Monday, June 08, 2009

The Red Center

Northern Territory, Central Outback Australia

After far too long in Sydney, rainy days that just would not stop, including a very wet and mild journey to the Blue Mountains, we took a sunny respite to Arlie Beach in the tropic of Capricorn and then on to a three-day SCUBA diving cruise around the Whitsunday islands and outer Great Barrier Reef. We flew back down to Brisbane, a city on a winding river, just inland from the East Coast and about halfway down the country. We spent one night, more concerned with finding a good, cheap dinner and a full night's sleep, than seeing the sights of the city.

(Brisbane from the plane)

In the morning we flew to Alice Springs, the red, dead-center of the Australian Outback. The tourism pull for Alice Springs is a place called Uluru, the site of a giant, red, sandstone monolyth, the largest in the world, alone in the flat desert. We found upon landing that Uluru, or "the rock" as the locals called it, was a four hour drive South, pending safe travels at 90 mph, past suicidal Kangaroos, cattle, wild horses and giant, wild camels.

At the airport, a tall, kind, young African man working for one of the hostels in town, gave us the phone number for a car rental company called "Central," the only one in Alice Springs with unlimited kilometers. Clint tipped the African man five dollars for his altruism, Central picked us up from the airport for free and with warm hearts, having saved hundreds of dollars, we were off, into the heart of the outback.

(Camel that wandered across the road in front of us)

Driving at night is strongly cautioned against in the outback. There are no fences, dusk is the main feeding time for wombats, there are more than two million human sized kangaroos in the Northern territory, cattle wander unfenced, nine foot tall wild camels strut across the road, packs of wild horses run free and giant desert eagles munch on the roadkill, taking off over your hood like Pterodactyls. Then there are the road trains. In the U.S., eighteen wheeler tractor-trailers rule the interstates. In Central Australia, 700 horse-power super trucks, three times the size of their American cousins roar across the desert, pulling three double-decker trailers at 130 kph. Overtaking them is nothing short of exhilarating.

We arrived just after dusk, at the Ayer's Rock (Uluru) Resort, a hospitality monopoly within eye shot of the rock. Our overpriced beds in our 20 man dorm were the most comfortable on our trip so far. The resort was boring, but with it being the off-season and the only overcast days of the year, it was to be expected. We rose before dawn and drove into the park, paying twenty five dollars AUS for a three day pass. There are two parking areas, one for the sunset side and one for the sunrise. The rock was shrouded in a mid-rise cloud that never lifted.

(Uluru, shrouded in fog at dawn)

We drove back and took a nap before heading over to the other side of the park to see Kata Tjuta (formerly called "The Olgas"). We did the short hike into one of the canyons. The peaks of Kata Tjuta are actually higher than Uluru and walking between them made us feel tiny.

(The steep sandstone walls of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas))

We drove back over to Uluru and took our time walking the nine kilometer trail around the rock, almost missing sunset. It was still overcast, but our view of the rock was unobstructed and Jonathan shot a good time-lapse of still images on the RAW setting using his Canon 5D Mark II.

A group decision was made to check out the following morning, so that we could take a 350 km detour to hike Kings Canyon, petrified ancient sand dunes, split down the middle by shear 270 meter high cliff faces. As we drove in we were pleased to find the park to be free. The dense clouds broke revealing a blue sky and we slapped on sunscreen in the parking lot, elated by the vitamin D finally coursing through our veins. The hike was great fun and a unique landscape of barren red undulating sandstone.

(Photo by Jonathan Nicholas)

We spotted a large kangaroo and chased him off the track, having to lower ourselves down a small chasm and across a still pool to find our way back out of the park.

(Anton chasing a kangaroo, video still frames - click for larger image)

The clouds closed behind us as we drove through the arch of a rainbow on our way out of the park. Dusk turned into darkness and it was a harrowing three-hour drive to a desolate rest area called Erldunda. Our hostel room would be a fantastic setting for a horror movie; we were all happy to have each other’s company and we bought each other three rounds of beers to celebrate a safe end to the evening.

It was a smooth, fast drive back into Alice Springs, where we enjoyed a nice lunch at the café inside the Royal Flying Doctors museum, a little hidden gem in the city. Now we are flying back to Brisbane via Sydney; twelve hours of driving in two days before we fly from Sydney back to L.A. on June fifth. The plan is to turn the footage Jonathan has been shooting into a pilot, then to sell that pilot and turn this adventure into a lifestyle.

More pics from Anton's facebook here.

2 comments:

Martha Elaine Belden said...

wow

andy said...

so bad-a, bro! i've been talking you up to my crew here in cashville. can't wait to see your film!!!