August, 2015 browsing by month


A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part V – Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

My last post in this series exploring the Red Centre of Australia which previously included the posts:

This post explores the famous Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which formed in a similar way to Uluru but from alluvial conglomerate rock deposits from the nearby mountain ranges which were once as high as the Himalayas. See the previous post on Uluru for an explanation of the geology of how these massive rocks formed.

Kata Tjuta consists of a number of rounded conglomerate rock formations which at 546m above the plain are substantially higher than Uluru (348m above the plain). It is some 50km west of Uluru on bitumen road within the park.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are listed at #33 in the Lonely Planet’s Top 500 travel destinations in the world for 2015. Australia is the only country represented twice in the top 12 destinations with the Great Barrier Reef at #2 and the Twelve Apostles at #12, and even gets a 3rd mention at #20 with MONA art gallery in Hobart.

from the air

Unfortunately one is NOT permitted to stop your car along the road near Kata Tjuta (for the 16km stretch west of the Kata Tjuta sunset viewing platform), and as with Uluru, you must vacate the park by closure time which is currently 7.30pm in winter. An important issue for those with rental cars is that you will NOT be covered by any insurance if you have an accident after sunset, so the 45 min drive back to Yulara after sunset viewing of Kata Tjuta poses financial risk of potentially paying for the replacement cost of the vehicle if you happen to hit wildlife – although risk does appear low here if one drives carefully and at reduced speed.

Kata Tjuta sunset at 100kph

One of the better views at sunset of Kata Tjuta but at this area, one is not permitted to stop the car so this was out the window while car was moving.


The last blue moon for 3 years and I managed to capture this from the Kata Tjuta dune viewing platform, although from 30km west of Uluru, the moon was still too far south from Uluru to allow a telephoto lens to make it look larger and still capture it in the same image as Uluru. One is not allowed to just stop your car anywhere in the park so planning these shots are quite limited to certain locations. Olympus OM-D E-M5 hand held with Olympus mZD 12-40mm lens at f/5, 1/160th sec, ISO 200, 40mm focal length and Vivid picture tone.

There are only two car park locations to choose from:

  • Kata Tjuta dune viewing platform which is directly south of Kata Tjuta and a 600m walk from the car park, and in winter after sunset, will give a silhouette view, but also the only view of Uluru from Kata Tjuta
  • one of the 3 main Kata Tjuta car parks (west of Kata Tjuta) from which you can do the various walks through Kata Tjuta – although none of the peaks can be climbed – they are just far too steep to allow that

Walks at Kata Tjuta:

There are two main places from which to walk:

  • Walpa Gorge – the easiest walk, 2.6km, 1hr return
  • Valley of the Winds – there are 3 options on this more strenuous up and down hill walk on often unstable rocky ground – short 2.2km 1hr return walk to Karu Lookout, or continue on for a 5.4km 2-2.5hr return walk to Karingana Lookout, or continue from there to a circuit walk which takes you back to Karu Lookout and covers 7.4km which will take average walkers 4hrs in total- none of these give views of Uluru and the circuit part requires a permit for commercial photography!

The walks are closed if temperature is above 36degC, and you should take water and sun protection as well as sturdy shoes/boots with good soles. Sun protection would not be needed if walking just before sunset.

In hot weather aim to complete the walks by 11am. The hottest part of the day is usually 4pm in summer when temperatures in the sun can reach close to 50degC. Go in winter!

I only had time to do a quick return walk to Karingana Lookout before the sun set on us:

Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

At Karingana Lookout:

Karingana Lookout

Karingana Lookout

Karingana Lookout

Above, the view east from Karingana Lookout – the view to Uluru is blocked.

Karingana Lookout

On the return walk back from Karingana Lookout:

Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

Kata Tjuta walk just before sunset

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens.

A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part IV – Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

My 4th post in this series exploring the Red Centre of Australia which previously included the posts:

This post explores the famous Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) which is the largest monolith in the world, and what you see is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

It is over 460km by road from Alice Springs, but thankfully it is all bitumen now but Google estimates it should take you 6 hours by car (under 1hr by air), and that is not including another day or two diversion to the wonderful King’s Canyon.

Accommodation is relatively expensive at the nearby resort town of Yulara and overnight stays are NOT permitted within the Uluru park which will cost you $25 per person to enter for up to 3 days.

  • Ayers Rock Resort offers a variety of accommodation including camping
  • luxury accommodation at Longitude 131 ($2,400 per night for a luxury tent with views of Uluru)

There are direct flights to Ayers Rock Airport from most capital cities and from Alice Springs, but be aware, there is only one direct flight each day from Melbourne. There is car rental available.

As mentioned in Part I, it is usually best avoided in the very hot Australian summer months of Dec-Feb, but these months are more likely to give you storms and clouds which may offer a different experience of the rock.

Walking around the rock is quite exposed and will take some 2.5-3hrs to walk the 10.5-11.5km flat easy walking gravel circuit – you will need a sun hat, sunglasses, UV protection, drinking water, a snack, good shoes, and on chilly winter mornings, a warm jacket. – and of course, your camera!

This walk is a MUST DO for everyone once in their life as it is the only way to experience the wonderful rock formations intimately.

Please do NOT climb the rock as not only is it dangerous in wind or rain in particular, but it is disrespectful of the indigenous peoples’ wishes.

There are a number of spots at which tourists can capture sunrise or sunset, and you must exit the park by closure which in winter is at 7.30pm (winter sunset is around 6.30pm in August), and if you are really keen you can book a ride in a helicopter for a unique sunset or sunrise photo, or go for a sunset camel ride.



The last blue moon for 3 years and I managed to capture this one near Uluru, although from 30km west of Uluru, the moon was still too far south from Uluru to allow a telephoto lens to make it look larger and still capture it in the same image as Uluru. One is not allowed to just stop your car anywhere in the park so planning these shots are quite limited to certain locations. Olympus OM-D E-M5 hand held with Olympus mZD 12-40mm lens at f/5, 1/160th sec, ISO 200, 40mm focal length and Vivid picture tone.

The circuit walk around Uluru:

One generally starts at the car park where tourists used to climb the rock and the assistance chain is still in place so unfortunately some tourists still do climb it without respecting the wishes of the local peoples who view this as a significant sacred site.


The myriad variations of light and shadow depending upon the time of day and season allows the photographer to get creative no matter when they go – we started at around 10am and so no Golden Hour for us, but still awesome shooting:



Erosions in a cave

As you pass around the north side, you are asked not to photograph certain sacred areas of the features, but once past this, you are treated to a few features which you can apparently photograph:


Perhaps an image of a dinosaur at the base?


A massive humanoid skull?









And, as always, there will be tourists who disrespect the indigenous owner’s wishes and will climb the rock.

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with a polarising filter.

The fascinating geological history of Uluru and Kata Tjuta:


900 million years ago, a depression formed in central Australia called the Amadeus Basin and this area received layer upon layer of sediment.

550 million years ago the Petermann Ranges to the west of Kata Tjuta were taller than they are now (thought to be as high as present day Himalayas at 10,000m)  as they were pushed up by movement of the southern Musgrave Province block of earth crust during the Petermann Orogeny.

Plants had not evolved this long ago, so rainwater flowing down the mountains eroded sand and rock and dropped it in big fan shapes on the surrounding plain.

One fan had mainly water-smoothed rocks (and would later form the Olgas or Kata Tjuta consisting of conglomerate rock). The other fan was mainly sand (shedding of granite feldspar crystals and dumped at the base of the ranges, and would later form grey arkose, a coarse grained sandstone rich in the mineral feldspar, to become Uluru). Both fans became kilometres thick.

500 millions years ago, the whole area became covered in sea with a tropical seaway forming through Central Australia and out through the Kimberley. Sand and mud fell to the bottom of the sea and covered the seabed, including the fans. The weight of the new seabed turned both it and the 2.5km thick fans beneath into rock.

400 million years ago, the sea disappeared and the whole of Central Australia began to be subjected to massive forces during the Alice Springs Orogeny event which raised the region above sea level. Some rocks folded and tilted. The rocky fan tilted slightly. The sand fan tilted 90 degrees so the layers of sandstone almost stood on end and became pushed down into the crust in the process, and the forces created very hard rock.

Over the last 300 million years, the softer rocks have eroded away, leaving the very hard rock parts of the old fans exposed. Kata Tjuta is a hard part of the old rocky fan which was tilted 15-20deg during the Alice Springs Orogeny. Uluru is part of the sand fan, with its beds of sandstone nearly vertical.

Uluru is the tip of a huge slab of rock that continues below the ground for possibly five to six kilometres.

The surface of Uluru is red as the iron in the arkose sandstone becomes oxidised as it becomes exposed to air.

Between Uluru and Kata Tjuta is an old valley which is filled with sediment up to 100 metres thick. The sand layers in these sediments hold water which eventually seeps into Lake Amadeus. Near the airport, the water table is only 12m underground and bores supply the water for the resort. The underground water basin forms from rains soaking through over the past 7,000 years.
The sand dunes have largely remained in their same positions for the past 30,000 years.

see also:


Next… the Olgas…

PS.. I have re-visited Uluru and Kata Tjuta in March 2016 and taken a helicopter sunrise ride – see my blog post of this here.


A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part III – the West Macdonnell Ranges and their gorges

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Following on from my introduction to the Red Centre which covered why go, getting there, accommodation and car hire issues, and my post on Alice Springs, the indigenous peoples, road trauma and climbing Mt Gillen, it is now turn to highlight the quick tourist’s view of the West Macdonnell Ranges or Tjoritja (I did not get time to see the East Macdonnell Ranges on this trip … maybe another time).

You can explore these ranges by hiring a car (preferably a 4WD to better negotiate a few kilometres of gravel roads to some of the gorges), or you can go via a tour bus.

An excellent option which I took was to stay overnight at the Glen Helen Resort which is at almost the far west end of the ranges some 132km from Alice Springs on bitumen road, or, if you have a caravan or tent then overnight at one of the gorges is usually possible.

Many of these gorges have permanent waterholes but they are very cold, so swimming would be more a summer pursuit!

For the adventurous, the Larapinta Trail is a world-renown bush walk trail covering some 223km of one way walk in 14 day trip sections of very exposed walks – mostly along the ridges of the ranges.

the ranges

The history of this mountain range is fascinating:

850-800 million years ago, most of the southern half of the Northern Territory  was inundated by a shallow sea resulting in quartz-rich deposits and these formed the now red “Heavitree quartzite rock” layer which is so evident in the cliffs today.

800-760 million years ago, the sea became shallower still, forming tidal lagoons which deposited lime-rich mud which hardened to form greyish dolomite, a type of limestone rich in magnesium. Silt was also deposited and this became siltstone. This layer is called the Bitter Springs Formation, and occurred at a time when stromatolites (blue-green algae) dominated the life forms on earth. Stromatolites were the main life form on earth for 2000 million years, and being the 1st photosynthetic bacteria, eventually oxygenated the atmosphere and the seas (the Great Oxygenation Event which started some 2400 mya) which allowed current life forms to evolve and also oxidised the minerals in the seas such as iron resulting in massive deposits of red sandstone high in iron oxide such as in the Pilbara – see my post on Broome.

760-620 million years ago, the build up of oxygen and falling methane and carbon dioxide levels resulted in a reverse greenhouse effect, and earth became a giant snowball covered in ice. Global volcanic activity reversed this process, thawing the world and the melting glaciers from two ice ages (750mya and 625mya), deposited eroded materials to form new rocks, pebbles and boulders, these formed the Areyonga Formation and then the Pioneer Sandstone layer. As an aside, around 630mya, the thawing set the stage for a new evolution of life forms – the Ediacaran fauna (named after the Ediacara Hills of nearby South Australia).

620-600 million years ago, the sea returned but was deeper, resulting in fine grained sediments which formed the Pertatataka Formation consisting of red-brown flaky shales. This was the age of jellyfish.

The combined thickness of the above layers amounted to ~ 2 kilometres.

Between 340 million and 310 million years ago, massive earth movements pushed up these layers of quartzite and the many other sedimentary layers on top of this (from top-down: Juile formation, Pertatataka formation, Pioneer sandstone, Areyonga formation, Bitter Springs formation)  to form a mountain chain 10,000m high – the ancestral ranges were as high as today’s Himalayas!

Constant weathering by wind, flowing water, ice formation, etc over 315 million years has eroded all the softer top layers, leaving the current ranges mainly formed by the hard quartzite layer.

Indeed, a feature of the region are the many vertically oriented layers of red quartzite rock running parallel with the main road and somewhat resembling a natural form of the Great Wall of China.

Each of the above layers are evident on the ground surface as you drive back from the Ellery Creek Big Hole – at the waterhole, the cliffs are the quartzite layer, and then as you drive back to Namatjira Drive, the northern border is the Pertatataka Formation – so you sequentially drive across 250 million years of geologic history in those few kilometres.

The red quartzite cliffs at Ormiston Gorge actually consists of 2 layers of quartzite with the top layer having been pushed over the bottom layer from a distance of some 2 kilometres!


The first two sites are quite close to Alice Springs and could be skipped and done another day if staying in Alice – Simpson’s Gap (can even ride a bike here) and Standley Chasm.

Simpson’s Gap:

This is a favourite location for the locals to escape the summer heat as it is said to always have a lovely breeze through the gap – certainly on a cool winter’s morning, there was a substantial chill factor here warranting use of gloves and a spare camera battery!

Here is a shot of the lovely river red gums on the creek bed.

Simpsons Gap

Standley Chasm:

The only one of the sights on this trip which is on private land and requires an entry fee – best seen at midday when the sun lights up the chasm, and it has a nice cafe and souvenir shop.

The walk to the chasm is very pleasant and quite different from the other gorge walks as you follow a narrow rocky creek up a gorge.

Standley Chasm

We were there too early in the day and thus the gorge itself was fully in shade but there was a lovely orange glow on the cliffs behind the gorge.

Standley Chasm

Vertical quartzite layers and other types of rock on the walking path to the chasm:

Standley Chasm


Ellery Creek Big Hole:

A very nice waterhole surrounded by lovely gum trees:

Ellery Creek

Serpentine Gorge:

If you are short on time, you could skip this one and do Ormiston Gorge instead, but it is a nice little walk to a small waterhole with beautiful ghost gums at the base of a narrow gorge:

Serpentine Gorge

Serpentine Gorge

Ormiston Gorge:

This is the jewel in the crown of the West Macdonnell ranges for me.

There is the longer Pound Walk loop which takes “3-4hrs”, but we did not have time for this one on this trip. There is also a 1-2 day return walk to Bowman’s Gap along the river bed.

Make sure you do the full Ghost Gum circuit which will take 1.5-3 hours depending on how many photos you take – the walk does go up about 70-100m but there are good paths and steps. It takes you to a beautiful ghost gum on the top of a cliff where there is a lookout down to the river bed below and across the awesome red gorge cliffs:

Ormiston Gorge

View from the lookout:

Ormiston Gorge

One then descends down into the gorge where there are a myriad of photographic opportunities of rock forms, red cliffs with spindly little white ghost gums clinging to them:

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

Once on the riverbed, walking is more a task of clambering over the thousands of boulders as you make your way back to the sandy river bed:

Ormiston Gorge

On return, there is a lovely large waterhole at the base of the red cliffs with a few water birds such as egrets and more lovely gum trees:

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

Finally, the path back to the car park and kiosk takes you past these two beautiful ghost gums:

Ormiston Gorge

Glen Helen Resort:

Glen Helen Resort is the only motel style accommodation within the ranges and it has a very nice restaurant with a great chef – but you will need to book in advance!

The rooms are modest with a double bed and bunk beds but are all that most would need for an overnight stay.

The Glen Helen Gorge itself, Finke River and waterhole are quite difficult to photograph well and you do need to have complimentary lighting such as a nice sunrise, although there are opportunities to photograph the bird life around the water hole.

Redbank Gorge:

This is the last gorge, but one that is well worth seeing. There is a nice walk along the dry river bed to a waterhole at the base of a very narrow and rocky gorge, and if you get the light right and your exposures, it can be magic.

First the walk takes you past some more lovely ghost gums:

Redbank Gorge

Redbank Gorge

Then along the river bed with its many river red gums, and finally to the gorge and waterhole:

Redbank Gorge

Tyler’s Pass and Gosse’s Bluff meteor crater:

One can continue on from Redbank and head towards the unsealed gravel Mereneenie Loop Road (some 48km on this rough road to Hermannsburg to complete a loop back to Alice, or one can continue another 150km or so to King’s Canyon), and in doing so, can stop at Tyler’s Pass Lookout to take in views of the massive meteor crate which is known as Gosse’s Bluff (one can drive into it but that is another unsealed road and needs extra time allowed for it).

Gosse’s Bluff or Tnorala, is an eroded meteor crater which impacted some 142 million years ago, very close to the Jurassic – Cretaceous boundary. Originally the rim was ~22km diameter but now has eroded to 5km diameter as a 180m high crater-like feature

Tylers Pass

The junction with the Mereneenie Loop Road – The Red Centre Way in the middle of no where:

The Red Centre Way

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with Vivid picture mode and polarising filter. The exceptions were the shots at Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm which were shot with the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens.

A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia Part II – Alice Springs

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Following on from my introduction to the Red Centre which covered why go, getting there, accommodation and car hire issues, for many the first major stop in central Australia will be the remote semi-arid township of Alice springs which is half way between Darwin and Adelaide – 1,500km from each.

The airport is some 20km from the town and taxi fare will cost about $35 into town although some car rental companies may offer personal pick up, and in addition there are regular shuttle bus services which will cost about $17 per person.

The Ghan train between Adelaide and Darwin does stop in Alice Springs and this may be an attractive alternative to getting there.

Most of the main accommodation resorts are on the east side of the dry Todd River in the “golf course precinct” and are about 2km from the shopping centre which is on the west side of the river and towards Anzac Hill in the north.

Once in Alice, cycling and walking are common modalities if you can’t catch the shuttle buses and you don’t have a car.

The Alice Springs shopping centre has most items you would need including a camera shop but is certainly not a shopping destination – although given a population of 28,000 one would not expect it to be.

There are very few historic buildings in Alice but it is worth checking out The Residency which was the Governor’s house, and you may wish to cycle or drive to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station a few kilometres north of the town.

Things to do in Alice Springs

Relax and explore the many native flora in the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens and climb the hill for nice views across the town to Anzac Hill and to Mt Gillem.

view from Botanical gardens hill towards Anzac Hill

The view of main township from Botanical gardens hill over the dry Todd River bed and towards Anzac Hill.

Relax by the pool in the lovely winter sun at your resort.

Walk through town and check out indigenous art works and learn about their culture.

Learn about the wonderful Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Climb Mt Gillen (see below).

Explore the old road trains and Ghan train at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame

See the desert wildlife at the Desert Park.

Cycle to Simpson’s Gap.

Day trips to the East or West Macdonnell Ranges and explore their gorges.

Day trip to historic Hermannsburg (a 19th century Lutheran missionary community) and Palm Valley (if you have a high clearance 4WD and you can take it on the very rough roads).

Day trip on unsealed roads to Chamber’s Pillar.

Climbing Mt Gillen

Mt Gillen is the tallest peak near Alice Springs and climbing it is like a rite of passage for those staying in Alice Springs.

It is named after ethnologist, Francis James Gillen.

It is a challenging walk which rises over 360m from the start of the walk at the John Flynn Memorial on Larapinta Drive some 7km from town, on often steep, slippery gravel paths requiring reasonable fitness and coordination skills along with stable knees and ankles. It is a very exposed walk and you will need sunscreen, sunglasses, water, a hat which will not get blown off your head, sturdy shoes, phone, and preferably at least one companion in case you do suffer an injury.

The last phase involves a near vertical rock climb of some 5-6m which is not for the faint hearted but provides a rewarding walk along the top to the beacon which provides glorious views over the ranges and of Alice Springs.

These views are best at sunrise or sunset when it is also much cooler (you will need a warm jacket and gloves if going at sunrise), and you should be carrying a headlamp to help to see your way along the path in the dark.

Mt Gillen climb

Perhaps 2/3rds of the way up Mt Gillem showing the top cliffs which need to be negotiated.

Mt Gillen climb

The wonderful view across to the West Macdonnell Ranges and Mt Sonder in the far distance.

Mt Gillen climb

After the relief of surviving the cliff climb, you look back to this view westwards.

Mt Gillen climb

A short walk from there across the top to the beacon gives a view to the north-east overlooking Alice Springs.

All images taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and circular polarising filter and essentially are straight from the camera other than resizing for web.

This very strenuous walk is NOT great for large, heavy dSLRs, especially if one is silly enough to carry a tripod as well – although I am sure you would get some nice pre-sunrise shots for your hike up the mountain in darkness – if you survive.

Towards an understanding of the plight of Australian indigenous peoples

Let me first state, that their issues are complex and I have only had a very brief introduction to them, and what I present here is my perception from what I have been told in a few days in Alice.

Firstly, they arrived in Australia some 40,000 years ago and developed a strong connection with the land and its sustainable management – that was until the British arrived in 1770 and subsequently colonised the continent, bringing diseases and substantial culture change to these people, and worse, bringing their arrogance of how they should live and often with very few of the rights and expectations that the whites had available to them.

It would seem the indigenous peoples in Alice Springs, of which there are some 4,800, do not wish to be assimilated into white culture, and wish to retain their own cultures and cultural identities. This has been extremely difficult psychologically with their loss of identity and respect in the white world – after all, by aboriginal laws, their indigenous destiny, society roles and responsibilities had been decided well before they were born, but these are rarely respected by the white people. This is part of the reason for the high alcohol abuse and resultant domestic violence, crime rates and imprisonment that is currently endemic.

This is further compounded by poverty (75% are in the lowest socioeconomic quintile compared with 10% of non-indigenous people) and poor access to well constructed housing, heating, food and water in a harsh environment with very cold winter nights and very hot summer days, the combination of which leads to very high endemic rates of disease rarely found in white people of Australia such as:

  • blindness due to trachoma which is partly due to inadequate washing of faces due to inadequate access to water, poor access to topical antibiotics and ophthalmology specialists
  • chronic childhood suppurative lung conditions which lead onto bronchiectasis (150/100,000 in children older 15yrs which is highest rate in the world and 40x rate of non-indigenous), which may be partly due to high rates of HTLV-1 infections as well as lack of access to nutrition, heating, running water and antibiotics
  • rheumatic heart disease affects 2-3% of adolescents and adults and treatment involves more than weekly penicillin injections for 10 years!
  • alcohol is responsible for half of fatal road trauma and over half of suicides, and complicates 40% of ICU admissions (4x that of non-indigenous ICU admits), recent public policy changes to restrict access to alcohol has also markedly reduced bleeding from stomach and pneumonia
  • increased mental health issues – aboriginals in remote communities have over 3x rate of mental health issues and completed suicide is 2x (female) and 5x (male) higher, this is compounded by substance abuse (historically both alcohol and petrol sniffing), and higher levels of organic brain injury
  • obesity due to reduced exercise, access to cheap high calorie foods, limited access to cheap quality food, intrauterine malnourishment, and structural issues.
  • diabetes (18% of those aged 45-54yrs and 35% of those aged over 55yrs – 3x the rate of non-indigenous people but 18x the rate when looking at 20-45yr olds!) and its many complications (19x the rate of end organ damage) including chronic renal failure (25% by age 45-54 and 35% in ages 55-64yrs – 4x rate of non-indigenous) with high rates of younger adults requiring renal dialysis. 50% of these diabetics have HbA1c levels > 10%!
  • sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis
  • they do have differences in DNA, for instance, >10% have HLA-B*56:02 (rare in whites) which causes severe drug reactions (DRESS) when given the anti-epileptic drug phenytoin, and their genes are optimised for low caloric, high protein desert existence and curiously, may have lower mortality from severe sepsis than non-indigenous people.

Aboriginal presentations to the newly developed Alice Springs emergency department account for around 50% of all adult presentations and around 70% of all adult hospital admissions despite the aboriginal population being only 17% in Alice (although catchment area is 45,000 people and a third are aboriginal), while life expectancy is some 15 years shorter than non-indigenous peoples in the region at 63yrs for males and 69 years for females. Age adjusted death rates are 3.5x higher and hospitalisation rates are 6.5x higher than non-indigenous people. 70% of deaths occur before age 65yrs compared with 21% of deaths for non-indigenous people. The hospital has high re-admission rates of 28% within 30 days and high own discharge rates. Many indigenous people do not trust the white hospital system, and furthermore, many wish to die on their land rather than in hospital.

Infant mortality though has dramatically improved over the past 15 years falling from 14 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to about 5-6 per 1,000 live births which is almost the same as non-indigenous rates of around 3-4 per 1,000 live births.

The challenge is to find effective and culturally-appropriate models of care to reduce this disease burden which is compounded by the remoteness and poverty of many of these communities.

Road trauma issues in central Australia

The Northern Territory has the highest per capita rates of fatal road trauma in Australia (over half are due to single vehicle rollover accidents, and most are tourists aged 20-40yrs) which is due to a number of factors:
  • remote distances from medical care and longer times for discovery of accident increase death rates with average time to hospital from accident being 8hrs!
  • unfenced roads means more wandering wildlife including dingoes, kangaroos, camels, cows and horses – these are a particular issue at night and swerving to avoid animals is a major cause of  roll-over
  • narrow road shoulders, high rates of SUV/4WD vehicles with high centres of gravity, and unsealed roads means more likely to lose control of the car and subsequent roll-over at speed
  • high tourist population not used to driving on road conditions, often in a strange rental car and on opposite side of road to what they are used to, and potentially distracted by sights, multi-tasking and passengers.
  • high speed with minimal capacity for speed enforcement in the remote areas
  • high alcohol use
  • long distances resulting in driver fatigue, inattention and tiredness
  • tyre blowout is a significant cause of rollover accidents but much less than driver fatigue, speed and swerving to avoid animals

tire blowout

A blown out tyre on the remote Mereneenie Loop unsealed road between Hermannsburg and Kings Canyon.

Next post will be exploring the West Macdonnell Ranges.

A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – the Red Centre, Alice Springs, MacDonnell Ranges, Uluru and the Olgas – part I

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

I have just returned from just over a week’s brief explore of the red centre of Australia, and of course, I thought I had best share my experiences and tips, because you know you really want to go there!


The last blue moon for 3 years and I managed to capture this one near Uluru, although from 30km west of Uluru, the moon was still too far south from Uluru to allow a telephoto lens to make it look larger and still capture it in the same image as Uluru. One is not allowed to just stop your car anywhere in the park so planning these shots are quite limited to certain locations. Olympus OM-D E-M5 hand held with Olympus mZD 12-40mm lens at f/5, 1/160th sec, ISO 200, 40mm focal length and Vivid picture tone.

Why go?

I must admit I was a Uluru sceptic who thought it was over-hyped and just a big rock, but walking around it is an awe inspiring feeling with a myriad of opportunities of different photographic imagery all varying with time of day and season.

Not only is it the largest monolith in the world and like an iceberg, we are only seeing the tip of it, it was formed millions of years ago by alluvium flowing from mountains to the south, and then gradually has eroded and in the past few thousand years has become a sacred site for the indigenous peoples who ascribe meaning to the many shapes created on its walls by erosion.

The region is just an awesome experience for anyone let alone the myriad of photographic landscape opportunities for the enthusiast photographer which include:

  • West Macdonnell Ranges near Alice Springs and its many rugged gorges, bushwalks (including the famous 200km Larapinta Trail)  and white ghost gum eucalypt trees
  • East Macdonnell Ranges near Alice Springs and its rugged gorges and Artlunga ghost gold mining town
  • learn about indigenous cultures at Alice Springs and view/purchase their art
  • Alice Springs Telegraph Station
  • Alice Springs Desert Park – allows you to see some wildlife that you are likely to miss out seeing on your trip
  • Alice Springs Royal Flying Doctor service
  • historic 19th century remote Hermannsburg German Lutheran missionary for indigenous peoples and nearby home of famous indigenous painter, Albert Namatjira
  • Palm Valley – this requires a high clearance 4WD as it is very rough driving along the creek bed and will take over 3hrs return from Hermannsburg
  • drive along the Mereneenie Loop Road to Kings Canyon from Hermannsburg and check out a very large comet impact site – Gosse’s Bluff
  • Watarraka National Park (Kings Canyon) and bushwalks to the rim of the canyon as well as to the valley
  • Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve
  • Henbury meteorite craters – asteroid impact sites via the unsealed Ernest Giles Rd which is another alternate route to Kings Canyon from Alice Springs
  • dry salt lake beds at Stuart Wells (on private land – a million hectare cattle property)
  • Chambers Pillar
  • Uluru (Ayers Rock) – the largest monolith in the world and the spiritual centre of Australia – a must see for everyone – well worth the easy 11km 3.5hr walk around it as long as weather is mild
  • Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) – even taller than Uluru, but very different being a many domed landscape of conglomerate rock making a striking scene at any time of day – has 2 main bush walks through the valleys

But first, let me introduce the region and try to convey its remoteness and climate – both of which are extremely important in your planning.

How do you get there?

It is in the centre of Australia in semi-arid to arid desert environs and over a 1,500 kilometres to the nearest state capital city – both Darwin and Adelaide are 1,500km from Alice Springs, while Melbourne is 2,260km, Perth 2,500km and Sydney 2,800km away.

To the novice, one may think that Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) is just a day trip from Alice Springs – of course you would be wrong, it is over 460km but thankfully it is all bitumen now but Google estimates it should take you 6 hours by car (under 1hr by air), and that is not including another day or two diversion to the wonderful King’s Canyon.

One can thus drive from Darwin or Adelaide – preferably with a high clearance AWD or 4WD vehicle so you can better navigate the many side gravel roads to gorges, etc, or you can fly to either Alice Springs or direct to Ayers Rock airport – although direct flights to either airport from Melbourne only occur once a day – Sydney is more fortunate in this regard as there are more flight options.

Note that there are no commercial flights to Kings Canyon which is about 5hrs and over 470km from Alice by car or tour bus – the shorter distance “scenic” route on the 200km of corrugated unsealed dry weather only Mereneenie Loop Road requires a 4WD and also a permit fee and still takes over 5hrs and will test your car out!

Once in Alice or Uluru you can either use tour buses or hire a car (book early to avoid disappointment and avoid picking up the car at airports as these is more expensive) – note that there is an entry fee into Uluru-Kata Tjuta park – currently $25 per person which covers 3 days, and the park closes at 7.30pm in winter.

HOWEVER, be warned that in renting a car, even a 4WD, you will NOT be covered for any damage at night away from the township (risk of hitting wandering animals such as kangaroos, cows, or even camels, is too high for the insurance companies), and furthermore, most ban driving on unsealed roads (although you can usually drive to the tourist sites). A good option is renting from the only local company, Central Car Rentals which generally will pick you up from the airport in Alice for free and do permit more gravel road driving but still no night driving.

The ban on night rural driving means one needs to be creative in how they get to see sunrise or sunset away from their accommodation – consider camping as an option but this will not address sunsets at Kata Tjuta where you cannot camp overnight.

When should you go?

The peak season is the Australian winter as the days are not too hot for bushwalking (maximums range from 15 to 28deg depending on where the air flow is coming from the tropical north or the cold south) and the night sky shows off the wonderful southern Milky Way in all its glory (as long as the moon is not in the sky).

The climate is quite different from any of the Australian capital cities which are all coastal. The generally clear night skies mean nights can be cold, especially in winter when the overnight minimum can drop well below zero deg Celsius although usually is around 4degC (and up to 10deg on cloudy nights in winter) – but it will mean you MUST take some warm clothing if planning any night activities – gloves, beanie, scarf, warm jacket, boots and even thermals should be considered in winter.

The climate is much drier than humid Darwin, and this means very few mosquitoes, but bush flies can still be annoying when temperatures rise above 16-20degC and there is little wind.

Walking in winter generally just needs sturdy bush walk shoes, shorts or trousers, shirt, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, lip balm, perhaps a fly mesh for face on hotter days, and warmer jacket and perhaps gloves for early morning walks.

Annual rainfall averages only 200mm or so (this is semi-arid so don’t expect expanses of endless sand dunes without vegetation – this can be found further east in the Simpson Desert) but can range from only 70mm to flood conditions every 12-15yrs or so at 900mm per year (most falling in the one month). The driest months are August and September while the wettest are Dec to Feb generally resulting from rains coming from the tropical storms to the north.

The many river beds are generally dry and only have running water after heavy rains – hence the famous Henley on the Todd canoe race in Alice springs in August each year is run on a dry river bed.

Although the days are much shorter in winter, the clearer skies in Winter means that average hours of sunshine is approximately the same each month.

From Oct-Mar, the average afternoon temperatures exceeds 30degC and thus any bushwalks should ideally be completed by 11am, especially in Dec-Feb when average 3pm temperatures are over 34degC. Many walks will be closed when temperatures exceed 36degC.

Winds are generally around 15kph in afternoons, but can be strong before storms and may occasionally create sand storms.

If you wish to photograph the Milky Way, make sure the moon will not be in the sky – ie. choose 3rd quarter to 1st quarter phases – if 1st quarter, you will need to wait for the moon to set around midnight.

If you wish to photograph the full moon rising near Uluru and photographed from Kata Tjuta sunset dune viewing platform, this will appear closest to Uluru at the equinoxes such as in March-April or Sept-Oct.

Where to stay?

There are a multitude of options in Alice Springs which is by far the most affordable location in central Australia – examples include:

  • Lasseter’s Resort – nice clean rooms, most with two queen beds and en suite, new gym, day spa, and a lovely heated pool and outdoor spa which is fantastic in the winter sun, a number of eating options, but rooms may get booked out if conferences are on; free shuttle buses to town (stops at Aurora Hotel) every 2hrs from 10am-4pm
  • Hilton’s Double Tree Hotel – perhaps the best restaurant in town and it’s a short walk from Lasseter’s – Hanuman’s Thai/Indian inspired menu
  • Chifley Hotel – nice seafood restaurant – Barra on Todd
  • in the shopping district – Aurora Hotel and many others including youth hostels, etc.

West Macdonnell Ranges:

  • Glen Helen Resort – note this is out of phone reception but they have a great restaurant meal, tavern-like feel, camping options and affordable WiFi
  • camping at various locations

Kings Canyon:

Yulara (the tourist township near Uluru and Kata Tjuta):

  • all are generally quite expensive and much more so if you choose the luxury accommodation at Longitude 131 ($2,400 per night for a luxury tent with views of Uluru)
  • Ayers Rock Resort offers a variety of accommodation including camping

What photography gear do you need to take?

Many of the walks are either long walks in the warm sun and/or strenuous uphill and downhill walks with often unstable, rocky paths and as you need to carry water and often extra clothing, one does not need to be further encumbered by heavy camera gear or tripods.

Furthermore airlines such as Jetstar tend to be more particular about both checked-in and carry on baggage weight and size – carry on baggage weight combined must not exceed 7kg.

Most photographs will probably be taken in the 24-80mm focal length range in 35mm full frame terms however, having a telephoto zoom allows one to get more options such as the smaller ghost gums growing off distant red cliffs, and abstract light/shadows on Uluru.

To reduce weight and size, my preference was the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 Micro Four Thirds cameras with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens (although I don’t have this lens and thus had to take the heavier and larger Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens) – both with circular polarising filters to enhance the colour saturation and blue skies, and a spare battery and charger.

I mount both of these on a waist belt to take the weight off my neck and back – but despite my care and attention, the EVF of the E-M1 suffered damage from sunlight on the 4hr walk around Uluru – this is a well documented problem with the E-M1 and E-M10 (my E-M5 with an older style EVF did not suffer this damage and has not been documented as having this issue) – so be warned, one needs to take extra care to stop sunlight entering the EVF – or perhaps better still, buy 2 E-M5’s instead of the E-M1.

There are very few areas of flowing water and thus long exposure shots are generally not needed during the day so a ND400 10x filter is not likely to be needed unless there is rain forecast.

For those wanting sunset shots or Milky Way shots, a tripod will be needed, and perhaps ND gradient filters for sunset shots, and a tripod will be needed for shots where 36mp or more will be used.

Those with special needs may need extra lenses such as ultra-wide, fisheye or macro lenses.

Next posts will be details on each site

 More information on my wiki.