Uluru and Kata Tjuta may be the headline attractions for visitors to Central Australia, but JULIE JONES uncovered many bonus surprises when she and her family delved a little deeper, making friends with the local indigenous community and exploring the red centre with kids.
Arriving at Ayers Rock airport in the pouring rain, we were told by enthusiastic locals that we were ‘lucky to arrive to rain as only 1% of visitors see Uluru with waterfalls.’ Tip-toeing through muddy puddles, and getting drenched loading suitcases and the wheelchair into the back of the car, we didn’t feel particularly lucky. But, undeterred, we took the local advice onboard, and set out to see the waterfalls on Uluru, reminding the kids, as the wipers furiously cleared our view, that we were lucky to see such a sight.
The following day presented us with clear blue skies and Uluru dazzling in the sunlight, the water stains the only sign of the previous day’s rain. Exploring the base of ‘The Rock’ we were amazed at how easily accessible it is to everyone, with lovely level paths and ramp access to the rock paintings making it doable for families with prams or those using a wheelchair.
On our family holidays, we always try to include an activity that caters to each of our kids’ individual interests, and our motorbike-enthusiast son loved seeing Uluru from the back of a trike with Uluru Cycles. The kids and hubby had a blast donning helmets and leather jackets for the ride.
In contrast, my 13-year-old daughter loves animals, so she and I went on a mother/daughter early morning sunrise camel ride with Uluru Camel Tours. “Who gets up so early on holiday in the middle of winter to ride a camel,” I thought, when the alarm went off. But, once I was sitting high on the camel watching the sun rise behind Uluru I knew it was an experience neither of us would forget. On the trek back, we could see a pink halo surrounding Kata Tjuta, as the sunrise ripple reached across the horizon.
While visiting the Northern Territory we decided to take the opportunity to give our kids a meaningful connection with Indigenous Australians, by undertaking a project to give back to a community - an experience our 13-year-old daughter cites as one of the highlights of her time in the region, proving that the rewards of travel can come from unexpected places.
And while our children do learn about Australia’s Indigenous culture and the difficulties faced by many Indigenous people, we live in the big smoke and are fairly removed from their plight. Since my daughter had expressed a desire to work with children, I thought it would be a great experience for her to help a community, and find out first-hand the challenges faced by children growing up in Central Australia.
Before we left home, we made contact with the Mutitjulu Foundation and explained how we would like to help. My daughter’s school offered wonderful support, asking students to donate books, stationery and warm clothing that we could take with us, and Parragon Books generously couriered two boxes of books to the resort for us.
From Uluru, we had a three-hour drive on unsealed roads, with our car loaded for the trip.
When we arrived at the community, the children and staff were initially shy with us, and understandably wary of our family. A friend had suggested we take an Instax camera with us so we could take photos of the children to give to them. It proved the ice-breaker we needed. The kids were keen to have their photo taken and walked around marvelling as the image appeared on the paper. They welcomed the books, clothing and puzzles and we had fun drawing on the blackboard together, the kids keen to copy what we drew.
The Mutitjulu Foundation’s mantra is “Considering the riches you take away, why not leave a little something behind” and, as a family, we are definitely richer for the experience, and hope the resources we left will help in some small way.
As wonderful as all of our other activities were, the whole family agreed that visiting a remote Indigenous community was the most special and rewarding of our trip.
It was hard to move on from Uluru after such a wonderful time but Alice Springs promised great experiences too.
We loved exploring Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and the other wonders of the West MacDonnell Ranges, and only a little over an hour from Alice Springs we found stunning swimming holes and beautiful accessible walks.
A highlight was our visit to The Kangaroo Sanctuary, home to TV’s ‘Kangaroo Dundee’, which documents the story of Brolga and the orphan kangaroos that he rescues, we were keen to see the joeys in person. My daughter was so inspired by Brolga’s work with the kangaroos she fundraised just over $1000 to help with the building of a wildlife hospital at the sanctuary. Not only did we get to meet Brolga, and tour the sanctuary, but we also had the opportunity to cuddle two adorable joeys, Madeleine and Sebastian.
Alice Springs also offers families the opportunity to learn more about living in a remote area of Australia, with both the Alice Springs School of the Air and the Flying Doctor Service giving kids an insight into the challenges of schooling and the provision of medical services for people living in the outback.
Teenagers often get a bad rap for being self-absorbed and constantly attached to technology. We found that our daughter revelled in giving back and came away from the trip with a much greater reward than a regular tourist. This was an unforgettable experience and we all returned home with a special place in our hearts for Central Australia.
Tip – Book tours and experiences prior to arriving at Uluru. Particularly during school holiday periods, popular tours like the camel ride book out well in advance. The Kangaroo Sanctuary tour numbers are strictly limited so booking ahead is advisable.
Tip – Books, warm clothing and donations can be left at the Voyages Resort for the Mutitjulu Foundation.
For more information about touring the Northern Territory: Travel NT