Uluru - Ayers Rock - Great Big Red Rock

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday morning we flew from Melbourne to Alice Springs and then on to Ayer's Rock Resort. Alice Springs and Ayer’s Rock Resort are both in the middle of Australia.  They are approximately 1500 km from anything.  Most of Australians live on the Eastern Coast and other coastal regions and this is because a vast amount of the centre of Australia is desert.  Another tidbit of info about Ayer’s Rock is that they call it the 'Red Centre’ because that it is in the centre of Australia and that the rocks and desert are very, well……red.

Our flight was from Melbourne to Alice Springs to Ayers Rock Resort.  We had a lay over in Alice Springs that lasted about 2 hrs, which was really long and boring.  We had also had forgotten to buy any food for the plane trip, so we were very hungry too.  At this point in the trip we were being very cheap, which was sparked by the outrageous coffee prices that were found in Australia.  We had decided to by an Australian Slang book, which made for many a laughs later on and then we walked aimlessly until we saw that the restaurant had TV’s to watch.  So we decided to sit in the restaurant and watch some television to kill some time. 

While we were sitting, watching and trying to be as cheap as possible at the airport I felt for the very first time as a dirty backpacker.  As we sat staring at each other and the TV I noticed a lady about 3m from us stand up, pack her bags and leave the table.  She had however left a very large plate of half eaten fries, I noticed them immediately and apparently my mouth started salivating.  Naturally Sarah looked over and asked me, "Do you want those fries?", and my first response was “No”.  I would feel like a street person eating from someone else’s garbage, which to me felt a bit degrading.  We discussed the situation for about 1 minute, Sarah reasoning that the cleaning staff would only throw out the food so if we didn’t eat them then it would be a waste.  At this point the cleaning staff did come around to clean off the table and before they could get the plate of fries Sarah grabbed them from the table.  I do have to admit they were the best fries I had had in a long time, and making them garbage fries maybe made them taste better.  I guess I did feel a little like a street person, but, it did save us $10, which was used better along our travels.  About 1 hr or so later we boarded the plane to Ayer’s Rock Resort.       

Ayer’s Rock Resort is where Uluru (Big Red Rock / Ayer’s Rock) is located.  The town is actually called Ayer’s Rock Resort, because it is a mini-town of hotels and resorts.  The town/resort is set up around a circular street that is about 10 km in circumference, and has a bus shuttle service that drives around the circle every 15 minutes.  All the hotels are located around this circular street, ranging from the very expensive to the budget hostel to the campground as well as a shopping centre were you can set up tours, buy nick-nacks and get groceries.  There is also a police station, car rental place and a gas station.  The town is only serviced by the airport and the next closest town is Alice Springs, 400km away.

When we got to the airport in Ayer’s Rock Resort, we were deciding options for places to stay and also what would be the cost of a rental car.  The price for a rental car was astronomical, so we scratched that idea.  Then we asked around for the cheapest place to stay at the resort.  Since we had brought our tent and sleeping gear we were ready to camp out, as long as it saved us some money.  Naturally, the campground was the cheapest place to stay at the resort.  All the passengers from the plane then loaded into the bus and we left for the resort. 

When we got let off at the campground, we checked in, paid and then setup our stuff.  We were arriving on a Sunday, which was lucky for us since it was the ending of a long weekend.  The majority of people that had driven to Ayer’s Rock Resort Campground were leaving the following Monday to get back to where ever they were from.  A lot of the tours to Uluru were not full and the prices were a bit lower. 

Once we were done unpacking and setting up we decided to go the centre of ‘town’ – about 200m away - where there was a hill which had a lookout point to Uluru.  It was almost sunset and this was the time when most people take photos of the largest rock in the world.  Sunset lasted about 40 minutes, and we took a photo about every 5 minutes, the rock’s colour definitely changes as the sun set, it goes from a more pale red to a very vibrant red-orange and then finally to a dull brown colour.  We had some amazing views and photos from this lookout.  This is also the place were we met our ex-Canadian gay friend, Rick,  that we spent the next day with.  He was awesome and had all sorts of great ideas for things to check out - he had mentioned to us that he was on a tour to see Uluru and also another rock formation called Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).  We left the lookout to go get some groceries and also to book the tour that Rick mentioned for the following day.

That night we booked a star gazing tour, which was incredible.  The sky was very clear, no clouds or cover to block the stars.  The tour started off by us all adjusting our eyes to complete darkness, after which our guide impressed us with information about certain constellations, star signs, how large the universe is and also names of galaxies and other notable stars.  Since Ayer’s Rock Resort is so far removed from civilization, there is virtually no light pollution within hundreds of kilometers to interfere with the stars.  This gave an amazing view of each and every star and, best of all, of the Milky Way.  The southern hemisphere gives a much better view of the Milky Way than the northern hemisphere.  The reason for the better view has to do with the tilt and rotation of the earth.  Think of looking at the Milky Way as looking at a sunny-side up fried egg:  the southern hemisphere looks toward the centre of the galaxy (toward the yolk) while the northern hemisphere looks toward the out side of the galaxy (fried edges). So not only were we looking into the delicious yolk, but we were doing so in the middle of absolutely nowhere – it was incredible!   This observatory also had some really high powered telescopes.  Looking through these telescopes, we were able to actually see Jupiter and all of its dark brown horizontal rings (it’s thermocline), and then Saturn!  We were able to see the rings around Saturn!  Depending on how good your eyes were, you could either make out 1 (Nik) or 2 (Sarah).  It was incredible.  We also saw the brightest star (Wikipedia says the 3rd brightest) in the sky – Alpha Centauri – and it turns out it’s so bright because it’s actually two stars in very close proximity!

We left the star viewing area and were let off in front of the campground.  The desert is an amazing place.  It is very hot in the day as the sun is incredibly bright, and even being in the winter in Australia, it is very warm in the desert.  However, come sundown and in the middle of the night the desert got very cold, we were using sweaters and long johns that we hadn’t used since the mountains of Patagonia.  It was interesting to feel the temperature change, I had always heard of the large fluctuations in the desert, but never experienced it until now.

The next morning we left early to see Kata Tjuta which is another stunning rock formation close to Uluru.  The microbus let us off at the beginning of a trail that led us around the rock and then through a valley.  The rock was quite amazing it was soooo red and the best way to describe this rock would be “rock shit.”  All the huge boulders and a majority of the huge rock formations looked like they were the rock feces of a larger rock monster or rock-being; they looked as if the rock monster had taken a huge dump.  We walked around for about an hour looking at the different colours of the rock and discussing ideas with Rick. 

Rick was a professor at a university in Perth, he was about 40 – 45 and was in really good shape.  An interesting story Rick had; he was originally a Canadian from Winnipeg and immigrated to Perth about 15 years ago.  Rick and his partner had not been recognized as married until very recently by the Australian government (Kevin Rudd).  Apparently John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia, was very Right-Winged; he didn’t allow for gay marriage and heavily impeded immigration from Asian and African countries.  Since the election of the current Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the gay marriage laws in Oz have changed.  The idea of a gay person or couple adopting a child would have never happened 10-15 years ago in Oz, perhaps not even in Canada.  However, Rick and his partner wanted a child so what were they to do?  Then they got together with a lesbian couple that they were good friends with.  Rick supplied the sperm and one of the lesbian ladies supplied the egg and - blammo - nine months later you have a little girl with lesbian mothers and gay fathers and she alternates between each of their houses.  The child is now around 9 years old, the relationship seems to work for both couples, but, I have no idea how the girl deals with the situation.  Rick says she is really cool about it and, more and more the definition of family is changing and evolving.  It was a bit strange to ask them how they did it or which way they did it – regular sex style, turkey baster style, lab style.  I asked this question because Rick had said he was really gay (ie never been with a woman) turns out they did it in a lab where the lesbian lady was impregnated with a fertilized egg.

After we had walked around the Olgas for about 2 hrs the bus picked us up and brought us to Uluru for sunset and a walkabout.  When we arrived at Uluru we only had about 1 hr before sunset, so naturally we didn’t have a lot of time to walk around the entire rock.  We did get some great photos of the rock close up, it is also possible to climb to the top of the rock.  This is frowned upon by the indigenous community since the entire area is a spiritual centre of the Aboriginals of Australia, but, Uluru is a huge draw for tourists so the government is not going to limit people from climbing up to the top.  The Aboriginals are able to request that you do not climb out of respect for their culture, but they cannot stop you.  This is rather strange since the government gave total control of the resort/area back to the Aboriginals several years back, but with this one small clause attached.   I don’t think that we would have climbed on top of Uluru even if we had the chance; but the top was closed that day due to high winds and unsafe conditions.  After we had touched the rock and taken our photos we loaded back into the micro to head to another viewing location, about 2 km away that was superb at sunset.  This spot had a massive parking lot and it was full of other tours taking photos.  Everyone at the lot managed to get great photos of Uluru, we took a photo every 5 minutes to see the difference in the rock colour.  Once the sun had set we loaded back into the micro and drove back to the resort. 

When we got back to the resort Rick invited us back to his hotel room for drinks, dinner and some cheap Australian fare.  We had to get the drinks from the one licensed retailer in the resort and we had to show Rick’s room key to do so.  Ayer’s Rock is a dry town so only tourists can purchase alcohol.  As a result, it is unreal exy, but Rick was nice enough to cover this!!  We headed back to his place for a gourmet dinner:  this consisted of a cup of noodles, a chunky chili knock-off, smoked salmon and roasted red pepper spread on a cracker and for desert a Tim Tam Slam.  Everything was self explanatory except for the Tim Tam Slam, we had never heard of this chocolate cookie before, but the ‘Slam’ was more than just the chocolate cookie. 

The Tim Tam Slam is the practice of drinking a beverage by sucking it through a Tim Tam, an Australian chocolate-covered biscuit, with both of the ends bitten off.  Ideally, the inside of the biscuit should collapse but the outside should remain intact. Just before the biscuit falls apart, it is thrown in the mouth.  The slam is best performed with a hot liquid, ideally something like hot chocolate (Milo in Australia), tea or coffee.  It’s called the slam because you ‘slam’ it into your mouth and once you have done this you are ‘slammed’ with an immediate chocolaty taste in your mouth.  Really intense.  After we had finished dinner and desert with Rick we said our goodbye’s and headed back to the campground. 

Ayer’s Rock was definitely a highlight for us – the only thing we didn’t do while there that we had wanted to was to ride some ferrel camels.  Camels were brought to Australia back in the day to help with travel and transport through the Red Centre, but as roads and trains and planes gradually came to be, all these camels were released into the wild, no longer needed.  Now Australia has one of the largest wild camel populations in the world, quite interesting!

The following day we took a plane in the late afternoon north to Cairns (‘Cans’).  This is where we will rent a camper, hike around in the rainforest and take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  Full-On mate. 

Chao Chao for Now,

Nik and Sarah        
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