Operation Cassowary: Sleeping With Camels

When you leave Alice Springs, it’s normally five hours straight to Uluru by moving south and then west. What we did, however, was proceed west, hit Aboriginal sites and King’s Canyon, and then move south to Uluru. We were in three white jeeps, and moved like a convoy west out of the city. We would spend two nights on the road and finish with Uluru as the centerpiece of our outback journey.

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The first site of note were the Ochre Pits, a place with hillsides of ochre, a material similar to clay that was used by ancient Aborigines for economic, cultural, and ritual purposes. It was deserted except for our group because we left so early, and we examined the fascinating practices of the inhabitants of Australia. The earth looks like, in terms of color, the Grand Canyon. There were yellows, oranges, maroon reds, and browns which amplified the desert feeling of the land. These sites were easily accessible from the road and after about fifteen minutes of silent enjoyment we were once again on our way.

Next we proceeded to a canyon I believe was called Ormiston Gorge (correct me if I’m wrong,) where we hiked up the side of a mountain to a lookout platform amidst a forest of gum trees. We lookout out over a gorge of massive rock cliffs that looked as if they were about to slide into the small, shallow watering hole at the bottom. We made our way down and achieved gorgeous (apologies for that) views of shimmering waters in this oasis between the faces of the cliffs. Since parts of it were dry, we could parkour across boulders and rocks until we saw more great views and mirror-like waters. It was an arduous trek, and it expended our water bottles, but it was well worth it.

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Driving through the Australian Outback, we saw all sorts of trees and grasses growing out of the rock and adding to the unique geology. The jeep paused to see a dingo hanging out in the brush nearby, and we admired it and made awful “dingo ate your baby” jokes. We had lunch inside of a meteor crater, where we made ourselves sandwiches and tried several types of Australian cream sodas. This was an extraordinary crater, which left great impressions on us all. There were plaques about the site’s relevance in Aboriginal culture, as well as more information on how craters are created. It was a fabulous place to take a break and eat lunch using provided picnic tables.

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The dingo sighting outside of the meteor crater.
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The meteor impact crater from a distance.

But the best food of all that day was located at a petrol (gas) station perched right below a cliff, where I bought postcards of the Ochre Pits. Needing a snack, I selected a candy bar not found in the United States. It was called a “Cherry Ripe,” and when I bit into it my mind was blown. Imagine biting into a chocolate bar, only to tap into a filling of almost pureed cherry and cherry shreds that tingle your tongue. If you eat it before it melts in the heat of the outback, the ingredients mix in your mouth, the mixture of chocolate and cherry filling exploding on your palate. It was by far the best dessert I had tried in Australia, and remained to be my candy bar of choice for the duration of the trip.

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Gazing into an endless sea of sand.

Out here, the roads are dirt and the cars kick out plumes of dust in their wakes. You drive along ridges and through fields, our cars the only ones on the road for miles and miles. This continued for most of the afternoon until we hit the King’s Creek Camel Ranch. One might ask me, “Will? You slept with camels? In Australia? Why?” The answer is, ever since the first camel was brought into Australia from the Canary Islands, Australia has had ranches of camels scattered throughout the land. It’s the most bizarre thing to think of. In fact, if what our guides said was correct, the Arabian Peninsula imports many of their camels from Australia. I could believe it all, because when we arrived at the camel ranch, we arrived at our block of tents to see a few camels hanging out across a fence. One even let some of us pet it.

King’s Creek is awesome for the location alone. On a main road, it felt like an old west town. Our wing of tents were small individual rooms with two beds each, and when all the lights were turned out at night it was pitch black. If I remember correctly, the nights were freezing cold in there, but it was still warmer than outside. It served as a wondrous stopping point for the trip (and an open space to throw our returning boomerangs from Cairns.) And we needed sleep, because the next day we would be climbing mountains, overlooking cliffs… and eating live worms.

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