Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Odyssey in Oz: Day 19 and 20: Uluru

Welcome to the Outback! The official Australian experience has arrived! Luckily, we were right and this is very much a dry heat! Flying in looks exactly the opposite of landing in Queenstown. Instead of dramatic mountain peaks full of lush, green forest, Ayers Rock is flat. With red dirt. (Oh! klahom--I mean, okay, right. Australia.)

The Outback is home to Uluru (known in English as "Ayers Rock)" and Kata Tjuta ("Many Heads"), two giant rock formations that sit out in the open and are sacred to the Aboriginal people. These are the sights to see, and there is literally nothing else. Except maybe an ellusive wild kangaroo. 

We arrived to our hostel--the cheap end of the resort--and settled in. The resort is a series of four hotels, the hostel, a campground, and a town square, complete with an IGA, post office, restaurant, and gift shop. There is one tour company that runs everything and one airport that services the whole settlement. It's a true monopoly and they can get away with charging outrageous prices for each tour. Even just hopping a shuttle to be let off in the national park without a tour guide for the day costs $60! Talk about expoiting tourists! Sheesh...

For the afternoon/evening, we decided to hike into Walpa Gorge, a deep wedge between two of the rocks that form Kata Tjuta. Our shuttle driver gave us an hour to hike which was fairly accurate. The rocky path leads to a lookout in the center of the gorge. 

The rock formations are due to layers and layers of dirt and sediment settling on the ocean floor millions of years ago. As the sea levels dropped, we were left with these giant rocks. The iron from the sand dusts it, giving it its iconic red coloring. The black streaks are algae stains from where the water runs down after a storm. 

We enjoyed our hike--especially because we were virtually alone, except for the flies! So many flies! Wearing these fly nets was not just a fashionable accessorizinf choice, it was an absolute neccessity for keeping Grumpy Liz at bay.

After the hike, our shuttle took us to a couple more viewing areas to see Kata Tjuta as a whole. The land here is a national park, so there are designated viewing areas only. 

But for realz, these fly nets are awesome. 

The second rock formation is the most famous--Uluru. We attempted to watch sunset fall over it, but a storm rolled in and instead gave us a unique glimpse of rain in the desert! We could even see the waterfalls that ran down, which was pretty cool. 

Due to the rain, we returned to our hostel a bit early and enjoyed an authentic Aussie BBQ! At the choose-your-own-meat station, I grabbed a slab of steak and a skewer of kangaroo to grill on the barbie. I was a bit weary of trying kangaroo, but let me tell you what--YUM! It's a red meat, a bit leaner than beef and really delicious! I was pleasently surprised!

(Ever wonder how restaurants get away with charging more if they make you cook it yourself? As of this day hadn't already cost me $200, now I'm spending $30 to grill my own meat. Outrageous. At least it was delicious). 

Since we'd been up since 4am, we crashed early and set our alarm for my last true adventure day of the trip!

At 4am once again, we arose and caught our bus to Uluru to watch the sunrise. Apparently watching the sun rise and set over these rocks is the thing to do out here. Hundreds of tourists were served coffee, tea, and biscuits and sat around watching the sunrise, which, to be honest, was quite lovely. The red rock reflects the sun differently at each point of the morning, so the rock changes colors as the sun climbs higher and higher.

Once the sun was up, Dela and I joined about twenty people for a base walk. The base walk is a 12 kilometer/one billion mile walk around the base of Uluru. Our guide told us aboriginal stories and described the geology during the walk, so it was a really cool way to hear about the culture and see the rock up close. There are even several sections where we were not allowed to take photographs, because the formations were sacred to the aboriginal people and using a camera might dislodge the spirit from that formation. 

(For anyone wondering, no, we did not climb it. A#1: because it was nearly 36 degrees C out there, and B#2: the aboriginals ask that we not, and I'm thinking respecting their wishes is the right thing to do.)

After nearly five hours and a trillion steps (my fitbit set to 15,000 steps buzzed about half way around), we completed the walk! 

We rewarded ourselves with a dip in the pool and a nap in the AC for the afternoon. 

By early evening we were again on a bus heading back to Uluru for the sunset once more. This time, we were served wine and noms and given small fold-out chairs. Due to another storm in the west, we didn't get much color variation in the rock, but it was still an entirely pleasent evening. 

Back at the hostel we indulged in another BBQ and spent some time talking to a couple local cops who were off duty and looking to chat up some tourists. They did not arrest us, so for now, all continues to be well. 

I'm really glad I've ended my Australian adventures in Uluru, as it is such an iconic piece of true Australia. Meeting some local Aboriginals, seeing their land, hearing their stories--the country really comes alive as my understanding of what it's like to live out here  grows. 

Now, it's off to Sydney for one night to catch my flight to Fiji! 

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