Friday, October 28, 2011

Our first taste of the Outback

September was such a great month - it really will go down in my history as a personal best.  With Bunny visiting, a birthday for Caden, good friends around, one on one time with both my mom in Melbourne and my hubby on this trip, and countless other activities that kept us busy, it really was one to remember.

Just a few short weeks after hitting the Southern most state on Australia's mainland {meaning Victoria} Cory and I were blessed to have four days away from the daily grind {and the kids} in the form of a long weekend at Uluru.

Now, I've spoken with several of you who aren't sure what Uluru is.  Please read on to discover the heart of Australia...

Uluru {formerly known as Ayers Rock} is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country.  It takes 3.5 hours to fly there from Sydney and over 5 hours to drive there from the closest town, Alice Springs {we flew}.  One of the most common myths about Uluru {and I believed it to be true until I visited myself} is that it is completely composed of Granite; not true. It is a giant sandstone monolith in the middle of what is otherwise, basically the nothing of the outback desert.  It literally rises from out of nowhere.

Somehow we persuaded our neighbors, Katrina & Ieuan, who are both native Australians, to come with us for a long weekend away to see the great red centre. They had never been to see it either, and so we all set off for four days of firsts.

We flew through Sydney and arrived in Uluru early afternoon with plenty of time to check in, go to the pub, and get some groceries for the days of hiking ahead; all before our Sounds of Silence dinner that night. The bus picked us up at our hotel, Sails in the Desert, and drove us out to an area in the middle of Kata Tjuta {pronounced cat-uh, jute-uh} and Uluru. We started off with some bubbles and Australian canapes as we watched the sun set in the outback. Funny, I thought we'd be closer to Uluru and was most excited about seeing the sunset against the great red rock, but the way they are positioned, the sun actually sets behind Kata Tjuta, and watching the sky change colors against the purple of The Olgas was magical. We all agreed that from this angle anyway, Kata Tjuta could have been called Homer Simpson if it had been discovered a few hundred years later!  See what you think. We had a great dinner of Australian Fare - Barramundi, Emu, Kangaroo, etc. - gazed at the stars {we saw the Milky Way!} and chatted up our new friends from the UK who sat with us for the night.  Overall, not my favorite part of the trip, mainly because it was a long day and we were ready to get to bed so we could be bright and fresh for an early start the next morning, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Our little desert oasis - this was the best place to be in the afternoon after a hot day in the sun.

At the pub, killin' time with a few pints.

Sounds of Silence Dinner Set up...check the RED dirt! That's why they call it the red centre, it's all that's out there!

The golden end of the day.

Do you see Homer Simpson?

Sun's getting lower.

Mingling before dinner. We met two Aussies who live in Austin, Texas!

The sky literally looks like it's been painted - such vivid colors.

Didgeridoo man - funny because the Aboriginals who are native to central Australia don't actually play the didgeridoo, it's mainly for the tourist effect.  That said, it really is a very cool sound.

As I said, the next morning started early for us, as we left the resort around 6:45am.  It was a three hour drive from Ayers Rock Resort to Kings Canyon, and while it felt longer because there was only sheer nothingness to look at, we did see a few cool things along the way...not the least of which were wild Camels!  Yes, I did say camels. Two herds of them!  Now I had read and heard that there were tons of camels in Australia.  They were brought in when explorers needed them to get across the vast central desert and many were left to fend for themselves once their explorers either died or abandoned their mission because of lack of food or water. But still, I wasn't prepared to see them in the wild, and I must say it was a highlight of the trip!


This one stared at us for a while - so glad he did so I could snap a shot or two!

Mt. Conner

Finally we arrived at Kings Canyon and started our hike.  I had read that the initial ascent up to the top of the canyon rim walk was steep, but it still didn't prepare me for the lung-piercing hike.  Once we were up though, it was well worth the effort.  We had a glorious day walking around what felt at times to look like Mars, saw some lizards, drank A LOT of water, and got some good exercise.

Yes, those are all stairs. 

The Canyon.



Lots of fissures that went down a looooong way - reminded us of 128 hours.  

On the edge of the Earth.  Yes, it was straight down beyond that ledge.  This girl couldn't get any closer than this.

On our way down to Garden of Eden.  The only cool spot on the hike with a water hole.

Again, feeling like we're on Mars and not Earth.

Gorgeous rocks.

Yes, we were that high up.

Four hours later we fell into the car and headed out.  Lucky for us Kings Creek Station was on the way out, where we stopped for some resuscitation in the form of hamburgers, milkshakes, powerade, and some chips.  Oh my we must have burned some serious calories out on the hike.  None of us had any idea how much we needed to eat! Then it was back in the car for another uneventful three hour ride back to the resort.

We had a fabulous dinner that night at the Kuniya Restaurant at Sails. It was agreeably one of the best dining experiences we had ever had.  The company, the wine and the food were just superb, and after a long day in the sun, it was the perfect end to a great day. Highly recommend!

The following morning was another early start for us.  We had to be out front for the sunrise tour bus by 5:45am. It was a little disappointing that nobody {not the person who booked the tour for us, nor the hotel, nor the person from the tour company who we confirmed with} recommended ordering a box breakfast to take with us, as the sunrise tour only offered tea, terrible coffee and biscuits.  And we are not talking American biscuits, we are talking a package of two cookies in plastic wrap, not much of a way to start the day.  So that was all we had from 5:00am until the tour ended at 12:00pm. Oh well, we didn't come for the food and sunrise at Uluru was magnificent.  No other words describe it.

It starts like this - rich purple...

Then the sun starts to hit it and it almost starts to glow... 

And before you know it, it's a fiery red rock in the morning sun. 

Giving it the old tourist peace sign.

And, after that we had an incredible cultural tour around the base of Uluru.  While a tour may sound lame to some of you, we decided that it was the best decision we could have made to experience Uluru.  Our tour guide was impeccable, with his knowledge of the Anangu people and their dreamtime or Tjukurpa {pronounced chu-kur-pah} stories of the rock and its creation.  It truly gave us a whole dimension of knowledge that made the Aboriginal people and their land come alive., which in turn gave us a deeper appreciation for the rock, the people and their country.

 So many interesting formations in the rock when you get up close!
This was the location of the part of the story of Lungkata, the ancestor of the blue tongue lizard, who stole an emu from two brothers and then ran off and hid from them.  You can see where the emu part of the story comes in.

 One of the larger caves on Uluru.  Not much of a story here, I think it was a meeting place for men.  I think it looks like Seth Rogan's character in Monsters vs. Aliens.

The Mutijulu Water Hole. We were lucky to see it full! The water hole was later named Maggie Springs by an explorer in love with a girl named Maggie.  See the heart below?

Just in case you couldn't, here's a closer view.

Aboriginal cave paintings near Mutijulu water hole.  They think this was a cave used as a classroom for kids while the men hunted near the water hole.  The concentric circles represent important places and water sources.

See the Emu tracks?

Crazy people climbing the rock.  I have to admit, it was tempting, but the Anangu people ask that visitors respect their culture and spiritual beliefs by not climbing. 

From inside the rock!

After a quick pizza lunch {and some really good sangria} we all headed back to the resort for an afternoon swim {in the freezing cold pool}, a good book {The Help - 5 of us reading it on the pool lawn that day - great book!} and a few naps. Then Cory and I decided at the last minute to hop in the car and head over to watch the sunset at Kata Tjuta.  So glad we did.  It was another spectacular event.

On the way to Kata Tjuta we had to stop to take another photo of us and Uluru.  

Our first glimpse of Kata Tjuta up close.  

The big gap in the middle right is the Walpa Gorge that we later hiked.  

Bush fire sunset.

Gorgeous red rocks at sunset. 

Oh my, look at that sky!  Such a great reminder of the grandeur of God's creation!

Day four was our last day, and we slept in and didn't leave until 7:30am.  We all wanted to see more of Kata Tjuta, which is Uluru's less famous relative, and decided we'd try one if not two of the more popular hikes there.  So we started out at the Valley of the Winds, and were disappointed at the lookout because the bush fires were so intense that day that all you could see was a wall of smoky haze.  So, we hightailed it over to the Walpa Gorge and enjoyed that so much more. It's really hard to get a perspective of how big these things are in person when you are looking at a photograph...I mean larger than life turns into something that looks like "yeah, so what".  Well, I tried to capture it's size...

Starting the hike at Valley of the Winds. 

The Valley of the Winds lookout - nothing but bush fire smoke. 

The wall of the Walpa Gorge. You can hardly get the scale in these photos, but take a look at the trees in the bottom right corner of the photo.

Then it was time to head back and collect our luggage. A quick stop at the cultural centre for some souvenirs and we were on our way back to our babies and Brisbane.

I can't tell you how much of a memorable trip this was for me.  Not only did we share it with some really great friends, but I finally feel like I've seen Australia.  Uluru is such an icon and its history is larger than life as well.  The desert was beautiful in its own scrubby brush, red dirt sort of way, and learning so much about the culture was just fascinating, and really made the trip so much more enriched.  To anyone coming to Australia to visit or live, I would say do not miss this trip.  We all agreed that it was a place worth coming and staying a few days so you could really get the feel of it.  Several people recommended that you could literally fly in and then fly back out after less than 24 hours as long as you saw sunrise and sunset at Uluru, there really wasn't much more to do.  So wrong.  Had I taken their advice, I would have been sorely disappointed and would have left feeling like I had missed so much.