Another 500 KM of dry shrub land and we actually made it to the heart of the continent: Uluru. The campground is part of a low village of hotels, store, restaurants and visitors centre that, more or less, blends into the surroundings. At least it is nowhere very obtrusive. At sunset we drove 25 KM into the park to a viewing spot where we parked, along with many others and had a perfect, unobstructed view of the big rock as it changed colors in the setting sun.
Was it worth driving thousands of miles for?
It certainly stirred my heart, both as the icon it is and for its stark, natural beauty. Tomorrow… we rise well before the sun to be there as it comes over the horizon.
Tuesday Sept 24
The people right next to us watching the sun set on Uluru, turned out to be a wonderful couple (a teacher!) from Perth, on a year long trek around Australia. When we got back to the campground it turned out they were our neighbors there too. Destiny. We so enjoyed visiting with them and picking their brain both for spots to see on our trip and for information on Perth.
At 6 AM we drove to Uluru only to discover that we didn’t have enough gas in our tank to drive all the way to the sun rise viewpoint. So we didn’t join those crowds but got an early start on our hike around the base. A 10 KM loop that skirts the big orange mountain. It was still nice and cool but we did have to cover our heads with fly nets. Kees looked like a walking raisin bread with all the flies who hitched a ride on his head and shoulders. They didn’t seem to like me as much. Fine.
Our hike was great and interesting. In my head I could hear the didgeridoos of native people…. I think we did hear dingos singing in the distance.
A visit to the aboriginal culture center taught us more about a very recent way of life. People not much older than us, who remember seeing the fist white person. So much has changed in their life time. And not all for the better. Imagine living a peaceful life, living off the land, learning from your elders. And then having that entire rug pulled out from underneath you. They could not practise their way of living, eating, dancing, celebrating, even speaking. It’s hard to understand that fair skinned children were taken from their families to be raised by white families. Not ‘just’ put in boarding schools but stolen from their families. People our age remember their mothers hiding them when government officials came to their village. What possessed white people to act that way? Slavery, prohibiting other cultures from speaking their own language, taking everything…. The mind boggles at how some people acted. Hopefully in the past tense. There’s a movement on now called “Bring Them Home” trying to locate those ‘children’ to put them back in touch with their families.
Australia’s aboriginal people have beautiful faces, as if carved from mahogany. Broad noses, very curly hair. Women were painting their famous dot stories outside the visitors centre. Inside was information on how the National Park is jointly run by locals and white people. If an elder has passed away, their photo is covered up and their name cannot be mentioned anymore. We were struck by how many similarities there are to Canada’s Inuit people: the sounds of drumming and chanting, the way the words look.
Everywhere signs ask you not to climb Uluru because it is a sacred site and the aboriginal people don’t want you to climb it. Yet we saw a long line of people clambering up… Why?! I asked a ranger why they don’t simply prohibit it. The reply was that government is afraid that less people will come (and leave their money). If you plan to visit Uluru, please don’t climb! It’s kind of like a horde of jolly people entering the Anglican church to have a picnic on the alter.
The rest of the day, we swam in the pool, had showers, took a nap, did laundry and cooked a nice grilled chicken dinner.
Wed Sept 25
Up again at 5:45 AM to quickly drive to the Kata Tjuta range to see the sun rise. These mountains are 50 KM from Uluru, of the same stone but more broken into individual shapes. Nice too. But I was disappointed by how many people are here. Whole bus loads show up and crowd onto the viewing platforms. We couldn’t even get close enough to see Uluru in the distance. The other disappointment is that you are not allowed to take photos anywhere: around the mountains, in and near the visitor centre, etc. etc.
We started on the hike around Kata Tjuta but it was a clamber over boulders, and too many people. So, after a final farewell to the big rock, we headed back to Alice Springs. The park gave us a fond farewell by having a herd of feral camels roam in plain view!
37ø C in Alice Springs.
Clueless and Timeless
We had to meet someone, last night, at 6:30 PM. We were there in plenty of time and waited… and waited… and waited. Finally we commented to someone that we had expected to meet someone at 6:30. He said “But it’s only 6 PM!” First we thought our watch had died, or the battery slowed down. Then we realized we had crossed a time zone and the time was 30 minutes earlier than we thought. We passed that timezone four days earlier and we had not noticed! Ha. But then we slowly recalled all the times this week that our timing had been off. “Remember that roast dinner where we were way too early?” “Oh, remember that the sunrise was so much later than they had told us!” The worst one: “Remember we left because the Aboriginal dances were not on at 4 PM as they had told us…” I guess it’s easy to lose half an hour when you’re on the road. When I asked why there were no signs along the highway or timezones on the map, they exclaimed “Oh! That would be a good idea!” 🙂
Today we drove 650 KM from Alice Springs to Renner Springs. And that was after we did all the groceries for the next few days. Imagine driving that distance in Europe (Amsterdam to Orleans) or in North America (Vancouver to Portland, Oregon) with only a handful of tiny towns in between. Many towns are called a ‘station’ and are simply a gas station with a store and pub, serving drinks and food, a toilet and a phone and that’s it. Some of the towns have come up with innovative ways to try and make a tourist stay longer (and spend money). Alleron (population: 10) has erected a 12’ statue of a man. Apparently a naked man. I’m sure you can buy caps and mugs and t-shirts with the figure on it. It’s even on the map.
Wycliffe Well has pronounced itself the world’s UFO capitol and advertises sightings of aliens. The pub is painted in spaceships. I’m sure you will see them if you stay long enough.
Perhaps the prize goes to Bana Banka which promotes a visit because they have a rock that looks exactly like the profile of Winston Churchill. We miss that sight because it was off the highway…
We have been in awe of an absolute endless view of desert. Nothing. No town in the distance, no chimney anywhere. Just 360º of emptiness. We haven’t seen natural water since leaving the east coast, 5,000 KM ago.
We are now camped next to the Desert Hotel.
Meet The Wobblies of Never Never Land
Friday Sept 27
Mataranka, NT – a tiny, mostly aboriginal town. Most inhabitants seem to spend the day at the local watering hole, a.k.a. the pub and beer garden. The nearby Mataranka Springs is apparently very popular and very busy. But we heard a rumor of a nicer spring nearby which is much quieter. We followed our instinct and the dusty red road out of town and found a little paradise. An amazing underground spring that fills a fast flowing river, crystal clear water of a constant 34º. The spring is in a pocket of palm rainforest. Amazing bird life, flying foxes and… wallabees. Or wobblies, as Kees calls them. At first we got excited when we spotted one in the woods. Took lots of fuzzy photos. Then I realized we were surrounded. Wallabees everywhere. They came closer and closer until I was afraid they’d eat our dinner. I like them. They look cute and are nice looking. But the cutest thing was to spot one wallabee with a joey in her pouch! It peeked out, retreated back inside, then picked seeds of the ground as its mama bend over. Cockatoos, pea cocks, budgies, lorrekeets – especially at dusk they all come screeching and chattering to roost in the trees above our heads. And then, as the sun goes down, bats glide on silent wings to catch mosquitoes and other insects.
This vast valley of the northern Outback is called Never Never land. Apparently due to a quote from one of the first white settlers who said “Once you’ve been here, you’ll never never want to leave.” I’m not quite sure I agree. In fact, after 5,000 KM of Outback I’d say it was all very interested but I’d never never come back…. The long, straight roads through flat country of all the same, sparse vegetation are getting quite monotonous by now. What WAS really interesting was to watch the movie, We Of The Never Never. It’s based on a book about the first white settlers on a homestead around 1902. It’s the author’s autobiography of the harsh life on a cattle station and how she tried to befriend the local aboriginals. If you have a chance to watch it, I recommend it.