Australia's red center definitely took some effort to reach, but I'm glad we went. After doing a bit of research, we learned that all of the accommodation in Uluru (Ayers Rock) is run by one company. They offer options ranging from luxury to "budget," but the budget wasn't very budget to us (about $100/night for a so-so cabin). So, we got a campervan in Alice Springs and drove the five hours to Uluru.
Compared to tent camping, sleeping in a campervan felt downright luxurious. It was my first time staying in one, and I fell in love with our cute little 'hi-top' backpacker, its clever use of space (sink, fridge, stove, microwave, shelves, closet with hangers, etc.) and the way the dining/living room transformed into the bedroom at night.
My favorite thing about camping is sleeping at sunset and waking up at sunrise. At our Uluru campsite, we woke up to a bird singing kookooboora kookoobeeeeera and this view.
And it turns out I was wrong about Australia being just like California. The birds 'down under' are way more melodic. No tweet tweet or chirp chirp here. There were full-blown songs and concertos, and there was quite a spectrum of different tunes.
The sky seemed brighter and bluer in Australia, too, and we really started to feel the Aussie magic when I was admiring the red dirt, and a pair of bright green birds swooped down in front of our campervan. I later learned they were desert parrots. I didn't know desert parrots existed. Not much later, a black eagle spread its wings right in front of our windshield and then soared away. Now, this is what I came to Australia for.
We visited the cultural center (with an interesting though not necessarily appetizing video about traditional bush food) and walked around part of the base of Uluru. People ooh and ahh over the sunset and sunrise colors, but I liked seeing the rock during the day, as the ridges were more clearly defined.
It made me sad to see people climbing the rock, especially because they had to walk right by huge signs that say in many languages, "Please don't climb." We've heard mixed reports on how sacred Uluru is to the local aborigines, but if the sign says 'don't climb, please walk around the base instead,' it seems obvious that we should respect it.
We also visited neighboring Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas), which was, like Uluru, one solid, massive rock, but it's been worn down over the years and now resembles a bunch of rounded heads. What makes Uluru and Kata Tjuta so impressive is that the area around them is completely flat.
We found free camping the second night at Curtin Springs, complete with restrooms, showers and a friendly and fearless resident emu.
The emu and my partner were duking it out for some of our trail mix.
It would appear that the emu won.
Or you could just say that my partner is a nice and generous guy.
As usual, we slept at sunset.
And awoke at sunrise.
And we got another visit from our new friend:
So, yes, our visit to the Australian outback was absolutely worth it. We met lots of other travelers who wondered whether they should bother, as it certainly takes both time and money, and I'd say if you can swing it, go.
Alice Springs is the hub of aboriginal art (meaning you'll have the most variety and the most competitive prices), but it isn't much otherwise. I'd use it as a loading station/gateway and make your way to Uluru and Kata Tjuta pronto. Also, if you rent a campervan, know that they charge by the calendar day, not by 24-hour days. (Clarified in comments below.)
As another completely random selling point, the carrots we bought in Alice Springs were absolutely delicious. Light and crunchy and sweet. We chomped on these all day long.
Even our flight out of Alice Springs was otherworldly.
Next up: Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.