G’day mates. I’m sorry to have gone AWOL on you for the past few days, but we found ourselves without internet, which was annoying, but had the advantage of keeping me off the computer and fully present in our vacation.
Anyway, on Monday morning, we flew from Cairns on the northeast coast west to the very center of Australia to Uluru.
Random side note: Unlike in the U.S., where we have regular time zone changes of one hour at regular-ish intervals as you head across the country, in Australia it’s different. Even though we flew the distance equivalent of New York to Kansas, we did not change our watches back one hour or two hours — we set them back a mere 30 minutes. That’s right folks, we flew halfway across a continent and it resulted in a half hour time change. No, I have no idea why.
Uluru is in the middle of nowhere and getting there is something of a big deal. Let me expand upon that a bit: There is nothing there and there is nothing for hundreds of miles in every direction. I don’t mean that in the sense of oh man this town has nothing – no Trader Joe’s, no Barnes & Noble, no Gap. I mean, there is no town here. There’s Uluru and then there’s the Yulara resort about 12 miles away that supports tourists and which serves as the de facto town. Everything that a human would need or want has to be shipped in from hundreds of miles away at great expense. Even the people who work here had to be brought in and housed.
The resort has several different hotels in varying price ranges (expensive to really expensive to really freaking expensive to you-can’t-afford-this expensive), a gas station, restaurants (all ranging from pricey to blow-your-mind pricey), and a small shopping center (groceries, post office, souvenir shops). There is a small police station, a small fire station, a small medical clinic, and a small library.
As we flew in on Monday and out on Wednesday, it was easy to get a visual sense of how remote this part of the country is. For hundreds of miles in every direction, there was only outback and nothing else. No buildings and not even roads, just dirt tracks.
So, getting here is something of a commitment, because the airfare alone was a big part of our travel budget. I feel lucky that flying was even an option because the airport is a somewhat recent addition. Before that, you had to fly into Alice Springs and then drive the remaining distance, which takes around five hours. And there’s nothing on the way, except for one very small village halfway. Otherwise, no bathrooms, no gas stations, no McDonald’s.
All that is to explain just how remote this place is. Yet, it’s wildly popular for tourism. The resort was loaded with people from all over the world and from all walks of life — young backpackers, families, retired couples, and so on.
We landed on Monday morning, went to the resort and checked in, then hopped in our rental car and drove to the national park that comprises Uluru and Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. the Olgas). We decided to spend a day exploring Uluru and then a day exploring Kata Tjuta.
There are several hiking routes around the base of Uluru and while we had originally thought to do the entire circuit around (approx. 6 miles), we ended up doing a few shorter hikes. This was mostly because the sun was baking us and also partly because the paths were the same red sand soil that can be found everywhere and which is just as hard to walk on as any sandy beach.
Uluru is HUGE — it’s a single rock that’s about 2 miles wide and nearly a mile deep, plus it’s 1,100 feet tall. And that’s just the part you can see; something like two-thirds of its bulk is hidden underground, like an iceberg. It’s one damn big rock.
There were a couple of things that surprised me. First of all, it’s not just a smooth rock – it undulates along each face and there are a lot of nooks and crannies. Furthermore, the rock face is very pitted, with lots of caverns, craters, and divots. Second, there’s a surprising amount of vegetation around Uluru and even in places on the rock face itself. In fact, as we flew in, I noticed that the rock is surrounded by a sea of green. It’s not lush per se, but there is a surprising amount of plant life.
There are a variety of ways to see Uluru: If you want guided tours, you can do them in a bus or van, on motorcycles, on camels, or in a helicopter. All of the aforementioned options are super expensive (as is everything else there) or you can do what we did which was get a rental car and drive ourselves.
Side note: The weather here tends to be sunny and dry and the temps in the winter swing wildly from lows in the 40s at night and highs in the upper 70s/low 80s early in the afternoon. When the sun sets, the temps plummet and then it doesn’t fully warm up until nearly noon.
Before we left, some people asked if we were going to hike to the top of Uluru and our answer was always no. While we would have liked to have seen the view from the top, Uluru is considered a sacred place for the Aborigines and climbing it is very disrespectful. Also, it would have been a bitch to climb and not something that I think our girls could have handled. Frankly, I don’t know that I could have done it myself.
On Tuesday, we got up and headed further west in the park to see Kata Tjuta. It is thought that a very long time ago, Kata Tjuta was a single rock like Uluru, only it would have been much larger overall. Now, the rock has eroded into many domes, with gorges all around. Tourists cannot hike around Kata Tjuta the same way one can circumnavigate Uluru. Instead, there are just four – two that are moderately challenging (between 1 and 1.5 miles each) and two that are difficult and much longer.
Here’s Kata Tjuta from the east:
And here it is from the south:
The first hike we did took us into a gorge and which, like Uluru, surprised us with the vegetation within.
After that, we had a picnic and once fortified with sandwiches, set off on our second walk. This walk was very different from the first. Instead of a narrow gorge, the trail went in between two of the rock domes and, at the end, we could see a green valley in the distance.
Of the two rock formations, Uluru gets all the attention, but Pete and I agreed that Kata Tjuta was our favorite. It was more interesting to look at and hike around. I personally found Uluru to be so formidable that Kata Tjuta seemed welcoming by comparison.
On Tuesday night, we watched the sun set at Uluru and then stuck around long enough for the sky to get fully dark and for the stars to come out. The sun set at 6:20 or thereabouts and by 7:30, we were gazing at thousands upon thousands of stars. We saw the Milky Way, y’all, and it was one of the most amazing things my eyes have ever seen.
And then Pete had to go and make a joke about dingos eating babies, so the girls and I scrambled to get in the car and lock the doors.
Today (Wednesday), we packed up and flew out again, this time to Sydney. We’re currently in our hotel room and gearing up for our next big adventure, which is camping in New Zealand. We fly to Auckland tomorrow (Thursday) and pick up our camper. We’ll camp in various spots on the North Island until Tuesday, when we’ll drop off our camper and fly from Auckland back to Sydney. Since we’ll be camping, we won’t have easy access to the internet, but I will try to pop into a McDonalds or internet café at least once to check email, post some photos on Facebook, and maybe even whip up a blog post.
Looking ahead to Sydney (next Tuesday to Friday), we’ll have an apartment there but we have been told it doesn’t have internet. Again, I’ll try to pop into a coffee shop or some place with wifi to blog and check email, but I’m not sure how much I’ll do. We fly back to the U.S. on Friday the 17th and will be home in Jenworld by the next day. If I get behind on posting about our trip in the next ten days or so, I’ll make it up when we get home.