We all helped to make breakfast (cornflakes or toast on the burner) and then to clean up. It’s around this time you can tell who is pitching in to help and who isn’t. Mostly the family of 4 avoids as much work as possible but makes sure they take advantage of as much food as possible. I’m not sure where they thought they were, but this certainly wasn’t a 5-star tour so maybe they got on the wrong bus. It was really a shame because part of this experience was about helping each other out and I felt useful when I did. We also noticed that a few of the English backpacker blokes were at the front of every food line but weren’t pitching in a lot and were reluctant to participate in any task that required them to possibly get dirty. I’m pretty sure I carried more weight than they did but at least they looked pretty.
Anyway, after packing up our swags and breakfast we all hopped back on the bus and headed towards Uluru- Kata Tjata National Park, the highlight of the tour. We were still about an hour away so we could get in a nice little nap (mouse-free). Once inside the park our first stop was to collect more firewood for this evening’s campfire.
Even though we were staying at a proper campsite we were still sleeping around the fire so more firewood here we go. We’re getting the hang of this now, and also got to enjoy sunrise which was beautiful. Unfortunately, Dave poked himself in the leg pretty good during one haul. We’ll call that his battle scar. Bruce Lee said we didn’t need as much firewood this time so in no time at all we were finished and jumped back on the bus to our campsite. We dropped off the firewood and were able to use the bathroom facilities although we didn’t have time for a shower. We were able to change and then straight off for Kata Tjata, or the Olgas, for a morning hike. We hiked about 6kms to two different lookout points at the Olgas and it was beautiful. Hiking after the night we had the last night wasn’t fun but it wasn’t a strenuous as the previous day at King’s Canyon. It was a very peaceful setting at the Olgas and we found a few places to try out our echo and have some group shots. The valley leading up to the Olgas was very windy but also had trees and plants that I’d never seen before. While we were waiting to climb up we even saw some parrots in the tree. Luckily, the sun was shining and it warmed up quite nicely during the day so our hike was well worth it.
We stopped for lunch at some picnic tables in a shelter nearby with our first view of Uluru (or Ayers Rock) and all pitched in to make lunch of wraps with leftover chili con carne or tuna. Based on my previous experience I couldn’t get far away enough from that chili but most of the group enjoyed it. After cleaning up Bruce Lee drove us to the Cultural Center at the base of Uluru for a walk through its history on our own for a few hours.
By now it was about 2pm and after eating we were all pretty tired so I can’t say I remember everything about the Center! The main points we took away are that Ayers Rock is one of the most sacred Aboriginal sites in Australia, and we don’t even know the entire history. Technically, Ayers Rock is the world’s largest monolith as it’s just one entire rock. It’s red color comes from the iron deposits in the rock that interact with water and literally rust. The Aborigines share it with tourists and also help teach the tour guides about it. Because it is so sacred it’s not encouraged that you climb the rock, but more than that it’s fairly unsafe to do so – there are serious winds up at the top and very little solid footing. Many people have fallen off and died trying to climb it. The Cultural Center had a "Sorry" section with a “Sorry Book” where past visitors to Ayers Rock have fallen on bad luck and think it may have been caused by their either climbing the rock or taking a small rock or piece home with them which are frowned upon. These people have written letters and sent the rocks back to the Cultural Center asking for forgiveness. It’s an interesting concept.
After stopping at the café for a coffee we hung out with some of our new friends (Debbie and Mike, the English couple had just spent 2 months in New Zealand so we were picking their brains about it) and while waiting for the group saw a chain of furry caterpillars crawl across the sidewalk. Another guide was there and said that they always follow each other – this was a chain of 13 of them.
He also said not to ever touch them because their furry parts were very harmful. I think that’s standard for about every animal, reptile and bug here in Australia! Eventually, Bruce Lee came to fetch us to take us to Ayers Rock so that we could explore part of it and see it up close. We started at the main entrance to the Base Walk but only had time for an hour or two of it as a group. We learned about the implications of climbing the rock (although it was closed today anyway due to high winds) and walked along the path to see and touch it up close. We also saw some of the artwork and drawings that the Aborigines created that have been there for hundreds of years. There are areas around the rock that are very holy for the Aborigines as they use them for either men’s or women’s ceremonies and you can’t take pictures along these areas of the rock (it’s a $5000 fine if you do). But to see what nature had created and how crevices are worn away into the rock is just amazing. We even saw the waterfall point where the rainwater trickles down the rock to form a pool of holy water.
Next up was a good lookout/viewpoint of Ayers Rock for sunset. Because it’s wintertime in Australia (and we’re in the Southern Hemisphere) the sun is low in the sky and at some weird angle. So although we expected to watch the sunset behind Ayers Rock, the sun actually set behind us and we could watch Ayers Rock change colors as the sun set. It was truly spectacular and amazing how the colors of the rock changed. During sunset, Bruce Lee made dinner for us and we also got to enjoy some more of our beer so it was a very pleasant experience.
Unfortunately, we were so busy watching the sunset and chatting with our friends over beer that we were late to grab a plate of the noodles and chicken stir fry so we had a very small dinner. I wasn’t impressed that they had run out of food for dinner because even though most of the other non-helpful folks overloaded their plates there still should have been enough food for everyone. No worries (as they say here), there was plenty of beer.
We had quite a bit of beer at this point so by the time we got back to the campsite we were enjoying Bruce Lee’s playlist in the bus quite a bit. He had to drive about 10 minutes to the gas station to refill the bus and offered for anyone who wanted to check out the store to come along. Most of us went and we decided to get ingredients for s’mores with our new friends Debby, Mike and Kit (another British bloke who joined us). They don’t exactly make them in Australia, but were able to find marshmallows and chocolate chip cookies so we thought that would do.
Back at the campsite we were able to take showers and change – my first shower in like 3 days. It was heaven. Unfortunately, it was either being too tired or the beer or the s’mores, but I left all my shower items in the camp shower and completely forgot about them. I guess it’s pretty good that we’ve made it this far without leaving anything behind and these are all easily replaceable items. But I didn’t realize this until later, I was just so happy to feel a bit clean with a hot shower before another night in the swag in front of the campfire. I was a bit late to the party but still got there in time to enjoy delicious s’mores and beer and if this is what camping is like then it’s not so bad. Once we were all huddled around Bruce Lee had a fun word game with stories for us to play (I’m not going to give details here in case we want to use it!) and we all had a great time. The moon and stars were out in a cloudless night and it was really beautiful. There were streetlights nearby that never turned off and I only saw one mouse the whole night so I felt better about sleeping, even though it was really cold, a lot colder than the previous night. I also grabbed a different sleeping bag that had a hood so I was able to get a few hours of sleep.
I probably slept a total of 3 hours the entire night because when I wasn't lying completely still in my swag holding the flap shut and listening to the mice I was hiking it to the bathroom praying that a dingo didn’t come eat me. When Bruce Lee called out to wake us up at about 5:15am I shot out of my swag and yelled, 'thank god,’ the night was finally over. Everyone was talking about the mice and some people said that they just let them into their swag. One guy said he snuggled with one and the other said he felt them nibbling his hair. While it’s interesting to sleep under the stars and moon and very beautiful, you have to be so wrapped up in your swag and sleeping bag that you’re not even enjoying the view. I hope that not all camping is like this, which is what many of the other Rockies assured me the next day when they also looked a little haggard.