By Laura Docherty, University of New South Wales, Australia
Last weekend I was able to book onto a group camping trip in the Northern Territory, to see Uluru (Ayers Rock) and go hiking in the Red Centre. It was incredible and I would definitely recommend visiting NT; it is so different from everything else I have seen in Australia!
I was met at Ayers Rock Airport by my tour leader and the rest of the group before he took us to the first campsite where we found out we would be sleeping in SWAGs – a type of sleeping bag – on the floor… with no tent or shelter of any sort! Looking around at the terrified faces of the entire group certainly helped us bond quickly! Next, my BBQ skills were put to the test as I helped make camel burgers and kangaroo steaks for the group. At first I was slightly reluctant to try the Aussie delicacies, but I gave it a go and honestly would highly recommend kangaroo steak if you ever spot it on a menu (not so much the camel; slightly chewy and dry)! With a full stomach, the first night sleeping in the open air was approaching but first, Alex was sure to show us videos of a previous tour group who had found a mulga snake in one of their SWAGs – for those who don’t know, mulga snakes are highly venomous and can cause death… so it’s safe to say we were very much looking forward to the night ahead.
Luckily, we all survived the night (with a few insect bites and a severe lack of sleep) to be awoken at 3.30am for a sunrise hike. With temperatures in NT reaching 41°, we were quite glad to beat the heat during the 8km Kata Tjuta hike. One of the most interesting elements of the trip was that most of the land in NT is owned by Aboriginal peoples and hence holds sacred meaning; some parts of the land’s history and folklore cannot be shared with non-Indigenous people. For example, Uluru had a variety of different caves each with special significance to the Indigenous people who used to live there; some of these caves were out of bounds to everyone apart from the Elders who still remain. This is one of the reasons why I would recommend visiting the outback: there is so much interesting indigenous history which is almost never learnt about in other parts of Australia and certainly not throughout the rest of the world.
Whilst we were driving from campsite to campsite we passed some pretty huge bushfires, which were devastating to see first hand. We learn a lot about climate change and how bushfires affect Australia’s ecosystem, but seeing the land burning in real life was quite shocking. Whilst some fire is actually essential for the biodiversity in the outback and traditional burning practices have been used to sustain the land for thousands of years, climate change is exacerbating the extent and intensity of the fires. This year, 80% of the Northern Territory is expected to burn.
The final day brought more hiking, sunrise and sunset watching and a few well-earned TimTams along the way. Overall this trip was such an incredible experience and I have made memories I will never forget with a group of strangers in the middle of the Aussie outback!