We boarded the plane expecting to fly out of Sydney at about 10.00am. Soon afterwards, a group of 20 was asked to disembark as one of the party had a medical issue. We were soon assaulted by the stench of industrial strength sterilising alcohol. Has the pilot been drinking? No. The medical issue turned out to be, someone chundered up in the toilet. Attempts to decontaminate must have been fruitless because after a while, the rest of us passengers were asked to leave the plane. The crew were all very apologetic: this sort of thing probably messes up their shift patterns too. In the end, we waited 3½ hours for a replacement flight. They gave us an $8 food voucher each as compensation, but only after we’d already bought some snacks. So here we were, waiting at the same gate as before, salivating over the snacks. Jyoti had a small packet of tomato ketchup. She remembered that Helen had recently shown us how to use these new-fangled packets, but couldn’t quite remember the mechanism. “How does this w…?” she asked as she squeezed and squirted ketchup all down my leg. Yes, Aussie ketchup packets can be squeezed, ideally onto your food: you don’t have to try to peel the foil lid off. Oh, how we laughed.
The flight itself was non-eventful, and possibly more comfortble for us as we were upgraded to ‘economy plus’ or whatever they call it, seats with slightly more leg room. Also, we had three empty seats opposite, so both Jyoti and Liesel had window seats.
I don’t think either of them fully appreciated the beauty of the endless, unchanging, red desert below.
On the other hand, Jyoti did get this first photo of Uluṟu from the plane.
We were engulfed by a 42° blast when we walked down the stairs from the plane at Connelly Airport aka Ayers Rock. We drove our white rental car to Yulara, where we were to spend two nights. By coincidence, we stayed at the Outback Pioneer Hotel, where Liesel and I had stayed last time we visited, in 2013.
After cooling off indoors for a while, we drove to watch the sunset near Uluṟu.
It is a magical time of day: Ayers Rock appears to change colour as the Sun descends: red, orange, purple, chocolate brown.
It was good to see sunset here again, but I was looking forward to spending more time with this old friend the following day.
In 1992, Brian Munro was visiting the red centre, the desert in central Australia of which Ayers Rock is just one focal point. His idea was finally realised in 2004: a display of lights on the desert floor: a sculpture of lights that slowly change colour.
The Field of Light has returned to Uluṟu in an expanded form and we were all excited to go and see this fantastic work of art. We joined a coach with about 40 other visitors, picked up from various sites, and we drove into the desert.
And it really is a stunning sight. Solar powered, the cables and fibre optics all form part of the light show. In the dark, you follow a path through the lights as they change colour. It is one of those displays that no photo nor video can do justice to. You have to be there, at night, in the dark, in the fresh air, to fully appreciate what’s going on. But of course, I did take some pictures.
Back at our hotel, we found a gecko on the wall in our room. Jyoti’s not really a big fan of reptiles, so it was good when it disappeared. Or was it? Where was it? Above the false ceiling? In one of the beds? In one of our bags? I believe Jyoti did get to sleep eventually.
We knew it was going to be a hot day so after a short but decent sleep, we got up very early, had a large and decent breakfast, drove to Uluṟu and we started walking around by 7.00am.
It was great to be back after all this time. Last time in Aus, I’d not visited The Rock and I felt I’d missed out on visiting an old and much loved relation.
It was disappointing to see so many people climbing. This, despite many requests to respect the sacred site. Yes, I attempted to climb in 1986 (with Sarah and Jenny) but the cold wind gave me ear-ache and forced me to give up early. Good. I was oblivious to any cultural insensitivity at the time, but nobody can claim ignorance now. Climbing Uluṟu will be banned totally in October this year, I believe. One of the reasons I had a go, though, was that many years earlier, the Blue Peter team visited and attempted to climb. Poor old Janet Ellis had to give up straightaway, due to an asthma attack. And in the end, of course, a medical situation beat me too.
We started the base walk in the shade but when we found the Sun, it stayed with us most of the way. Then, when we found shade again, our sighs of relief were short-lived. The Sun was higher in the sky and there wasn’t a lot of shade. We finished our walk before 10.30, by which time the temperature was 43°: later in the day, it maxed out at 45°. Indeed, part of the track was closed at 11.00 due to extreme temperatures. You feel the heat from the Sun but also reflected heat from The Rock, it’s just a gigantic storage heater really!
The fly-nets proved invaluable, keeping a buzzillion flies off their faces. I tried to ignore them (the flies, not J&L), but sometimes, they do try to invade personal orifices (the flies, not J&L). The swipe known as the ‘Aussie Wave’ is very satisfying when you feel the slight thud of contact.
The old paintings in the caves all tell a story. Some look like they were recently touched up: I hope not, I hope they are the originals from however many thousands of years ago.
The colours here are vibrant. Red rock, green leaves, blue sky, as ever, brighter in real life than in photos.
Thanks to Liesel and Jyoti for indulging me. I feel I have scratched an itch, made another pilgrimage to a place that has had a magical attraction for me ever since I learnt about the big, red rock in the middle of the mythical land Australia, where an aunt (in fact, two aunts) lived.
We visited the shops and the café. In fact, we bought a picture depicting bush medicine, possibly painted by one of the native ladies working there.
We drove to Kata Tjuṯa, also known as The Olgas, a group of large, domed rocks to the west of Uluṟu. We didn’t plan to do a long walk there, but I was hoping to reach a certain point from where there is a terrific view over the desert.
We were surprised to see smoke in the distance. Surely nobody’s lighting fires here, when it’s this dry and hot? No: there had obviously been a bush fire recently and there were a few small patches of smoldering undergrowth. We drove past about 10 km of ashes by the side of the road. The trees all looked ok, if a little singed, but the leaves and bark on the ground were good kindling.
Although the overall shape of The Olgas is more interesting than Ayers Rock, these rocks don’t have the same attraction for me, I don’t know why, but I was excited to be here again after a gap of 17 years.
The Valley of the Winds is a relatively short walk, and as expected, the track was closed beyond a certain point. Jyoti and I walked for a while, but when it became obvious that my goal was too far to reach in a reasonable amount of time, in this heat, we turned back. As Liesel wasn’t with us, I used her fly-net.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday Sun. And we go out in the Aussie desert, when it’s 45°C, that’s 113°F, probably the highest temperature any of us have ever experienced.
We drove back to our air-conditoned room to cool off. We’d consumed plenty of water of course and were delighted that none of us suffered from sunburn, sunstroke, heat exhaustion or dehydration. But a siesta was very welcome.
Sadly, there was one casualty today.
These once white socks have served me well for several months but after today’s exertions, they deserve eternal rest. Consigned to the rubbish bin, with a quick word of gratitude, so as not to pollute other items of clothing during the next wash cycle.
Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is a protected area, they’re really looking after the flora and fauna. But the spelling? The ‘ṟ’ and the ‘ṯ’ seem to be peculiar to this part of Aus, and they’re very hard to find on the keyboard!