Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Rock

People have a tendency to think that Uluru is ‘just down the road’ from Alice Springs. The thing is, nothing is ‘just down’ the road in the Outback. It’s 199km from Alice to the Erldunda turn off and then another 250 odd kms to the Rock. Crazily though, the 5 hours sped by and we found ourselves saying stupid things like, ‘It’s only 550 km! Everything is relative. I brought lots of stuff to read, watch, correct and listen to on this journey but I’ve done very little of any of it because the ever changing, ever staying the same scenery is too fascinating. The one minute that I looked down at my book, Geoff spotted a huge goanna sitting on a rock and I missed taking its photo. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled in the desert because it’s full of surprises.

Newbies that we are, we were tricked into thinking we’d spotted Uluru when Mt Connor came in to view but it was just a teaser for the real thing. About 50kms from Yulara we got our first real sighting of ‘The Rock’ and it was every bit as exciting as we’d imagined it ; a huge red monolith, rising up out of the desert. So red and so big that you could swear it was some sort of plastic coated marketing trick. The red soil gets redder as you approach Uluru and the desert is covered in what look like Truffula trees. It’s a world that I never knew existed.

We checked into the Ayer’s Rock Resort at Yulara. This is the only place you can stay that is close to Uluru. It’s a bit like a desert version of a Disney Resort with 5 different levels of accommodation ranging from camp sites to the ridiculously over priced ‘Sails’. We were in the Emu Walk apartments, mid range and the only 2 rooms left (or so we were told on the phone but I think this was a ‘book me now’ scam because there seemed to be plenty of rooms empty). The apartments were fine, roomy and with a kitchenette for self catering. There are several restaurants to choose from but there’s also a supermarket with remarkably fair prices so it’s easy enough to cook for yourself. The pathways around the resort are a treat in themselves because you share them with all kinds of wildlife, especially lizards and all sorts of interesting looking beetles.

The first thing we did was race back to our cars to get out to Uluru to watch the sunset (Uluru MUST DO no 1.) We joined the cavalcade of other tourists doing exactly the same thing, paid our $25 park entrance fee and lined up alongside the hundreds of others jostling for the ‘best’ position to take photos of the changing light on the rock from about 5kms away. The light show was just as promised with the rock changing from red to gold to brown. The park closes not long after sunset so then everyone jumps back in their cars, coaches, campervans and drives the 20km back to Yulara.

Next morning we were up at 5.30 am to tick off Uluru MUST DO no 2; the sunrise. Same cavalcade, same jostling, just a bit colder. Some people have bought their breakfast with them, some have clearly defied park rules and slept there overnight. We took in our fill of the morning beauty and then raced back for our (included in the room rate), buffet breakfast.

The kids were keen to try some camel riding so we filled the rest of the morning with a trip to the camel farm. Paid money, rode camels, probably don’t need to do that again!

It’s hot in Yulara at this time of the year so a mid day siesta is imperative. Luckily the Ayers Rock Resort has 4 swimming pools so there’s no lack of places to cool down. We did a bit of a circuit of the expensive pool, the caravan park pool and the backpacker’s pool before deciding to stick with the one closest to our room.

Uluru in the twilight is a magical place. With most of the tourists back at the sunset viewing circus, the walking track was virtually deserted and we had the whole beautiful rock to ourselves when we visited again that night. When you actually get close to the rock, it’s a ‘whoah’ moment. The sheer size of it is overwhelming. You have to lean your head all the way back to see the top and the colour is a crazy orange, red, brown, gold conglomeration. We drove the entire perimeter, stopping at different points of interest for a closer look. Alone in the gorges and the gullies it all felt a bit ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and I kept waiting for a bunyip or a tiddalick to appear.

Next morning, while our own Forest Gump added to his belt of impressive running tracks by running around the base, we hired bikes and rode the 15kms from the Cultural Centre. This was a surreal experience, similar to the feeling I had riding around Washington DC. It felt like such a normal thing to be doing right then but at the same time it was so exhilarating and breath taking that it didn’t seem real. The only downside to the experience was at the Mala car park where several AAT tourists were being congratulated, by their tour guide, on completing a climb of the rock. Given that they were standing in front of the ‘Please do not climb’ sign, I found this quite confronting and disrespectful. Thankfully so did the majority of other people standing nearby and the upside was meeting some lovely people from Finland with whom we had a conversation about the need for global respect of culturally significant sites!


After another siesta we made the 50 km trip over to Kata Djuta (The Olgas). This is also an impressive rock formation although I didn’t find it as spiritually moving as Uluru. This may have been because it was 37C by the time we got there and so the Valley of the Winds was closed to walkers and we had to share the shorter gorge walk with several bus loads of others, including the AAT group that I’d found so offensive earlier in the day. Florence and Yuri managed the heat well considering neither of them have experienced this sort of extreme before.

Uluru is mesmerizing and it keeps drawing you back, so despite being a bit weary from the bike riding and hiking in the heat, we went back for another, crowd free, twilight visit. This time we walked down to one of the gorges that we’d missed earlier. There was a group of rich people down there competing with the flies over their 5 star, white table clothed, hors d’oevres. That all seemed a bit pretentious and silly to me but I guess tourism is the name of the game and I’m sure it seemed like a great idea when they booked the tour. For anyone who hasn’t been up here yet, don’t worry about the ‘extras’. The rock doesn’t need any frills.

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