Explore the Australian outback alongside our summer program in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji! Although the group has since moved on, we love this update from their travels and thought we’d share it with the Putney Student Travel community. Enjoy!
So much has happened since we last blogged! We’ve had many milestones in the group: first time sleeping outside, under the stars; first time seeing the sunrise; first time eating kangaroo, and so much more. We had an incredible time in the Outback but everyone is so excited to get back to Sydney and get the dust off ourselves and our clothes!
The first day in the Outback was a jam-packed one. We landed in Alice Springs and our amazing guide for the next few days, Katie, met us at baggage claim. We soon learned that Katie is actually a Kiwi from New Zealand but has been living in Alice Springs for the past four years. We made a note to get some advice on New Zealand before leaving her in a few days. Katie walked us outside to her massive eight-wheel Outback truck (with attached trailer for baggage), which was to be our home for the next few days. We piled in and she gave us an overview of our itinerary. We learned that the Outback is huge and, though we were going to see several amazing sights, we would have to drive a decent distance to see it all.
Our first drive was a mere 1.5 hours and brought us to Oak Valley where our Aboriginal host, Loy, met us for lunch. After lunch Loy took us on a tour of her family’s land and showed us some plants used for bush medicine. We also saw some rock art in one of the caves there. One of the highlights of her talk was about her “totem animal,” which is a bit like her “spirit animal.” Everyone was so intrigued with the culture and the meaning of totem animals. Following Loy’s talk, we went back to our little camp site, on her property, and started a fire. Katie gave a little tutorial on how to set up our “swags” (an Australian type of sleep sack consisting of padding, a sheet set, sleeping bag, blanket, and pillow all wrapped up in a canvas sack). We positioned our swags around the campfire to keep warm and after dinner we were eager to climb in. This campsite was the most rustic of all the places we stayed and many of us were worried about sleeping outside and fending off critters both big and small. But Katie assured us we would be safe and, aside from the hilariously intense moo-ing of cows nearby, we didn’t come across any wild animals!
We woke up the next morning to Katie restarting the fire and the sun coming up. We all shouted a “Happy Birthday” to Michael and ended up celebrating the following night with banana cake and sparklers. Though it was very cold that morning, we were all cozy in our swags and didn’t want to get out. But Katie said we had to get moving in order to see everything we wanted to see. Our next drive was on a very bumpy four-wheel drive road where we buckled our seat belts and enjoyed the amazing Outback views. We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and to stretch our legs but in total we drove about 3.5 hours to another Aboriginal community called Wallace Rockhole. There we met Lia, our Aboriginal guide for the day who took us on a little walk up into a canyon and then set up an Aboriginal painting tutorial for us. We all tried our hand at painting in the Aboriginal style (using a chopstick-type implement to make dots with). We also got a snack of sauteed kangaroo meat — free-range, organic, and humanely-killed — and damper, a type of locally-made bread, served with whipped cream. We slept in the Wallace Rockhole community that night and were thankful that the cows hadn’t followed us there.
After another night under the stars, we woke up, rolled up our swags, and boarded the bus for Kings Canyon. There we hiked one of Katie’s favorite trails in Australia, starting with a short but very steep climb up to the top of the canyon. Katie gave us some great information on the flora and fauna of the area, as well as background on how the canyon was formed. Along our hike we saw some incredible cliff views, yelled some echoes, and took some really fun group photos. Halfway through the hike we landed in the “Garden of Eden,” a little shady oasis in the middle of the canyon. Katie gave us a small snack and we all took some quiet time to let the beauty soak in. That night we stayed at Kings Creek Station where we soon discovered a novelty — tents! Most of us chose to sleep in the tent that night for extra warmth and we all slept well.
Our last full day in the Outback brought us to Kata Tjuta, which is the rock formation next to Uluru. This site is actually, in some ways, more sacred than Uluru, but not as popular. We did a short hike to a scenic overlook while Katie gave us information on Aboriginal life and the importance of this sight. We learned about the geologic events that formed Uluru and Kata Tjuta and saw fossils from when the area was under water. Because this was our last night in the Outback, after dinner we put Katie on the hot seat and everyone asked her all sorts of questions about her life in Australia and her childhood growing up in New Zealand. We were sad that this was our last night with her, but glad to get to know her better.
Our final stop in the Outback was Uluru. We woke up at 6 a.m. and had a quick bite of breakfast before getting on the bus to see the sunrise at Uluru. We were the only group there, watching the sun peak out from behind the horizon line. We sang some Lion King songs (mostly just “Circle of Life”) to help keep us warm and took some great pictures with Uluru in the background. Our hike around Uluru started just after that. Blake and Becca had the students walk in staggered one minute sections so that everyone could walk silently and take in the beauty and spirit of Uluru. Everyone was really excited about this and some said it was the highlight of the trip so far. We walked all 10 kilometers around the base of Uluru and then met up with Katie at the beginning/end. Katie showed us a sign in front of the infamous “Climb” of Uluru which is a place where people climb up the rock using handrails that were installed in the 1960s before Uluru was returned back to the Aboriginal people and became a protected sight. Because many people come to Uluru to do the “Climb,” the park cannot yet close the attraction until they create another source of tourism, and therefore funds. We were lucky to have Katie there who told us all about why we should not do the “Climb” and how it is disrespectful to the Aboriginal cultures and the groups of people whose land sits under Uluru. Though there were many people doing the “Climb,” we were glad not to and happy to know that we were doing the right thing. After Uluru we had a quick lunch and then Katie dropped us off at the airport. We all gave her hugs and exchanged contact information. We will miss her but we all are glad to be de-dusting ourselves at the hotel in Sydney. After five days in the Outback, a shower and a real bed go a very long way!
We have a full day in Sydney today, where we will check out the Opera House, Manly Beach, and see a rugby game in Sydney’s stadium. Go Roosters! Tomorrow we are heading up north to start our sailing adventure from Hamilton Island. More to come soon but until then … Cheers, mate!