Northern Territory: More than hot air

By Pamela Wade

Take in the dramatic views at King's Canyon. Photo / Supplied
Take in the dramatic views at King's Canyon. Photo / Supplied

Kids, cooking, cleaning, carpools, clocks, computers: there comes a time when you need to escape the relentless treadmill of your life and take some time to breathe. The answer is to do a Huck Finn and light out for the territory - the Northern Territory, that is.

1 The ooooh factor: Why the Red Centre? Because there's nowhere bigger than the Outback. There's something about that distant low horizon going all the way around behind you and joining up again in front, with the vast bowl of cobalt-blue sky overhead and the silence that stretches for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. It makes you and your preoccupations seem inconsequential. In the centre of this huge expanse of nothingness, there's Uluru, or Ayers Rock: so big, so red, so astonishing and so inexplicable, that it saps every other thought except an awestruck: "Wow!". Watching it blush in the sunset is a must and so is getting up close to hear its story courtesy of the local Anangu people - but climbing it is a cultural no-no, even though it's officially allowed. Far better to drive 50km to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, and take the Valley of the Winds walk through these mysterious and beautiful and timeless red domes.

2 The aaah factor: At the Ayers Rock Resort, give yourself up to Julienne's clever fingers at the Red Ochre Spa and melt away all those knots and tensions with a deep tissue massage. It doesn't just make you feel good: it does you good, as well. Once you're standing straight and easy again, go and look at the fabulous Aboriginal art displayed in the nearby Mulgara Gallery. There's some breathtakingly lovely work there - the hand-knotted silk rugs are especially tempting - all showcasing the strikingly modern and elegant designs that are unique to each artist. Watch huge canvases being painstakingly painted on the floor, the simple method of execution building to a finish of remarkable complexity.

3 The overview: Though the Outback is relentlessly flat, there are some dramatically vertical features of ancient orange rock, and none more spectacular than Kings Canyon. Get a cardio workout by climbing the 600 steps up to the Rim Walk and then take a look at the closest thing this planet has to infinity. There's a lot to enjoy close to, as well: fossilised ripples and shellfish, a Lost City of beehive domes, a hidden Garden of Eden where 400-year-old cycads grow. Consider the horizontal root of a bonsai'd fig tree struggling for a century to survive in this harshest of environments.

4 The inner view: In her pleasant house and garden in Alice Springs, Kalikamurti Suich will help you stretch both your body and your mind at a yoga and well-being workshop. Dru yoga is gentle, floating, relaxing, and allows the mind to detach from your surroundings while easing kinks and stiffness in the muscles: a peaceful session is the perfect preparation for the more taxing session on taking charge of life. A trained counsellor, Kalikamurti guides people who are dissatisfied with aspects of their life, but don't know how to set about changing them. With a light touch she explains choice theory: how to recognise the quality life you seek and the disconnecting habits that stand in your way. She shows how you can replace them with their opposites in order to achieve freedom from the mindset and memories that are holding you back. Her home-made cake is good, too.

5 Get away from it all: In remote Oak Valley, unroll your swag by the campfire and listen as Craig le Rossignol opens the door to the world of Aboriginal people. Part French, part Irish, part Arrernte, part Luritja, he's perfectly placed to explain what can seem an enigmatic culture. Ever wondered how they kept warm without clothing, how they're assigned their animal totem, whether the old ways are dying out or what a campfire-roasted roo tail tastes like? Craig's your man - as long as you're quick enough to squeeze in your question when he pauses for breath. The bright stars wheel overhead while the fire crackles and dies away to embers that glow comfortingly in the night if you're woken by the screech of an owl. And in the morning there's bacon and eggs, fossils and bush tucker, song-line stories and ancient cave paintings. It's a privileged view into a simpler, yet deeper, way of life.

6 Have it all: Outside dingoes howl in the chilly desert night, but you're snug in your soft bed with the heat pump whooshing and a proper bathroom just across the porch - a tented cabin at Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge is camping for wusses. Don't forget the sunset cocktails at the lookout over the cattle station, the roast dinner or the helicopter flightseeing option. But if tents aren't your thing stay at a hotel in Alice Springs and enjoy a delicious multi-course dinner under the stars in the West McDonnell Ranges courtesy of Bob Taylor, a professional chef of Arrernte heritage. Sit around the mulga wood fire while he serves up delicacies like bush dukkah, barbecued kangaroo fillet and white chocolate and wattle-seed steamed puddings.

7 Rise above it all: You've exercised the mind and body, and gained perspective and understanding of both yourself and other people from a very different world. Now put it all in place by floating effortlessly and silently above this vast landscape in a colourful hot air balloon as the sun rises Then toast it all with a glass of champagne.

WEBSITES

* Get an extra hour in bed, free parking for two weeks and a free airport shuttle at Jet Park Hotel in Auckland.

* Fly from Sydney and Melbourne direct to Uluru or Alice Springs.

* Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Red Ochre Spa.

* Kings Canyon and Wilderness Lodge.

* Yoga and Well-Being Workshop.

* Camping at Craig's place.

* Dinner with Bob.

* Flying High.

* For more informations see australiasoutback.com.

pamelawade.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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