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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Uluru





Date:
07-10/04/2017
Location:
Uluru (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
246 Km
Temperature:
Min:
9.1

Max:
36.8
Distance on foot
26.5km


WOW! Now, that was four days of sheer magic! I’m not even sure how I’m going to squeeze everything we saw and did into this blog… but I’ll try.



Uluru, here we come!

Leaving Eldunda Roadhouse, it wasn’t long before the landscape began to change. No longer simply brown and yellow, the earth changed to a mix of brilliant reds and oranges, highlighted by darker tones of burnt-umber and chocolate. I’m not sure if it was the contrast between the vibrant sandy soil and the almost glowing plant life - but every bush, shrub and tuft of grass stood out unambiguously against the landscape - brilliant neon greens and lemony yellows met us at every turn. Even more stark against this back drop were the many desiccated salt lakes we passed on our travels – each gleaming brightly in the harsh desert sun.


A land of stark contrasts

As soon as the landscape changed, the boys took up their look-out duty in the search for Uluru (we didn’t have the heart to tell them it was still a few hundred kilometres away). There was a flurry of excitement when the kids thought they’d found it sooner than expected, as we made our first pitstop for the day overlooking Mt Conner. This strange mountain, which looks like it should be much bigger than it is – if only someone hadn’t cut it in off at the knees – was the object of the kids’ excitement. Not quite Uluru, but at first glance, to the untrained eye at least – it did a jolly good impression of the iconic rock.

Mt Conner, an Uluru impersonator?

It wasn’t long before the real object of our expedition came into view. Ben was the first to spot it, as the magnificent monolith emerged in the distance. Of course, this initiated another photo stop. Here, however, Nat and the boys got a lesson in the value of sensible footwear. In the hot afternoon sun, the dark red sand drank up the heat and generously splashed it out on any tender foot that happened to touch it. Thongs, it turns out, are not good desert shoes. But, despite the pain and the blisters, we all made it to top of a sandy rise to be greeted by our first glimpse of the famous rock. As for me, my dainty little tootsies were well protected in their gore tex and leather bound casings… In my world, thongs have no place other than when braving communal showers and for those quick dashes to the loo in the middle of the night!

Uluru emerging in the distance

Arriving at the caravan park, a bit of grunt work was required to get the caravan into the space we’d been allocated. The concrete slab was on the wrong side of site for our door. But, with the help of a few new-found friends, we managed to get the trailer in – back to front – and levelled up ready to be opened for business. There’s nothing better than a caravan wrangling situation to bring out that previously mentioned comradery in our fellow travellers.


We recognised our campsite neighbours, as they had also been travelling the same route as us for the past few weeks; with no less than four kids in tow. Ben and Daniel became fast friends with these kids and spent the next three days hanging out, playing and chatting.

The first night, we were early to bed – so we could get up before dawn to see the sunrise over Uluru. Waking up, bleary eyed and dodging the kicks and scrappy protests from at least one weary traveller (aka Daniel), we braved the frosty morning to witness the magnificent view.

Welcome to a new day, Uluru

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the frost quickly burned off and the day warmed up rapidly. The sight of the sun hitting the world’s second largest rock was awesome (FYI, Australia also boasts the world’s BIGGEST rock, Mt Augustus, which is approximately 2.5x bigger than Uluru – situated in Western Australia).

Arriving at the crack of dawn had certain advantages. Firstly, being awake at that hour (on purpose, that is) counts as yet another thing I can now cross off my bucket list. Secondly, the oppressive heat of the sun (not to mention the oppressive cudgelling of the flies) was kept at bay for the first few hours.

The majestic Uluru!

At this point, I really don’t know what to say about the experience. Uluru is, as many have said before, something that simply must be seen to be believed. Imagine, if you will, a barren landscape dotted with grasses, shrubs and an occasional lonely tree. Then paint the whole scene with brilliant reds, oranges and greens. Now, pull back your frame of view and suddenly become aware of a monstrous obelisk looming into sight. This gargantuan monolith, which seems both smooth and craggy at the same time continues to loom into view – until all that fills your view  is a sheer sandstone rock face disappearing upwards towards the most electric blue sky you’ve ever seen.

Smooth and craggy

Now, zoom in... as you look closely at the scene, you see weather-worn lines, cracks and crevasses. Occasionally a tree has found purchase in a time-chiselled gash in the surface, and has plunged it roots deep into the heart of the rock. Sand surrounds the base of the giant undulated red sphere, heating up like a frying pan and scorching the hardy plants that make this nook of the desert their home. There is a well-worn track around the base of Uluru, snaking its way amongst the scrub. But here and there the path diverts from its main route and you dive, suddenly, deep into the pre-history of ancient indigenous peoples; as alcoves and grottos from thousands of years ago appear before you. Many of these were sacred places for the people of the land in times gone by, and remain a place of reverence today. Places of shelter from the unrelenting sun, where stories and ancient lore were shared – with their paintings left to illustrate the knowledge of years ago…

Tales told millennia ago…

…and still the track continues. Round and round it goes; seeming to go on – with little in the way of markers to show how far you’ve come or how far you have left to travel. Then, out of nowhere, the scene changes. There is shelter. There are places hidden from the harsh sun. Black lines are stained on the massive rock face, where streams of water have cascaded down the face of the monolith. The rock has no use for the water. Nothing grows on its barren surface. But far below, the water has pooled into deep underground reservoirs and is tapped by those plants quick enough to send down roots searching for this precious liquid. Occasionally, the water stays. There is at least one pool we came across, where finches in their hundreds flocked to drink, and guzzle whatever nectar or insects that were on offer. Each bird, not larger than Daniel’s hand, careened through the shady gorge ferrying water and food to their nests.

Apart from the melodic chirping of the birds, no one who visits this place makes a sound. Even the youngest of children who wander into this area suddenly fall silent – despite their weary legs and lack of access to YouTube. And they sit, and they watch. This is a very special place indeed.

Water in the desert – a true oasis!

Then, wending our way past more ancient paintings, the track winds its way further around the colossal obelisk until we arrived back at the car park. It was a long journey, and one that was made even longer by the countless photo stops, jaw dropping moments and time spent just soaking in the scenery. But despite the effort required of us uninitiated hikers making this pilgrimage, no one left unsatisfied.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – or, at least for us, we made it round the world’s largest round-about

There were those who chose to climb Uluru. Indeed, there is still a path, with ropes and hand rails leading to the top. But, all around the rock are plaintive signs from the indigenous people of the area asking that visitors make the choice not to climb on this place that they hold as sacred. Amongst the warning about the 35 people who have died attempting in the ascent, as well as a host of countless others who have been injured or needed to be rescued in the process, the argument that swayed me the most was the idea that many who climb Uluru do so with the mindset to conquer the rock (or, in the words of Sir Edmund Hillary, ‘Knock the bastard off’). However, in this day and age, where the colonial spirit of conquest is slowly being replaced with a more gentile sense of appreciation for the world and all of its inhabitants, conquering a piece of the earth just didn’t seem to sit right. Being there was magic enough. No need to trample over the hearts of others in the process.

Happy campers

And so, our first day at Uluru came to an end. We returned the next day (slightly after dawn this time) to meet a park ranger and an indigenous guide to hear stories of times gone by and learn the meaning that this small corner of the world has for the people who live, and have lived, here.

Uluru – stark contrasts

Later that day we ventured further down the track to the equally stunning, but altogether unique geological marvel known as the ‘Olgas’ (KataTjuta). However, I think, that is probably enough for one blog post. Let’s leave something for the next instalment.

New trails await us at the Olgas (Kata Tjuta)

Until next time,

Bye ‘d bye.

Gregg

2 comments:

  1. Glad to read you didn't climb it :) I'd have been sorely tempted too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. In that heat?!? Cor blimey, I was glad to have an excuse to stay firmly on the ground!!

    ReplyDelete