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The Red Centre — Wonder down under

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Australia's Red Centre is just that. The fiery-coloured earth holds many secrets and the golden triangle of desert wonders is the spiritual heart of this vast continent.

The Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people — locally known as Anangu — are the custodians of the ancient landscape. The park covers 132,566 hectares of arid ecosystems. The huge rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta are majestic in a relatively flat, sand-plain environment. They are part of an important cultural landscape and hold special significance to Anangu. Both offer physical evidence of the actions, artefacts and bodies of ancestral heroes who travelled the earth in creation times.

Uluru is a huge, rounded, red sandstone monolith 9.4 kilometres in circumference, rising to a height of over 340 metres above the plain. Rock art in the caves around its base is further evidence of the enduring cultural traditions of Anangu.

Anangu Tours are led by the traditional people — one of the most popular activities is a sunrise walk. After enjoying an early restaurant breakfast overlooking Uluru and the Liru Walk, you retrace the path of the Liru ancestors through bushland. You will hear of the tragic fate of Lungkata — blue tongue lizard man — who is still lying at the base of the monolith. You will see demonstrations of bush skills, fire making, carving with a sharpened stone and how to hold and throw a spear. An easy two-kilometre walk takes around 4.5 hours.

Uluru Motorcycle Tours can custom-make a Harley tour 32 kilometres along a smooth road to Kata Tjuta.

Meaning 'many heads', Kata Tjuta is 36 individual rock domes that once may have been a single dome, much larger than Uluru. Mount Olga, the highest point, rises about 550 metres above the plain and is a site of great beauty and ceremonial significance.

The walking trail through Walpa Gorge follows the natural creek between two of the tallest domes of Kata Tjuta. Eons of weathering and continental upheaval have created what is there today.

Most tours include morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and they all include stops at the most spectacular scenic spots.

Discovery Eco Tours travel in small air-conditioned vehicles and have the knack of avoiding crowds. Their knowledgeable guides are more often than not trained in anthropology, biology, zoology, geology or environmental science.

Just outside the national park border is Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, catering for all budgets and tastes, from five-star apartments to camping. Choose from the five-star Sails in the Desert Hotel, Desert Gardens Hotel, Emu Walk Apartments, the modern Lost Camel Hotel, Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge and the Ayers Rock campground, which has powered sites and air-conditioned cabins.

It is an oasis nestled behind spectacular sand dunes, hidden from the rest of the national park. Everything there is sensitive to the environment and respect for the traditional owners.

Voyages Longitude 131 has 15 luxury tents on an isolated dune close to the border of Uluru. The magical destination is a place of peace and solitude to be absorbed from a private viewing platform. You sleep in tranquillity and wake to the brilliant changing colour display over the Rock.

Tents are air-conditioned with a king bed and rollaway, desk, private bathroom, heating, telephone, mini-bar and all the other additions you'd expect to find in a top class hotel.

You really should visit Kings Canyon to complete the triangle. It is in the Watarrka National Park on the western edge of the George Gill Ranges. The mighty chasm cleaves the earth to 270 metres.

Watarrka is an important conservation area, with rock holes and gorges providing refuge for over 600 species of plants and many native animals. The sheer red rock face of Kings Canyon soars over 100 metres above dense forests of palms, ferns and cycads and shelters them from the surrounding desert conditions.

A moderately challenging six-kilometre walk takes in magnificent views of the canyon rim, the weathered, buttressed domes of the Lost City and the Garden of Eden, a sheltered valley with permanent waterholes and lush vegetation. The walk is suitable for fit, relatively experienced walkers and can be completed in three to four hours. For the less energetic, the shorter and easier Kings Creek walk leads into the centre of the canyon.

Sounds of Firelight is a marvellous way to relax after a day hiking through Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park. It is an exclusive dining experience, designed for intimacy and romance. Up to 10 couples enjoy a four-course menu, accompanied by some of the country's finest wines.

Imagine a table for two in the wilderness under a canopy of the southern night sky with the only sound the crackling fire.

Location

The centre of Australia.

Cost

Anangu Tours have half-day tours for $199 for adults and $79 for children.

Uluru Motorcycle Tours start at $85 per person.

Voyages Longitude 131 is $1800 a tent a night for a minimum two-night stay. Everything is included.

Voyages Kings Canyon Resort Sounds of Firelight dinner is $135 per person.

Discovery Ecotours Australia afternoon tours start at $79 for adults and $59 for children.


Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

For further information


Anangu Waai Tours
Ph: (08) 8950 3030
Fax: (08) 8953 7493
Website: www.ananguwaai.com.au

Uluru Motorcycle Tours
Kunia Road, Yulara 0872
Ph: (08) 8956 2019

Discovery Ecotours Australia
Ph: (08) 8956 2563
Website: www.ecotours.com.au

Voyages Ayers Rock Resort
Yulara Drive, Yulara 0872
Ph: 1300 134 044
Website: www.ayersrockresort.com.au

Voyages Longitude 131
Kata Tjuta National Park
Ayers Rock 0872
Ph: 1300 134 044
Website: www.longitude131.com.au

Professional Helicopter Services
Ph: (08) 8956 2003 or (08) 8956 2003

Sounds of Firelight
Kings Canyon
Ph: 1300 134 044
Website: www.kingscanyonresort.com.au

Travel tips
Website: www.travelnt.com/travel_tips/travel_tips_getting_to_the_nt.htm
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