This was the bit of Australia I was really excited about it as it sounded like the most unique, and stereotypically the most Australian e.g. Crocodile Dundee.
However, we arrived in Alice Springs to find the streets dotted with mostly drunk Aboriginals. In fact there is such a big alcohol problem in the town that port, sherry and boxes of wine – we obviously needed one for our tour to Uluru (Ayers Rock), are not available for sale until 6pm, and in some nearby areas booze cannot be sold to indigenous people at all.
After deciding not to stay any longer than necessary in Alice, we headed off on the tour at 6am the next day. The group seemed pretty good, although everyone looked (and actually was) younger than us (including the guide). It was still supposed to be the dry season but soon it began to pour down and Dylan, our guide, had to wade through some knee-high water which blocked the road at one point. Hardly what you imagine in the desert.
Soon we reached our first stop, Kings Canyon, a huge red gorge with 300 metre high walls. Despite the fact that it was chucking it down we clambered up what is known as “heart attack hill” where we were met with a stunning view of the surrounding bush, which was surprisingly green, and flat as far as the eye could see. We spent a few hours walking around the top of the canyon looking at all the amazing rock formations, posing for numerous photos and some brave souls (it wasn’t warm) even went for a swim in the Garden of Eden, a waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. Next (via the bottle shop for beer or two to add to our two litres of wine) we headed to our bush camp. As you probably know I’ve never been a big fan of camping, I like a shower every morning for a start, but it was amazing. We cooked chili con carne on the campfire and then set around chatting and drinking before falling asleep beneath the stars in our swags (a portable mattress and sleeping bag combo).
An early wake-up (greeted by an amazing sunrise) so we could drive over to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) before it got too hot (the walking trail closed at 11am). These are a group of large domed rock formations not far from Uluru. Although nowhere near as famous as ‘The Rock’, if they were anywhere else I reckon they would be a major tourist attraction on their own.
We strolled amongst them marveling at their curious shape and amazing orange colour and spotting the odd tree growing from the tops. Towards the end of the trail we reached a stunning viewpoint where the countryside was laid out in front of us for miles and miles.
After lunch we headed towards Uluru and caught our first glimpse of the mighty sandstone formation from the road. It was huge, bright red and rounded at the edges – much bigger than I ever imagined and I had never thought a rock could be this impressive.
We went for a walk around it, and up close it was surprisingly jagged and not smooth like it looked in photos from afar. All around the edges there was an abundance of plants and trees as rain flows down the rock in waterfalls onto the surrounding land in the wet season.
The guide showed us some of the Aboriginal rock paintings and explained the stories they represent and how they believe that in the beginning the world was unformed and featureless. Ancestral beings then emerged and journeyed widely, creating all the living things and the features of the landscape you see today. The travels of these ancestral heroes are celebrated in Aboriginal religion and culture.
The indigenous ask you not to climb the rock as it is disrespectful and so sacred to them. However, nearly a third of the visitors to Uluru do climb it, but not without consequences as 35 people have died since 1985. It can be steep, slippery and extremely hot and if often closed if the conditions are not perfect – which in reality is most of the time.
After the walk we headed to the viewing area to watch the sun set behind the rock with our dinner (a really bad chicken stir-fry). There were already coach-loads of people in place (some with tables of champagne and canapes). Unfortunately it was too cloudy to have a nice sunset but after it went dark and started raining nearly everyone left and we were treated to amazing a lightening storm all around the rock.
After a bad night’s sleep in a campsite laundry room (as we had no tents and it was pissing it down) we got up at 4.30am for sunrise over Uluru. This was much more impressive as the sun broke through the clouds and shone like a bright star just above the rock.