Visiting the heart of my country

“Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

                                                                       Karin Schuett

I’ve been struggling to put into words the beauty, the majesty, the wonder I experienced on a recent trip to the heart of my country.  I can’t seem to find the right words to describe how I felt, what I saw, heard and touched. My beloved and I often found ourselves in tears at various times such was the all-encompassing  nature of our experience. It’s all locked inside me, I feel it immensely in my very being but can’t quite describe it.

A wise friend of mine summed up my lack of words very aptly when she said that “Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

I cannot profess to understand how the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, feel about their land, but if what I feel is even a tiny bit similar I have a deeper and more profound respect for them, their culture and the land they love so very much.  This place is more than just land, it is a living place, a special and sacred place, a place to be protected and a place to be honoured by all.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are World Heritage areas for both cultural and natural values. The listing of the park in 1994 for its cultural landscape honours the traditional beliefs and recognises it as one of the oldest human societies on earth. Anangu culture is strong and alive today.

Uluru draws millions of visitors a year.  The rock is a sacred monument, one can feel it’s power on approach.  My beloved and I chose to walk the circumference of the rock, a three hour walk of approximately 10.2 kiometres. What an awe-inspiring experience. Every angle, every step was so very different.  The diversity of plant life around the rock, the features of the rock and the bird life were stunning.  We especially enjoyed learning about the ancient beings who shaped the landscape as we walked.  I remember, many years ago, an aboriginal elder told me that wherever I go in this country to ask myself whose footprints I walk in.  This advice has followed me on every journey I make around my country and was especially poignant on my walk around Uluru and then later Kata Tjuta.

Our journey into one of the most astonishing landscapes in the world continued with a visit to Kata Tjuta. This landform is about 50 kilometres from Uluru and again it is a sacred site. Visitors are reminded to be respectful and to stay on the tracks provided.  We enjoyed two walks here; the Valley of the Winds walk; a spectacular steep and rocky walk in places that took us into valleys and creek beds, the views along the way were breathtaking; and the Walpa Gorge walk, a short walk in comparison.  The gorge is like a sanctuary.  It was a cool place between high russet walls ending at a stream. The plant life was rich and varied. Again, we enjoyed learning about the ancient traditions, the significance of the area, the qualities of the plants and how they were used.

More than ever, I have come away with the certainty and conviction that we are all responsible for looking after the land upon which we live. I thank the Anangu people for the privilege and honour of visiting their land.

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Hiking the Larapinta

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Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir

My beloved and I recently spent six days hiking on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, Australia.  I sat just now with the intention of sharing the experience with you but I’m stuck. All that will come is a factual account as the words escape me to explain the experience that is locked away, savouring and maturing in my heart, mind and body. It was a walk of some enormity, not in days, or distance necessarily but in awe. Awe for my country, awe for the man I was walking with (my life partner), awe that I, without much preparation, managed to walk with enjoyment and relative ease. It was a time of reconnecting; with each other, our individual selves and with nature. It was an immeasurably personal, spiritual and sacred time that I don’t feel I can justly explain.  I’ll  see if I can share a little of what the hike was like and perhaps my words will unlock and tumble forth as I go.

Part of the Larapinta trail was established in the 1990s, with an extension added around 2002. More recent changes and upgrades have been made in the last several years, so it is one of the newest and very popular long walks in Australia. In its entirety it is 223 km and follows the West MacDonald Ranges. There are twelve sections so hikers can choose to walk the length of the track or sections of the track as time permits. We had six days so we walked three sections from Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm. There are no hiking fees though some camp grounds do have a small fee, making this one of the most affordable walks I’ve done.

We carried food for six days, though food drops can be arranged at several key junctures for those walking further; a handy service considering the weight of packs. My beloved carried our tent, gas stove and majority of our water with a pack weighing over 25 kilograms, mine was about 19- 20 kilos at the outset, though joyously lightened with each meal. Water was plentiful on the track. Tanks were available at each trailhead, though between trailheads we carried at least 8 litres a day. Water sterilisation is strongly advised as the water may be sourced from bores in the drier months. The water we came across in creeks and gullies was not terribly inviting and during the warmer months when there is little rain there would be a tremendous shortage of drinkable natural water.

We walked in our winter, June/ July, the best time for an arid zone hike. The temperatures were around 20 to 22 degrees during the day but my goodness that sun had some sting in it. I cannot imagine the heat in the hotter months, it must be debilitating. We drank litres of water a day and were always grateful for the shade of a tree or rock or a cool breeze during our rest stops. A hat and sunscreen are essential, a long sleeved shirt is advised. I’m used to walking in humidity here in Australia so the dry air was a change and this too necessitated the intake of large quantities of water for hydration. At night the temperatures plunged to single digits, between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius so thermals and down jackets came out around camp.

Each section of the walk was breathtaking; the landscape and its features, the rock, the plants, the colours. We were mesmerised. There had been an unseasonal amount of rain in recent times and so the landscape was green. Where I had envisioned a red and raw earth, stripped of vegetation, we were instead rewarded with an arid kind of lushness. Many wild flowers were in bloom. The colours of these beauties were yellow, green, purple, white and red. Even the leaves of the trees and bushes were stunning in their many shades of green from silver grey through to army green. We crossed plains, hiked up and across saddles, climbed bluffs and plodded down gorges. Many waded through water in creeks, some waist deep, but we managed to find paths around and once we scrambled over gorge walls to avoid an early morning dip in very cool waters.

We camped in some beautiful spots. Ellery Creek campground is accessible by vehicles and so we discovered many family groups with caravans and RVs as well as a few bike riders and a couple of other walkers. Our second night was quiet by comparison. Rocky Gully was a little flat spot hidden away along, well, a rocky gully. We were one of three small groups that night. Here we met a family of three who were walking the same sections of the trail as us, in the same time as us. Day three saw us arrive at Hugh Gorge camp site. This one too was accessible by vehicle but there were only our trail buddies and us for the evening. My beloved and I made our camp on the sandy banks of a dry creek bed where we could look up at the walls of the gorge we were to travel through the next day. Fringe Lily campsite was one of my favourites. On arrival our trail buddies warned us there was a party of women bathing naked in the creek. Avoiding them my beloved trekked further down the gorge, and I mean much further. After a day of walking I wondered why he was adding another several kilometres to the tally and why we were scrambling over rocks and traversing rocky shelves but when I saw what he had discovered I was pretty impressed. Our camp was a secluded spot on a sandy creek bed with high rock walls on one side and rolling hills on the other. We enjoyed watching the reflection of the sunset in a shallow pool nearby. It was an oasis in the desert. On day four we arrive tired and hot at Birthday Waterhole. We did not camp at the waterhole but instead in the allocated campground with just our family of three to share with. Our plot was surrounded by a grove of trees and we were close to the many birds who sang us into the evening and heralded the next day. Our final camp, on top of Brinkley Bluff, had panoramic views.  After making camp quite early we sat with tea in hand and absorbed vast and beautiful landscape before us. We’d found a little sheltered wall to tuck into and couldn’t have been more pleased. It is hard to say if one place was nicer than the others, all were unique and endearing in their own particular way. I love the sense of ease that comes with pitching a tent and cooking on a portable stove.

John Muir says it best, in every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks. This walker is still processing, nurturing and treasuring the experience. I am filled with the joy of sharing every step of this journey with my beloved. I am filled with the sacredness and spirit of my country. I am filled with the wonder of adventure. This experience is so firmly held in the chambers of my heart, in the recesses of my mind and in the fluid movements of my body that I have no need of words to reflect and recall for myself. But as I hoped to share my adventure with you, perhaps, since words fail me, my photographs can explain some of the magnificence of what I experienced, so you too can share the wonders of the Larapinta Trail.

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