Uluru

Uluru – much more than a big red rock!

What kind of nutter would book themselves on a day trip to Uluru which involves travelling 1100 kms on a bus? Me for starters, and apparently a whole bunch of other people too.

So at 6.00am I was waiting for the bus outside my hotel. It was freezing in Alice Springs, about 3 degrees, although the locals tell me that’s good, last week it was -2 degrees. The bus finally rolled by and I joined a coach load of other nutters heading out on quite possibly the world’s longest day trip.

Our two guides, GJ and Tick, have control of us for the day and do a fine job in keeping us entertained, pointing out the sights and the animals, and educating us on the plant life, history, aboriginal folklore and geological beginnings of Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (formerly the Olgas). Tick told us about Tjukurpa, what’s called Dreamtime in English, which is the ancient Aboriginal philosophy of life and their legends and stories. There are layers of different stories, and you need to be initiated before the next layer can be revealed to you. We are the uninitiated, so we will only hear the very first layer, simple stories, the types of stories that might be shared with children.Uluru

First stop was Erldunda. There’s nothing here beyond a service station, a restaurant, a motel, a convenience store and some public toilets, which as our first stop, 200 kms from Alice, are well used. Erldunda is the “centre of the centre” but beyond the toilets, there’s nothing of interest here. The excitement for GJ and Tick is that there’s a right hand turn – there’s only two on the trip so this one’s GJ’s. Next one’s Tick’s!

The scenery is harsh – dry and rugged, with scrubby bush. Apparently this is “green” as they’ve had rains over the last 2 ½ years, meaning it’s greener than it has been in a while and that there’s a lot of vegetation regenerating and flourishing which hasn’t been seen in many years.

 

Uluru

Uluru

There are also eight large cattle stations on our way, the largest being around 5 million acres. Looking out the window at the landscape I figure they don’t have a high ratio of cattle per acre though. GJ tells us that many of the stations have tours and accommodation, and for some the tourist dollar is now more lucrative than the cattle dollar. I look out the window again and I’m not surprised.

We hear one example of a station owner, who bought the Curtin Springs pastoral lease back in 1954. His friends thought he was mad, but there was a good rain that year so he bought up a lot of cattle. His oldest son was 6 months old at the time. The next time that there was rain at the homestead his son was 9 ½. Obviously a man with vision, he also set up a side business offering food and lodgings for people on their way to Uluru. The first year there were six people – nowadays in the busy season there can be 50 buses a day, so plenty of tourists looking for an outback adventure on their way to Uluru.

The long drive afforded us lots of opportunity to spot the local wildlife. I spotted kangaroos, wedgetail eagles, a couple of dingos, feral cats and feral camels as well as cattle.

Before we get to the main event, Uluru, we head towards Kata Tjuta. A group of large domed rock formations, they are simply stunning. There are 36 separate domes, covering more than 26 kilometres. The largest, Mt Olga is 546 metres. A sacred space to the local Aboriginal people, they are still used today in ceremonies and initiations – “secret men’s business” and “secret women’s business”.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

According to local lore, they were created after a group of Aboriginal men went hunting leaving the women and children behind, then returned home to discover that some warriors had taken their women and children away. The hunters followed the tracks and discovered their families had been captured by these naughty warriors, so the hunters captured them and buried the warriors in the sand up to their necks. Kata Tjuta’s four largest domes is said to be what remains of these naughty warriors.

Gratefully stepping off the bus, the sun was high, and a gorgeous 26 degrees. We had nearly an hour here to take a walk through the Walpa valley and explore the stunning scenery for ourselves. It was simply spectacular – sheer red cliffs contrasting with the brilliant blue skies. I was in my element. Might have been a different story in the summer time, GJ and Tick told me that 40 degree days are common and it can sometimes reach 50 degrees.

Kata Tjuta

From there it was to Uluru, first stop the cultural centre. The centre’s award winning design is based on the two snakes, Kunia the good carpet snake and Liru the venomous snake, who fought on Uluru and created the scars on the rock. There was lots of information about the folklore and local culture of the Anangu people who are the custodians of the land, as well as a fascinating art centre.

Uluru

We were strongly encouraged not to climb Uluru. Firstly it’s a sacred place for the Aboriginal people for them it is disrespectful for us to climb it. Secondly it’s a very dangerous climb. It’s a sandstone rock which offers absolutely no shade or protection, nothing to cling to if you should slip, and while there is a chain provided it does not go the whole way. It didn’t seem right to me to climb it, so I was happy instead to go on several guided walks around the base of Uluru, learning more about the plant life and more of the legends about how Uluru was created and the different markings on it. We learned the Aboriginal story of the creation of Uluru, when two little boys playing in the waterhole, climbed up on the mud and slid back down, climbing up again and sliding down again. You can still see their footprints and handholds for climbing.

Uluru

Uluru

The final stop of the day was a couple of kilometres away where we stopped for a glass of champagne and a barbeque dinner as we watched the sun go down. On one side was Uluru and in the distance behind us we could see Kata Tjuta. The colours on the rocks changed from ochre, to red, to purple to pink. It was a majestic sight and easy to see why it is so special to the local Anangu people.

The sun disappeared quickly and we were back on the bus, ready for the long drive back to Alice Springs. Just before midnight I crawled happily into bed, sprinkling red dust over the white sheets. My own dreamtime began: naughty warriors, little boys playing in a waterhole, fights between good snakes and bad ones, spirit dingos and sand-lizards. What a day to remember.

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