the world was a featureless place until the 10 ancestors (spirit people) of the Anangu came into being and travelled across the land, creating the features like Uluru that we see today. It represents the physical evidence of their time on the earth and is seen as one of their most dramatic and inspiring creations. – Uluru Dreamtime
It is the most recognisable natural landmark in Australia. A sandstone formation standing 343m high and has a perimeter of just under 10km. Most of it is actually underneath the flat surrounding surface. Its the largest thing around for miles and changes colour each day. The Germans have a fascinating word to describe this type of mountain – Inselberg (Island Mountain)
It also has two names. In 1873 William Gosse sighted Uluru and named in Ayers Rock in honour to the then Governor of South Australia – Sir Henry Ayers. It stayed Ayers Rock until 1993 when a dual-naming policy brought back its previous identity of Uluru and since 2002 it has been known as Uluru-Ayers Rock.
It had been on our list of places to see in Australia since we had first set foot on the continent back in 2014. But its not that easy to get to, expensive flights, and you can really only visit between May and August or you would be burnt to a cinder by the average temperature of 34-38 degrees Celsius. Scorchio indeed! Then once you are up there its a knife-fight to get trips sorted.
In August 2018 we took our chance, a decent drop in temperature, enough Virgin Australia points built up and space on a few tours / activities locked in.
Backpacks down under.
We had spent 7 months backpacking across Asia to get to the ‘Land Down Under’ – it was time to get those packs out once more as we had secured lodgings at the Outback Pioneer Lodge – the YHA in the resort of Yulara. It was pretty good lodgings and contained the only real ‘pub’ in the entire area. A Mos Eisley Cantina vibe for sure.
Since the 1950s Uluru and its surroundings have been placed in a National Park. Visitors and tourists can enter every day but by nightfall everyone has to leave the park. Yulara is the custom built tourist town that sits a few kilometers from the entrance to the park. It contained our backpackers, a few more upmarket hotels, a campsite and a small town centre. An aerial photograph of this town would have it look like a giant wheel -> a circular road on which all the sites are dotted around. The center of that wheel is a small bushland area with some walking tracks and at its dead center is a small rise and a lookout – Imalung Lookout. Our first official act was to walk to this spot and take in our first glimpse of the Island Mountain itself.
Uluru looked majestic from 18-20km away. We could not wait to get closer with it over the next few days.
The Sounds of Silence
You cannot beat a good recommendation. The parents, Brett and Anne, of our good friend Dim, live in Uluru. They had a few weeks prior taken Dim out for dinner one night. Avoiding the hotels and take out joints they went for a unique outdoor dining experience.
The Sounds of Silence is an evening of dining with the stars in Uluru – those of the night sky variety. It allowed us a closer look at Uluru itself, some good grub and a chance to meet some of the Jetstar crew that had flown in the inaugural Gold Coast flight and an exciting talk with a star talker as they pointed out the milky way, constellations and the planet Mars that was visible at that moment in time.
What made the night even better was the inclusion of an art-installation that was present at the same time -> Bruce Munro’s The Field of Lights. Seven football fields worth of spindle lights create a garden of wonder with many different colours. The Northern Territory’s answer to Sydney’s Vivid.
Flight of the Valkyries
Very early start the next morning. We booked a fly-over of Uluru and a trip out to Kings Creek to the north to allow us to explore Kings Canyon. Ayers Rock Scenic Flights provided us with some amazing views over Uluru and the desert beyond.
After that we swung north and flew over Lake Amadeus towards Kings Creek and the next part of our day. Containing over 600 million tons of salt, this is the largest salt lake in the Northern Territory and it’s 180km length forces one to drive for hours to get between Uluru and Kings Canyon. Luckily for us we can fly over it!
At Kings Creek we took turns going up on a helicopter to explore the Kings Canyon area. Its a huge gorge with 100m tall walls and it forms part of the Watarrka National Park. It was an awesome place to have our first helicopter trip and a great day for photos.
After our turn on the chopper we took some photos of the wildlife at the station and had our first $8.00 cup of coffee. We passed on the $30.00 Burger though!
Here is some video footage of what we saw…
After an eventful morning of flying around we took things down a notch and just mooched around the town. Checking our the visitor center, learning about boomerangs and other Aboriginal tools and stumbling across a Thai restaurant with an amazing name…
After our very nice treat of a dinner the night before we decided to go a bit more local and get food at the pub and have a few drinks with Anne and Brett. We couldn’t have come all this way and not say hello.
It was nice to finally meet them,
Anne is a nurse and Brett was a Park Ranger so it was fascinating hearing about how they had settled into Uluru and the community and how unique a place it is up here
I am ready for my close up
Two days in and we had so far seen Uluru ;
1) From a Distance,
2) Slightly Closer
3) At Night and
4) From Above.
It was time to enter the depths of the park and see it up close and personal. But first we had to join our backpacker tour.
We had the notion that we wanted to spend one night sleeping under the stars in a swag or sleeping bag so we decided to join an overnight bus tour. Something we had not done since visiting WA some 4 years previously.
We were to be picked up around 11 and driven straight into the National Park for a day at Uluru and a chance to walk around the base. What transpired was a delayed pick up, a loop back to the airport for another pick-up and then a lunch stop outside the park. We would waste around 2 hours before actually being driven into the park. The company had decided to merge a few tours and change the itinerary. Great!
When we did get into the park we did enjoy our close up with Uluru, walking around a good portion of the base, exploring the cave paintings and just generally taking it all in.
By sunset we had stopped for some drinks at a lookout and more photos. Our guide had calmed down a bit by this point, a smile forming on his face. That evening we had a good dinner and enjoyed some of the wine we had brought from Sydney before enjoying the fire pit as the temperatures had plummeted since the sun went down.
It was so cold that most of the tour opted to sleep in swags under the stars instead of the huts. It was the first time since hiking the Annapurna range back in 2014 that we have ever felt as cold.
Is there Life on Mars?
Our last day of the tour and in Uluru was spent hiking in the Valley of the Winds over at Kata Tjuta finishing at the Karingana Lookout. Grade 4 Steep climbing as well! Kata Tjuta is a very sacred place for Aboriginal culture and geologically it is also remarkable – a collection of 36 sandstone monoliths – the largest Mount Olga standing at 546m tall is actually almost 200m taller than Uluru itself.
The colonial name of Kata Tjuta are ‘the Olgas’ after Mount Olga that was named after Queen Olga of Wurttemberg (daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas I). Why was it named after a German noblewoman? Well her husband King Charles I of Wurttemburg were patrons of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (Geographer / Botanist) who was a benefactor of Ernest Giles – the first European explorer to sight the rock formation in 1872.
The terrain is all red sandstone, rock formations and no visible habitat creating an homage to the Red Planet of Mars.
And that was that. An awesome weekend in the Red Center of Australia. A camera full of photos and heads full of memories. Between this trip and our earlier one to Darwin we have made room in our hearts for the Northern Territory. It feels like the ‘Australia’ we grew up seeing on TV and in movies and read about in books. Rugged, expansive and full of adventure. A third trip to visit Kakadu National Park is now added to the wish list.
But next up is a long weekend trip up to Burleigh Heads.
We have made a bit more effort on our camera usage and have started dabbling in Monochrome.
While the red does suit this environment it does still have some magic about it in Black and White…