The wakeup call came at 5:00am with a quick tap on the tent. This was repeated a moment later and then once more before the message finally penetrated the dense fog in my brain and I responded with some vaguely intelligible grunt and climbed out of my sleeping bag.
The sudden cold was a shock and cleared the murk from my mind faster than a double espresso. It was a surprise to see my breath steaming here in the middle of the desert but, since this was the middle of Australia’s winter and deserts tend to lose a lot of heat at night anyway, perhaps not so unusual.
I quickly pulled on some clothes and stepped out of the tent. The canvas was stiff with a slight frost and the sky overhead was filled with stars. Orion lay on his back close to the horizon; the only recognisable friend in a party of strangers. I headed for the wash house and a quick clean up before grabbing a bite of breakfast and that overdue coffee.
It was still dark when the mini-bus left with its full load of subdued and sleepy tourists. There were no grumbles as our guide had won our trust over the previous two days with spectacular views of Uluru and the Olgas. Today we were heading for King’s Canyon and I was preparing myself for a disappointment as I didn’t think anything would top the previous days’ spectacles.
The drive took a little more than two hours and we were among the first to arrive at the parking area; the reason our guide had insisted we leave early as both the staging area and the paths up to the canyon would fill up rapidly in an hour or so. We set off up a steep and narrow track and settled in for a long hike. It would take us a couple more hours to reach our destination and we would be glad of the early morning chill before getting there.
We didn’t know what to expect and allowed ourselves to be distracted by every vaguely unusual sight; a small waterfall cascading into a pool here, large rounded stones, shaped just a little like beehives there. Our guide had to keep chivvying us along in order to reach our destination and return before the day was too far spent.
Eventually the path flattened off completely, the scraggly bushes and trees became gradually scarcer before disappearing completely and suddenly up ahead, no more than a couple of dozen strides away, the world came to an abrupt end.
You have to love Australians. Here was one of their most impressive tourist attractions and there were no barriers, no ice cream vendors, no evidence of any kind that this place was worth visiting, just a final few yards of flat rock and then...
The last few feet I went down on hands and knees, surrendering dignity in the face of common sense, and as well I did: As I reached the edge, I found myself looking over 500 feet straight down into a forested valley. A mile away a sheer rock face climbed out of the trees to an equally dizzy height, and small figures moved about near its edge; fellow arm chair adventurers enjoying a different perspective but no more or less spectacular view.
My arms and legs went weak and I settled to my stomach with my head peaking over the edge of the precipice. That familiar sensation of being tugged toward the space took me and for once I was glad of my more than healthy bulk firmly anchoring me to the ground. I was completely awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the vista before me, all words were snatched away.
A fellow tourist, similarly spread-eagled beside me, breathed out a wonder filled “wow” which resonated with the thoughts and feelings coursing through my own body and soul.
“And just think,” a quiet voice spoke inside my mind, “if this is how a fallen world can look to you through your fallen eyes, imagine how My New World will look through your new eyes.”
I don’t know how long I stayed there. The magnitude and the majesty overwhelmed me and I lay helpless, drinking in the glorious view. Eventually I found the strength to rise once more onto hands and knees and, filled with a wonder that that I hadn’t felt since my childhood, and made my way very humbly and gratefully back towards the waiting guide.
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