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The Red Centre - it's hot

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

I flew to Alice Springs on the 16th, to spend one night in the town before heading off on my three-day camping tour of the Red Centre on the 17th. Expecting hot weather, I donned shorts and t-shirt for flight. As we landed I peered outside, eager to see baking earth and blazing sun. Instead I saw... rain. And that was what I saw for that entire day and the night, pounding, monsoon-style rain, hammering on the roof of the hostel, splashing into the swimming pool, filling the near-constantly dry Todd River-bed, forcing the desert to spring out rare green foliage. Luckily when I awoke at the bright and painfully early time of 5am the next day, it had miraculously stopped, and my fears that Uluru would be obscured by cloud faded away.

We set off at the 6am in our Mulgas Tour minibus, with our guide G-J, a young, fun guy with on his last tour with Mulgas. On the way to the Rock - our first stop of the tour - we picked up seven of his mates from Uluru airport, who'd come for Brisbane for his last tour. The guys were all just finished with uni - rowdy, loud and fun, and injected a huge amount of entertainment into the long bus journeys we undertook over the next few days - although we probably could have done without their gratutious farting on the bus...

Our first day, helped by G-J's extensive Ipod selection, we drove for hours... and hours.... and hours... Through a desert of red dirt covered with pale-green scrub, stretching to the endless horizon and punctuated with burnt-orange and ochre rocky outcrops. The sky seemed endless too - genuine Big Sky. And by the time we reached a rest stop at 1 million-acres-plus Curtain Springs Cattle Station and Roadhouse at around 9am, the temperature had risen to decidedly warm. A hot wind blew across the expanse of red-dirt forecourt as a solitary emu stalked around the four petrol pumps.

After picking up our swags - a sort of hardcore sleeping bag with a mattress inside, which the old bushmen in Australia carried and slept in on their tramps in the outback, and which we would sleep in out under the stars for the next two nights - we drove onwards, past Mount Connor, or 'Fooluru' as it's also known for it's slight resemblance to the Rock when spotted in the distance by eager tourist, to Uluru-Kate Tjuta National Park.

Many Australians had told me that no matter how many pictures you see of Uluru, it won't prepare you for seeing the real thing, rearing up in a solitary mass of rock in the distance, and it was true. It looked both absolutely like the pictures and nothing like them - it seemed, like the Opera House, almost like a movie-scene background, until we got closer and could make out it's true shape - far craggier and with more variation in it's rock formations, shades and texture than the postcards show. It's The Rock. And it took our breath away, the sheer natural mass of it, even without our being able to truly grasp it's significance to the Aboriginal people of the area, to whom it is where their spirit ancestors reside and an extremely sacred place. Which is why they keep telling everyone not to climb on it, naturally enough.

The climb was shut the day we arrived, anyway (it's only open about 50 days of the year, on average), and our small group set off on the base walk, a 10 km walk around the base of rock, taking in some of the spectacular formations in it - wave caves, arched caves, soaring walls of red-orange rock, and even water holes nestled in giant crevices, where it felt as if we could almost walk inside the rock itself. It was a hot day, and the walk had no shade, so we took it slow, meandering along, gazing upward and around, refilling waterbottles whenever possible and sheltering under hats (mine a rather nifty cowboy number borrowed from the hostel)... apparently it's pretty horrible to do in the middle of summer, in 40C heat.. who'd have though it?

From the base walk we drove to Ayers Rock resort, and our campsite - a large fenced-off square of red dirt on which to unroll our swags, with just enough for a dip in the pool before we headed back to a viewpoint to eat dinner and watch the sunset on Uluru. It was just slightly surreal to eat spaghetti while watching the rock change colours from bright orange to dark red to a greyish purple as the sun settled under the horizon...

permalink written by  LizIsHere on November 20, 2010 from Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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