Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Australia - The Red Centre

I left Cairns early on the June 1st to catch a flight to Uluru (Ayers' Rock), in the middle of Australia. Uluru is the Aboriginal name and since the land was given back to them in 1995, the rock is now known by both names. Flying there took almost 3 hours, again making me realise how vast this country is. Cruising above the desert it is simple to see why it is called the Red Centre. The scrubland is bright red soil and looks totally inhospitable, with no dwellings to be seen for hundreds of km's.

On the approach to land at Connellan airport I can see Uluru (Ayers' Rock) below. It looks totally out of place, standing 300m higher than the flat desert plains all around. I disembark and the cool breeze is unexpected. Upon collecting my bags I get the free shuttle bus to the Outback Pioneer Lodge, where i will base myself for the next few days. On Saturday I get picked up by Dee, a guide from Australia Adventure Tours in a 4x4 minibus. This is the start of a 2 day tour around Uluru. We firstly drive off to the Olgas, a small range of rock formations about 50km away. There we hike around for about 2hours and awe the breathtaking scenery. Along the way Dee explains the variuos ways the traditional Anangu Aboriginal people survived out here. It's all very interesting, but eating bugs didn't really appeal to me... After the short hike we drive on to the Sunset viewing point at Uluru. The car park is like a circus with tour busses everywhere. We find a place away from the crowds, open a bottle of Champagne and watch the sun go down. The rock changes colour and it is stunning to watch as the bright red hue turns to dark red and finally to black. Later that day we arrive at the permanent campsite and are allocated tents. We are then cooked a fantastic steak dinner and sit around the campfire under stars, talking and having a few beers. It is such an incredibly stary night with a full moon, so i don't want to sleep inside. Dee organises some "swag" bags (outback matress/sleeping bags). Only 3 of the group opt to sleep outside and the rest retreat to the tents. During the day it is about 30 degrees, but at night time this drops to a chilly 3 degrees. However, with the thermal underwear on and inside a sleeping bag in the swag, I am almost too warm. In fact I get too hot at one point and wake up. the moon is shining bright and I have to pull the swag cover over my face to get back to sleep. I leave it part open though, just to keep one eye on the southern cross until I fall asleep again.

The next morning we awake at 5.30am and have a hearty breakfast before driving around to the other side of the rock to watch the sunrise. Again, it is very impreesive as the silouhette becomes bright with the rising sun to regain it's startling red hue. It's freezing though and we are glad that the sun is coming up to get warm again. We then proceed to the base of Uluru, where the base walk and climb start. There are a lot of tourists clambering up the rock. However, the Aboriginal people request that you do not do this as for them it is a spiritual place with great significance. I stand at the bottom an debate to myself whether to follow the hoardes and climb to the top. It is very tempting. However, out of respect fot the Aboriginal people who inhabit the area, I opt not to. Instead I hike 10km around the base of the rock and see some engravings on the way. I am happy with my decision not to climb the rock as for me it was the right thing to do.

After lunch I go bact to the Outback Pioneer Lodge and hang out for the rest of the day and Monday morning. At lunchtime I get the free shuttle bus back to Connellan airport and board a Quantas flight bound for Perth, another 3 hour flight away.