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Explore your own backyard

There were three things I brought home from central Australia: a greater knowledge of Indigenous culture, spectacular scenery imprinted on my mind, and a lot of red dirt stuck to my shoes.

Words: Jeremy Rochow

There’s nothing like exploring your own backyard. It gives you a greater appreciation of what you’ve got so close to home.

I'll never forget my first trip to Uluru. As the plane descended, I caught a glimpse of the giant red behemoth, rising above the surrounding landscape.

The traditional custodians of Uluru and surrounding areas, the Anangu people, have a spiritual connection to this land and believe it was created by their ancestors.

The 348m-high rock is the centrepiece of some of these beliefs, but you’ll quickly find there are plenty of other places in the region to explore as well.

Walk to the Valley of the Winds

The ancient dome-like rock formations of Kata Tjuta rise above the dunes, towering over the speckle of green native trees which are scattered around the boulders like an Aboriginal dot painting.

Picturesque views are the norm at Kata Tjuta, but the Karingana lookout is the most spectacular of the lot.

Orange and red hues of cascading rock – created by the oxidisation of minerals in the dirt – frame a spectacular image of gigantic boulders and green tree tops contrasted by the blue sky.

The best time to take the 8km hike through Kata Tjuta is in the early morning as the sun begins to rise, before the crowds of people arrive.

This will give you a chance to absorb the breathtaking views and watch the shadows slowly disappear, creating the illusion that the rocks are changing from a deep rouge to a light orange colour.

Try your hand at dot painting

Following the hike, it’s time to take a load off and relax a little. In front of me lies a small black canvas, some paints and a couple of brushes.

My task is to tell my own story through dot painting – not an easy feat for somebody who can only draw stick figures. My teacher, local Anangu artist Valerie, has shown me a few traditional Aboriginal symbols to work with, and now sits underneath a tree working on her own piece of artwork.

I tentatively begin painting, first a few Indigenous symbols, then the dots. For thousands of years, the Anangu people have passed their stories down from generation to generation.

The Maruku Indigenous Dot Painting Workshop gives you a chance to learn more about Aboriginal painting, culture and the symbols they’ve used to tell their stories for thousands of years.

During the workshop you’ll also learn a few introductory Pitjantjatjara words – the local language spoken by the Anangu.

Eat bush tucker under the stars at Tali Wiru

The term bush tucker should be used lightly here, because Tali Wiru is a four-hour fine dining experience combining Indigenous flavours with modern cooking techniques.

Before sitting down for dinner under the stars, I’m offered a spectacular view of Uluru in the fading light, backed by the sounds of a didgeridoo.

Canapés of compressed cucumber with gulguk (green ant) gin and tonic, and kangaroo and quandong pie are presented to guests as they enjoy the picturesque view.

The Tali Wiru chef then appears with a bowl bursting with the colourful ingredients they’ll be cooking. Finger limes, wattle seed, lemon myrtle, bush tomatoes, desert quandongs and pigface succulents are all on the menu.

These traditional Indigenous ingredients truly shine over the next few hours, in a range of dishes inspired by the surrounding landscape.

Beetroot is baked with foraged spinifex and desert oak, and freeze-dried finger limes and crocodile skin accompany a Spencer Gulf prawn.

Following the main course, the lights go out and everyone’s attention turns to the stars in the night sky. A storyteller shares Indigenous tales as we gaze to the heavens. Without any city lights obstructing the view, the stars shine bright and the

Milky Way appears resplendent. From one spectacle to another, dessert is a performance in itself. A wave of waiters descend upon our tables with a dish of

Davidson plum, lemon myrtle, quandong and a small chocolate disc. The theatre isn’t over yet, with the waiter pouring hot chocolate over the disc, melting it into the dish.

The night draws to a close in true Northern Territory fashion with tea and a yarn by the fire.

Visit the Field of Light

Like the desert after a splash of rain, thousands of lights begin to flicker and come to life as darkness encroaches and Uluru fades into the background.

The lights – all 50,000 of them – are part of an art installation by British artist Bruce Munro and represent the convergence of the land and culture that he saw at Uluru.

Stems are bunched together in various colours, creating the illusion that you’re walking through a field of wildflowers.

As the moon replaces the sun in the sky, you can stroll through the Field of Light, admiring the artist’s creation and the work it would’ve taken to create such a masterpiece in a remote location like this.

This spectacle can be experienced in a variety of ways. Ride a camel to the art installation as the sun sets before enjoying canapés and champagne, or rise early and catch a glimpse of the lights before the sun comes up.

You can even enjoy a buffet dinner before going on a guided tour of the installation.

Explore Uluru… without climbing it

It’s my last night in central Australia, and I want one final look at Uluru while the sun sets.

A 15-minute walk from the resort at Yulara is the uncrowded Uluru lookout, which affords a stunning view of the formidable chunk of sandstone towering over the rest of the landscape.

As the sun begins to set, a white and pink haze forms on the horizon, and the last bit of light splashes across Uluru.

Uluru is one of the most impressive landmarks in Australia, and there are a few ways to explore it.

Walking around the rock is probably the cheapest way to discover every nook and cranny open to the public. It can take about four hours to circumnavigate though, so plenty of time is needed.

The Mala Walk is one of the more spectacular walks at Uluru, finishing at Kantju Gorge and waterhole at the base of the rock.

Here, you’ll be confronted with the sheer scale of the rock face – which resembles red slate – rising up at a right angle from the ground. If you’re looking for an alternative to walking, you can hire a bike from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre. This can cut the travel time around Uluru to about two hours.

However, if you want a truly unique experience, an Uluru Segway Tour might be the perfect way to get around. A fully trained guide will tell you Tjukurpa stories – tales about how Uluru was created, which provide ancestors with important life lessons – as you cruise around the rock on a Segway. 

Top Tip 

The Territory is a huge place, before setting out to explore your own backyard make sure you take out roadside assistance.  Nothing spoils a trip more than being stuck on the side of the road.

Being a member of the AANT entitles you to roadside assistance 24/7 with additional benefits for all of our members.  Interested? 

FIND OUT MORE

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