba (Riversleigh) World Heritage Fossil Fields with Adels Grove Camping Park as my base. Adels Grove and the surrounding area is an oasis attracting diverse wildlife—from freshwater fish and turles to black-headed Python and crocodiles. With a naturalist/guide leading the way, I’ll be hiking within the Lawn Hill National Park, learning about fossils in the Riversleigh area and canoeing to the Indarri Falls. The excursions will hopefully give me a glimpse of the local history, geology, flora and fauna.

Escarpment_reflections_2-800x534

Fossil_Formations7-800x534

Photo credits: Adels Grove

Local Living on the Gold Coast

Following that, I’ll be spending a week at Peppers Broadbeach, a sophisticated hotel with panoramic views to the Pacific Ocean and Gold Coast hinterland. It’s my first time on the Gold Coast and apparently there’ll be plenty of surprises awaiting. I still don’t know what I’ll be doing there but I’m hoping to try skydiving and some other exciting activities there and at the same time, relax abit and experience how it is to live like a local on the Gold Coast.

During the trip, I’ll be sharing live updates on our social channels, internet-permitting. You can follow my journey on Twitter @WildJunket and @Queensland or on our Facebook page using the hashtag #thisisqueensland and #seeAustralia.

New Zealand:From North to South

The second half of my trip takes me to New Zealand with my main partner, Canadian small-group adventure tour operator G Adventures, in conjunction with Tourism New Zealand. I’ll be traveling on the 21-day Best of New Zealand (ONNS) trip starting on 18th May in Auckland. Sadly I will only have one evening in Auckland but definitely hope to meet up with a few friends and readers there. Let me know if you are in town and we can arrange an informal meet-up!

From Auckland, we’ll be heading straight to Raglan to visit a special conservation farm to learn about their methods before sea kayaking to a harbor for a picnic lunch. Next we’ll spend a few days in Rotorua, go caving in Waitomo, visit a Maori village and experience a traditional ‘hangi’ feast. At Lake Taupo, we’ll be conquering the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand’s top-rated one-day trek. This is definitely the activity that I’m most looking forward to and have high expectations for it, hopefully the weather will be kind to us. After that, we’ll continue on to the nation’s capital Wellington and catch a ferry over to the South Island where we’ll hike, paddle and explore the Abel Tasman National Park’s golden beaches and waterways.

Other highlights of the trip will probably be heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier as well as skydiving and jetboating in New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown. The kayaking trip in Doubtful Sound and bike ride in Central Otago also sound perfect for me. This trip’s definitely shaping into a power-packed journey and I’m all psyched up for this adventure.

We’ll be doing a Twitter chat on New Zealand to talk about all things Kiwi and please join us if you’ve got any tips to share or are interested in visiting New Zealand - the details will be confirmed shortly.

Flying over MacKenzie - by Benjamin Jones

Fiordland National Park - by Benjamin Jones

Photo credits: Benjamin Jones

 

A Few Minutes of Fame in Singapore

In between flying back from New Zealand to Spain, I’ve scheduled a short stopover in my hometown Singapore for a TV appearance on Channel News Asia’s morning show. I’m thrilled to have the honor of appearing on the morning show’s travel segment but at the same time I’m nervous about the idea. Nonetheless I’ll be talking about social travel, something I’m absolutely familiar with. You’ll see me live on 6th June – time to be confirmed. Those who don’t have the channel at home can watch it live on its website.

And that concludes an entire month of travel. Can’t wait to share with you all my experiences along the way. Thanks again for supporting me and following my journeys!

Disclosure: This trip was made possible by the sponsors mentioned above but as always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

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Cruising off the Southern Tip of Australia: Tasman Island http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/10/cruising-the-tasman-island/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/10/cruising-the-tasman-island/#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14288 Under the cliffs The boat rocked from left to right, over choppy waters that looked ready to engulf us. I held on tight to my seat as the wind howled and the waves swung us high and low. Even in thick waterproof jumpers, we were shivering like baby chicks with no feathers. Our guide had warned us of the swells – they can go up to 5 meters on [...]

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The boat rocked from left to right, over choppy waters that looked ready to engulf us. I held on tight to my seat as the wind howled and the waves swung us high and low. Even in thick waterproof jumpers, we were shivering like baby chicks with no feathers. Our guide had warned us of the swells – they can go up to 5 meters on a bad day. Usually at least half of the passengers on board get sea sick on this cruise. Thankfully, we weren’t one of them.

The rough seas and harsh conditions resembled the harsh conditions of Antarctica that I had encountered on my expedition trip last year. It comes as no surprise though, as this – the Tasman Peninsula - is one of the closest landmasses to Antarctica. Storms from Antarctica travel almost 2000 km to get here, and this is often the first piece of land they encounter in this direction. Naturally, the sea conditions can pose as a challenge even for the toughest seafarer.

Cruising off the southern coast of Tasmania, we were meandering along the stretch of the coastline between Port Arthur and Eaglehawk Neck (that forms part of the Tasman National Park) to get to the famous Tasman Island, a great landmark of the Southern Ocean – its slender white lighthouse still a beacon for seafarers entering Storm Bay. This is an area famed for its dramatic and rugged beauty – the sheer sea cliffs here rising up to 300m above the sea, resulting in beautifully sculptured rock formations and magnificent blow holes.

But we were not here just to admire the beauty of the landscape – we were here to see the rich wildlife that inhabit this area. The Continental Shelf runs close to Tasman Island and an upwelling of nutrient from the ocean’s depths creates a smorgasbord for marine animals, from plankton and albatross to sharks, dolphins and southern right whales. Tasman Island didn’t fail us – we floated right by migrating humpback whales, cruised right by fur seal haul-outs, watched albatrosses and eagles wheeling in the sky. There was a feeding frenzy of diving gannets on the water surface and a surprising number of whales breaching all around us. We were awestruck by the amount of wild animals we saw that day – and the adventure that came along.

Under the cliffs

Just after leaving Port Arthur, we came across this beautiful rock formation

 

the sheer dolorite rock towers

The dolerite rock towers feature interesting columnar characteristics

fur seals

A pair of fur seals fight it out

A fur seal

A lonesome fur seal look out to sea

the fluke of a whale

We managed to capture the fluke of a whale just before it dove in

birdlife

There’s so much bird life in the area

An albatross spreads its wings

A giant albatross spreads its wings

Tasman island from afar

The sharp peaks of islands off the Tasman Peninsula

diving gannets

Diving gannets fighting for food on the water surface

On the boat

 Riding the rough waves

About the Tour

Our three-hour Tasman Island eco-cruise was organized by Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, a very successful operator started by local fisherman Robert Pennicott. The Pennicott family are genuinely dedicated to sharing their business success with the local community and operating in a sustainable manner.

25% of the business profits are donated to important local, national and international conservation, community fundraising and humanitarian projects. In 2007, Robert Pennicott established the Tasmanian Coast Conservation Fund toward which he has raised $100,000. This has been used on Tasmanian coastal conservation projects, the first of which was completed in June 2010 on Tasman Island. The outcome was the removal of a feral species that was killing over 50,000 breeding seabirds each year.


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Tourism Tasmania, but all opinions expressed above are our own.

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Koalas, Emus and Kangaroos: South Australia’s Wildlife http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/09/wildlife-in-south-australia/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/09/wildlife-in-south-australia/#comments Tue, 09 Apr 2013 14:30:28 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14266 A koala bear in actionAfter a long road trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide in South Australia, we were ready to take a break from driving and do some exploring. The problem was, we only had one day to explore Adelaide. So I asked my Twitter friends for some advice: what should we do with just one day in [...]

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After a long road trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide in South Australia, we were ready to take a break from driving and do some exploring. The problem was, we only had one day to explore Adelaide. So I asked my Twitter friends for some advice: what should we do with just one day in the city? The answer was easy, everyone recommended a visit to the Cleland Wildlife Park.

Just 12 km (7.5 miles) away from the Adelaide city center, the Cleland Conservation Park is a beautiful patchwork of natural bushland poised on the very top of Adelaide Hills. Here, the mountain air is fresh, grasslands sprawl across the area and Eucalyptus trees are peppered all over the hill slopes. It’s the perfect home South Australia’s native animals. Kangaroos jump and hop freely, emus saunter leisurely on their own turf, while Tasmanian devils screech and brawl into the darkness. Even rare and endangered species such as the yellow-footed rock wallabies and brush-tailed bettongs scamper and scuttle in freedom. There are no large fences nor giant enclosures – so you really get the chance to mingle and interact with these adorable creatures. I even got to hug a koala bear – it was an experience unlike no other.

For a look at our experience at Cleland, here are some photos that Alberto took. Hope they give you an idea of how close you can get to these animals.

A koala bear in action

The adorable koala bear posing naturally

A koala bear in the tree

A koala bear in the trees of Cleland

A wallaby up close

A wallaby sniffing for food

A beautiful wallaby in the bush

A rock wallaby hiding in the bush

An echidna

One of my favorite animals in Cleland: the echidna, an adorable spiny ant eater

An emu roams freely

The emu is a very curious creature, pecking at our camera cheekily

A wallaby lounging around

A wallaby lounges on the grassland

A kangaroo and her joey

A kangaroo and her joey relax side by side

My koala bear

The koala bear that I got to know

The elusive wombat

We finally got the chance to see a wombat in reality after hearing all about it

Alberto feeding the wallabies

Alberto reaches out to feed a wallaby

Nellie feeding a wallaby

A kangaroo hungrily devours food from my hand

Hugging a koala bear

That’s me and my adorable koala!


Disclaimer: Special thanks to Tourism South Australia for the tips and advice! This visit was funded by ourselves, though our trip there was partially sponsored by Tourism South Australia. All opinions expressed above are our own.

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Camping in Australia’s Red Center – Part II: Exploring Kata Tjuta http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/04/exploring-kata-tjuta/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/04/exploring-kata-tjuta/#comments Thu, 04 Apr 2013 14:35:35 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14233 Sunrise at Kata TjutaDawn had come and go. Rising at 5am was well worth it: the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta proved to be spectacular. After seeing Kata Tjuta from atop the sand dunes, it was now time to see it up close and learn about the many stories behind it. Our young and energetic guide Nick claimed [...]

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Have you missed Part I of camping in Australia’s Red Center? Head on over and read about Uluru and its Aboriginal roots first! There’s also Part III coming up next, stay tuned.

Dawn had come and go. Rising at 5am was well worth it: the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta proved to be spectacular. After seeing Kata Tjuta from atop the sand dunes, it was now time to see it up close and learn about the many stories behind it.

Our young and energetic guide Nick claimed this to be his favorite part of the trip, “At Uluru, we can only walk around its base and admire it from below. But here at Kata Tjuta, we get to walk in and around the site, and immerse deep within it.” He said that once, there was an Australian woman in his group who cried the whole time they were hiking in Kata Tjuta – because it was the most beautiful place she’d ever seen.

Sunrise at Kata Tjuta

Domes of the Olgas

We were eager to see Kata Tjuta’s beauty for ourselves and it wasn’t long before we were hiking along the Valley of the Winds route that snaked into and around the domes of Kata Tjuta. A cluster of large dome rock formations, Kata Tjuta is also known as the Olgas (because of the highest point Mount Olga). But don’t let this name fool you – the 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are assembled in such a unique and artistic way. From the base, we could see each dome rock pointing in a different direction, soaring into the sky like heads of giants. Perhaps that’s why the local Anangu named the site Kata Tjuta, meaning  ‘many heads’ in the Pitjantjajara language.

A cluster of large dome rock formations, Kata Tjuta is also known as the Olgas. But don’t let this name fool you – the 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are assembled in such a unique and artistic way.

Along the rocky trail

“Kata Tjuta is a very sacred spot, only suitable for initiated men.” From our hike in Uluru, we knew this whole national park was a sacred area for the local Anangu who have been lived here for approximately 20,000 years. But here in Kata Tjuta, most of  the sensitive spots are away from the walking trail.

“There are many Pitjantjatjara dreaming legends associated with this place. A number of legends surround the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season.” Tell us some of these legends, I urged Nick. “Unfortunately, the majority of mythology surrounding the site is not disclosed to outsiders.”

“There are many Pitjantjatjara dreaming legends associated with this place. A number of legends surround the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season.”

Following the trail

Ancient Rocks of History

As we continued to make our way deeper into the dome rocks, we found ourselves looking at the highest point of Kata Tjuta – Mount Olga, rising 1,066 m (3,497 ft) above sea level. It’s hard to imagine all these rocks date back to 500 million years, when they were all part of the Mount Currie Conglomerate.

Back in those days, these mountains were higher than the Himalayas but when Earth’s tectonic plates started separating, these mountains were lifted. Uluru was formed when part of the mountain got shifted 180 degrees, therefore resulting in a monolith; while Kata Tjuta was raised in various directions, causing the mound to be shattered into many domes.

Below the dome rocks

A lizard in the wild

On the surface of these sedimentary rocks, we could see striations, a result of different types of rocks mashed together. We also saw black stains on these rocks, a result of rainwater tricking down the rocks’ surface. Traipsing down these rocks, we found ourselves passing bearded dragons and galahs along the way – wildlife often found in the Central Australian desert.

By this time, the temperature was reaching 38 degrees Celsius, and the sun was blazing. We had started our hike at 7am so that we could walk in the morning temperatures but even though it’s hardly past 9am, we were soaked in sweat and finding it hard to cope with the weather. The trail was already closed for hikers and we had to finish our hike before 11am otherwise the extreme temperature might become a danger.

Soon we were climbing up steps that were naturally carved into the rock surface, towards the Karingana lookout point that led us way up towards the top of the valley. I struggled to keep up with the pace, the sun’s rays shining ferociously upon me, making it harder than before to continue. By the time we got to to the lookout point, we were drenched in sweat but thrilled to see a stunning panorama before us. The entire basin stretched out beneath us, with Uluru in the far distance. We sat and drank in the views, treating ourselves to some trail mix and snacks while taking some respite under the shade.

Hiking along the Valley of the Winds trail

Winding Down At Camp

The walk back down to our starting point was easier than before as we skipped and hopped down to the valley, past creek beds, and over dome rocks. That day, we walked a total of 7.4km in three and a half hours, a great feat considering the extreme weather.

In the evening, we drove over to Kings Creek Station, a cattle ranch that had been featured in the ‘Australian Story’, a TV series about how an Australian couple had bought the land and and made it their mission to help educate the local Aborigines. It’s a great success story and we were glad to have the opportunity to be part of this brilliant project.

Before dinner, we set off to explore the sparse forest that surrounded our campsite. According to Nick, there were wild camels and dingos in the area – but all we found were massive mounds of black ants. As the sun set, we began piling out the wooden branches that we’d picked up along the way, and started a fire. We were blessed with a great cook as our guide, and as Nick whipped up stir-fried chicken for dinner, we all helped out while chatting and having a great time in the kitchen shack. For dessert, he prepared his specialty dish – delicious bush bread that tasted like fragrant scones.

That night, we slept like babies, tucked comfortably under our swags to a view of the star-lit skies before us.

Camp fire at Kings Creek Station

TO BE CONTINUED…

Camping in Australia’s Red Center – Part III: Conquering Kings Canyon


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism Northern Territory and Wayoutback Desert Safaris for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

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Camping in the Red Center – Part I: Uluru and its Aboriginal Roots http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/03/uluru-and-its-aboriginal-roots/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/04/03/uluru-and-its-aboriginal-roots/#comments Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:30:08 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14212 sunrise at UluruDawn had yet to arrive, but the sounds of the desert had awoken me. I opened my eyes to the sounds of birds chirping and dingoes howling in the distance. A sky full of stars sprawled before me, the Milky Way running its course overhead. I listened to the desert orchestra and smiled to myself, [...]

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During our time in Australia, we did a camping safari in the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park and it was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip. Here’s Part 1 of our camping adventure in the Red Center. Continue to Part II and Part III to read the rest of the story.

Dawn had yet to arrive, but the sounds of the desert had awoken me. I opened my eyes to the sounds of birds chirping and dingoes howling in the distance. A sky full of stars sprawled before me, the Milky Way running its course overhead. I listened to the desert orchestra and smiled to myself, enjoying this rare moment of solitude to myself. It was a privilege to be here in Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, but even more so was the opportunity to camp out in this quiet and remote spot, and awaking to such a beautiful surrounding.

It was a beginning of a new day and the start of an action-packed day in Uluru. After a quick breakfast over the campfire, we packed up our swags, sleeping bags, and belongings and drove up a sand dune to watch the sun rise over Uluru and Katja Tjuta.

We didn’t have to wait for long:  Blinding rays of orange flashed across the vast desert like a laser light show. What was grey and black in the dawn light instantly came alive. The brooding Uluru was now painted in burgundy red, rising from a lime green plain of spinifex grass with patches of red sand in between. The stack of rock mountains at Kata Tjuta was illuminated in a shade of rose red, with striated lines of black and white running across their flaky surface. The fascinating transformation from night to day took place in a sheer matter of minutes – but it was a moment I would remember for life.

sunrise at Uluru

What was grey and black in the dawn light instantly came alive. The brooding Uluru was now painted in burgundy red, rising from a lime green plain of spinifex grass with patches of red sand in between.

Aboriginal Culture in the Outback

We were on a camping safari with Wayoutback Desert Safaris, spending three days in the national park camping, hiking, and exploring the area. The three main sites in the national park are Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon – all of which are considered sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the Red Center. Having lived here for a approximately 20,000 years, the Anangu have a particularly close relationship with their land – surviving entirely on what the bush provides for food, education and spiritual development. Today, the traditional landowners continue to live here, protecting and managing the World Heritage Site.

The day before, we had started our trip from Alice Springs, a gateway town in the Outback. Led by our young and feisty guide Nick, we drove almost 335km (208 miles) through vast fields of red sand and green spinifex along with 16 other campers on board a massive 4WD truck. The Stuarts Highway, that connects the top end of Australia all the way to the southern edge, brought us right into the heart of the Red Center. Along the way, we saw falcons flying overhead and giant lizards crossing the road. Sometimes we drove for miles without seeing anyone else in sight – that was the sign that we were heading further away from civilization and closer towards the our destination.

 Having lived here for a approximately 20,000 years, the Anangu have a particularly close relationship with their land – surviving entirely on what the bush provides for food, education and spiritual development.

Our overlanding truck

Our first stop was the Uluru Cultural Centre, where we hungrily devoured interesting information about the area’s cultural heritage and tradition. Here, we learnt about the Anangu, one of the 500 different Aboriginal tribes that live all over Australia. They speak mainly Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pigeon-jarrah) and Yankunytjatjara (pronounced as young-kun-jarrah), each of which only boast 4,000 speakers.

Having been named Ayers Rock by the Europeans who arrived later, Uluru is now once again known by its Aboriginal name. When I asked Nick about the meaning of Uluru and how it came about, he explained, “The word Uluru has no specific meaning in Pitjantjatjara, it’s merely the name of a place, although the place itself holds very special meaning for the Anangu.”

From the base of Uluru

Dreaming and Songlines

So why is Uluru such a sacred spot for the Anangu?

When we arrived at the base of Uluru, Nick pointed at the monolithic rock mountain rising above the sand before us and said in an almost poetic fashion, “Look at it. How many monoliths like this do you see in the world?” Spotting big blond dreadlocks, Nick looked like a new-age hippie but he had an endless thirst for Aboriginal knowledge and he was as curious and intrigued by his own country as we were.

We stood staring at the majestic Uluru, thought for a moment and nodded in unison. In the morning sun, Uluru spotted a perfect dome-shaped silhouette. There was nothing surrounding it, except for flat desert plains that ran for miles. It was as though God had purposefully molded it into what it is today – a flawless mound of red sandstone, standing lonesome and majestic in the middle of the desert. There really isn’t any monolith as big and perfectly sculpted as Uluru anywhere else.

the start of the trail

Because Uluru is considered sacred, this spot often appeared in Aboriginal Tjukurpa (pronounced ‘chook-orr-pa’) stories. Tjukurpa has many deep, complex meanings – even the Aboriginals themselves find it a concept hard to explain. In general, Tjukurpa refers to the creation period when ancestral beings created the world. From this came their religious heritage, explaining their existence and guiding their daily life. Like religions anywhere in the world, Tjukurpa provides answers to important questions, the rules for behavior and for living together.

Many of the rock paintings on Uluru show scenes from Aboriginal dreaming, which explain how the rock was created and how some cracks came about on Uluru. Scientifically speaking, the cracks and flakes on Uluru are formed by the extreme cooling of water beneath the rock layer (which freezes at night and then expands in the day, which causes the cracking). But the Anangu think otherwise and they’ve got plenty of stories to show their side of it.

Because Uluru is considered sacred, this spot often appeared in Aboriginal Tjukurpa stories. Tjukurpa has many deep, complex meanings – even the Aboriginals themselves find it a concept hard to explain.

The rocks told many stories – those of the Anangu and of the Europeans. We came upon drawings of camels on the walls. Nick explained that these paintings were done during the 1850s when Europeans arrived with camels. The first European who came was Ernest Giles, who first sighted Uluru in 1872 and climbed the monolith with the help of an Afghan camel driver. This spot became the classroom for the Anangu children, who all came here to learn about the dreaming stories.

Meandering further along the base of Uluru, Nick picked out plants like the bush fig and wattle (Australia’s national flower), which fed the Anangu for centuries. Even now, it is still part of the Aboriginal culinary tradition, which we would learn about later during a Mbauta dinner with an Aboriginal chef. Continuing on our walk, we found a part of the rock formation that resembled a wave. Nick told us this was the kitchen for the Anangu. There was a grinding area where they used to ground wattle seeds and drain blood from kangaroos. They usually barbecued the kangaroos for a short while and ate them almost raw as the meat would have more moisture in them.

By this time, the sun was blazing even though it was only 11am. Temperatures at Uluru can rise up to 42 degrees Celsius and dip to a low of 5 at night. To escape the extreme heat of Uluru, we headed back to the camp. Nick grilled some thick juicy Australian sausages and we all gathered for a quick lunch, before heading back to the base of Uluru for another evening walk. There are several hiking routes along the base and it takes several days to walk all of them.

in the Aboriginal kitchen

Uluru’s Modern Day Problems

When tourism in Uluru started in the 1940s, the white Europeans drove the Aboriginals out as they didn’t want them in the area when tourists were taking photos. The Anangu suffered in silence, left their sacred land, and retreated deeper into the desert. Fortunately in the 1970s, the land was eventually returned to the Anangu.

They now have a shared management program with the government authorities, which means both parties maintain the site, protect it and make any Uluru-related decisions together. On the board of authorities, half of the members are Aboriginals and the other half are white Australian government officials. The board ensures that visitors to the site adhere to both Aboriginal laws and Australian rules.

Uluru from below

Photography of sacred sites is not allowed and no other animals are allowed to be brought into the park. Climbing Uluru is strongly discouraged as it is considered disrespectful to the Aboriginals; but it is not completely banned, so some people still attempt the climb. Each year around 40 climbers die, because of the danger involved (some slip and fall, others suffer from the heat). Some of these climbers hike and camp on the top, which often destroys the environment considering how fragile Uluru is. I personally think that as travelers, we should always respect the locals, regardless of where we are in the world and as such, I would never attempt the climb.

Continuing further along the trail, we came across an area with burnt vegetation. Nick explained that the vegetation was just recently burnt by a young Aboriginal boy. The Aborigines like to burn vegetation so that new plants can grow and that would give them more food. This has become quite a serious problem in Australia, and we’ve seen it in other parts of the country as well. Thankfully, Nick said that the burning in Uluru is controlled now.

Right before ending our walk, someone in the group pointed out to a giant lizard standing on a rock surface. It was a perentie, Australia’s largest reptile. We watched in awe, amazed to find a creature of this size running wild in the desert. It stood staring at us for a long time, before sneaking off into the seams of the rock.

Stumbling upon a perentie

Sunset at Uluru

By the time we finished our walk, it was the perfect time to catch the sun set over Uluru. We drove out to a nearby lookout point, but sadly we were not the only ones there – a whole row of tourist buses and campervans had already gathered here to watch the spectacle.

“When sun is low, the sky becomes red because of the infrared rays that penetrate through the atmosphere. And when that happens, Uluru will become red too.” Nick shared with us.

Along with probably hundreds of other tourists, we stood with our cameras ready, anticipation and tension piercing the air. Soon enough, the color of the rock changed quickly from sandy brown to orange and eventually bright red. As Nick said, Uluru was now shrouded in a shade of vermillion red, glowing like a tungsten light bulb against a clear cloudless sky. Everyone went silent, watching the phenomenon in awe.

Sunset at Uluru

As the magical moment passed us, Nick popped open a bottle of champagne and we clinked glasses in celebration of the moment. Platters of cheese and crackers were served and everyone was in high spirits; Nick was spoiling us terribly. Back at the campsite, night fell and we were quick to get started on cooking. The guys helped Nick start the fire while some of us girls started chopping, dicing and washing. It was plenty of fun getting to know our group of travelers from different corners of the world – made up of a Norwegian couple, an outgoing Canadian brother and sister team, an American girl traveling solo around Australia for a year, and two young German boys who had just graduated from college.

That night, we sat by the campfire and tucked into a hearty meal of pasta bolognaise and chocolate cake, chatting and laughing as Nick told us campfire stories. Under the starry skies, we tucked into our sleeping bags and swags and dozed off – dreaming about what would await us the next day.

Camping in Uluru

TO BE CONTINUED…. 

Camping in the Red Center Part II: Exploring Kata Tjuta


Additional Info:

The weather conditions in Uluru can be very extreme, with blazing heat in the day and cool desert temperature at night. We visited in October and the heat was really extreme. I fell sick after a day under the sun. Be sure to bring lots of water and hydration salt with you and wear layers for the extreme weather. Hiking at the base of Uluru is rather easy and straightforward, the longest hike we did at Uluru was three-hour long but it was a flat path. If you’re hiking on your own, be sure to time your walks with the coolest time of the day (either before 8am or after 5pm).


Disclaimer: Thanks to Tourism Northern Territory and Wayoutback Desert Safaris for making this trip possible! While the trip was sponsored, all opinions expresses above are our own.

The post Camping in the Red Center – Part I: Uluru and its Aboriginal Roots appeared first on Wild Junket.

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