Uluru - Ayers Rock
Our next two nights are in the middle of Australia in the within the Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, more commonly known to English speaking folks as Ayers Rock. The flight from Melbourne took us through Alice springs before landing at the Ayers Rock airport. A tiny place in the middle of nowhere, that would be unremarkable save for the national park.
Just outside of the park is they Ayers Rock Resort complex that plays host to five or six hotels, a campground and a town centre that has a couple of restaurants, souvenir shops and a grocery store. We’re staying in the Desert Garden hotel which is a sprawling complex with one and two storey buildings. Buses shuttle people from the airport to the various hotels on a regular basis. It’s only about ten minutes away and they have the whole people moving experience down to a science.
We had less than an hour before our first scheduled activity, one that Deanna has been looking forward to since she booked it, a camel ride in the desert followed by dinner.
We found the heat. It’s in the mid 30s.
We joined a small group of folks for the five minute drive to the camel farm. After a quick orientation, we hopped aboard Ollie, our trusty dromedary for a wander in the dessert. Camels are not native to Australia, having been brought over from Afghanistan and India in the 1800s. Initially they were brought over to help build the telegraph system. After that was done, they were let loose. Australia now has the largest collection of wild camels in the world with the population numbering in excess of 500,000. Australia exports camels back to the Middle East.
We made our way through the desert with our guide and collection of camels. The guide who hails from Iowa, spoke about the camels, the desert and a bit about Uluru (Ayers Rock), which dominates the horizon. Our one hour trek ended with a glass of champagne and some appetizers as we waited for dinner.
We joined eight other folks for a very tasty buffet dinner. There were some local delicacies on the menu including kangaroo. Drinks flowed freely and the weather was great. The only small downside is that it’s very cloudy so our stary night is not to be had. Our dinner companions hailed from Brisbane, Melbourne and Toronto. It was an interesting group of folks who all have travelled extensively. The couple I was sitting beside had taken the Rocky Mountaineer train in 2015 and really enjoyed themselves.
After dinner we were treated to a star tour by a local star gazer. We had to use our imagination as nary a star could be seen.
We concluded our evening with a walk through a very large art installation called the Field of Light.
Sunrise at Uluru
5 am came early. but we needed to be up and at ‘em for our 5:45 am pick up to watch the sunrise. This is a very popular event as coach after coach arrived to pick up groups heading into the park to see the sunrise. We joined a small group of four others for a more intimate experience. The tour company SEIT has it’s own area to watch the sunrise (and I’m assuming the sunset), which isn’t close to the general viewing area where there must of been dozens of coaches. We shared a remote area with one other van from the same tour company. It was very peaceful as the sun came up. Unfortunately, the sky was still pretty socked in with clouds, so we didn’t get to experience a dramatic sunrise on Uluru. Regardless, it was a great experience.
We went for a short walk at the base of Uluru to a watering hole that is completely dry at the moment. It’s been unseasonably dry with only bits of rain over the past few months. The guide showed us some cave paintings and told some stories of the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people who are the traditional stewards of the region.
We retuned back to the hotel by 8:30, time enough to grab breakfast and a break before our second tour of the day at Kata Tjuta which is another rock formation not far from Uluru. Here we joined another small group (including a couple from Louisiana who were on the morning tour), for a walk through Walpa Gorge. It was hot with temperatures well into the 30s but there was a bit of wind in the gorge and some shade as well.
The flies in the desert are brutal. Their is thousands of them and while they don’t bite, they are everywhere. I bought a couple of fly nets to keep them out of ears, eyes and mouths. While not making much of a fashion statement, they did the trick for keeping the flies away.
After a quick break after the tour we joined the Louisiana couple at Dinner at Gecko’s cafe with couple from Louisiana for a quick diner. They’ve travelled quite a bit and were interested to hear about our France barge trip down the Canal du Midi from a few years back and also want to visit Banff and Lake Louise.
After a long day, we called it a night as we’re heading to Cairns tomorrow for the next leg of our journey.