Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
63Trip End Apr 14, 2006
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Where I stayed
King's Creek Cattle Station, NT
Ayres Rock camping ground, Yulara, Northern Territory
By gum it's hot here - getting up to 46 degrees on our first day. We spent most of our time in Alice Springs scurrying from our air conditioned hotel room, to internet cafe to shops wilting at the thought of our forthcoming three and a half day tour, when we're sure they'll make us get off the bus!
There are lots of aboriginals in Alice town centre, but most of them, tragically, look down and out. We saw a family in the supermarket and it just looked so wrong that they were having to pay for their food here when they should have learnt their ancestral skills to live off the land. The bottle shop in Alice has a sign on the door saying 'no shoes, no service'. Alcohol and solvent abuse is a real problem in the displaced aboiginal community and leaders have requested that some bottle shops do not serve their members
Being on a group tour again for the first time since South America, we got a bit of a nasty shock with the early starts - 4 mornings in a row we got up before or at sunrise! However, it is a good move to get walks and sightseeing done in the early morning when it's cooler. Most afternoons were spent travelling the long distances (even direct from Alice Springs to Uluru, it's a 6 hour drive) in our air conditioned minibus. Our tour guide tried to liven things up with number plate bingo etc, but most of the time the entire group of 12 wilted and/or slept through the heat of the day.
On our journeys we stopped lots of Road Houses which are quite an experience in themselves. Little oasises in the midst of mile after mile of monotonous road, almost all road users stop at them. Usually they have something to look at - like an aviary or some emus or a crashed car to serve as a speed warning. In one the barmaid had a very prominent love bite! One roadhouse however, took the biscuit in terms of entertainment and we were treated to a performance from the world's only singing Dingo, Dinky (see vid clip).
Our first natural attraction was Rainbow Valley - as it is summer the large lake was dried up but we wandered around the spiky rock outcrops, followed kangaroo tracks and looked out for snakes
The flies in the outback are incessant and we both bought a flynet that goes over your hat and covers the face (much like a beekeepers) for the purpose - making Angie look like Italian widows collecting honey! Angie wore hers pretty much the whole time and tried to get her shoulders inside it too and even put her pillow inside it on the first night!
Our first night stop was at Kings Creek cattle station. We took a short camel ride with two lovely beasts. Angie's camel loved to scratch her tummy and walked over and through many bushes and small trees during the 15 min trek. It was a first for both of us - another one to tick off the experience list!
At night we decided to 'swag' outside. A swag is basically a heavy duty sleeping bag with a mattress inside, but due to the heat we could just about lie on top of it in our sleeping bag liners
The next morning we did the 6km Kings Canyon rim walk - no sniggering at the back! It started with a steep climb to the top of the canyon, but the area is pretty amazing with views out over flat outback stretching a far as the eye can see, and down into the impressive canyon. Behind the closed end of the canyon is a gorge which contains a creek that supports a lush area known as the Garden of Eden. There are some Cycads (palms) here that are 600 years old. When there is heavy rain the water overflows from the gorge and crashes out into the canyon as waterfalls. The water level was low when we visited but there was still enough for us to swim in a cooling waterhole.
We headed to Yulara by minibus. Yulara is the service village for Uluru (Ayres Rock) and was built in the 70s when it was decided that having an airport and hotels right next to the rock perhaps wasn't the most sensitive position for them. We stayed on a big public campsite which had a lovely swimming pool
The thunderstorm we had watched approaching virtually flooded the campsite so our planned visit to see Uluru at sunset was cancelled. The next morning we were up super early to catch the sunrise. This was our first look at the rock close-up and we were unprepared for how fascinating and enchanting it would be. Uluru is a single lump of rock which was forced up onto its side by plate techtonics - the lines of sedimentary layers in the rock are at 90 degrees to ground level. Only 1/3rd of the rock is visible above the ground. It has an amzingly smooth-looking texture from up close, like a big lump of expanding plastic foam.
10 minutes before the sun was due up it started to rain, so sunrise was a bit of a miserable affair
At the Uluru visitor centre there is an area diplaying post from people returning things they took from the area when they visited. There is a huge pile of rocks, stones, soil and sand and a big folder full of letters expressing sorrow/anguish at removing part of the rock. Lots of people believe there is a curse for this, although the Aboriginals deny it. Some people have purposely taken a souvenir, but others have just come away with soil stuck to the bottom of their shoes. One man in the latter category wrote a letter listing all the bad things that have happened since eg diagnosed with cancer, divorced from wife, lost job. It's amazing that he would attribute all that to the soil, but he was obviously desperate to return it.
We then visited Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) to do a 7.5km 'Valley of the Winds' walk (I told you already at the back!) around the 38 smooth humps of rock that make up this site. The largest hump is taller than Uluru and the site is more scared than Uluru to the Aboriginals. It is certainly a more interesting area to walk around as the scenery changes frequently and there are some great views between the huge outcrops
After lunch, we returned to Uluru for the second time that day to walk around the base - or rather we thought about joining those who were, but a 10km walk was too much to consider in the afternoon heat, so we just opted for a short walk along a section of the base visiting some of the Aboriginal sites - caves where the men slept, food storage areas, the maternity hospital (where women gave birth) and a lovely tranquil waterhole right next to a vertical section of the rock face, that was alive with frogs and tadpoles. The culture's creation myths are about giant animals that lived around the rock in the dreamtime. The events that happened explain the various geological features of the rock - eg a place where there are lots of holes in the surface and strewn boulders was a battle site, and a large cave was the home of a giant marsupuial mole, of course!
Our third and final trip to Uluru that day was an attempt to see it at sunset despite heavy clouds. When we arrived, the viewing site was chokka with large tour groups and tables of champagne! We were tempted to try and crash a group but decided to walk away from the main hubbub and found a quieter spot. The clouds were very low but luckily there was a small gap on the horizon that let some of the amber light through. We were a bit disappointed when the sun had just gone below the horizon as the rock did not seem to change colour as dramatically as we had hoped. However, we hung around a bit longer drinking our cider and watching the coach riding, champagne swilling tourists get ferried off leaving clouds of red dust. And then it started to happen... we noticed that the rock was significantly changing colour by the minute - from a dull grey to a purplish red, from a dusky pink to a deep rich red etc. The sunset got better and better as the underbelly of the cloud cover was lit up from beyond the horizon by a fiery glow. So this is what all the fuss is about!