Uluru aka Ayer's Rock, 6th - 8th September 2010
If I had to name one thing that I've learnt from travelling, it is to always expect the unexpected and visiting Uluru was no exception. The first thing that shocked me was the sheer size of Australia. I'd always know it was big, but we had flown 3 hours from Sydney and it was all over barren land. Uluru isn't even on the other coast, it's pretty much in the middle.
We first saw it from the air and I couldn't believe how flat everything else was around it. What also shocked me was that it isn't the only rock formation in the area, and they all seemed to appear out of nowhere. My next thought was 'I can't believe we've flown all this way to see a rock, but a trip to Australia isn't really complete without it.' :)
Now I'm no plane expert, although I have become bit of more of a guru with the amount of recon missions I've had recently. ;) But after we flew past Uluru we saw a small building and a single runway which we both agreed that it must be for the small aeroplanes and helicopters. The plane then turned round to land. Fuuuuuuck! We were so low and flying over the bright orange sand when we suddenly touched down before we even saw the run way. The 'stairs on wheels' came to meet us, we walked about 50 paces until we arrived in the terminal building which consisted of a single baggage claim carousel and 2 tour desks.No security, no passport control and no taxi rank. You'd seriously have trouble trying to get lost in this place, hahaha. Thankfully as there are only 3 flights into this airport each day, all the airport shuttle buses were ready and waiting.
We also had a right result with our accommodation at the Ayer's Rock resort. We'd booked 2 nights at the YHA hostel which was only $66 each for both nights, and it turned out to be in the same grounds as a place called Resort Lodge who wanted $300 each for both nights.And there were loads of other places who wanted a hell of a lot more than that, some wanted over $1k for 2 nights!! Nutters. It was an interesting place to say the least and had a pool (not that we used it, but I don't tend to want to swim when it's pouring with rain), BBQ areas & huge salad bar, a bar (the only place in the resort where you could buy alcohol - knew we picked this place for a reason! Hahaha), a fast food place and internet terminals that didn't work, oh and not forgetting the one man band that came down every night to sing some pretty bad karaoke classics. Now this place may sound small but it was actually the entertainment hub of the resort. Welcome to the Outback! Early night - I think so.
So the first afternoon we were there we went for a walk to the 'town centre', which had a post office, 2 cafes, 3 souvenir shops and a small supermarket. It was all set around a nice area to sit outside with a fountain set in the middle, and they had an amphitheatre and they had an amphitheatre nearby too. To say this whole town is tiny would be an understatement, and it has a really odd mix to it. It's like they've built a pretty, small modern town and then every now and again they've remembered it should be aboriginal and they shove something aboriginal in. I would say the only aboriginal things in the whole town were in the souvenir shops and the aboriginal centre (which had no information on Aborigines' or their heritage, it was just full of extortionally over priced local artwork - we're talking around $10,000 for a painting, even the one in the cafe was $15k!)
Anyway, it was all very quaint and we got all the information leaflets on what tours that were available, went back to the town's bar and got a bottle of wine between us. By the time we'd gone over the leaflets and finished the bottle of wine it was starting to get pretty cold so we then headed off to bed as quite frankly there was nothing else to do.
The next morning we were both woken to the sound of torrential, unrelenting rain landing on the roof and pouring over the guttering like it was a river. It was soooo loud. The pair of us looked at each other and said "I don't believe it". I mean come on - we're in a blimin desert and it's raining!Someone up there is clearly finding this amusing. Thankfully after an hour or so it let up for a bit before chucking it down again. We tried to hire a car but none of the 3 rental companies had any cars left. Now I really don't mean to sound like I'm moaning, and yes I'm appreciative that I am in fact in a desert, but in all seriousness would you not think that they would get more cars in? It's not like this is even their busiest time of the year or anything and already they have no cars.Anyhow, as there is no bus service either the only option was to book onto an organised tour, so we picked the sunset tour that day and the sunrise tour the next morning.
We made sure we went to the supermarket beforehand and brought a Poncho each and then headed off on our tour.
We were driven into the Uluru National Park and spent some time looking around the Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This place was bursting with information on Aboriginal heritage, traditions, tribes and stories. They had a documentary style video playing that showed how they used the bush to make everything from their food, sweets, bush glue, hunting tools, shelter and so much more. From watching this video I'd say nearly every plant is used in one way or another and it was just mind blowing!
We then met 2 Aboriginal women from the Anangu tribe and the Japanese interpreter - yeah we thought that was a bit strange too. We asked how comes there was a Japanese woman translating the aboriginal language into English and she said there are over 130 tribes throughout Australia with over 600 languages and dialects, and the Japanese language is the closest style to this language called Pitjantjatjara. A pretty niche market then!
It had thankfully eased off on the rain and we left the Cultural centre and went on a walk to the base of Uluru. We visited a cave where we could see cave painting from their ancestors and we then went to the Mutitjulu waterhole. Now firstly I should explain that the rock did not look like it usually does - the bright red rock with the bright blue sky. As it had been raining most of the rock was brown, with a moody grey sky and from a distance it looked like it had white lines all over it. It wasn't until you got closer that we could see they were actually waterfalls! When we got to the waterhole the 3 guides were at teh front of the group and they all gasped when we walked around the corner. They said there is usually a small amount of water there, but this was very unusual. There were also some local Aboriginal kids playing near by who were also mesmerised by how much water there was. The guides told us battle stories of the Ancestors and explained the scars in the rock. Now I'm not going to write them in here for a few reasons; it would take forever, you'd think I'd gone insane and I doubt I would be able to explain them properly. I think any visitor to the area would be naturally cynical of some of these stories especially as they all involve giant ancestral beings changing from giant snake to giant form, and have a lot of magic involved in them too, but it strangely all makes sense when you're there. There are also lots of markings on the rock that even Geologists are unable to explain today, but they're all covered in these stories handed down through the generations.
We then drove around the base of Uluru and the guides told us more stories from the Ancestral days. There are quite a few places that are sacred and no photos were allowed. They also couldn't tell us about any of the ceremonies that happened there. All they could say was that there are men's and women's sacred places, they rarely have a ceremony together and even the other sex in the same tribe doesn't know what happens in the other's sacred places.
After that we then drove the sunset viewing area and watched the sunset. Because the sky was so cloudy we didn't see the sun lighting up Uluru but we did see a gorgeous sunset over the 'Many heads' rock formation. Many heads of Olgar is another rock formation close to Uluru that is called this because when the Aborigines' named it they had no need to count higher than 5. There are actually 36 heads, but when they named it they counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, many, hence the name may heads.
We got up nice and early - around 4.30am, to be greeted with it still absolutely pouring with rain. The tour guide collected us and we went out to watch the sunrise. It was pretty unspectacular if I'm honest, and I've uploaded the pics of it looking exactly the same as the night before. I'm sure if it wasn't so cloudy it would have been very different, but a dark rock, surrounded by grey cloud is going to look the same in any light really.
Anyway, the rest of the tour was absolutely awesome, so we really didn't mind this. We had breakfast overlooking Uluru and then met our new Aboriginal guide called Sammy.
Sammy showed us loads of stuff including how to make bush glue to make weapons and fix items such as bowls and belts.He showed us how to make a fire (although as everything was wet he then used a clipper lighter to light it! - what a cheat :)) he showed us how to throw a spear and how to balance a piti (bowl) on our heads, and told us even more stories.
Now I'm the first to admit that I usually hate organised tours but we both had a really good time on both of these tours. If anyone goes to Uluru I would strongly advise you to go on an Anangu Tour. They're owned and run by Aborigines' themselves and all of the profits go straight back into the local communities. I'd also like to mention how much they hate people climbing the rock. You can still climb the rock, and the rock has actually lost its colour along the walking trail which now has a grey line along one of the rock faces. This is an unbelievably sacred area to all Aboriginal people who believe their gods reside at the top of the rock and even they do not have the right to disturb them. They have also said that 36 people have died trying to climb the rock and they all feel great sadness when someone dies basically in their back yard.
We're now flying up to Cairns which is kinda at the top of Australia's East coast, and are going to spend the next month or so working our way down. :)