When your tour guide informs you after a long day that there will be a 4 AM wake up call, the obvious response is to organise a mutiny. But then, this is only the second day of the tour, so patience may be called for. It seemed to me that the reward for such madness should, at least, come close to compensating us for the interrupted sleep– a bird’s eye view of an erupting volcano, perhaps, or a front-row seat as thousands of wildebeests thunder past on their annual migration.

The denouement for the first day of this adventure (for which several hundred people lined up at the designated spot) was a complete bust. It was supposed to be the best photo op of the trip– the sun setting over Uluru. Only there was no sun, and the monolith itself was obscured by ash clouds from recent fires. At least our guide was good enough to break out some bubbly and hors d’oeuvres.

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There had been rain in recent weeks, but the light rains followed 156 days without any precipitation. While we were eating dinner, lightning bolts flashed in the sky and those who ventured out from under the shelter felt a drops. For most members of our group, it was their first experience sleeping in the great outdoors in a swag.

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There were some looks of dismay as the Europeans realised that a fat roll of canvas was going to be home for the night. Dingoes or no dingoes, lightning, rain or flash flood. There was talk of tents, a discussion Tamara gently steered back to the benefits of sleeping under the stars. My previous trip in the Kimberley had prepared me for this and I was looking forward to it. What I didn’t realise until the next morning was that I had thrown down my swag in a nest of ants. It made for a long and itchy night.

After breakfast, at the designated sunrise viewing stop, we milled about with the rest of the tourists, unsure of what exactly we should be looking at. Kata Tjuta, (the Olgas) were barely visible in the distance because of the haze. The most obvious points of interest were a couple of brushfires that seemed to be burning out of control.

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Both Kata Tjuta and Uluru are remnants of a huge bed of sedimentary rock, worn down over some 40 million years following the retreat of an inland sea. It is believed that Kata Tjuta may have been a single rock, even bigger than Uluru before weathering wore it down to thirty-six separate rock domes, one of which remains 150 meters (about 500 feet) higher than Uluru.

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Between Ayer’s Rock and the Olgas lies an ancient valley made up of sand layers which hold water, much of which seeps into Lake Amadeaus, ten kms north of the Park. Some of this water is estimated to be seven thousand years old. The dunes themselves are older still, fundamentally unchanged for 30,000 years. Our destination for the morning is the valley of the wind trail, which is too hot to tackle in the afternoon. That is the reason for the ungodly wake up call. When I step into the magic of the Olgas, all thoughts of mutiny evaporate like a sprinkling of raindrops in the desert. It is magical.

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As our eyes drink in the stark, beautiful landscape, Tamara tells us about the plants and animals, the myths and history. We should be on the look out for euros, she tells us. One of our group is soon fishing in his pocket for a coin. Not that, she says, the euro is a sub-species of the most widespread kangaroo, the Common Wallaroo or Hill Kangaroo.

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They have shiny button noses like koalas and wombats. Euros hop on their short legs in an upright posture. They are less elegant than Red and Grey Kangaroos on flat ground, but bound up rocky slopes with ease. Not far down the trail, one of our group spots one, but by the time I have my camera ready, he is too far away for a good shot.

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At the end of our 7.4 km walk, we jump on ‘Snooty’ for a very long ride to our next destination– King’s Creek Station. I should explain here that the vehicle we are on is one of several owned by WayOutback, and in the interests of identification, each one has a name. Snooty is a 4 wheel drive bus that seats sixteen. In addition, we are hauling a trailer, which holds all the food and kitchen supplies. More about the trailer later.

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We’ll be backtracking past Uluru to the Curtin Springs Roadhouse, then heading North on the Luritja Road, about 170 kms of dirt. Drive too slowly on a dirt road and you feel every bump, too fast and the vehicle shakes apart. We drove at the automotive equivalent of a fast trot, skimming the tires across the tops of the ridges, which were formed by the action of the tires themselves. Just beyond the Curtin Springs Roadhouse, we catch sight of Mount Connor, another monolith, larger but a lot less famous than Uluru. Curtin Springs cattle station is a mere million acres, so Mt Connor hardly takes any room at all.

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This is camel country. Most of the early European explorers used camels, and when they finally had all tracks in place for the trains and telegraph lines, they were too dear to their handlers to put down. Here and there, handfuls of camels were quietly released into the wild. Today, there are an estimated one million rogue camels roaming the outback.

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We reach King’s Creek Station at last. Some of our group head to the roadhouse for a drink after dinner. I spread out my swag under the stars. It would be good to have a long night’s sleep at last.

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