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The Heart of Australia: A Visit to Ayers Rock

Australia. Every traveller who visits it has different imaginings of that diverse land of adventure and dreams. Mine was about road tripping in the solitude of the desert, surrounded by exotic animals that I probably would not find anywhere else on earth.

In 2015, I lived my dream with the Work & Holiday Visa for Australia, which enabled me to roam the continent and work legally for one year (a privilege extended in 2016 to two years). For Indonesians, this visa is limited per year to only 1000 people aged 18 to 31 years old. My homeland’s population of nearly 250 million people meant yes, I was one of those lucky ones.

8. Sunset with The Ayers Rock from a far
Sunset at Ayers Rock

My fascination with Australia stemmed from a shot of Ayers Rock (also known as Uluru) on The Oprah Winfrey Show years earlier. What a fantastic looking stone that is, I thought. Then I read a book entitled Tracks about Robyn Davidson, an Australian young woman who crossed the desert on 1970s by walking more than 2700km from Alice Springs, finishing on the Indian Ocean on the coast of Western Australia. She did the journey with only her lovely dog and four camels.

On one occasion in Bali, I was lucky to meet her in person and be inspired more. She explained about her epic walk and mentioned why Ayers Rock gave her a magical feeling. To walk alone in the desert accompanied by animals definitely was not my cup of tea. But both of us were enamoured with the beauty of that natural icon.

With AirAsia, I flew from Bali to Darwin and started my stay there. I spent the first seven months of my visa in Northern Territory, visited most of the natural highlights there and road tripped the rest of my visa to other states. Northern Territory is the state known as the ‘real outback’ of Australia. As home to Australia’s largest Aboriginal populations, that land offers a rich knowledge of indigenous culture dating 60,000 years. The state also contains the world’s biggest collection of indigenous arts.

Posing at Alice Springs
Posing at Alice Springs

The southern part of the state is nicknamed the Red Centre and is right in the middle of the country. A car is needed to get from place to place in the Red Centre area. Since I travelled long-term, I bought a 4WD from another backpacker then sold it when I left the country. But the easiest way is join a tour group, as they will arrange everything. There is a comperhensive range of tour options to get around the Red Centre, so everyone can easily visit without having to hire a vehicle.

On a walk in Kings Canyon
On a walk in Kings Canyon

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

My journey began from the desert town of Alice Springs. It took a four-hour ride south via Stuart Highway and Ernest Giles Road to reach Kings Canyon National Park, a good stop en route to Ayers Rock.

This amazing destination features dramatic valleys, vistas and rock faces that will thrill adventurers who will have fun exploring them. This significant conservation area is dotted with water holes and gorges, providing for 600 species of plants, as well as many native animals.

Bonfire at the campsite
Bonfire at the campsite

There various scenic walks here. But please bear in mind that you need to be prepared if you are going to do the canyon rim walk. Put on your best walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat and comfortable clothing. Also remember to take ample drinking water (two litres minimum). If you are willing to spend more money, you can also take a helicopter ride over the canyon from either the Kings Canyon Resort or from Kings Creek Station.

Admission: AUD15 for individual entry pass valid for 7 days.

KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK AND AYERS ROCK

I’d seen the pictures, I’d heard the stories, and then I made the decision to finally visit Ayers Rock! Standing on the cusp of achieving my biggest dream of my Australia adventure nearly made me cry.

5. Kata Tjuta walk
Kata Tjuta walk

Kata Tjuta National Park (or the Olgas), home of Ayers Rock, is 280km away from Kings Canyon National Park or a three-hours. From the entrance of the park, you have to drive another 50km to Ayers Rock. Factor in enough time when you plan. My suggestion is to stay at least 4D3N at the Red Center if you are coming from and returning to Alice Springs.

Both Kata Tjuta National Park and Ayers Rock have easy beginner-level walks and most of them are completely flat. My advice is to do both. One of my favorite walks is the Valley of the Winds Walk in Kata Tjuta. On that walk, I passed by two lookouts and the domes of that spectacular national park. The atmosphere at the domes was amazingly peaceful. And my other favourite, of course, was the Ayers Rock Base Walk, a 10.6km loop around the entire base of the sandstone monolith, passing by sacred water holes.

Ayers Rock is a sacred site. As such, a lot of people get caught up in the debate over whether to climb it. Aboriginal people who have their own spiritual traditions associated with the rock. To Aboriginal people, some places on Ayers Rock may only be seen by initiated men or by women. Each of the caves, waterholes, valleys, and particular place on the top of Ayers Rock have specific names and many of those named places on Ayers Rock are sacred sites.

Selfie time at Ayers Rock
Selfie time at Ayers Rock

What struck me first when I experienced the site was the sheer size of everything around me, the space, and the emptiness even there were a lot of tour groups that time. It was a dramatic rock. Every minute, colors of the rock appeared to change as the sun swept across the sky, casting shadows that wax and wane.

I was fortunate to visit the site twice, once with a tour group from Alice Springs and one time independently. The Rock Tour is famous among backpackers because it is cheaper than going on your own. The experience is pretty similar because the tour provided the minibus, sleeping bags, tent, groceries and entrance tickets. But we still prepared everything (i.e. cooking) by ourselves.

Admission fee: AUD25 for over-16s, valid for 3 days.

Although Australians listed Ayers Rock as one of the most expensive and over-controlled place in the country, the controversy did not deter me. It was meaningful to visit the heart of Australia because I’d longed for it for years. It proves that no matter how far you are from it, you can someday reach your dreams.

EXPERIENCE AUSTRALIA: AirAsia offers the lowest fares to over 130 destinations. Book your seats, accommodation, holiday packages and activities now at airasia.com

Vieta Diani is an Indonesian illustrator and storyteller currently based in the Netherlands. Formerly an art director in Jakarta, she discovered writing and gained experience by working as a content writer and a part-time volunteer for literary events. For her thought treasury, check out lifebeginsat25.tumblr.com.

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