Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 11: Kata Tjuta Up Close

November 25, 2010

Another restless night with long patches of sleeplessness. Something’s up as I’m usually a good sleeper and have slept soundly most of the trip thus far. The sky is covered with a thick blanket of clouds and the smell of rain is in the air. A perfect day for a hike!

We decide to leave camp set up for a second night and drive the 23kms into the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Camping isn’t allowed outside of designated areas and we aren’t keen to spend time in a crowded campground after our outback isolation.

Driving towards Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) elicits the same weird feelings as yesterday when we first saw them. They rise higher and higher until we are right up next to them, towering domes of solid rock, painted with white and black stripes from organic run-off – not dissimilar to Aboriginal paintings we’ve seen. As we meander up the first track, we watch as quick-footed tourists, fresh off an “Aussie Outback Tours” bus, pass us, their heads bent and eyes on the ground in front of them. We have to wait out a pain episode for Johan and by the time we’re ready to start again, the tourists have up-and-backed. I’m lucky to have the trail and the viewing platform all to myself as I leave Johan to saunter at a slower gait.

Silence surrounds the immense walls of pock-marked stone. Birds flutter nearby and their calls echo against the crevice of the canyon.

The second trail has several options in length, the longest option a 7.4km loop that takes you deep into one of the canyons and around one of the 34 domes that make up Kata Tjuta. The heat wave has abated and we’re blessed with a ‘cool’ day, ca. 30˚. As I commence the walk, a light rain starts up and cools my still-hot skin. This longer route officially closes at 11am to protect people from the intense heat of hiking in the middle of the day, but I bypass the sign, sure that the grey skies and rain will aid me. Again, I’m lucky to experience most of the trek without the distraction of other walkers and their variety of noises. I sit for a long period inside the canyon gazing at the images made from holes and black streaks on the red walls and breathing in the silence. It is not hard to enter the space where Aboriginals live, who find this place so special, so sacred.

Trekking down the other side of the canyon I stop to listen to the one-pointed whistle of a persistent bird as it echoes against the walls. I turn my head when I hear a rustle in the bush near where I’m standing. A kangaroo, not 5 meters away, is quietly munching on shrubs, seemingly unperturbed by my clomping footsteps. He gazes my way, but still isn’t bothered by my presence, and continues his lunch. I sit and watch for maybe five minutes until eventually he quietly hops away.

When I return, Johan has just finished changing a tyre on the car. The pressure was very low on a back tyre when we set out this morning and he’s certain there’s a slow leak. We’ve driven 1000kms on a rough, gravelly dirt road and are lucky to have suffered only one flat, and this far into the trip.

We return to camp in the mid-afternoon and enjoy a leisurely time, walking, reading, writing, meditating. The night is cool and I put on long pants and a fleece jacket for the first time in over a week. Tomorrow we leave the dirt road and what is likely the most remote part of the Outback Way. The Red Centre awaits, with all its marvel and appeal to world travelers. Our experience of solitude is soon to change as we share the outback with others.

Joan writing her stories...


  1. Joan - Tam sent me to your blog. Thanks for the lovely writing - I get a mysterious feeling of what it must be like while I sit here in my warm room looking out at the cool autumn day in Massachusetts. Best wishes for your continued travels.

  2. Thanks David! Nice to see your Buddha face on the blog!