Uluru & Kata Tjuta – day 318/8

The drop in temperature was quite noticeable during the night. The high teens didn’t feel anything like an Irish/UK summer. We were all pretty cold and sluggish when alarms went off and the floor of the shower blocks felt like ice. We need to remind ourselves of washing our hair in glacier water or when the boiler broke in the flat years ago. It was a unanimous vote that fleeces came out of the duffel bag – something that we thought we had put behind us along the east coast. Aussie sitcoms, documentaries and films owe us an apology for false advertising about glorious hot weather and the outback being a scorched, desolate, barren landscape. But, to turn the other side of the coin, the desert oaks, spinifex and upside down plants brought life and colour, contrasting their shades of green against the rich red of the soil.
We pulled in to the car park sunset viewing area for an early morning shot of Uluru. Katherine completely freaked out a French family when she spoke to them in French to offer us taking a photo of them in front of the iconic rock. I think I took a beautiful photo of them to the side with the landscape framed perfectly. It was not the same when they returned the favour and the dad aligned the three of us up so that the image captured a sliver of sandstone either side of our heads. Completely deflated with our photo we drove down the road to the cultural centre. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, with the information on the walls being the same as that along the base walk of Uluru, no displays with tools, diet (plants, animals or food), or even items preserved over the generations. There was a video playing that was made by the traditional owners and a few old photos near the cash register in the gift shop. I absolutely love the paint work, the first time I saw the Aboriginal style was on a t-shirt a friend of the family brought back from Oz years ago. But, at extortionate prices for small pieces and Katherine having a thing about dots and circles, there was no real point looking around the three separate art shops. 

The equally impressive Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) were about 50km away from the cultural centre towards the Western Australia border. There was talk of us doing a road trip just to say we had visited all the states. But, we discounted it even before we saw the road which was a 4WD trip into the wilderness. The Olgas are a striking group of domed rocks huddled together in a small area. Kata Tjuta, means ‘many heads’ and the 36 boulders shoulder to shoulder form deep valleys and steep-sided gorges. They are of great importance to the Aboriginal men of the area, not sure if it was Pitjantatjara or Yankuntjatjara or for both tribes (who refer to themselves as Anangu), but one is asked to stick to the tracks. So, off we went on the 7.4km Valley of the Winds loop tracks.Supposedly one of the most challenging and rewarding bushwalks in the park, it winds through the gorges, giving excellent views of the surreal domes and traversing varied terrain. It wasn’t particularly arduous, but the loose rubble and occasional steep sections made it a slow walk more than a hard one. We were spoilt… the sun trap in the valley meant we could take off the fleeces and the sights were spectacular. One spent as much time looking backwards as forward, for the different angles on the rock face revealed new features and each one just as breathtaking. I think the best section would have to been the long section on the plains under the domes, with views to the horizon, lizards basking on the rocks and not a single soul around except for the three of us. With some grumpy people complaining that ‘Oh Mon Dieu, these are not steps’, on the last section getting close to the car park, and Katherine deciding to try and swallow a fly it, the walk was over before we knew it. Lunch was a quick affair, with the flies being a real nuisance and swarming around face and food constantly. So, we had a predicament about what to do: return to the sunset car park for a good spot, or do a bit of another walk at the Olgas. With Katherine being a little worse for wear from her flu-like symptoms, we opted for the car park. Setting up the new camera took a bit of time and getting it to sync with the wifi on the phone was a stressful few minutes. But, we had a hilarious time taking photos in front of Ayers Rock with us able to press the button on the phone to take several shots without running back and forth to the camera. Without a usual sunset due to cloud cover, we went to the shop, had an early dinner and drank wine while the Ninjas wrote blogs (nice change) and I sorted out camera batteries and SD cards before bed.

Saturday 20th August 2016

Travelling & Uluru – day 317/7

Having been woken up by the noisy Dutch family in the room opposite and surprisingly not by the night owl Italian man in our dorm room, we were up and ready to start our 400km plus long drive to Uluru. Managed to be out and on the road by 8am, with a quick stop for an ATM, coffee and petrol fill-up, we were on the open road keeping our eyes open for any kangaroo’s that might need rescuing (let’s be honest, we were hoping to find an orphan kangaroo to become our new road trip buddy!!). Tracey drove for the first two hours, enjoying the 130km speed limit on the ‘highway’ (in the red centre – it is a two lane road with no barriers anywhere…). Tracey and I continued singing along to our ‘Australia Road Trip 2016’ playlist whilst Jayne sat in the back, ignoring the sound of the drowning cats, and got on with catching up with blog writing – she is totally my heroine!!

A quick toilet stop at Desert Oaks services which also claims to be ‘The centre of the centre’. Supposedly the closest one can get to the centre of Australia, although even the sign admitted that there are several places across Australia which are also the centre of the centre. Turns out that this service station also had an emu farm with at least half a dozen huge birds milling around in the enclosed area. You could buy food to feed them in the shop so the moment we came close to the edge of the enclosure, we were ambushed by a pack of fierce looking birds with goggly eyes. We were a bit intimidated until we realised that there was a fence between us!! Back on the road, I was now in the driving seat, much to Tracey’s pleasure as the speed limit had dropped to 110km at the most… It felt painfully slow and I caught myself several times creeping towards the 120 on the speedo. It is so easy to lose track of your speed when the road is so straight and the scenery is the same for miles. Tried to be good and follow the Aussie rule of lifting your index finger to acknowledge oncoming vehicles but I missed quite a few. Getting into the stride of things, I managed to finger a police officer before I was promptly ignored by every other motorist on the rest of the journey. 

Arriving at Yulara Resort (the ‘town’ closest to the Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations) and tried to check in. Unable to do so until 3pm, we had a picnic lunch in the courtyard of our hotel and then headed over to Uluru to do the base walk. 
Passing through the ranger station to buy our park permits, we drove down the road and were all blown away by the magnificent red rock in front of us. UNESCO site number 53 of our gap year, the sacred rock lies in the traditional lands of the Western Desert Aboriginal people, locally known as Aṉangu. Aṉangu are part of one of the oldest human societies in the world. Uluru is 9.4 km in circumference and rises to a relatively flat top that is more than 340 m above the shallow, red sandy dunes around it. It is truly spectacular, in fact, it looked like it had been superimposed onto a blue sky – it didn’t look real at all as it loomed amongst the desert vegetation.Arriving at the rock, we saw some people climbing it. It seems incredible that despite all the signs and information available about why people shouldn’t climb it, that people still decide to climb this sacred place. Not only do they climb it but they also seem totally inadequately prepared and we saw several people slipping and sliding their way down on the sheer cliff edge. Would have served them right if they had fallen – it’s so disrespectful of the aboriginal culture to this area. 

Starting from the Mala carpark, we escaped the crowds and took the meandering journey through acacia woodlands and grassed claypans. There were plenty of signs to teach us along the way about the diverse plants, animals and geological features of the park. From Kuniya Piti, we followed the snake-like grooves at the base of the rock which were left when the ancestral being Kuniya journey to Mutitjulu waterhole, where we were inundated with people off the day tour from Alice Springs so we didn’t linger to long. I don’t think any of our photos do Uluru justice. We spent about 3.5 hours waking the 10.7km around the the base, although the sections where we weren’t allowed to take photos passed significantly quicker than the sections where we could. Each angle gave us a different glow and perspective on the enormous rock, with its many caves of different sizes and the blackened marks on the rock from algae when the waterfalls cascade during the wet season. Heading back to the resort, Jayne quickly whipped up some dinner for us as we had an early shuttle bus to the ‘Field of Lights’. The art installation is by artist Bruce Munro and consists of more than 50,000 slender stems topped with frosted glass spheres that glow in the darkness. We walked around the pathways that wind through the middle of the installation, which were even more captivating under the dark sky littered with stars and a full moon. Getting advice from the security guard, we headed up to the view point and looked at the installation from above, the moon casting a glow over Uluru – it was spectacular and it is easy to understand why people lose track of time up there and miss there last shuttle bus back to the resort. 

Friday 19th August 2016