For me, as a foreigner in Australia, one thing I definitely had to see before going back to Europe is the unique Australian Outback. More specifically Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory.
Although there are some similar areas in the United States, the sights mentioned are absolutely breathtaking and unique. All of these have been respectfully looked after and are not too much commercialised. Especially the area where Kings Canyon is located has hardly been touched and that makes it really special.
Let’s take the Grand Canyon, although it’s much bigger than the Kings Canyon most people on my trip with Adventure tours Australia said that Kings Canyon was much more impressive. For some very simple reasons, when getting out of the bus at the Grand Canyon you’re immediately surrounded by people trying to sell you souvenirs or t-shirts etc. at King’s Canyon when we arrived, there was literally no-one! Not even another tour yet!
Minor work has been done to make King’s Canyon more accessible, but all with materials that originate from the area. Obviously that means that because so much of the nature has been left intact much more walking is required to see all the cool stuff, you can’t reach anything by car or bus. Which might be a downside if walking is not your thing! Options are few, but helicopter flights might be able to give you some good (maybe even better) views from the area.
What has been said about leaving everything intact at Kings Canyon doesn’t really go for Uluru, chains for climbing have been put in the rock and quite some people climb the rock itself. Roads are well maintained and reach certain designated lookout points and you can be sure to be not alone at any of them. On the other hand the Kata Tjuta is pretty much also still in it’s pure form. Trails and paths were formed over time, and hardly any efforts have been done to improve them. Which offers quite a challenge when walking through.
I think it’s a pity that most backpackers don’t take the opportunity to go to this beautiful part of Australia! It might be a bit more expensive than your average trip in Australia, but it is definitely also one of the most unique. For me, being at Nomads Byron Bay most of the time, it was really a special experience, being away from the sea. As most trips that I have been doing so far involved the sea in some way.
If you are looking for cheap ways to get from Alice Springs, NT (where most tours start and stop) to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or some other cities, a good way is to have a call with some Camper rental companies. They have advertisements at most hostel for vehicle relocation to the above-mentioned cities and you can basically take the camper for free (only have to pay a small fee and insurance). It is quite a drive, but it is cheap! Flying is another good way, with either Qantas or Virgin (flies only to Ayers rock airport, not Alice Springs). Most probably you'll need to stay 1 or 2 nights in Alice Springs, highly advisable is Toddy's Backpackers, they have won this years Golden Backpack award for the best hostel in the Northern Territory.
Taking a 3-day tour is the way to go, I believe. It covers everything you need to see, places to sleep and food is organized and a professional guide gives you a lot more information about the area. Sleeping in a ‘swag’ outside under the stars is pretty much amazing, the Aussie BBQ with camel and kangaroo meat and some Aussie country music during the ride is also part of the whole Outback experience! Distances are long, tiring, food, drinks and fuel can be hard to access and it is important to care about safety. In that perspective it is good to take an organized tour since these people know exactly where they are going. But if you choose to make an adventurous trip of your own please plan everything carefully! My trip with Adventure tours Australia was a very enjoyable one, and I can recommend them to all of you.
Want to go? Some information on some controversies:
-‘to climb or not to climb’
As a lot people probably know it is possible to climb Uluru, but is seriously discouraged because Uluru is a religious place for a lot of aborigines. The comparison often made is: would a catholic like when people start climbing on the Vatican? It is still open to everyone to decide on his or her own, but what many people do not realise is that the climb is open only about 40-50 days a year. That is less than 1 day a week! Any weather conditions than can endanger your climb will result in it being shut. That means any winds over 20km/h, temperature above and below certain marks, rain, etc. So don’t feel too stressed about taking the decision to climb, most of the time it’s not even an option (and keep in mind that even though weather conditions are good, the climb is still dangerous and over 35 people have been killed doing it!).
-‘is it worth to walk the 11kms around Uluru, it’s just one big rock’
In my opinion, yes definitely. It’s an easy walk (totally flat on a good trail) and offers one views on a lot of different that you can only see up close. On the way there are some signs explaining what there is to see, and it is also a cultural experience!
-‘swim at the gardens of Eden (Kings Canyon)’
The water is pretty disgusting and is hardly every refreshed because it is hid away by the mountains. It also collects all the leftover from people that urinate on Kings Canyon. And is thereby very bacteria rich, to prevent infections, I wouldn’t go for a swim. But again up to yourself!
Much of my knowledge that is expressed above I have gained through my tour guide, Logan at Adventure Tours Australia and would like to thank him for that.
If you don't have quite enough time for the 3 day Uluru Adventure I went on, then try the 2 day Red Centre highlights tour instead.