Posted by: dsduffy | September 30, 2010

Journey to the middle of nowhere


At one point during our 4 day trip to Ayers Rock aka the Red Centre, aka Uluru, aka the Outback, aka the MIDDLE OF FREAKING NOWHERE, I said if this was in the US the highway would be lined with billboards, like on the way to Atlantic City. “Hall & Oates at The Rock, this month only!” “She’s back in the Outback: Bette Midler does Uluru!” There would be rock-themed roller coasters at an Outback themed amusement park. Maybe even a waterslide built into the side of the actual rock. That’s how we roll in America, we capitalize on everything. But here in Australia, they leave things the way they are, for the most part.

I flew into Ayers Rock with the boys on Friday. The 2 flights (you have to fly via Sydney) took about 4 hours and we landed safely in the Red Centre (which got its name from the color of the land: red.) The one runway led us to a rectangular building which housed a baggage carousel and the rental car counter. I hurried over to pick up the keys to our car and asked the nice Avis lady where to go to get my car. She pointed out the window and said “just behind that bus, the blue one.” We got our luggage and made our way out to the carpark to find our car amongst about 35 cars. The air was hot and dry, and one of the first things I noticed was the bluest cloud-free sky.

We drove the 10 minutes down the road (I followed a tour bus, assuming it was going where I wanted to, there are no other places to go. I am serious) and arrived at the campground to meet Craig and our friends at their campground (they took the adventurous route and drove from Melbourne which took them a week.)

It was so nice to feel the warm sun, after this cold wet and windy winter, the warmth of the sun was such a welcome feeling. After our big reunion, we were excited to head to the hotel and to check out the pool.  Now let me give a quick explanation of the actual resort. The Ayers Rock Resort is the only accommodation in the area. Within the property, there are 5 hotels/apartments and 2 campgrounds. There are 13 restaurants ranging from a cafe to breakfast buffets and fancy restaurants. There is a Shopping Centre. A police Station. A Medical Centre and the only Petrol station in the area. Yes the only. I am pretty sure the next area of civilization is the city of Alice Springs which is a 5.5 hour drive. And by city there are roughly 27,000 people living there. This will give you even more information.

Another interesting thing about staying in Ayers Rock is that everyone that is there is either there as an employee or as a tourist. There is no other reason to be there. I saw the family that sat in the row in front of us on the plane every single day. They stayed at the same hotel we were at, ate at the same restaurants were swimming at the pool when we were and went to the Rock the same time we did. It was a bit strange, but at a place like this you just bump into the same people all the time – there is nowhere else to go.

The rock itself is quite impressive. Driving toward the National Park, all of sudden you just see it off in the distance. It was about a 15 minute drive from the resort. Are you kidding me with these blue skies?

And now this is what confused me most about the experience: To Climb or not to Climb, that is the question. A little history lesson first: (from wikipedia) 

  [ On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of    Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the Aṉangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. The Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, population of approximately 300, is located near the eastern end of Uluru. From Uluru it is 17 km (11 mi) by road to the tourist town of Yulara, population 3,000, which is situated just outside of the national park. ]

So, with this being said, there are 2 schools of thought: as per the Aborigines, DO NOT CLIMB THE ROCK. But as you enter the National Park and pay your $25 per adult, there is a sign on the side of the tiny building that reads “CLIMB OPEN TODAY.” Huh? While reading the pamphlet, there is a little more explanation as to why they don’t want you to climb it – they don’t want you to get hurt. Apparently at least 35 people have died climbing the rock, so they just want you to be safe. I totally get this, but I don’t understand why there are mixed messages. More from Wikipedia (I just love that site)

 

[Sign informing tourist that the climb is closed

Climbing Uluru is a popular attraction for visitors. A chain handhold added in 1964 and extended in 1976 makes the hour-long climb easier, but it is still a long (800 m/0.5 mi) and steep hike to the top, where it can be quite windy. It is recommended individuals drink plenty of water whilst climbing, and those who are unfit, suffer from vertigo or medical conditions restricting exercise, do not attempt it. Climbing Uluru is generally closed to the public when high winds are recorded at the top. There have been at least 35 deaths relating to recreational climbing since such incidents began being recorded.

The local Aṉangu do not climb Uluru because of its great spiritual significance. They request that visitors do not climb the rock, partly due to the path crossing a sacred traditional Dreamtime track, and also due to a sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors. The visitors guide says “the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Anangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing.”

On 11 December 1983, Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised to hand back the land title to the Aṉangu traditional owners and agreed to the community’s 10-point plan which included forbidding the climbing of Uluru. However, the government set access to climb Uluru and a 99-year lease, instead of the previously agreed upon 50-year lease, as conditions before the title was officially given back to the Aṉangu.

In 2009, the Australian government indicated that climbing Uluru may no longer be allowed under the proposed “Draft Management Plan 2009-2019”. The public has been invited to comment on the plan prior to submission to the Minister for the Environment.

On 8 October 2009, the Talinguru Nyakuntjaku viewing area opened to public visitation. The AU$21 million project about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) on the east side of Uluru involved design and construction supervision by the Aṉangu traditional owners, with 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) of roads and 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) of walking trails being built for the area. ]

Either way, I wasn’t going to climb the rock, besides the fact that I had Jake in the pram, I was happy to just wander around it and take photos at the bottom. Craig took Cameron up and got some amazing photos, so it was well worth it for them. There were many parts around the walk with signs saying NO PHOTOS as the particular area was Sacred and you are prohibited from taking pictures. I found this interesting and wondered how many people really honored their wishes (for the record, I did.)

The next day we ventured over to Kata Tjuta aka The Olgas. There is no climbing, you can just walk around it. We walked to the first lookout, to the Valley of the Winds. This day seemed to be hotter than the one before, but probably because we arrived there at noon, so the winds were very welcome indeed. We hung out up there for a while, just checking out the scenery, the birds, enjoying the cool winds and choosing the best rocks with the boys.

The absolute best part of our 5 day holiday was celebrating Craig’s birthday at a dinner called The Sounds of Silence. This by far was the most interesting dining experience I have ever had. We got a babysitter for the boys (this is very common on all the holidays we have been on, and is something I doubt I would have ever done in the US, not sure if they even offer it in the States?) and set off on the bus to the middle of nowhere with a fantastic view of Uluru at sunset. It was something else to watch the colors of the rock change as the sun got lower and lower, and then to be led over the dunes to the sounds of the didgeridoo and to our tables for a delicious meal under the star filled sky. And how many stars there were! Of course we saw the Southern Cross and the startalker also pointed out Mars and Jupiter. He pointed out several more and even had a telescope for us to check them out up close. All in all, this was a great way to celebrate Craig’s birthday, and he even got a phone call from his parents & brother which made his night – amazing that his phone had service!

I think I will end my longest post ever with this: we came, we saw, we went to the Outback. And no, there were no bloomin’ onions!

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Responses

  1. Great photos! Looks quite spectacular. So would you say this is a “must see?” I’d like to go, just not sure if it is worth doing (especially since we have a newborn)!

  2. Very interesting, educational post. Sounds like a wonderful experience. I’ll check out all the links you have provided to learn more about the area. We were so glad that we were able to speak with Craig to wish him Happy Birthday. As you said, amazing that he had phone service in the middle of nowhere!

  3. It sounds UNBELIEVABLE!!! What a great memory to have from your time in AU.


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