Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
49Trip End Oct 10, 2011
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Where I stayed
Yulara caravan park
What I did
Visit the Rock
The night was (very) cold and the morning sunny - the best bit: Right behind our campsite was the lookout to Uluru (Ayers Rock for those of us over 40!). Quick - the sun's just coming up, time for some photos...
It's strange how for somewhere so remote, that there can be so many people crammed into such a small space at just one specific time! Jostling for enough room to get the photo taken without 1/2 another person's head in the shot is a challenge. And then, sunrise over and they're all gone - off to look at it close up.
Size IS Important
It's Big, not just 'huge', not just 'enormous', even 'massive' doesn't seem to do it justice
The $25/head (kids are free!) entrance fee gets you into the park for up to 3 days. Knowing we were going to pay to get in, I'd made my mind up that I was going to go up the rock, but true to form, the climb was closed: "Too windy". I was quite disappointed, but the "$5,500 penalty for climbing while closed" sign dispelled any notion that I was going to nip over the gate, hang onto that chain and do a quick run to the top.
There is talk that the 10 year plan is to stop all climbing up the rock. Apparently,the National Parks folk say that if only 20% of people that enter the park decide to climb, they'll have the justification to say that not enough people want to climb, so they'll shut it down.
This is a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy, since the climb seems to be closed (for some seemingly artificial reason) more often than not, so achieving a 20% climb rate is almost a given... This seems to be one of those "wrong answer, for all the right reason" types of logic - that I love to hate!
Driving up, I wasn't quite sure how anyone could get up the sides anyway, because in most places they start at vertical and then get steeper! At the Mala Walk, there is one part of the rock that is less vertical and boasts a tiny chain up the slope. This is where they'll let anyone climb, from high-heeled Japanese tourists to 90 year-old wheelchair bound grannies - but not 40yo fit adults when there's a bit of a breeze. Yeah - lowest common denominator!
So we went on the base walk - chaperoned by Ziggy, a 70yo Aboriginal elder who spoke in his natural tongue about the culture, history, stories and traditions of the Mala People, and had his words translated by the National Park's guide.
Part of the Show
As part of their transition into manhood, the Aboriginal boys were (are?) taken to a place by themselves to learn the ancient ways from the male elders. At this particular point, Ziggy gathered all the young boys around him, including Matthew, and told them a story about how they were expected to behave and the ways of reading the land in order to survive.
All distractions were removed from them (no video games - much to Matthew's dismay) and they weren't allowed to graduate until they could perform all the tasks expected of an Aboriginal man.
What a different life!
Steal the Show
Then it was the turn of the girls - gathering all them around him (including Caitlyn), Ziggy told how the girls were ushered into maturity. I think that Caitlyn was both intrigued, but slightly scared: a strange (and very black) man calling her to come with him. Stranger danger while your parents watch...!
Still bemused, Caitlyn decided to go the wrong way from one part of the walk to the other (past the verboten fences) and ended up right beside Ziggy in front of the tour. This time though, she found herself backed into a corner where the only way out was to go past the strange (and very black) man. Bugger - can't talk my way out of this one!
(Too) Politically Correct?
The place is obviously of great cultural significance to the true Aboriginals who live the traditional lifestyle and that was obvious from the way that the stories were told and related to different parts of the rock and the surrounding lands
The flip side is that the whole experience is very controlled - seemingly pandering to the wishes of the 'traditional owners': signs everywhere prohibiting photography of sacred sites; teams of people removing various types of "non-indigenous" plants; fences to keep people out; boardwalks to direct flow; no stopping for cars to look, etc
The doing-the-right-thing park 'police', coupled with the whole tourism thing centred on the Rock, gave us the feeling that everyone wants to have their cake and eat it at the same time: Tourists are good, as long as they bring dollars and do what we want them to do. The whole thing seems to be politically correct.
Others will obviously have different opinions, but that's the feeling that we got.
Different Rocks - Different Experience
In the afternoon we decided to visit the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) - a different formation of just as impressive monoliths erupting from the flat landscape about 40km drive away.
What a difference! Here, there were no guides, no fences, no signs - just markers for trails and very impressive scenery.
We went to the northern end of the range, to the Valley of the Winds
And what a super walk it was - down tumbling rocks, across open expanses of ponds and grasses, and up 'vertical' walls - just the same as the 'colossal' rock that the park service wouldn't let us climb - and finally out onto a saddle point between two immense rock walls looking for miles out over the smaller rocks and plains. Worth every step of the walk and a suitable compensation for the lack of a rock climb (got the hint yet?)
Meanwhile, Megan and Caitlyn decided to have a chat on their walk - a one way chat. Caitlyn talked all the way there, all the way up, all the down, and all the way back. This is obviously a genetic trait (inherited from her maternal grandmother) that skipped a generation. Good job this was the Valley of the Winds - to keep the oxygen flowing...
(Not) Sunset over the Rock
As we returned to the Yulara campground, the cloud started to close in from the west, with the forecast of quite a lot (10mm) of rain. Sunset tonight was either going to be spectacularly brilliant, or spectacularly absent. We got option B and watched a dull grey rock turn black. Brilliant!
The best red tonight was with dinner..
And before you ask: VBR = Very Big Rock (G Rated version)
For the record
- Breakfast: Toast
- Lunch: Sandwiches
- Dinner: Pasta Carbonara - and red wine :-)
- After walking through the Valley of the winds with Matthew, I asked him how much he liked it on a fun factor of 1 to 10: "9, it was great!"
- Nothing today - even the tourists were well behaved!