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Published: January 28th 2008
It is easy to forget how big and diverse Australia really is. Although it is technically a continent, it might be easy just to think of it as a large island when you cursively glance at it on a map. The fact is it’s a continent and is not that dissimilar in size to the United States. The U.S. however, has about 275 million more people.
An example of this is we boarded our plane in Melbourne early one Monday morning and it was about 65 degrees. We flew for 2 ½ hours and stepped off our plane in Uluru (Ayers Rock) into a rather blistering heat on the airport tarmac. We’re quite sure it was at least in the upper 90’s. By late after noon it was almost 106 degrees. Even we Yankees know that it is hot when you glance at the local bank that shows the time and temperature and do a bit of a double take when it reads “42.” (remember: the formula is multiply by 1.8 and add 32)
With these scorching temperatures we decided the only thing to do was to sign up for the Sounds of Silence evening tour. This turned
Path to King's Canyon Sunset
Sunset is a peaceful time in the desert
out to be a great choice. We spent four lovely hours out in the interior of Australia eating dinner on white table cloths. We were promised; “ the romance of the desert, the setting of the sun behind the domes of Ayer’s Rock and Kata Tjuta, the haunting sounds of a didgeridoo, a sumptuous Northern Territory Buffet feast of barramundi, kangaroo, emu, crocodile and bush salads- and some of the world’s finest star gazing: this is the best of the Red Centre.”
And….they did not disappoint. After a few glasses of champagne and beer we enjoyed the sunset while listening the sounds of the Australian Didgeridoo. The evening turned mystic by the full moon and the breezes blowing off the desert. We were warned that a storm might be blowing in and we might be leaving early. The storm never made it to us but we certainly enjoyed the wind. It was lovely.
At the dinner we tried the barramundi, kangaroo and the crocodile and they were all good. Our dinner companions were extremely pleasant. We met two fantastic ladies from England who had immigrated to Australia, a father and son from Scotland, and much to our surprise,
Views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta- our dinner table in the desert
two women from Edmunds, Washington, which is just north of Seattle. A few days later in Alice Springs, we ran into our English friends at the movie theatre and were able to join them for more pleasant conversation over coffee after the movie.
We are lured by the romance of “The Rock” so we decided to sign up for another amazing experience. We assume we will only be out here once in our lives so we are living it up. The budget seems to have taken a bit of a hit in this location. When you are truly in the “Outback,” everything needs to be brought in, and a higher price comes with it.
For our “Desert Awakenings” trip the next morning, they drove us out to a secluded sand dune to watch the spectacular sight of sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the company of our expert guide. We arrived at a private dune-top lookout well before sun breaches the horizon, (they picked us up at 4:45am) and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast as we learned about the natural and cultural landscapes of this remarkable region. We were thrilled to have picked this tour as we
Ah, yes, champagne
The only way to enjoy the sunset!
were off on a quiet sand dune rather than the viewing area packed with visitors via buses and cars.The silence of the desert is……an enchanting sound, with only the wind blowing through the bush and the few surrounding trees.
When we returned from our second tour we decided to take a quick shower and nap. Staying up late for the Sounds of Silence and getting up early for the Dawn Awakenings didn’t leave us much time for sleep. But, as our good friend Billie says, “you can sleep when you are dead”.
After being pampered by these two wonderful outings we decided it was time to break out on our own to explore the monolith. We decided against the 3 hour hike around Ayers Rock. I think we have previously mentioned that the flies are nasty here and we did not want to deal with them. To that end, we purchased fly nets, which are funky little nets you put over your head. The flies simply love to come at your face, head, and ears and wherever they can land on your head. MJ actually had one fly up her nose one day! We have been enjoying some
And some appetizers
This is a grand life.
hiking on our trip but this sabbatical is all about enjoyment and between the flies and the heat is too much for the likes of us. With age comes wisdom. So, after our exploration, and our shower we did the only thing a sane person would do…..headed to the bar for a few cold NTs on tap (the local Northern Territory beer). Beer never tasted soooo good!!
The interesting thing about coming to places like this instead of staying home and reading about it is that you learn more than you expect. We learned about Kata Tjuta which is a huge and interesting rock formation in the same national park as Ayer’s Rock and only about 20 miles away. What you don’t hear on the Discovery Channel is that Kata Tjuta is even more sacred to the Aboriginal people than Ayers Rock…ah, maybe that is why we haven’t heard much about it. It is a clear example that you have to get off the couch and come out here if you want to learn their little secrets!!
The Australian Aborigines have a very similar history to our American Indians. Once again we have the portrait of white
colonization, subjugation, and devastation in place. When the Europeans came to Australia, they drove the Aborigines from the land and also introduced diseases like small pox and tuberculosis. Between that and devastating their land with the introduction of domestic and feral animals, the recipe for disaster was firmly in place. Today the Aborigines are still not doing particularly well.
We are very grateful for this adventure that we are on and appreciate it everyday. When we were on the bus driving up to Ayers Rock we were smiling at each other and had to admit that it was cool being out in the middle of Australia exploring. It is a desolate beauty. The Rock seems to generate a positive energy that we can not explain. You never tire of looking at the rock because it gives you a special feeling. It is hard to put into words.
One of the other things we learned is that places in Australia are usually separated by great distances when they appear at first to be relatively close. Case in point: when we were in Chiang Mai we met a couple from Australia who told us about the Kings Canyon area.
Beautiful Australian Outback Music
It sounded like a place we wanted to see so off we went. Turns out it is “only about 250 miles from Ayers Rock. We thought it was about a two hour drive on our way from Uluru to Alice Springs. It turns out to be about three and a half hours and is off the beaten track. You drive for many miles without seeing anything resembling civilization in any form. There is a highway in America named route 50 that goes through a remote part of Nevada and is called “the loneliest highway in America.” It is nothing compared to driving in the Outback. Kings Canyon was beautiful. It is the Australian version of America’s Grand Canyon. Not as big, but quite picturesque. The next day, we drove on to Alice Springs, which is “only” about 300 miles, once again through the remote stretches of the Outback. The roads were paved (they’re called sealed roads here) and were in good shape. We saw a lot of desert on our drive, and found the terrain to change constantly. It was still the desert, but provided some scenic diversity.
You know you have been in the outback when you arrive
Ayer's Rock at Sunset
A great place for dinner.
in Alice Springs, a town of 25,000 and you are thrilled to be back in civilization. Alice Springs is a launching point for many of the activities in the outback. It has several bars, shops, restaurants, and hostels….and not much else….
One interesting thing we have learned that we did not know is that Australia has nearly 750,000 camels roaming wild. They were introduced to the country decades ago because the horses could not hold to some of the work in this dry heat. The problem now is that there are too many of them and they have been set free. They cause a lot of destruction to trees because they munch on the tree until it dies. In addition, when they find a watering hole they are known to drink it nearly dry. These animals are causing a great deal of destruction. We were told that they catch them on occasion and ship them back to Afghanistan.
We’ve enjoyed our time in the Outback, but have come to the realization that we don’t really like the stifling heat (not to mention the nasty flies). At heart, we are coastal loving people, who like the diversity of the
Under a beautiful full moon and a wonderful breeze!
And so…….on to the eastern coast of this wonderful (and large) country to explore the Great Barrier Reef and make our way slowly south towards Sydney………
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