Red Centre of Australia (2007)
In Spring 2007, I fulfilled one of my ambitions, which was to drive along the famous Mereenie Loop dirt track through the Red Centre of Australia. I rented a 4WD campervan (Toyota Landcruiser) in Alice Springs and spent two days driving the 650km to Ayer's Rock. Then, after a few days exploring that area, I returned to Alice the "quick way," which is just 450km via the Stuart Highway. You can see my route on the map below.
The first 130km of the drive were on a paved road (asphalt) alongside the beautiful West MacDonnell Range of mountains.
After Glen Helen, I started on the Mereenie Loop and drove for more than 220km along the dirt track to King's Canyon. What an incredible experience! I only saw two other vehicles on the track but there were lots of camels and wild horses. There were no buildings at all and it really felt like the middle of nowhere.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself driving through this amazing scenery when I hit a pothole and a stone punctured my tyre. I was a hundred kilometres from anywhere and the temperature was over 40 degrees Centigrade, so I was a bit panicky! It took a while and I was certainly feeling the effects of the heat, but I managed to put on the spare tyre and continued on my way. I'd only gone another couple of kilometres when I hit another pothole and braked hard so I could jump out to check the tyres. Luckily I hadn't damaged them, but I realized that I had already used the one and only spare so, if I had another puncture, I was going to be in deep trouble. After that I drove very slowly indeed and avoided all the holes. It was a great relief to get to King's Canyon in one piece!
King's Canyon is a remarkable place and the hike around the rim of the canyon is one of the "must-do" things on any trip to the Red Centre.
From King's Canyon, I drove another 300km down to Ayer's Rock (Uluru) and stayed at the Ayer's Rock Campground, which was very comfortable. The campground is not far from Ayer's Rock itself, so I went to watch the sunset on the evening I arrived. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to be too impressed because I'd seen Ayer's Rock countless times in books, on posters and on TV, but I must admit that it was an awe-inspiring sight. Just huge! The colour and the scale were so much more impressive than any image I'd ever seen. It's easy to understand why this rock is holy to the Aborigine people.
The climb to the top of Ayer's Rock was closed due to the high temperature (almost 50 degrees), but we are asked not to climb anyway because the rock is sacred. I didn't mind because the 10km walk around the rock was one of the highlights of my trip. Luckily for me, all of the other visitors were doing the short walk that goes from the car park to the rock and back, so I was alone for the whole of my hike, which was wonderful. I was able to really enjoy the scenery and the wildlife that I found there. If you ever go to Ayer's Rock I would highly recommend this walk.
The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) are about 40km from Ayer's Rock and they are equally impressive. I was also lucky enough to see and photograph a metre-long monitor lizard (goanna) while I was there.
Finally, just in case you are interested, here's what the campervan looked like on the inside. The seats folded down to make a surprisingly comfortable bed, and the van was also equipped with a gas stove, a small fridge, and plenty of storage space.
Copyright: Nigel Stott (2007)