A travel junkie who loves to write, Caitlin Pfohl comes from central New York state and recently finished making her way around Australia on a one-year Work and Holiday visa. Read more about her travels here: cepiatone.tumblr.com
Published February 26th 2017
Stars, swags and sweat: Camping in the Northern Territory
While a visit to the Northern Territory had been on my list since day one of my Working Holiday Visa, I went back and forth several times on how to go about it. Based near Melbourne at the time, the idea of renting a camper van and driving there and back sounded adventurous and tempting, but also a bit daunting and expensive. (The drive from Melbourne to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is roughly 2,400 km, and Google Maps estimates the journey at about 25 hours.) While I love a road trip as much as the next person, these figures made me a little nervous. Getting lost, running out of gas and my vehicle breaking down were all concerns.
In the end, I decided on an organized camping trip. While I often shy away from this type of traveling, as it doesn't leave much time or flexibility for straying from the beaten path, it did afford me the luxury of having everything figured out for me and allowing me to see the major sights in an efficient and relaxing way.
Based on Trip Advisor and other positive reviews I saw online, I chose Mulga's Adventure Tours. They have a few different tour options with various start and end points, and I went with the 4-day, 3-night Rock-to-Rock tour. Here's a rundown of the itinerary:
Day 1: We landed at Ayers Rock Airport, where we met up with the rest of our group and were picked up by our tour guide. Our first stop was at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, where we had lunch and were able to learn a little more about the area. Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon (along with countless other sites in the Northern Territory and Australia as a whole) are rich in Aboriginal history and culture, and the centre offers a helpful overview and explanation of some of this history.
While I will leave the details to the experts, here are a few quick facts: Uluru is a sandstone rock formation that stands 348 meters (1,142 feet) high. (For a little size reference, the height of the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters.) Uluru is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the traditional custodians of the area are the Anangu.
After the Cultural Centre, we headed to Uluru and took walks around two separate parts of its base. That evening, we set up our campsite and enjoyed watching the sun set over "the rock" with our fellow campers (and a little champagne). From the campsite's viewing area we could observe Uluru and Kata Tjuta simultaneously.
Day 2: We started off the day bright and early enjoying the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta, then hopped onto the bus to drive to Kata Tjuta for a hike. Kata Tjuta is a group of 36 gigantic rock formations, the highest reaching 546 meters (1,791 feet).
After lunch back at our campsite, we began the four-hour drive toward Kings Canyon. On the way, we stopped at a parking area with a viewpoint over Mount Conner, or "Fooluru" as it's sometimes called. Given its strong resemblance to Uluru, many tourists happen upon it and mistakenly assume they've reached Uluru itself.
In the evening we enjoyed some free time at our campsite, a BBQ dinner and a campfire before falling asleep under the stars to rest up for the next morning.
Day 3: The third day of the trip was my favorite. We woke up early and headed right to Kings Canyon for a six-kilometer hike around the rim. The walls of Kings Canyon reach higher than 100 meters, and the landscape was incredible. We also descended into the canyon to visit the Garden of Eden, a waterhole at its base, and experience the canyon from a different perspective. Given the heat and terrain, the hike was challenging (especially the intimidatingly named "Heartbreak Hill" right at the beginning), but well worth it.
Enjoying the views (very carefully) at Kings Canyon
That evening, we headed to the Curtin Springs Cattle Station for our third and final night of camping. The station covers roughly one million acres and is still only the 63rd largest in the country. The largest in the country and world is Anna Creek Station, also located in the Northern Territory and coming in at six million acres. (As a side note, the largest in my native United States is 825,000 acres.)
Day 4: We woke up, ate breakfast and hopped back on the bus to head back to our first campsite for a quick shower before being dropped off back at the airport to catch our flight out.
Tips and Observations:
1. As I mentioned above, this type of sightseeing isn't for everybody, but I would recommend it for anyone with a limited amount of time or anyone traveling alone who doesn't want to make the huge drive solo.
2. Mulga's website offers a helpful packing list, covering what they will provide for you and what you should bring yourself. My must-haves during the trip were water (seriously, do not take the suggested water quantities lightly; you will need a lot of it) along with sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses and a hat. (Full disclosure: I used a hat with a fly net, and while I felt a little silly at first, it proved very helpful throughout the trip. The flies in the Northern Territory are no joke.)
3. Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon are all sacred Aboriginal sites, so be sure to keep an eye out for signs noting where pictures can't be taken and if you're in a quiet area where it's requested that you stay silent. Additionally, as is always the case with sites like these, be sure to leave them the way that you found them (i.e. no littering and no altering of the natural habitat).
4. Get ready to sleep under the stars! Mulga's provides "swags" (heavy canvas covers that you put your sleeping bag inside of), but no tents. Each night, we set up our swags (being careful to not place them on any ant hills) and that was that. I thought this was great, because with next to no light pollution, the stars were incredible.
All in all, I was really happy with my Mulga's experience. Ultimately, no matter how you decide to see the Northern Territory, it's going to take some time, money and effort, though I would venture to say you won't be disappointed in the investment.