28 May 2015
Catching the 7.00am flight seemed like a good idea when I booked it but when the alarm went off at 3.30am – not so much. Still, it meant that I could just take 2 days leave added to a long weekend and get a 5 day mini-break adventure. But it was a very long day. I always forget how vast Australia is and how long the flights are to get anywhere. I had a 3 hour flight to Sydney where I met friends Carmella and Boon Li and transferred to a 3.5 hour flight to Uluru/Ayres Rock. A very strong head wind meant it took closer to 4 hours.
Once we descended down below the clouds we had fabulous view of the great Red Centre. Uluru looked like a tiny pebble in a vast barren landscape. As we got closer it got bigger and we could start to see a few more rock formations but it was still mostly a red soil desert (with more vegetation than I had anticipated).
We landed on a little airstrip and had just a short wait for our luggage. We caught the free shuttle bus to the Desert Gardens Hotel as instructed in our trip notes but there was no one there. A helpful concierge rang a few numbers for us but then our bus turned up. Because the flight had been late we had missed the 1.45pm pick up and they had gone to the airport to make sure we weren’t there.
Ayers Rock Resort is a huge ‘town’ with 4 Hotels and campground as well as having a town square with a range of amenities including bank, post office, store etc.
Our guide/driver Kelly (a kiwi, and one of only 6 female tour guides out of 60-70 in the region) had left from Alice Springs that morning with most of the other passengers. There were 4 people missing that they hadn’t been able to find in ‘Alice’. Kelly had begun to worry that she’d be 7 people missing – but they found us.
We drove out to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which is about 30 minutes drive away. These are an amazing cluster of rocks that have eroded away to give a group of 36 domed ‘heads’. Kata Tjuta is the aboriginal name meaning ‘many heads’. All of the formations we will see over the 4 days were formed as part of the Alice Springs Orogeny, which was a geological uprising and folding of sedimentary deposits in the centre of Australia 300-450 million years ago.
The most well known walk is the Valley of the Winds but unfortunately, because of our late pick up and because it is winter so sunset is earlier, we wouldn’t have time to get past the first lookout. So Kelly takes us to the Walpa Gorge Walk where we wind our way through an amazing gorge between towering cliffs of conglomerate rocks of stunning colours. They are full of caves and holes, and on the ground are piles of rocks and boulders that have clearly fallen out of the holes. It is a strange alien landscape with weird desert vegetation supremely adapted to the harsh environment. The strangest thing we saw however was a huge puddle of water from earlier rain – that doesn’t happen very often out here.
Back in our vehicle we head for the Sunset Viewing Platform – a bit dubious because there is no evidence of any sun being able to show us a sunset. And sure enough there wasn’t a sunset as we might liked to have seen but we did see a strangely purple-hued Uluru with cloud formations above and contrasting with the vividly orange ‘iron’ sands and the various shades of green – so it was still very spectacular.
Watching the sunset here is clearly a time-honoured tradition as there are several groups setting up tables and getting out wine glasses. Kelly has our glasses of bubbles set up for us when we get back from a little walk and a sumptuous spread of nibbles.
We are joined by another guide Locky who has a group of just 3 people, going from Darwin to Adelaide. He has the shortest pair of shorts I have ever seen (there was great laughter later in the tour when I suggested we could all chip in to buy him a longer pair of pants!). Apparently short shorts are all the rage in Outback Australia.
Meanwhile our missing group of 4 (from France) have been located and we have to pick them up from the hotel. Apparently their agent got it wrong and they landed in Alice Springs too late to join the tour. They apparently managed to pay for a flight to Uluru to meet up with us. We are now 16 people in total: 4 French, 1 Swiss, 1 German, 2 Danish, 4 Australians, 3 NZers and 1 Canadian. French, German and Swiss are the largest group of tourists to visit the area.
Then we all head for our camp site where camp host Cindy is preparing dinner. We claim our tents and drop off our bags. The tents are a permanent structure of canvas over steel pipe frames, with opening doors and wooden floors. They each have 2 wire wove mattress beds with a table, lamp and fan.
For dinner we have kangaroo steaks (very lean like venison but a bit too gamey flavour for my liking) and camel sausages that were delicious, served with potatoes, salad and couscous – and a glass of wine. Very civilised! There was custard crumble for dessert and a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate around a fire outside to finish.
I am pretty much finished off after my long day and head off early to bed.
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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