Alice Springs and Uluru - Jan 15-20
Jan 20, 2010
|January 15, 2010
Due to the flight change, we did not have to get up so early – our new flight was at lunchtime compared to the previous one which had been at 10am – but I was still awake at my regular time of just after 7. Even on this entire trip, I’ve been up and about most mornings at the same time with the exception of Singapore. There our hotel did not have any natural light and I think it meant I just didn’t know when to wake up!
The flight into Alice was about 2 hours and just before we landed we could see Ayers Rock from the plane. Our taxi to the hostel was interesting too – our driver being a fountain of knowledge of all things Alice Springs!
We didn’t arrive at the hostel until around 5.30pm due to the time difference and by the time we walked around the town just about everything was shut. It was dead. We headed to the supermarket for some provisions for dinner and for our drive to Ayers Rock tomorrow before lazing around at the hostel and taking in their nightly movie, tonight being, fittingly I suppose, “Australia”. Elizabeth and I had both seen it before and didn’t think a huge amount of it but there was little else to do in this sleepy town especially with an early start tomorrow.
January 16, 2010
We had been told the drive to Ayers Rock was around 7 hours and thought we’d best get a decent, early start. Given the one and a half hour time difference between Alice Springs and Perth, I had trouble getting to sleep which combined with the hot dorm room we were in meant I hardly slept all night so when the alarm went off early I was all ready for it! We headed off to the car rental place around 8am and were packed and ready to go by 8.15am. The road out of Alice was just one long highway and it was only a couple of hours before we’d gobbled up the 200km heading south and were ready to turn off towards Ayers Rock. The second section, around 250km, was equally easy and the roadside became pretty bland and repetitive after a while, making it a challenge just to stay awake. We were hoping to see some wildlife as we drove but apart from one lizard I had to swerve to avoid and another on its hind legs, standing tall, the only thing we saw were carcasses of dead kangaroos and even a camel. We made the journey in just over 4 hours which meant that the lunch we’d bought to eat on the road could be eaten in the more comfortable surroundings of our room.
Having had a wander around our hotel, driving to the supermarket on resort for some more food and drink and lazed around, we tried to decide whether to drive to the rock tonight to see sunset. Ultimately, we decided we couldn’t be bothered tonight so instead took the chance to view sunset from the viewing point at our hotel, which was impressive enough.
For dinner, we used one of the bars at the hotel and got a couple of wraps. Mine was a kangaroo wrap and was very tasty, especially with a nice cold beer that I reckon I deserved after my long day driving!
We decided to head to Uluru for sunrise tomorrow which happened to be at 6.09am with most of the tour buses leaving the resort here around 4.45am. We thought this would be a good time for us to go, too, so with the alarm set for 4.15am we soon decided to get some sleep.
January 17, 2010
The alarm going off seemingly in the middle of the night, we both clambered out of bed and got ready to go, grabbing some water and some cereal bars as we left the room. It was still very dark outside but it was just a short 4km drive to the park entrance. After waiting about 10 or 15 minutes for the park to open, we bought our tickets and drove in, not really knowing where to go. I stopped at one viewing point and it was dead but I noticed a lot of traffic going past on the main road so decided to follow them.
We eventually ended up at a viewing point a little away from the rock itself but with the sun rising behind us, the area gave us some great views of the rock changing colour as the sky lightened. Uluru looked great in the early morning light and actually appeared to get bigger as the rays of the sun hit the surface facing us. I thought the view was amazing but I sensed Elizabeth didn’t share my feelings and she seemed a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing the entire day.
From there we headed to The Olgas, deciding to have a walk around those first before heading back to Uluru to walk around some of it. We stopped at a couple of places around the Olgas and got some great views, the rock landscape here being broken up much more than that seen at Uluru where the scenery is just punctuated by one huge rock. Here, there were rock domes everywhere and the size of them was every bit as striking as Uluru had been this morning at first light.
We next headed back to Uluru and visited the Cultural Centre. Here the main displays, of course, centred around the Aboriginal ownership of the land here and how sacred the land still is to the Anangu people. It was quite interesting reading but was a little repetitive, constantly stating how important the site is. It was almost as if they expected non-Anangu to not appreciate the significance and thus repeated themselves. Also at the centre, we saw a water monitor lizard close up. It was lurking around the bushes and I managed to get some really cool close up pictures of it, including the amazing patterns along its back and tail. We had seen some of these along the road as we drove into Uluru yesterday so it was really interesting to get a closer view.
After that, we drove to a couple of the viewing points around Uluru and did one of the walks. We had no desire to climb the rock (it was closed after 8am, anyway) and neither of us had any desire to walk all the way around it – it was too hot, even at 10am, and the flies were annoying the hell out of us! Just to give you an idea of the heat, as we drove in yesterday, our car told us the temperature outside was around 38C at 10am, this is over 100F and today felt a little cooler with a nice breeze but still too hot to be walking around too much! The short walk we did had taken us past a number of holes in the rock showing some art and carvings which had been made. One such hole was designated as a “Woman’s sacred place” and you were not allowed to enter it or photograph it. To me, it didn’t look any different to any of the other cave entrances but this one was apparently signifying the pouch of the female hare-wallaby and only certain women of the Anangu could enter.
After that walk we headed back to the hotel and I took the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep!
In the evening, we headed back to Uluru to watch the sunset. We arrived around an hour before sunset and headed first to the viewing point we’d started out at this morning and got some more pictures, showing the big cheeky rock changing colours. From there, we headed back to the main sunset viewing area and watched the colours change further still, to a really striking reddish orange colour as the sun began to disappear to a darker brown colour once the sun disappeared over the horizon. It was really cool watching the rock change colour and really interesting comparing the pictures of the rock from 6am this morning to now, nearly 8pm.
Back at the hostel, we grabbed some dinner. The hotel resort is just a 5-10 minute drive from the park entrance so we were back in plenty of time to feed our appetites! This time, I had a tandoori chicken burger which was just as good as my kangaroo last night. I also tried the local beer, called NT, which was pretty good as well.
We were heading back to Alice Springs tomorrow, having had a day less than we wanted around Uluru. Honestly though, we had done and seen all we wanted to and with the mileage on the car being limited, driving to Kings Canyon was just not worth the extra time and expense (we’d already done around 700km and only had 400km free, with at least another 450km or so to drive to just get back to Alice!).
January 18, 2010
Having packed up our stuff and loaded the car, we quickly had a look in the hotel gift shop, hoping to find a decent magnet of Uluru or the region. None of them were great so we decided to pass. Just as we were about to leave, I noticed a book of photographs and told Elizabeth how it was the same as the ones I had purchased when I was here in 2003, by a photographer called Peter Lik. I had visited his shop in Port Douglas and couldn’t for the life of me remember his name until I saw this book. We both looked through it and thought it had some amazing pictures in it. I decided to get it and then I can compare it to the ones I bought all those years ago!
Leaving the big red cheeky rock behind, we headed back towards Alice Springs to take in the monotony of the 450km drive. Everything was going smoothly until, just 50km outside of Alice, I was pulled over by the police for speeding! I knew I was a little over the speed limit but didn’t realize quite how much – the road here is so straight and with nothing much going on either side I let my foot get away a bit! The speed limit here is 130km/h (81mph) and I was apparently doing 148km/h (about 93mph). After a bit of a wait, I was presented with a speeding ticket, the cost of which was AU$210.
Suitably annoyed (at myself) and apologetic, we carried on into Alice and arrived at our hotel easily enough. We weren’t staying at the same place, thankfully, but the new place was just as centrally located with the added advantage of having a private room rather than a dorm and air-con! Woo-hoo!
We checked in and spent some time working out what we wanted to do for the next two days here in sleepy Alice. We decided we would eat as many meals as possible around the hotel given that everything we wanted to do was fairly close by and so we made a swift visit to the supermarket and picked up a load of groceries for the next 3 nights, 2 mornings and 2 lunches!
After cooking a very delicious meat and vegetable sauce to have with some (more!) pasta, we headed out to one of the hotels on the edge of town. We were told by our taxi driver when we first arrived that at the edge of the hotel complex a group of rock wallabies came to feed after sunset each evening and you could watch them. We saw the area as we arrived, the number of people sitting around the logs by the rocky cliffs giving it away. They were black-footed rock wallabies and they were eating food out of the hands of the people sitting around. As we went in a lady had given us a bag of food and Elizabeth was getting a bit annoyed that none of them would come to her. We even saw mothers carrying joeys, often seeing the heads sticking out of their maternal pouches!
I eventually moved away a little from Elizabeth and got one to eat right out of my hand while I stroked it with the other. Every time I went to move my hand away it put its tiny little front paws up and gripped my fingers. They were so cute and fluffy! Elizabeth eventually came and joined me and I was able to get my new friend to eat from her hand while I took some pictures. The creatures were so tame and timid and every now and then a screaming or running child would make them all scarper back up the rocks. They would eventually come down again and, as we were running out of food, one such wallaby came right up to the ledge and was eating every last scrap we could give him. He was quite anxious though, taking one mouthful then standing bolt upright on his hind legs and looking all around while he chewed!
It was great to see these little creatures in the wild, albeit in a slightly sterile setup. As we left, we both wondered how much these wallabies now rely on tourists for feeding rather than gathering for themselves. Our act is probably to the detriment of these animals’ natural instincts but they are probably so used to it now, any change or cessation of feeding might harm their population.
January 19, 2010
Whilst we still had the hire car we decided to make the most of some sights which were a bit on the edge of town today. After running some morning errands (getting cash out, paying speeding fine, those kinds of things!) we headed to the Araluen Cultural Precinct. It hadn’t been high on our list of things to do or see but having some spare time this struck us as the best of the bunch for today!
Once inside the main building, we bought our tickets and the lady explained to us about the centre. It included the art gallery which we were in, a museum for central Australia and an aviation museum – all for just $8 each after our YHA discounts!
The art gallery was really cool and had some amazing pieces of aboriginal art. These often tell a story and it was interesting reading about both the artist and the story they were telling. For the first time when it came to art, it appears Elizabeth and I have the same tastes – along with the painting we both liked the other day, we both picked three or four more here that we had a mutual appreciation of. Unfortunately, when we reach the gift shops, there never seems to be any postcards or small pictures of the ones we actually like. There was also an area full of watercolours done by Aborigines artists. Both of us found these quite basic and boring, with every one having the same basic theme – a tree or trees at the front and some red rocks in the background. Maybe this is symptomatic of the style here or maybe that is just because that is how the entire region looks! Having driven to and from Uluru, I fear it is actually the latter.
Walking between the art gallery and the museum, we walked through a sculpture which was in the shape of a caterpillar and which was lined with more aboriginal artworks. These were also really cool and made me wish I could just find a picture of one that I liked, at a decent price, for us to take home with us.
The museum focused a lot on the geology of the region and was quite technical in the descriptions. After a while, it completely lost both of us as it was just a lot of over-complicated, under-explained geological and meteorological terms. Still, we enjoyed looking at the meteoric rocks with the solid, shiny panels of iron ore which had been created as the meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
There was also a display on wildlife of the region which included stuffed versions of almost all the animals, from snakes and lizards to the wallabies we saw last night and many, many birds and insects. This was a little more interesting, particularly the lizards as we were planning on going to the reptile centre tomorrow where Elizabeth was hoping she could hold a thorny devil.
Finally, we visited the aviation museum. The site here was formerly the airstrip for Alice Springs which in the early part of the 20th century was vital for connecting Alice and the Northern Territory with the rest of Australia and the world. Housed in two hangars, one the original from the 1930’s, the museum had a number of aircraft from that time including a plane that was found near here some forty plus years ago after the pilot went off course and got lost. His wife had allowed the museum to display the plane and it now acts as a memorial to the gentleman, his body having never been found.
For dinner we had a nice, fresh homemade salad – with the hot weather here, salads almost seem appealing!
In the evening we ventured out to the Desert Park for their nocturnal tour. Before the tour had even started we noticed a huge amount of moths around the entrance to the park as well as a bird which had actually nested on the top of the exit doorway! There were quite a few people on the tour and this proved to be quite a pain – there was a woman from Minnesota who didn’t understand the meaning of the word quiet, an old couple from Alice who thought they knew everything and kept prompting our guide, their grandchildren who weren’t very interested in the tour nor were they quiet and then another couple who didn’t seem remotely interested in anything except groping each other! There were one other couple, around our age, who thankfully did seem to be listening and quiet but they were the exception. Our guides did an excellent job of pointing out the critters to us, including bandicoots, malas, bilbies (types of marsupial/mammal) and a curlew (non-flying bird) right at the end of the walk. Every time we saw something the old local woman gasped in astonishment but it was so fake you could tell she had seen it all before. Not only was it fake but it was also annoying! The tour was pretty good but was tainted a little by the people we were grouped with.
Still, a good way to spend the evening to what had been a good and cheap day – except for paying the speeding fine!
January 20, 2010
We had little to do today so after dropping the hire car back early morning, we lazed around a while and grabbed some breakfast. We wanted to go to the reptile centre but wanted to be there for one of the handling shows, the first of which was at 11am. We decided to aim for this one and headed out from our hotel a little before for the short walk. It felt warm again today – the temperature here has fluctuated between 32C and about 38C in the time we’ve been in the region and although 32C is hot, you can certainly feel the difference once it gets over about 35C!
The reptile centre looked like a tiny little building as we approached but inside it was much larger than we expected. Having paid our entry fee (less YHA discount – Elizabeth’s card having almost paid for itself!), we had some time before the “show” and so headed into the first room. Here they had a number of different geckos, many of which were tiny. They were really well displayed in a nocturnal environment and some of the markings and colourings on them were really cool.
Next, we headed into the first of the main two rooms where we were greeted by Frank the Spencer’s Goanna who was happily wandering around the room. Inside this room were a number of highly dangerous snakes including the two most venomous in the world – the Inland Taipan and Brown Snakes. Australia is home to 18 of the world’s 20 most dangerous snakes and as well as the above Death Adders and Mulga Snakes were displayed here.
Next came the show. Here the guide showed us three different lizards and an Olive Python. She explained about each one and where you might find them, how to hold them and also what to do if you see a snake in the wild and how to treat a bite. The three lizards were a Blue-tongue, a Shingleback (or two-headed) and a Central Bearded Dragon! We were able to hold both the blue-tongue and bearded dragon and they both felt completely different, with the blue-tongue being quite moist and the dragon being very rough and spiky. We were also able to hold the olive python which was only a youth but was still well over a metre long. Having the snake wrapped around your neck you could feel the muscles in the body contracting as it gripped and I couldn’t imagine how strong these are as adults, apparently able to kill and consume a kangaroo! The show was really good fun and it was amusing watching people who hated snakes and reptiles either refusing to hold them or being cajoled into it by other family members, including one father who was petrified of the snake but was hassled into holding it by his wife and daughter!
After the show we visited the second room and the outside area. These areas contained a variety of skinks as well as more of the lizards we’d already seen, plus a saltwater crocodile and a Perentie Goanna, the largest lizard in Australia. We also saw a number of Thorny Devil Lizards which Elizabeth was really keen to see. These lizards are so tiny and apparently really timid but they have large spikes on their backs which make them look a lot scarier. They are really cool to see up close. I think seeing all the lizards made Elizabeth and I decide they might be a fun pet when we finally have a house!
We attempted to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Base afterwards but after waiting around 10 minutes, no-one had appeared at reception so we just headed back to the hotel for lunch – French bread pizzas made using leftover cheese, ham and tomato paste!
In the afternoon, void of anything else to do, we headed out to the Todd Mall and had a walk around the shops where we inevitable ended up spending money by way of a book, a map, a magnet, some aboriginal artworks plus a couple of other small things before running away to avoid spending any more, stopping only at Liquorland to buy a $6 bottle of wine to accompany dinner!
The evening was spent relaxing in the common area at the hotel watching the tennis, eating lovely pasta and garlic bread and drinking a distinctly average wine, as well as the dull packing.
Melbourne tomorrow! Alice Springs and Uluru have been a nice little stop but the places have been sleepy, REALLY sleepy and I couldn’t imagine spending any longer here than we have. Even with the flight screw up, we had plenty of time to do all we wanted to and have time to spare. I hadn’t done this region when I came before and am glad I have now but can’t imagine any reason to come back in the future. Anyway – onwards!