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From Cairns to Alice Springs: The Great Australian Road Trip (Part 2)

Olivia Merlen

Tue Feb 26 2013

From Cairns to Alice Springs: The Great Australian Road Trip (Part 2)

IN the second part of our great Aussie road trip, Olivia Merlen travels through the desert from Cairns to Alice Springs.

Photo: Olivia Merlen

At Devils Marbles, or Karlu Karlu Conversation Reserve. This 1,802 hectare Reserve extends along both sides of the Stuart Highway approximately 393 km north of Alice Springs. Photo: Olivia Merlen

Missed out on Part 1 of this travel series? Read all about Olivia’s adventures from Melbourne to NSW. 

Our adventure begins in Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory. On the way there, we stop at Tnorala Gosse Bluff lookout.

Millions of years ago, a meteorite crashed at this site, leaving a huge crater. Today in the hilly and green landscape, only the walls of the impact remain and have become part of an Aboriginal legend of a woman who danced in the Milky Way and lost her child.

To properly explore Kings Canyon, you need to buy a permit to drive down Mereenie Loop Road, where we saw three wild horses, and camped at the Kings Canyon Resort.

Useful information
  • You can buy a permit to take the Mereenie Loop Road at the Alice Springs visitor centre, in Hermannsburg, Glen Helen or at Kings Canyon resort. The Outback Australia Guide provides some handy tips.

Kings Canyon walk

The Kings Canyon walk takes about three hours. Preferably, it should be done at dawn and clockwise.

After a long hike, we arrive on top of the canyon and then at Priscilla’s Gap, made famous by the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It’s a popular spot for funny pictures by tourists who saw the movie.

The walk continues to a lost city of sorts through the remains of an ancient sea bed. Following the path into the canyon, we step down the wooden stairs and into the Garden of Eden. This oasis is in complete contrast to its sparse surroundings. Trees, plants and birds cluster around the pool as it’s the only source for water for kilometres. The surface of the water reflected the green colour of the tree, the red colour of the sun, and the blue colour of the sky.

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Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Photo: Olivia Merlen

Uluru at sunset. Photo: Olivia Merlen

The  beauty of Uluru or Ayer’s Rock is world famous. At sunrise or sunset, this majestic rock in the middle of the desert turns a different colour – red with the sun or black with rain. By chance we saw it red with a black cloud above it and a rainbow.

During the day, the cultural centre at Uluru provides information on the Anangu People, the traditional owners of this land, and organises a number of tours.

The Mala Walk starts from the base of Uluru and around part of the rock, through a cave filled with ancient aboriginal paintings and finally past a waterfall. You are no longer allowed to climb Uluru, but we were still able to admire the beauty of this natural monument on this tour.

From Uluru, we headed to Kata Tjuta, which means ‘many heads’. After stopping on a dune to take photos, we headed to the Walpa Gorge and saw a group of wild camels.

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Simpson Desert and Rainbow Valley

Photo: Olivia Merlen

Crossing the Simpson Desert. Photo: Olivia Merlen

The Simpson Desert was our last excursion into the desert. A lot of people told us not to head this way during summer as the fuel stations are closed, no one is around and we didn’t have a satellite phone, but we decided to try anyway.

With extra fuel, we took the road to Santa Teresa, an aboriginal community where outsiders aren’t welcome. All around us were red sand dunes and the odd cow skeleton. In total, we drove about 500km down the Old Andado Track and went back to Alice Springs at night, and all we had to show for it was sand and dust all over our car!

Heading South the next day, we detoured to the Rainbow Valley. There, we walked on a dry lake and admired the full moon in the sky above this beautiful landscape.

That night, we slept in the Stuarts Well roadhouse in a sort of enclosure. There was a domestic dingo, emus and horses. We headed south again to Coober Pedy.

Useful information

Stayed tuned for the next part of Olivia’s Great Australian Road as she heads from Alice Springs back down to Melbourne. 

Hungry for more? Read part one of Olivia’s travel adventures as she heads from Melbourne to NSW.