Day 4: Uluru to Kings Canyon
I have mixed feelings about Uluru. Back in 1955, my mum and dad were the only people here; there were no permanent buildings of any kind, not even a campground of any sort. And when I was last here in 1973, the place still had a frontier spirit to it. Now the tourists jet in and stay at the lavish Yulara Resort, or drive their Toyota rentals down the bitumen from Alice Springs. The road around the Rock has double yellow lines and no-parking signs and is crawling with giant air-conditioned tour buses that stop at the handful of places tourists are now allowed to get close to Uluru itself. It's like Outback Disneyland.

After a morning at Uluru, we head east back along the Lasseter Highway past Curtin Springs to pick up the Luritja Road, a sealed two-lane that will take us northwest to Kings Canyon. Just 20 miles or so up the Luritja Road, Chris slows the Land Cruiser and turns off the blacktop along a narrow, scrub-lined track. A few minutes later, we join what had once been the main road down from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock and start heading north. This road probably hasn't seen a grader in 15 or 20 years and is riven with steep ruts and washaways in places. For 25 miles or so, we do some serious off-roading. Take care with your wheel placement, watch your approach and departure angles, and it's amazing where the Outback will take you.

We stop by an old bore and stockyard, near where the original Angas Downs Station homestead once stood. "Your mum and dad probably stopped right here on their way down from Alice Springs in 1955," says Chris. In an instant, I could see an old black-and-white photo from the family album: the Dodge stopped, driver's door open, and Mum sitting on the running board, enjoying a hot cup of tea. I don't think that photo was taken here, but the nostalgia hit was overwhelming.

The sun's getting low in the sky by the time we rejoin the bitumen, and as we have a dinner date under the stars, we put the hammer down and hustle for the last 60 miles to the Kings Canyon Resort. Just minutes ago, the Outback had been tiptoeing through the rough stuff; now it's cruising effortlessly at 100 mph, feeling confident and planted through the sweeping turns. The car's bandwidth is impressive.