A long drive to Uluru but once we entered the Northern Territory (NT) there was no speed limit so we went from 120kph to whatever the road conditions allowed. Great place for driving the NT, no speed limit on some of the Stuart Highway which runs from the border with South Australia straight up to Darwin and the road is so straight that you can literally see for miles ahead of you. It meant that we could easily reach Uluru within the day and still have time to check into our hotel and freshen up before going to watch the sunset at Uluru. On the way we passed Mount Conner, another Uluru lookalike, and encountered the interesting phenomena of the dust devils, mini twisters whipping around up to a few metres into the air in the middle of the desert, often getting close to the road in front of the car and covering us with dust and twigs.
Prize for most expensive accommodation in Australia without an ensuite went to The Outback Pioneer Lodge at $162 (about £60) for a double room. If we'd wanted a bathroom we would have had to pay $350 so we ended up only staying one night. The whole resort at Uluru is actually quite nice but because you pretty much have to stay there they charge exorbitant prices. So anyway, we drove off to the sunset viewing point and stood with hundreds of other people and gawped at a big, non-singing, non-dancing rock as the sun set, not behind it but behind us, causing Uluru to go through a variety of colour changes including the impressive vivid orange red that makes such a good photo. That beautiful colour is caused by the oxidised iron in the rock.
I hadn't expected to be impressed by Uluru but there is something impressive about it. Maybe it's just that you know it has significance for so many people or maybe it is the power of standing with hundreds of other people and just quietly watching an immovable and beautiful object. When you get to Uluru you realise that what looks at first glance like a big slightly rounded rock actually has a lot of detail on it's surface with dark fissures, perhaps where water has run down, and holes with textures that make it very interesting, like lines on a face expressing age and wisdom. I could see shapes and faces in the rock which changed as the sun set and the colours changed.
You have to get up early to see sunrise at Uluru and I mean early - at 4am we dragged ourselves out of bed to recommune with the hundreds
of people we'd stood with the night before on the opposite side of Uluru to see the sunset, including the girls that
we'd had a few drinks with the night before. This time we stood for half an hour in the dark until,
slowly, the sky began to lighten and we could once again make out the massive monolith in front of us. As the sun rose and the moon set
behind the rock it was turning into one of those beautiful days, bright blue sky with no clouds and it was going to be very, very hot.
If you don't think that there can be much risk from climbing the rock, a few people die each year attempting to climb the rock from a heart attack, asthma attack or from being blown off by the frequent strong winds. A lot more people are hurt. Before we knew that the aboriginals didn't want people climbing it I knew I wouldn't be because of a combination of asthma and being unfit. When I saw how steep it was and how smooth and slippery it looked (Richard actually climbed up a little way to see how steep and slippy it was) I wasn't surprised that so many people are hurt and when I saw the state of some of the people attempting to climb it they made me look fit. It takes a couple of hours and it gets very hot and yet people were wearing flip flops and didn't even have a water bottle with them (we aren't one to talk on that score as you'll see later though). I wonder how many of them make it to the top?
We found out all about the Anangu beliefs and tradition at the awesome cultural centre which was imaginatively designed and
interactive making it one of the most pleasurable visits to a cultural centre, museum type place we've ever had. Top stuff.
Kata Tjuta is in the same area as Uluru but it has been weathered to form a number of domes
- Kata Tjuta means many heads - and between the domes are valleys and chasms, some of which we explored. So much red rock and earth and nearly no shade. This beautiful red barren
landscape is dangerous if you walk around it in the heat
without shade and lots and lots of water and it's easy to get caught out and not have enough water as we found out. Some ambiguous
labelling led us to
believe that we were going on a 20 minute Walpa Gorge Walk into a chasm but that was each way and we didn't take our water bottle -
terrible mistake. We were parched by the time we got back to the car and made sure we took water on the next walk into the Valley of the Winds.
At 10am the sun was searing and we were having to drink copious amounts of water
just to feel normal so we didn't do the whole walk which shuts before midday anyway because of the heat. A couple of short walks around here and you could see why they shut off this area after 11.30am on days like this
when the temperature will
be over 40 degrees. Just don't get lost as you wouldn't have a chance. After each walk we rushed back to the safety of the car and the
essential air conditioning - phew.
So we left Uluru very tired and hot but also very impressed and headed on to Alice Springs which everyone thinks is right next to Uluru and I suppose in Australian terms it is being only 445 kilometres away it is the nearest town. We spent nearly a week in Alice Springs.