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A voyage to the Red Centre

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23 May 2013 by Alex Brossler

Alex Brosslers shares the details of his recent voyage to Australia's Red Centre.

Day 1

This morning I was up early to catch the direct flight to Alice Springs. There is only one direct Qantas flight a day which departs at around 9am, so you have to be at the domestic airport at about 8am.

The flight from Sydney to Alice Spring takes just over 3 hours. I arrived early afternoon and I had a shared transfer arranged to take me to my hotel. It takes around 20-30 minutes depending on which hotel you stay at and how many drop off there are before yours. I was staying at the Chifley Hotel, which is a 5-10 minute walk from the main street.

Chifley Hotel
The 3.5-star hotel has large rooms, is clean and comfortable, but a little dated. For the time that you spend in your hotel in Alice Springs though, it's quite enough.

I would say that the location of the property isn't the best, especially as Aurora Hotel is a little more up-to-date and a two-minute walk from the main street.
I had the afternoon free so I took the time to have a walk around the town centre. This didn't take long but I did find the main street, which was very interesting with lots of shops with local artists works and places to buy a head net, which you will need later on in the trip.

Alice Springs

Day 2

Today I joined the West MacDonnell Ranges & town full day tour with AAT Kings. I was picked up at 7am from the hotel to start the trip. There were only seven people on the tour from a maximum of 10.

We first headed to Simpsons Gap but on the way we have a quick stop at John Flynn's Memorial. John Flynn is the founder of the Royal Flying Doctors.

We then headed on to Simpsons Gap, which took about 20 minutes. Our guide Jill explained the history of the area and also told us the names of the surrounding mountains and how they were named.

We arrive at the car park of Simpsons Gap. The air was still fresh, but the sun had come up and the temperature was warming up quickly. Simpsons Gap is a stunning gorge carved out of the West MacDonnell Ranges by Roe Creek, where water flows through a small gap in the range.

We made the five-minute walk down to the gap with Jill who pointed out some black-footed Wallabies, which were coming out for the morning sun. Jill made her way back to the bus to arrange our morning tea break. We had the chance to have a look around the area and noticed there was some water still at the basin of the gap from some rain in the previous month.

After a wander around we head back to the bus for morning tea in the rising sun. We jumped back on the bus and headed to Standley Chasm, which is another 20 minutes drive from Simpsons Gap. Standley Chasm is named after the first teacher in Alice Springs. You walk into the chasm along a stony watercourse lined with many different native trees, which are fed by a constant trickle of water that runs down from Standley Chasm.

We make our way back down to the gift shop café for lunch, which consisted of sandwiches and crisps. I then head back to Alice Springs where I am dropped off to have a walk around before my afternoon town tour.

I was picked up by another AAT King bus for the afternoon town tour. We first visited the ‘School of the Air' - known as the largest classroom in the World. Alice Springs School of the Air was established in 1951 to provide an educational resource to primary school students living in remote central Australia. Students study at home with a home tutor and join with a teacher for a regular live class lessons broadcast via satellite from the studio in Alice Springs.

We watched a short video about the history of the school and how it was started, what technology was used in the beginning, right up to the technologies used today. After the video we watched a live lesson from the viewing room. The visit to the School of the Air was a great way to see where the children lived and how they were all brought together in one classroom.

After class we moved onto Alice Springs first settlement, the original telegraph station. Did you know that Alice Springs was actually called Stewart up until 1932? The original buildings have been rebuilt and are more of a museum showing how they used to live back in the day.

We next went to the HQ of the Royal Flying Doctors. We watched an interesting short film of the history of the flying doctors, finding out how Rev John Flynn had set up the airline company that has saved so many live since 1928. They now have 21 bases with 61 planes and over 270,000 patients.

Next we visited Alice Springs Reptile centre. Now if you are like me and are not the biggest fan of snakes this might not be the place for you. I still went in as there are lots of very cool lizards and I just stayed away from the snake cabinets, they had some really big pythons on display.

Frank, the owner of the centre, was a fountain of knowledge telling us the differences between all the different snakes and lizards, as well as what to do if are bitten by a snake and what to wear when in areas with snakes in - all very good advice. There is an amazing surprise at the end of the tour but I wont ruin that for you.

We ended the tour on the top of Anzac Hill with a beautiful sun set over Alice Springs. Drop offs then begin and you can be dropped in town or at your hotel.

Northern Territory

Day 3

AAT Kings call and confirmed my pick up time the night before, so I was ready for the pick up after breakfast at the hotel.

We set off down the Stewart Highway and head towards Ayers Rock. The total journey is 455km and it takes about six hours in total. They do stop every one and a half hours, which really does break up the trip so you don't think you have been on the road all day.

We drive the first leg through the MacDonnell and James Ranges, viewing the rugged scenery of the Outback along the way. We visit a camel farm, where there is the time for a short camel ride and later stop at the Mt Ebenezer roadhouse for the morning tea and the opportunity to purchase locally made Aboriginal art.
There's time for a quick pause at the majestic Atila (Mt Conner) before arriving at Ayers Rock. The tour concluded at around 1pm at which time the hotel drop offs commence.

Sails in the Desert Hotel
This is a great hotel, which has just had a refurbishment in the past year and looks great. The whole hotel feels really open and it has a big outdoor pool with loads of space so you can relax. The rooms are styled with an Aboriginal theme, light colours, large comfortable bed and a spacious en-suite bathroom. Each room also has a balcony, which has partial views over the rock.

Alice hotel

Day 4

Our tour guide, Jess from SEIT Tours, picked me up at 2pm from my hotel lobby for an Uluru Sunset Half Day tour. We head out to the national park and on the way there Jess gives us the background of the area from when westerners took over the land to when it was finally given back to in 1985.

The first stop on the trip was the iconic viewing area where all the postcards of the rock are taken from. We had some time to take some pictures before moving on to the base of the rock.

We park the bus at the bottom of the path that goes up the rock. You can walk up the rock, but the guides prefer you don't, as it is sacred to the Aboriginals. I would have really liked to walk up, but in respect to the tour guide I opted out, as did the others in the group. I think if you want to walk up the rock you should keep some spare time and make you own way down and do the walk then. There are transfers from the resort to the rock leaving throughout the day.

We take a walk around the base of the rock and we are told stories about different features of the rock. The walk is not strenuous at all so it is suitable for all health ranges. I get really up close to the rock even inside it in some areas. There is lots of Aboriginal art to be seen throughout the tour and our guide Jess explains what some of it means.

We make it back to the van and drive round to another side of the rock. We jump out and head for another easy walk along the base of the rock. We see more of the rock's features and more artwork.

We then moved on to a viewing point for sunset, which was amazing. We were served sparkling wine and given some nibbles before the show began.

After the show had finished we were taken back to the resort and dropped at our hotel were we were left to enjoy dinner in one of the restaurants. I chose to eat at the Pioneer.


Day 5

I rose early this morning for the SEIT Kata Tjuta Sunrise half-day tour, which included breakfast. We traveled out to the national park to the entrance of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We made the 40-km journey through the desert landscape to the mighty rock formation. On arrival at the viewing area we walk to the best vantage point to see the 36 domes that comprise this spiritual place while watching the sun's morning glow as the desert comes alive.

After the sun had risen we head to the western side of kata Tjuta where there is the opportunity to relax and enjoy breakfast. This was made up of cereal and coffee, toast and jam. After breakfast we approach the entrance to Walpa Gorge, named after the wind that blows through the two domes.

We walk through the Gorge to the end, which was a relief with the wind. Since getting to Ayers Rock, mostly outside of the resort, the flies are relentless. The seven-dollar head net I had bought was a godsend and I could relax and enjoy the walk without them bothering me as much.

We return to the resort around 11.15am.


Longitude 131
From my visit to Longitude I found it to be a totally different experience. When you arrive at the airport, a private transfer takes you straight to the main tent of the resort. You are checked in and taken through your itinerary for the next two or three days. After that you are taken to one of the 15 luxury tents.

The main tent is made up of the dinning room and a library, which is stocked with literature about the Uluru.

Each of the separate tents has an undisturbed view of the rock, and large space with a King size bed and an open plan bathroom situated behind the partition wall behind the bed.

The rooms are very relaxing and use of natural colours, which reflect those outside. If you are looking for a secluded experience, beautiful views and a high standard of service, then pick the Longitude.

Sound of Silence
In the evening I was picked up for the award-winning Sound of Silence meal and taken a short distance to a sand dune where we mingle and enjoy a glass or two of bubbles. After watching the sun go down we are led through to the dining area. The tables are set as they would be for any function, but in this case you are surrounded by sand dunes and the open sky. We are sat down and welcomed with some traditional Aboriginal dance. We enjoy the food and drink while we see the stars reveal themselves in the night sky. The resident star talker then gives us a guided tour of the night sky. We then locate the Southern Cross, the signs of the zodiac, the Milky Way, as well as planets and galaxies that are visible due to the exceptional clarity of the atmosphere.

Day 6

I take the afternoon flight from Ayers Rock back to Sydney.

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