After a redeye flight from Bali, we arrived in Darwin, Australia at 5 am, cleared customs, checked into the airport hotel, and immediately fell asleep. The next two days were spent catching up on sleep and relaxing by the pool. We spent a half day driving around Darwin and visiting Mindil Beach. Australia has many similarities to the USA. Obviously, English is the official language, the cuisine and infrastructure is very similar, prices are about the same and the overall size & climate resemble much of the USA. It does feel much more laid back and relaxed, and we constantly hear “no worries” phrase from all of the locals. We will be spending the next three months in the land of Oz and cannot wait to explore this beautiful country. First up is a trip to the Great Outback and the one and only, Uluru!
Uluru or Ayers Rock is located literally in the middle of Australian desert. In order to get there, we took a flight from Darwin to Alice Springs (2 hours) and then continued on a 5 hour road trip. We were originally on a 6am flight but the morning of, we found out via email our Virgin Australia flight was canceled and we were put on a Qantas flight, leaving at 8:40 am. What was cool is they gave us $60AUD towards breakfast at the airport because of the cancellation. So we relaxed for a bit, ate a nice breakfast, and arrived in Alice Springs at 11 am. After collecting our luggage, we got our rental car and drove straight to the grocery store to stock up on some necessities (around Uluru, there is only one grocery store and honestly, we have heard from lots of people, to be prepared for a road trip through the desert). The drive from Alice Springs to Urulu was something we have never experienced before. Driving through the Australian Outback, its just you & the open road. No exits, no gas stations, no cell reception, literally no cars, just you and the open road…and it felt amazing! Since Leo and Mila had an early wake up call, they pretty much slept the whole time. We decided to drive straight through without stopping and made it to Ayers Rock Resort around 5pm. Since Uluru is a very remote place, there are 5 accommodations that are owned by the same company. You can pick from a simple campground, lodge, hotel or two upscale resorts. We booked 3 nights at the lodge as it was the only vacancy and quite frankly, the only budget friendly option. Below is the picture of our lodge…pretty basic right? Well those 2 bunkbeds cost us $150 a night!!!! Felt a little like college life again with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The hotel was over $300/night and the resorts over $600/night. At first, we were a bit intimidated but after the first night, we got used to it and treated this adventure like a camping trip : ) After dinner we took a short walk to the lookout area and saw the one and only magical Uluru…after seeing it, we could not wait to explore this Wonder of the World.
Surprisingly, we all slept very well in our lodge. Or we are still so tired to even think about our sleeping quarters. After breakfast, we packed our car and drove to the Rock. Its difficult to describe the beauty and magic of this place. It is such an iconic symbol. Uluru is located in the heart of Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, which was 10 km from our lodge. The drive towards the rock is one I’ll never forget. The shear size and beauty, changing colors with the sun & clouds, was simply amazing. Uluru is a place of timeless folklore, over a million years old, with rich culture and great spirituality. For the longest time I have dreamed of seeing this place and could not believe that it was standing right in front of me. We decided to hike the base trek, walking around the entire rock - about 14 kilometers. Mila was a happy camper enjoying this adventure on Rick’s back, while Leo once again completed the entire hike. He found sticks along the way and used them as his hiking rods. When we started the trek, the weather was perfect - mid 70’s and cloudy. As the weather changed and the sun came out at different times of the day, the colors of the rock would change, from pink to blood red to brown. At one point we entered one of the rock’s many gorges and experienced a bit of water running down the rock into a collection area. We captured some amazing photos of the reflection of the rock on the water. There are 3 huts around the base of the rock for breaks and to get out of the blazing hot desert sun. We consider ourselves to be super lucky as we were 3/4 of the way into our trek, it started to rain and the color of the rock became a little blue - unbelievable. They say that only 2% of the visitors in Uluru witness rain, as we’re in the desert, but we got rain & even an late night thunderstorm every night. We considered ourselves lucky as I couldn’t imagine hiking in 115 degree weather. It was something we are never going to forget - probably one of the most amazing places we have been to. We finished this walk in 4 hours and decided to continue our family adventure. . .ON THE SAME DAY!
We drove to another spectacular place - Kata Tjuta, also know at The Olgas or the sister mountains to Uluru. As we were approaching this spectacular range, we experienced some heavy rain which made this place even more stunning. Kata Tjuta means “many heads” and have over 40 mountains as part of its range. Since it was almost 5 pm, we decided to do a shorter trek to the Walpa gorge, which was about 4km in total. As we walked through the red surface, we were in awe of its beauty. How is it possible that in the middle of nowhere there is this stunning place - its so remote and isolated, you kinda feel as if you are at the very end of this world. We even joked about it and said that we were waiting for an UFO and aliens to come and take us away :) We finished the day with a beautiful sunset at Uluru’s viewing spot. It was an unforgettable day and even though we were exhausted, we could not wait to wake up and do it all over…
The following night I woke up at 4 am covered in sweat and feeling very strange...I really needed to go to the bathroom and on my way there I literally though I was going to pass out...fortunately, many people were already up and getting ready for the Uluru sunrise so I thought to myself, in the worst case somebody will help me out :-) Luckily I was able to make it to the bathroom and back to our room. When I woke up around 7:30 I felt a bit better but not well enough to go on a long hike. We planned on going back to Kara Tjuta and completing the Valley of the Winds hike (around 8km). The weather heated up quite a bit - 90s and sunny. We decided to take our time and simply go with the flow. After breakfast we took kids to the playground and walked around the Ayers Rock Resort. Honestly, the campground was much nicer than our lodge, much more family friendly, very clean and well organized. If we ever come back to this region of Australia, we will definitely pitch a tent stay there.
Since it was our last day at Uluru, I decided to suck it up and do the hike. After lunch we drove back to the stunning Kata Tjuta and headed towards the Valley of the Winds. This hike was considered difficult with a distance of 7.4 kilometers and we were a bit worried about doing it in the middle of the hot day but there was no turning back. They even close this hike off if the temperature reaches 36C or 98F. There’s a huge solar powered sign at the beginning of the hike letting you know if its open or closed. I guess there is the reason why this place is called Valley of the Winds since you constantly have some type of the breeze - and honestly, that wind literally saved us! The hike was beautiful, leading us through a Valley surrounded by gorgeous red rocks. It felt as if we were walking on a different planet, Mars perhaps :-) We had to cross water streams, climb up the red rock, trek through narrow pathways filled with trees and witness breathtaking views of this magical place. At one point in the valley, between these behemoth rocks, we screamed at the top of our lungs to catch the sounds of an echo. It was funny to see the kids trying to scream, of course when you want them to yell, they are reluctant to do so! It was such a diverse hike with contrasting landscapes, a mix of up, down, and sideways climbing. Once again, Leo kicked ass trekking like a pro and climbing onto everything that came in his way. A few times, I felt light headed and very weak but then I looked at Leo and thought: " if this crazy 5 year old can do it without complaining so can I". We drank plenty of water and made several stops to catch a break and take it all in. It was such an awe striking hike that we’ll cherish for a while. On our drive back, we experienced another rain storm and a small rainbow stretching right next to the red rocks. Another wonderful family day spent in the Australian outback.
I don’t know if you can see we have expectations on this trip about the places we’ve seen but hands down Uluru exceeded our wildest expectations. We knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience but what we saw there was a real dream come true. We have never felt more isolated from everyone and everything, you are truly in the middle of no where. But it was one of the best feelings ever. Honestly, we contemplated coming here because its really expensive; the flight is overpriced, the rental car is double what you would pay in the city and of course the overpriced lodging but because of it, we were able to spend all day outside, in the Australian outback, enjoying a piece of nature that still marvels us. We are all tired, sleep deprived and very sore but our hearts are full of joy and gratitude for being able to come to this place and experience one of the best moments of our lives.