Red Centre One 13 to 15 January 2011

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January 27th 2011
Published: January 27th 2011
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Well we arrived back in Sydney which was quite a shock after the serene and quiet Blue Mountains, but we do like this city of contrasts. I do not know if you had noticed from the last published photos but I forgot to mention that Paul is a little lighter now, he was so fed up with everyone saying that he looked like ‘Bill Oddie’ that as soon as we got to Katoomba he noticed a hairdressers on the main street so he quickly deposited me at a café and went across the road to investigate, as he did not come back for ages I wondered across to find him and he was indeed looking extremely younger and the hairdresser was very pleased with the results!! Well it will not take you long to realise that we are still not in Queensland but in a very different location – we are actually in the very centre of Australia, The Red Centre as it is known. We very nearly decided that we would ‘try’ to get to Queensland but the floods were still causing such devastation and we were advised not to travel to this area. We therefore took ourselves off to a travel agent in Sydney to see if we could get to Uluru (Ayres Rock) and Alice Springs which was hundreds of miles away from the floods, indeed away from anywhere as it is about 1500 km away from the ocean in every direction. Although extremely hot at this time of year (we had planned to go there in June towards the end of our tour of Oz when it would be at its coolest) at least it ‘should’ be rain and flood free. Well luckily enough there was a flight and an excellent tour of the area leaving the very next day and so we booked this and change our plans, as is so easy to do when you have the time………….. The tour was to fly into Uluru and then travel by land to Alice and then fly back to Sydney. We still had another day in Sydney and as the weather was a little cooler we thought we would go for a long walk from Bondi Beach to Coogie Beach which I had researched in the UK and seemed a good thing to do. We had not done this walk before because of the hot temperatures; it had just been too hot to do much at all let alone walk far. The chap in the travel agents said it was a good walk but would probably be better to do it the other way around and also recommended a nice fish restaurant when at the end when we arrived at Bondi. So this is what we did, first catching a bus from Sydney to Coogee Beach the start of the walk. On the bus we met a lovely ‘elderly’ couple who told us the best place to get off the bus and where to start the walk. Once we got going it got hotter and hotter and even though it was a lovely scenic cliff top walk it was indeed quite a welcome sight to see Bondi Beach in the distance. The beach was just as you would image and have probably seen in many photos, with lots of people surfing the waves and other enjoying the lovely beach area. We arrived at the end of the beach following some lovely cliff tops and rock formations and saw the Iceberg Restaurant in the distance that the chap at the travel agents had recommended. A drink would be truly welcome now…………. Well we finally arrived and had to sign in which would give us temporary membership of the Club and its facilities. We wandered down to the outside veranda and found a nice table overlooking the beach and swimming pool and settled down in this lovely location. The pool was full of swimmers, some very experienced lapping the pool with ease as large waves were coming right over the edge and into the swimming pool which they just ignored. On the beach the surfers were not doing to badly either although some were coming to grief in the relentless huge waves! The Club owes its origin in 1929 to the desire of a band of dedicated local lifesavers trying to maintain their fitness during the winter months. They formed the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club and drew up a constitution and elected office bearers. Included in the constitution was a rule that to maintain membership it was mandatory that swimmers compete on three Sundays out of four for a period of five years, a rule that still exists today. The Bondi Icebergs became licensed in 1960 and the members moved from a tin shed into these comfortable premises with Bar and Restaurant. A further update took place in the 1970s enabling the Club to operate on two floors. Apparently it was not until 1994 that female members were admitted and in 2002 the Club opened their new premises! The Bondi Icebergs is the only licensed Winter Swimming Club in the world. Since its beginning back in 1929, the Bondi Icebergs has forged a reputation as one of Australia's most famous winter swimming clubs. Well we certainly enjoyed our brief membership including a superb fish supper overlooking the famous beach and pool that we would definitely recommend it to anyone who visited the area. Whilst dining we met a young English couple who were seated next to us, she was a teacher working in Oz and waiting for her residency visa and he was from Essex and ran a market stall with his father for a few months and travelled between Asia and Oz the rest of the year (that seems like a good job to be in – we thought market workers were struggling!). The chap said that he had just purchased a motorbike to get around on but they were really concerned as on arriving home with their new purchase they saw a large spider emerge from the bike and settle into the girl’s motor car parked along side. They tried to catch it but it disappeared behind the dashboard and they were unable to locate it……… They were now both very wary of travelling in the car but it was ‘the love of her life’ and they would not sell it even though every time they got into it they were looking out for ‘the elusive ‘spider’. We had a long chat with them before returning on the bus to Sydney for our last night in the city. The Radisson Hotel where we were staying said they would keep our backpacks for a few days whilst we were away however they would not negotiate a good rate for our return date and wanted double what we had paid originally via the Wotif Website (a good site for booking last minute accommodation). This did however allow us to travel easily with just a small bag, although Paul did ‘moan’ when I packed my fleece (just in case it got cold at night – it didn’t!!!). The flight from Sydney to Uluru (Ayres Rock) was about 3 hours and as soon as we left Sydney the scenery turned into desert and remained that way to Uluru Airport – such a vast desert it’s so hard to believe it really does go on forever. We did finally arrive in Uluru with wonderful views of the icon itself as we flew over the huge rock in the middle of a very flat desert, which made it stand out even more prominently. As we emerged from the plane the dry heat hit you with a full force, the temperatures were in the low to mid 40s, extremely hot but the other thing you noticed was the abundance of flies. Luckily Kerry and Cliff had warned us of this and we had bought fly nets in the UK, which did indeed prove to be very useful and were worn on many occasions during our stay in the heart of Australia. It was quite funny though as sometimes you forgot you had them on as you tried to eat or drink – well I do not need to go into that but everyone had the same problem! We had a courtesy collection by coach from the airport and were taken to our accommodation a short drive away, the Desert Gardens Resort. This was a modern little single storey hotel with an en-suite room and very welcome air conditioning, and even more welcome just outside our room was a very welcome swimming pool. We walked around the Uluru Resort which was quite small and consisted of a few hotels of varying standards, a couple of shops, a café/restaurant and a travel agent, an oasis in the middle of the vast desert. There were lots of colourful birds in the trees including pigeons which we think were Spinifex Pigeons. We had seen these before sometimes they were grey and others were rusty/bluff coloured but they both had a tall crest. Around the outskirts of the town (resort) there were various look out points on top of natural sand dunes with lovely views over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) – quite magical. Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the surrounding land became a national park in 1958 and lies in the territory of the Anangu people (the local aborigine people). We just had time to settle in before going to reception to join our guided sunset tour of Kata Tjuta. We met our guide for the evening a lovely girl called Natalie who insisted on being called Nat and would not answer to anything else. She was from Melbourne but her knowledge of the local area and the fauna and flora as well as the archaeology and history was superb, she told us about Kata Tjuta, formerly called "the Olgas", and which is the second major feature and attraction of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the main one is of course Uluru. Kata Tjuta is Uluru’s sister formation, meaning many heads and comprises 36 magnificently domed and coloured steep sided monoliths, covering about 35 sq km which, just like Uluru, looks most impressive at sunrise and sunset. And just like Uluru, the Olgas also have an official sunset viewing area that you have to use if you want to see the spectacle. The area as indeed most of what we had seen so far was a lot ‘greener’ than we thought it would be, but Nat informed us they had more rain this year than many years previously and this had made a huge difference to the vegetation with flowers blooming as not often seen, so we were lucky enough to see a very ‘green’ National Park. Paul had also had an email from his cousin in Melbourne to say that she had recently been to the Red Centre to see the unique flowers that were blooming this year. As we travelled around the region we were also surprised at the huge number of different shrubs and trees but the majority of these were the same species called Desert Oaks. These trees take about 30 years to lay down their deep rooting system to the water table below the surface before they start putting out branches and growing upwards, so they look like different trees but are the same. We were hoping to do some walks in the area and we were informed that there used to be twelve different walks, winding through the valleys and gorges between the rocky domes but today only ‘two’ remain and hopefully we could do one of these today. The others have been closed, in part to protect the fragile environment, but mostly to allow the Aboriginal owners of the land to conduct their ancient ceremonies. The area is not only closed for white people, it is also off limits for Aboriginal people who have no business there, only those who are inducted to the ‘necessary level’ are allowed to access certain places and only for the required ceremonies or as otherwise specified by the local cultural law, Tjukurpa. After viewing the stunning rock formations Nat said that we could if we wanted to undertake the Valley of the Winds Walk which had two stages, the second of which could only be completed if the temperatures and conditions were OK. The walk would only take about 1½ hours but over very rough terrain in really hot temperatures so no easy tasks and you had to carry your own ample supplies of water, as a rule of thumb one litre for every hour you walk in the desert. The first lookout, Karu, was only about 1.1 km from the car park and the whole group undertook this but it was still hot going. The second part of the walk which took you right between the monoliths was the harder section and although open would be quite tough going. The majority of the group decided not to go any further as it was so hot and the incline looked daunting. We were thinking that probably this was the ‘sensible’ option but Nat really wanted to take some of the group on the walk so we thought let’s go for it (in for a penny in for a pound). So we set off with her, a couple of ‘hardy’ others and the rest of our group turned back to undertake an easier walk along the gorge floor. We would all meet up later for the sunset viewing over the Kata Tjuta once we got back from our trek! The walk on to the second lookout, Karingana was indeed the more difficult section it was extremely hot and not easy terrain but the effort was well worth it and it was to us by far the best walk we had undertaken for a very long time. It gave us a true sense of the wilderness of the area, the scenery was just so spectacular and hard to explain to our blog readers, but will remain as a very vivid memory for a very long time to come. It was a little more demanding than other walks in the rest of the park, rather than being a wide, well maintained gravel path as is around the base of Uluru, this quickly turned into an extremely narrow trail. Nat’s pace was not slow so we had to keep going to keep up with her (she was a lot younger) and we had a time table to keep as the sunset would not wait! It also involved a fair amount of ups and downs; there were some very steep sections and one pretty memorable one which required a bit of scrambling over the slippery ‘red’ uneven cliff face but if you zigzagged across the rock face it was a little easier…….. We did eventually arrive at the second lookout which was in a narrow gap in the rocks, high above the valley that stretched beyond it. Immediately you were rewarded with wonderful views out over the valley and the desert disappearing in a blue haze far away in the distance, a truly remarkable vista and one probably not to be repeated during our travels in the Red Centre. We then had to retrace our steps along the same track we had come and a little further on found that we were leading the group. We heard some lovely birdsong and spotted some colourful birds on the grasses. Nat informed us that these were Zebra Finches and that if you spotted them in the desert there would be water nearby ……..and there was. They had an orange finely hooked beak, tipped black and had a whitish body and made a slow flute like sound which echoed throughout the mountains. We managed to get quite a good photograph of these and continued on through the valley finally finished the walk a very welcome end. We joined the rest of the group who had completed the valley floor walk and chatted away with them about our experiences, sipping champagne as the sun set over Kata Tjuta - heaven. Well it was heaven but would have been even better without the over friendly flies……but at least we had our head nets……. After watching the mountains change colour from reds to oranges as the sun set we boarded the coach again and continued to a unique area set out in the middle of the desert. We were greeted with a lovely cool drink and sat down to enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner, although having tried the barbecued kangaroo (very gamey) would not try it again…… We met a couple from Sydney, Alan and Lyn who had came for the very first time to the area and were really impressed with the scenery and the peace. Alan was a New Zealander and Lyn was originally from Essex but they had lived in Sydney since the seventies. They were going on the Alice Springs and staying in the same hotel as us so we agreed to meet up with them later. We returned to the hotel and went quickly to bed as we had to be up at 4am for our Sunrise trip to Uluru in the morning, the highlight of the tour. Uluru is really impressive to look at, but we have to say, in our experience Kata Tjuta had more power and was much more scenic. However Uluru is Australia’s most identifiable natural icon and the largest monolith in the world as well as being an important Aboriginal sacred site. It is a massive, red rounded monolith rising 348 metres above the plain and 863 metres above sea level, and like an iceberg also reaching below the earth’s surface (apparently about 6 kilometres) you can see it for miles around and can understand why it became such an important site to the Aborigines. The spectacular changing colours of Uluru at sunrise are visions not to be missed and will stay in our memories for a very long time. After watching the sunrise we continued on for a guided cultural walk around the base of the mountain viewing Aboriginal rock art caves and the Mutitjulu Waterhole with clear wonderful reflections of the mountain in the translucent waters. The rock itself was not smooth as you imagine but had various craters carved into the sides. Our guide explained that some of the areas of the rock were sacred sites to the Aborigines and you were not allowed to photograph these and if you did you could have your camera and film confiscated as well as receive hefty fines. We enjoyed the walk learning a lot about the area and on entering one of the rock art caves we noticed a white rabbit sheltering in a cavern (no we really did) and our guide said that was very unusual, but it would not last long here - poor thing. We continued on to view the Cultural Centre which explained a lot about the life style of the peoples and was very moving before returning to the hotel for a refreshing dip in the pool. Whilst we were lazing at the pool side reflecting on our experiences this huge gust of wind came out of nowhere, anything loose around the pool took off some landing in the pool itself together with hundreds of leaves from the trees the whole area transformed in minutes, but no sooner had the wind started than it stopped. Later we boarded a coach and joined a new group of travellers to watch the sunset over Uluru with a cool glass of wine over the same setting we had viewed earlier. It was equally as spectacular but the colours were more pronounced at this time of day and the red seemed to be much brighter and the views were a lot clearer. On chatting for a couple of minutes to a lovely lady from Melbourne in her 70s, whose husband had just died, and was travelling for the first time on her own, she invited us to meet her in Melbourne. Her name was Kathleen, which was my mother’s name, we said that we would be delighted to meet her for coffee and we will definitely give her a call around the end of February when we should be in Melbourne. We watched the sunset over the mountain together and were joined by a young Australian girl travelling on her own and we all chatted away for ages before heading back to our different tour groups for the return to our hotels. Next morning we had some free time before our onward coach journey to Kings Canyon so we took the opportunity to walk to several of the lookouts points near to the hotel to view both Uluru and Kata Tjuta on our own, a truly unique experience. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and the people we met but we were looking forward to our next adventure in the Red Centre.


2nd September 2011

White rabbit at Uluru
The white rabbit was still there in early June 2011 and appeared fine!

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