Post 22 of an ongoing series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
We couldn’t leave Uluru for Alice Springs without watching the sunrise over the outback, nor without seeing the Red Centre’s second most famous rock. So we made our last morning in Ayers Rock Resort a very early one, driving off in the darkness to watch the sunrise over Kata Tjuta.
We parked at the Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing sunrise area and looked across to the bumpy line of rocks making up Kata Tjuta. Being more spread out and irregularly shaped, it has less of a visual impact than the singular block of Uluru; but for the same reasons it offers more interesting features to see from such a distance. In the twilight, Kata Tjuta’s many lumps and bumps could have been mistaken for a giant sleeping dinosaur.
Much like watching the sunset over Uluru, watching the sunrise over Kata Tjuta was an exceptionally beautiful and serene experience. As the sky became lighter, the rock revealed more and more of its secrets. The sun itself rose closer to Uluru, which we could just see on the horizon. It made for a spectacular sight.
Once the sun was up, we waited until everyone else had left to take some photos of ourselves with the rock (the image at the top!). Afterwards, we managed to get back to Desert Gardens Hotel in time for our last amazing breakfast in the White Gums restaurant. We granted the beautiful hotel and resort a fond farewell before loading up the car with several large water bottles and a packed lunch each.
We drove out of Ayers Rock Resort, took the one road other than that leading to Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park, and as easily as that we were on our way. A very long, straight, almost completely featureless road lay ahead, taking us miles and miles away from civilisation. We turned on the music and I fell asleep while Steve ensured we didn’t hit any wildlife.
Halfway along this first stretch, Steve spotted a dusty parking area opposite a ramshackle trucker’s stop. We parked up just to stretch our legs, have some of our lunch and use the shed-like toilet. Back in the car and further down the long road, the next event was the single, crucial turning we had to make to get to Alice Springs – if we turned the wrong way here we’d end up down in Adelaide again!
Thankfully we chose the right direction and began driving up the single road connecting the South and the North of the continent, with Adelaide at one end and Darwin at the other. The road was almost empty the entire way, but the vehicles we did pass were like none we’d ever seen before: road trains. These monstrous trucks and lorries are so large that they literally would not fit on European roads. The several times that one came past, we had to slow down and pull to the road’s edge to avoid the vehicle’s double-lane-hogging width. We turned our heads to watch as entire houses sped past, mounted on the road trains like boxes.
We made one more stop at a picnic area just off the road, which was nothing more than some picnic benches, a tap and a portaloo. The sun and even the air had become scorchingly hot, making being outside of the air-conditioned Ute almost agonising. We stepped out just long enough to sit at a picnic bench and eat the remainder of our lunches before ducking back inside our cool haven.
About an hour later we drove past the Welcome to Alice Springs sign, rejoicing that we’d successfully made it through the desert! Despite Alice Springs having a very simple grid layout, it took us a few circles round to match our printed-out map to the roads and find our hotel.
Booking a hotel here had been an exercise in ‘making do’ – we only had one night here, and there was a shortage of airbnb properties and nice but affordable hotels. So I’d booked us in at The Diplomat – a utilitarian set of apartment blocks set around a fenced pool and a Wetherspoons-like pub. The woman at the check-in desk handed over our keys as if just to get rid of us, and we proceeded to drag our luggage up a creaking metal staircase around the outside of the building, and to dump them in our room.
By the time we’d returned the Ute to another hotel nearby, and schlepped our way back through town to our hotel, I was sweaty, sunburnt and a few insect bites up. The heat was excruciating. Our drab and dated hotel room became an oasis, purely due to its powerful air conditioning. There was nothing for it but to strip off, take a cold shower and collapse beneath the cooling vent.
The heat in Uluru pushed me to the limit. But arriving in Alice Springs seemed to have pushed us both over the precipice. Steve had lost his appetite (an extraordinary occurrence) and our exhaustion and dread of the outside world drove me to do something I’d never done before: order room service.
It was an excellent first time. A friendly woman arrived at our door with the biggest chimichanga I’d ever seen, like a goddess proffering deep-fried salvation. I ate it while sat on the bed, in my dressing gown, watching tv, in the midst of an air-con hurricane – bliss – and didn’t move again all night. Tomorrow, we would explore Alice Springs and begin our second Great Southern Rail Journey, this time aboard The Ghan.