Australia: The Red Center

Michael and I traveled to Australia as part of our 2007 career break.  The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

We left the blue coast for the red center as we made our way to Ayers Rock and the Olgas.  Known as Uluru and Kata Tjuta by the local Aborigines, the Anangu (meaning “people”), this land was given back to them in 1985.  Under the agreement, they in turn leased the land back to the Federal Government for 99 years and together they manage it.

[singlepic=208,200,,,left]Many people bypass visiting this area on a trip to Australia, but I think it’s the most magical and significant place to go in the country.  The glowing red of the sand and rocks is stunning and the vastness of this World Heritage Site is so impressive.  And to think that these land masses began to form over 550 million years ago really makes you thinks about your time and place in this world.

As it is literally in the middle of nowhere, options for accommodation are limited to the Ayers Rock Resort, also referred to as Yulara.  Within the resort are a variety of options, from a high-end luxury hotel to campsites.  We stayed at the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge, which offers dormitory style lodging as well as private rooms.  And their dining options include an outdoor BBQ area.  You can bring in your own food or purchase meat, including steak, chicken, kangaroo, emu and even crocodile, from their BBQ Bar and grill it up yourself while being entertained by local musicians.

But it’s not about the accommodation – it’s about visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  They are always in view from the various lookouts at Yulara, but there are also a variety of tour operators that can bring you up close.  From large tour buses to the back of a Harley, you can visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta from sunrise to sunset.  We decided to do a few different tours with a small tour operator – Discovery Ecotours.

Their tours are generally no more than 15 people and their guides are trained by the local Anangu, so they can relay stories and folklore straight from the “keeper of the story.”  Only stories taught to Anangu children can be relayed to non-Anangu as even in their culture certain knowledge is only gained as they pass through higher levels of standing.

We started on our arrival day with an afternoon trip out to Kata Tjuta, which means “many heads” in Anangu.  It is comprised of 36 domes, with the highest reaching 546 meters. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site for Anangu men, and as such, their women are not allowed to go there.  And the knowledge of this site is not shared with non-Anangu.  Still, standing in its presence is impressive and our hike into Walpa Gorge with the sheer sides rising up high above us was mesmerizing.

[singlepic=200,150,,,right]That evening we decided to watch the sunset from one of the lookouts with a bottle of wine before heading on to dinner, which consisted of a smorgasbord of Australian meat.  This area of the country gets about 12 days of rain a year, and that night the skies decided to open up with a thunderstorm.  It was trying to clear up as we headed out the next morning for a sunrise hike around the base of Uluru.

You are still allowed to climb Uluru, weather permitting, even though it is considered a sacred site to the Anangu.  And even though the climb was closed due to rain, we listened to their wishes and opted not to climb it.  Instead, we had a guided tour around the 10km base.  Our guide was able to share stories of Anangu legends as we made our way around the various watering holes and caves.  This also allowed us to view it from all sides and to see up close how the years of erosion has changed her faces (it is actually triangular).

Interestingly, Uluru is considered on giant rock, but the delicate sandstone erodes over the years from the inside out.  And it’s true color is gray.  The red-orange outside, which appears to glow during the rising and setting of the sun, is oxidized iron.  So you could say it is covered in rust.

The rain decided to return that afternoon, so our “sunset tour” that day became more of a waterfall tour.  Because it doesn’t rain a great deal out here, few people get to witness the spectacle of waterfalls streaming down Uluru’s sides.  So we considered ourselves lucky to see the couple that were flowing.  And even though we didn’t get the glowing sunset, we still toasted to her magnificence with some delicious sparkling wine.

It was a short visit to the spectacular Red Center but well worth the journey and expense.

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