No trip to Australia is complete without visiting the outback. One of the most famous places in the Australian outback is Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, or sometimes just called The Rock. It is an amazing place and a “must see” for anyone traveling down under.
Bill Bryson, in his wickedly funny book In a Sunburned Country (a MUST read for all Oz travelers), had this to say about Uluru:
“Uluru is not merely a very splendid and mighty monolith, but also an extremely distinctive one—very possibly the most immediately recognizable natural object on earth. I’m suggesting nothing here, but I will say that if you were an intergalactic traveler who had broken down in our solar system, the obvious direction to rescuers would be: “Go to the third planet and fly around till you see the big red rock. You can’t miss it.” If ever on earth they dig up a 150,000-year-old rocket ship from galaxy Zog, this is where it will be.”
It is a spectacular sight to see. There are several ways to get there; we chose to fly into Alice Springs and then drive to Uluru in a rental car—driving on the other side of the road doesn’t scare us. One can also fly right into Uluru. We chose the car ride because it was less money and we wanted to spend some time seeing the great big red dessert (and we had a good book on tape to listen to).
I had not seen anything like the Australian outback desert before, and I loved it. There are several rest stops between Alice Springs and Uluru (Curtin Springs Roadhouse is owned by the uncle of a stitching friend I met in Melbourne but that is another story) so enough opportunities to stop, stretch and get an ice cream.
After the last rest stop there is nothing but miles and miles of open space, until you come to Mt. Conner.
Like most tourists, we thought we were seeing Uluru. It freaked us out a bit when we drove past it and still hadn’t seen the turn off. It is a huge flat topped mountain that is even older than Uluru and is also a sacred place to the Yankunytjatjara people. While it looks like it should be Uluru, it is not. Access is very limited, so it is not a tourist destination.
We spent four nights at the Desert Garden Hotel, part of the Ayers Rock Resort, while exploring the area. Frankly, I could have spent more time there. There was a ton to see and we just did a little bit, but what we did was very cool!
Our first full day there we went on a sunrise walk around Uluru through SEIT Uluru Trek. It was a small group and two guides. As we walked the 14 kilometers trail we learned different stories of and from the local Aboriginals. It was magnificent to watch the colors on Uluru as the sun rose. I felt like I wanted to spend the next few months painting the various colors and shapes, and I am NOT a painter at all. It is that inspiring!
That night we went on the Sounds of Silence Dinner tour. This was a much larger event, but also amazing. They took us into the desert, and we watched the sun set over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (also known as the Mount Olga, a beautiful area that we didn’t get to explore) while drinking champagne. Then over dinner, we learned about the southern Hemisphere and constellations while we enjoyed talking to the other people at our table.
The next day we toured Cave Hill. The tour was a full day Indigenous cultural experience in the heart of the Pitjantjatjara Land desert of the Anangu people.
We learned more about the Aboriginal Songlines of this area and saw cave paintings that are tens of thousands years old. The cave paintings included circular symbols, river maps, and information about local animal hunting grounds. We also learned how to read emu tracks–totally counterintuitive for us!
These emu tracks are showing emus moving from left to right—they are NOT arrows going right to left.
We lucked out in that on two of our tours we had the same guide-in-training. This particular guide had fallen in love with the area, quit his job, left his home, left his wife and kids in Melbourne to become a local certified tour guide. What an amazing place in which to have one’s mid-life crisis.
After we left Uluru, we had lunch in Alice Springs, wandering in and out of various Aboriginal art galleries. I regret that we didn’t see the art being displayed by Aboriginal artists themselves on the street. We later learned that often these pieces are as good, or better than what is in the galleries and the money goes directly to the artists.
Bottom line: This is a must see site in Australia. We were both surprised by how few Australians have been there. I would go back again if I had the chance!
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