One of the main benefits of an organised tour such as this, is not just the organisation and efficiency by the tigress but the knowledge and experience of the guides selected to drive us around. Our trip to Uluru was always going to be a highlight but the driver/guide for the 4 days we were in the Outback was exceptional. The Koala wore stereotypical Australian attire, I have no doubt to add authenticity to the tourist experience; bush hat, boots, shorts and khaki shirt, but it was his passion, love and knowledge for all things outback that provided the trip with real integrity.
We flew from Melbourne to Uluru in a tightly packed flight that took about 2 hours. The arrivals hall was tiny, in comparison to some airports we have been through, it had one luggage belt reflecting the number of visitors actually arriving here by plane. It is best to go to the toilet on the flight since the toilets at the airport consist of half a dozen chemical cubicles placed outside the actual terminal. I abstained but those who did go quickly turned green after the visit. As an alternative method of travel you can of course take the train to Alice Springs from Adelaide followed by a 6 hour drive to Uluru or if you fancy it take a camel. Camels were introduced to the outback in the 1860’s but having been set free when the railway was complete between Darwin and Alice Springs this short sightedness led to around 200 000 non native animals roaming freely and destroying everything in their wake.
Many tourists never really get to this part of Australia and you can understand why. The heat, the flies, the desolate landscape might not offer you the kind of tourist experience you are after. However the regal beauty and majesty of the Uluru and Kata-Tjuta mountains in the National Park are truly breathtaking worthy of worldwide appreciation. I have to admit that although Uluru was well known to me, the other, and arguably more interesting, Olga’s (aboriginal name is Kata-Tjuta) was completely new to me.
The new town of Yulara was created in 1976 to provide a corralled resort outside the National Park, primarily to counter environmental damage being caused by the unmonitored tourism near Uluru. Now under single ownership the facilities there became fully operational in 1980 and in addition to a shopping mall (more of a mini-market) post office, bank and restaurants it includes a range of accommodation from backpackers hostels to the five star Sails of the Desert. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where we stayed. It was around this time (1980) the government handed the land back to the indigenous people after a toughly contested fight through the courts. These famous landmarks now reinstated to their original names, the government retain their support through its status as a National Park. Yulara , the new town in the desert with a population of 1.9 thousand, was our home for the next few days.
The koala collected us from the airport and took us directly to Uluru, as we circled the rock slowly he informed us of the history of its ‘discovery’ by the English and the Dutch. How the intrepid explorers claimed the land as theirs and named the rocks after Henry Ayers in 1873 and The Olga’s after Tsar Nicholas 1st’ daughter paying back their financial backers. Not only was the Koala knowledgable about the rock he told us about the desert heath myrtle carpeting the desert with amazing fire retardant qualities so valuable in halting the spread of bush fires here. About the spinifex grass that drew silicone from the earth into its blades, making it sharp and uncomfortable to sit on but invaluable to the aborigine people who thrashed it to release its resin to use as glue. Tall and withered looking desert oaks might be thin and scrawny in appearance but they survived in the dry, hot desert through a tap root drawing water deep down from what they call upside down rivers in the area.
The rock looks so different up close, pictures don’t really do it any justice, and most of it is underground. It is an inselberg, we were advised, an isolated rock hill that rises abruptly from the ground. Bit like a pimple on your face. It does change colour too, we saw that happening, a true chameleon in action especially during our sunset viewing. Although that viewing was made quite difficult by the fly nets we had to adorn to be able to spend any time whatsoever outside. Incredibly at this isolated location the tigress laid on Prosecco and nibbles with little portable seats to line up as we watched the infamous sunset. This event made all the more romantic by 10 000 flies trying to scurry up your nose, scramble into your ears and slide into your mouth. I was considerably challenged when it came to drinking my Prosecco through the fly net. I frequently forgot to lift it up only for more flies to detect the sudden moisture and surround me. The net had the effect of a cheese grater when you tried to force food through it, once more sending the flies into ecstasy and leaving me starving in the desert in the process.
Kata-Tjuta was a larger collection of different sized rocks; around 36 to be exact. Considered to be a sacred men’s area this is thought to be the reason for so little to be known about its history and the folklore that the aboriginal people associate with this area, unlike Uluru. However at least you could get out and walk through the magnificent Walpa gorge with the heads of mount Luru and Walpa stretching to the sky on either side. Along the gorge we saw camel droppings, tadpoles swimming a rock pool, grass growing and flowers blooming despite the arid conditions. The wind howled around us at one point, a warning from the spirits to tread carefully along the rough terrain. When you stopped looking down at where to place your next step the mighty rock face, smooth yet grainy, closed out the sunlight as they towered high into the skyline. Flies, despite the nets, buzzed incessantly around the orifices and we showed reducing tolerance for this pest seeking refuge in the bus at the earliest opportunity.
Our final night was spent having bush tucker at a remote barbecue where we were served best steak, baked tattles, salad and copious amounts of red wine while the band played Waltzing Matilda. Later I was part of a skiffle band arrangement of ‘I come from a land down under’ by Men at work largely uninhibited by the flies (or the red wine) who are adverse to the dark. Boomerang shows, bread making for bush bakers and bonding among the best group ever we trundled off to bed sozzled and satisfied.
Desert heath myrtle carpets the red sand. Lone desert Oaks look so barren where they stand.
Spinifex with silicone tips seem almost out of place among the vast red desert that could be in outer space.
Uluru standing stoic amidst the desert sands, chameleon in the daylight and certainly never bland. The desolate unforgiving rock back in Aboriginal hands.
Awed by its majesty,the colours and its grace carving out the stories that give mystery to this place. Blowing gentle breezes that cool the sweltering brow, calling out like spirits voices to whom aborigines must kow tow.
Blistering heat aside, the beauty cannot hide, the rock of Uluru.