Above: The green Red Centre. Below: The Mutitjulu Waterhole.
Photos by Deanne Scott
There is something special about Uluru, the huge piece of monolithic rock in the middle of Australia’s red centre. It’s easily recognised through the thousands of post cards and calendars that flood the souvenir shops and from a distance that’s what it looked like – a post card photograph. Close up however it’s a different story. It is towering, brilliant and iron red and somehow peaceful and menacing at the same time.
My wife and I made our pilgrimage in September last year after travelling from Adelaide to Alice Springs on the Ghan railway.
The first thing you realise is the fact that the rock is miles from anywhere – a six hour bus ride from Alice Springs or a very expensive plane flight. There were day trips to the rock and back, but the thought a 12 hour return journey was too much. We opted for a two day trip with an overnight at Uluru. That way we would get to see a sunset and a sunrise.
But we hit a snag just before we left. Most of the trips leave the Alice on Monday and Wednesday at 6.30 in the morning. We had booked our onward flight to Darwin on Virgin and the once a week flight left Thursday morning. We booked that rather than the trip on Qantas which cost twice as much on the other days.
We arrived in Alice Springs on Monday at lunchtime, so that was too late and the Wednesday trip arrived back after our flight left. It took a lot of chasing but finally we found a Tuesday trip by AAT Kings through Metro Travel: Australis Inbound Tours & Travel. The snag here was they had no accommodation left. Rooms in Yulara village at Uluru are scarce and very expensive. We did manage to find a place – a sparse bunk bed room with shower at the Outback Pioneer Lodge for $265 for the night. It was the last room in town!
So at 6.25 am, bleary-eyed, we left the Chifley Hotel and climbed on board the coach. It was a comfortable coach, with plenty of room for legs and hand-luggage and onboard toilet. Thanks to an informative and amusing driver and a couple of stops along the way those six hours passed pretty quickly.
Breakfast was at the Camel Farm. There was not a lot to see, but the short camel rides were popular – my wife took one, but I resisted the temptation.
The next stop for a morning tea break was more interesting. It was at the Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse and Art Gallery, an historic staging post with plenty to look at around the walls. The art gallery too was great with many fine aboriginal paintings and artefacts at very reasonable prices. In fact if you intend to buy paintings or souvenirs on a similar trip, I would recommend buying them at Mt Ebenezer as similar items are much more expensive at Uluru.
We arrived around 1 pm at The Outback Pioneer complex, grabbed a spot of lunch in the fascinating Yulara Square before being picked up by the coach for the drive to Uluru itself.
This was an amazing trip. The Red Centre was green. Recent downpours had transformed the arid landscape into a garden of plants and shrubs that were vivid with masses of bright flowers. It was a rare and stunning landscape.
We soon saw Uluru, the picture postcard distance shot. Close up it was magnificent; the colour nothing you could imagine and the weather-hewn contours so smooth and unearthly. It’s no wonder it is a sacred site for Aborigines.
The coach took us all the way round the base of the rock and, after a short and easy walk to the beautiful Mutitjulu Waterhole it was on to view Aboriginal rock paintings. The driver was on hand to talk about Aboriginal and European history of Uluru and learn about native flora. It was a tour that taught me a lot about the first Australians and a not so primitive culture. They knew about the dangers of radiation from uranium long before we did. There was more info and art at the Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.
Then we set off in the twilight for the Uluru sunset viewing area.
Now this was terrific as we stood drinking champagne and nibbling on canapés watching the sunset rays settled on the rock and we saw the legendary colour changes as darkness slowly settled in. It was an experience not to be missed.
There was a bush barbecue as an added extra, but we passed it up and ate at the hotel so we could have an early night and get ready for the sunrise the next morning with a 5 am start.
It was cold and we shivered as the saw the first rays of the sun hit the rock. But it was nowhere near as impressive as the sunset and I was glad to back onto the bus for the journey to mystical domes of Kata Tjuta. Again these amazing formations were a joy to see and then we stopped at the base of Walpa Gorge. The trail follows the natural creek between two of the tallest domes of Kata Tjuta.
I found it hard going over broken pebbles and a steep incline. But it was an impressive sight. By around 10.45 we were back at the Pioneer Lodge and within minutes the room cleaners were there to tell us checkout was 10 am and roust us out of the room! With threats of being charged an extra night we hustled around and checked out. Then, with our coach for Alice Springs due at 1 pm we found we couldn’t even get a beer because we were no longer hotels guests. Talk about catch 22. But the coach arrived on time and we were on our way back to Alice Springs, tired but filled with memories of a fascinating and informative trip.
The cost was $650 per person, which I thought was excellent value.
1300 664 883 is he number for Metro Travel: Australis Inbound Tours & Travel. Info: www.aatkings.com
Eric and Dee at Uluru