After doing some wildlife surveys in the Australian Outback, my good friend and I went on a month-long road trip across the Northern Territory. We were keen to explore the arid wilderness to see the wildlife of Australia’s red center.
We started the journey in Adelaide crossed the continent to the northern ocean teaming with crocodiles and deadly Blue bottles and returned through the arid center to Western NSW outback. This trip report describes the places we visited and lists the plethora of wildlife we found along the way.
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Uluṟu – Kata Tjuṯa National Park
After a long drive from Coober Peddy in South Australi, we arrived at the Kata Tjuta National park, ready to explore the wildlife of Uluru and the Kings Canyon.
Uluru is one of Australia’s most iconic natural landmarks. It is part of Uluṟu – Kata Tjuṯa National Park that lies about 450km from Alice Springs.
Uluru or Ayers Rock is listed as a World Heritage Site. The sandstone giant is 348 m high with a total circumference of 9.4 km. However, as tall as Uluru appears, what we are seeing is just the top of an iceberg – most of Uluru’s bulk lies underground.
The Rock is known for its ability to change color depending on the time of the day and the angle of the sun. In the late afternoon, it practically glows dark red towering over the surrounding landscape.
Apart from spectacular geological formations, the area supports a rich diversity of wildlife. Daytime is dominated by birds and reptiles.
Birds at Uluru
Flocks of Zebra finches can be seen at almost any waterhole. Black-faced woodswallows and Little woodswallows are constantly on the move chasing insects. White-plumed honeyeaters and Grey-headed honeyeaters are searching for sweet nectar up in the trees, while the adorable Mistletoebird faithfully pollinates mistletoes. Spinifex pigeons are also quite common around the rocky formations.
The reptiles, while undoubtedly abundant, are harder to spot due to their exceptional camouflage skills. The only ones I did manage to see were a Long-nosed dragon at Kata Tjuta and a Tree dtella at the campsite.
Wildlife after sunset
As the darkness approaches, it is time to start searching for those elusive mammals. The Uluru viewing platform is a good place to start. As soon as the sun sets and the Rock is engulfed by darkness, Spinifex hoping mice, Sandy inland mice and the feral House mice all come out to feed on the bounty of crumbs left from the day’s tourist activities.
Hoppies are one of the cutest Uluru animals and they can be approached quite closely. To find them, all you have to do is wait for most visitors to leave the car park, turn on your torch and walk along the hedge line separating the pavement from the bush.
The Uluru camping grounds is also a good place to see all three rodent species. A corrugated iron shack not far from the camp is home to a few Broad-nosed bats.
Camping at Uluru:
We stayed at the campground of Ayers Rock Resort, which is a large accommodation complex encompassing a campground and a resort. The campground has all the necessary facilities as well as a refreshingly cool swimming pool.
Kings Canyon is another iconic Australian destination famous for its geological marvels. It is another great place to see some of Australia’s red center’s wildlife.
Kings Canyon Rim walk
We did the Rim walk around the entire canyon and while it did not turn up many new species, with the exception of a very well camouflaged Ringtail dragon, it certainly delivered some spectacular scenery.
We also took the optional detour walk to a reasonably secluded waterhole that can be a good place for bird watching during the heat of the day.
In the short time that we stayed at the stream, we saw a Grey shrike-thrush and a While-plumed honeyeater. And birds were not the only things around.
There was some critter hidden in a rock crevice that kept calling out in a loud and persistent voice. But as thoroughly as we examined every nook and cranny in the rock wall, we could not find the culprit.
The car park at the end of the walk had a bit more action and turned up Hooded robins, Spinifex pigeons, Diamond dove, Crested pigeon, Grey honeyeater and Rock ctenotus.
Thorny Devil – a lizard like no other
But the most exciting sighting of the day was the Thorny Devil. What an incredible animal it is! With its looks of an extraterrestrial and its ability to absorb water through its skin by simply standing in a puddle, this incredible reptile was very high on my bucket list.
Aside from an intimidating array of conical spikes that cover the top half of its body, the Thorny devil is endowed with a false head on the back of its neck. The lizard presents its fake head to the potential predators by dipping its real head when sensing danger. The bite on the squashy false head is unlikely to be life-threatening.
Avoiding predators is not the only challenge for the creatures of the desert, they also have to find water to survive. The Thorny devil’s ingenious solution lies in the shape of its scales, which are ridged in such a way that they direct water to its mouth. All the devil has to do is stand in the puddle or rub past dew-covered vegetation and the water will be delivered straight to its mouth.
In the late afternoon, we took a quick walk to Kings Creek and found a Red treefrog and a Yellow-faced whipsnake.
Dingo at campsite
The campsite at Kings Canyon is a popular scavenging spot for local Dingos. My first ever encounter with a Dingo was when I unzipped the tent door and saw a full grown dog standing no more than a couple of meters away from me.
The only other critters we saw in the Canyon were a Spotted Nightjar and a few feral Camels and Brumbies.
Camping at Kings Canyon:
We stayed at the campground of Kings Canyon Resort, which was a little crowded at the time with a school group.