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Published: November 30th 2007
Day 238 (19.11.07)
All packed up and ready for our flight to Alice Springs we sat in our hostel and waited for the shuttle bus to the airport to arrive. Some time later we were still waiting. With less than 1.5 hours until our flight departed we were eventually collected and proceeded to drive around town to collect yet more concerned tourists - would we make check-in? Finally we were headed towards the airport and thankfully were able to check in with a little time to spare. Panic over we settled in for a 'very short' wait before we boarded our plane and set off on our way to the Red Centre. The highlight of the flight occurred not long before we arrived at our destination with the captain announcing that if we looked out of the right hand side of the plane we would catch our first glimpse of Uluru (Ayers Rock), a fantastic view and great introduction to this iconic vision of Australia.
We arrived into the roasting heat of Alice adding an extra half hour to our watches and were collected by our hostel pick up. Having checked in we set about finding out what was
happening over the next few days.
Our original flight plan had us flying from Perth to Sydney but we had changed plans to see Uluru (slap bang in the middle of Oz) and try and visit Kakadu National Park (as far North as you can get).
There are a number of ways to do this but we thought the best would be a 7 day tour that took in both areas as well as covering the vast distances involved.
To our dismay when we arrived the news that we were to have a 5.15am pick up in the morning was delivered to us - ughh!
We spent the evening packing a small bag for the first 2-day section of the trip, making a bbq dinner with our dorm-mates and getting an early night in preparation for the next day.
Day 239 (20.11.07)
We were on our tour bus and on the road by 5.30am to begin the mammoth journey to the red centre. Few people realise just how far you still have to travel to get to Uluru once you get to Alice. Our tour guide, Kiwi, told us that we'd be covering around
1500km over the 2 days on the trip - WOW.
Over the morning on the bus we got to know the 10 other people on the tour and sang along to classic Australian tunes including the tour favourite, 'G'day G'day' by a man named Slim Dusty (check it out on i-tunes - classic!) We stopped for some lunch at a camel farm and then continued on the way to our first destination, Kings Canyon in the Watarrka National Park.
We arrived at the Canyon to a heat of 42 in the shade and as a group opted for the shorter walk through the canyon rather than the one around the rim. This would also mean that we'd make Uluru in time for sunset - something we all wanted to see. We followed the rocky creek bed through the towering red canyon to a viewing point which gave us some excellent views to the end of the canyon. After some info from Kiwi whilst sitting in the shade of a coolibah tree (just like in the song) we headed back down the canyon where Mark and some others from the group made the short, steep hike to the top
of the canyon for some more spectacular views.
Back in the bus we had a quick but welcome swim stop at the Kings Canyon resort to cool ourselves down before the journey to Uluru. On the way we were lucky enough to see a group of brumbies, or wild horses, by the roadside. We made a quick beer stop whilst taking in the fantastic views of the table-top Mount Conner.
As the sun started to drop towards the horizon we kept our eyes peeled for the famous monolith rising from the desert plains and were quickly rewarded with a stunning sighting as we drove closer. We pulled into the Yulara resort and our camp area and made a dash to the sunset viewpoint to crack open a beer or two as the sun was low in the sky. The viewpoint was in a perfect position to see not only the breathtaking spectacle of Uluru changing colour as the sun dropped but also gave wonderful views over the incredible Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) which, as our tour guide pointed out, looks a little like Homer Simpson lying down. This really was an amazing experience, another that we'll never forget.
We stayed until it was completely dark and Uluru just a shadow on the horizon and then made our way to our permanent camp, an impressive set-up with a permanent kitchen, toilet/shower block and permanent tents. After a delicious bbq dinner Kiwi gave us the option of sleeping in the tents or of rolling out a swag and sleeping under the stars - no competition there! A swag is basically a thin mattress inside a thick canvas zip-up bag that you can roll up and clip together. The entire group opted to do the bush-man thing and swag it and we unrolled our swags, stuffed a sleeping bag inside and prepared for an early night (the next get-up was obviously going to be an early one as Kiwi wouldn't even tell us what time it would be). Lying there in a swag, so close to Uluru, staring up at the stars and gradually drifting to sleep was truly magical.
Day 240 (21.11.07)
Sleeping in the swags became a little less magical in the early hours of the morning when the wind picked up and caught us up inside a whirl of red sand and dust. Too dozy
to consider moving into one of the tents we slid deeper into our swags and tried to hide from the dust attack to little avail. We woke just before 4am to eyes, ears and mouths full of grit - mmmm delicious!
Swags rolled away we boarded the bus and made our way to view Uluru as the sun rose over it to begin a new day in the outback. Another truly wondrous experience despite the fact that we didn't get the full 'red glow' effect due to the dust storm of the previous night. To explore Uluru further you are given two options: a walk which circles the base of the rock or a climb to the top. The climbing of Uluru is a highly controversial topic. The aboriginal park owners have left the climb route open to tourists but request that out of respect for them you do not climb the rock for two main reasons, we'll attempt to give you an overview (but don't quote us on it!). Firstly the climb is very steep and can be dangerous particularly in the desert heat and with possible high winds at the top. If anything happens to anybody the
aboriginal people feel responsbility for this and grieve not only for the person but for their family and friends as well. Secondly, for the aboriginals, climbing Uluru is part of a sacred ceremony and the right to take part in this climb is earnt over many, many years and here are tourists expecting to be able to climb it just because they want to. Despite the wishes of the aboriginals, many people do climb Uluru maybe because they haven't clearly been infromed of / fully understand these reasons or maybe because they just don't care, who knows?
We set out on the base walk, a 10km walk which gives a better idea of the true scale of Uluru. As we walked Kiwi described to us how aboriginals use features of the rock to illustrate stories told as lessons to the young. We also saw areas used for kitchens and paintings used in teaching areas almost like a blackboard would be used. It was a fascinating walk with spectacular views.
Back on the bus we next drove out to explore Kata Tjuta, the Olgas. Some find the sight of this outcrop on the horizon even more striking than that
of Uluru and it's easy to see why. We took a walk through the Walpa Gorge between two of the domes, very impressive.
Our major sites finished with we lunched at the visitors cultural centre with Uluru as our backdrop and were sad to see it gradually disappear behind us as we began the long journey back to Alice Springs. It had been an amazing couple of days topped off by some excellent singing and dancing on the bus on the way back to keep us all awake.
Back in Alice we arranged to meet the rest of our lovely group for dinner in a local bar before most went off in separate directions the following day. We would be joined on our ongoing tour by Eve and Nina, a couple of crazy Swedish ladies and were greatly looking forward to it as we fell into bed with another early morning awaiting us the next day.
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