Tuesday I got back from two days in Uluru (Ayers Rock). In my two previous trips to Australia, I hadn’t managed to get there, so third time’s a charm, right? It is lovely in an oddly endearing way with its scrub and desolation, beautiful in a unique and very different way to a place like Sydney, whose beauty is based on its architecture, harbor and shoreline (and maybe the people). It’s also hot, as you would expect a desert to be in summer. But really the star of the trip–or stars, rather–were Kata-Tjuta, or the Olgas, a rock formation whose Aboriginal name means “many heads” due to its multiple domed rocks.
I got to Ayers Rock on Sunday afternoon and spent most of that time determining what tours to take and what to try and see. I knew that I hadn’t given myself enough time to explore the area much, but I also didn’t relish the thought of being in a hostel in the middle of a desert for too long (don’t get me started on the hostel). There isn’t much else to see in the immediate area of Ayers Rock; the nearest city, Alice Springs, is around four hours away. Another national park, Kings Canyon, is three hours away. So really, Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is very isolated. There’s nothing else out that way, so you’re going there just to see a bunch of giant rocks. I booked a couple of tours, including an astronomy tour to take place that evening–if you’re going to be out in the middle of the desert, you may as well try to see some stars, right? Not far from my hostel dorm, there was a lookout over Uluru and I went to check it out around sunset. I had heard that Uluru changed colors in the light, which makes sense. But throughout sunset, I thought it looked largely the same and I was left less than impressed. However, the sun was setting right by Kata-Tjuta, and it was glorious. Possibly the best sunset I’ve ever seen. The cloud cover made for a great sunset, but the astronomy tour was cancelled that evening and I was rescheduled for the next night.
My tour Monday afternoon wound its way through the national park, spending time in the Olgas and admiring Ayers Rock from afar. The temperature outside was roughly 100F on the ground, but during our short hike in Kata-Tjuta between Mt. Olga and another rock whose name I can’t remember, our guide advised us that it would be even hotter since the rocks would radiate the heat and the sun would be bearing down on us. (Why do they do such tours in the middle of the afternoon, anyway?) The hike itself was decent, aside from the insects (it’s not Australia’s spiders you need to be concerned about—it’s the number of flies), but the journey was a bit more interesting than the destination. A lot of the area is closed due to Aboriginal cultural significance, and some areas are off-limits when it’s really hot, as was the case with the Valley of the Winds (which a fellow tourist said was far better than the hike we’d done). After our hike, we drove around to a lookout to see Uluru at sunset while drinking wine. I was a bit too busy with the latter and making friends with a fellow solo American female traveller to take any pictures, but I can tell you that the sunset there wasn’t that spectacular. At sunset, it really is Kata-Tjuta that you should see.
Needless to say, I was sweaty and disgusting from all the hiking that afternoon, so my new friend let me take a shower in her hotel room. She even gave me a bag full of fruit, some milk and a bunch of tea bags before sending me on my way to the astronomy tour. I felt this tour was more informative and interesting than the one I took at the Sydney Observatory several weeks ago, and much smaller as well. We didn’t see nearly as many stars as I’d hoped, as the nearly-full moon was so bright it was casting shadows.
Tuesday was uneventful since my flight was in the middle of the day, but as always, I was glad to come back to Sydney.
I look forward to my next trip to the Hunter Valley (read: wine country) the weekend after Christmas. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!