Uluru & Kata Tjuta – The land of the Anangu people

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I landed in Ayers Rock. This place, almost completely cut off from “civilization,” as we call it, was like nothing I had ever seen. The outback. The middle of nowhere. The land of the Anangu people.

Basically, I was picturing very poor living conditions, no cell reception, and no air conditioning. To my (pleasant) surprise, all those assumptions were completely wrong! There was air conditioning everywhere – unlike India – and the living conditions were very nice, where the government had built what is now known as Ayers Rock Resort. There is cell reception and wifi available all throughout the town, but it starts to get weak as you drive further away.

Good enough for me, I was just keeping my fingers crossed I would be able to communicate with my family! The connection was even better than I had in Sydney actually. It wasn’t perfect but I had less trouble hearing Max the first few times I called. The wifi wasn’t the greatest, but luckily, 8GB of data on my cell phone is MORE than enough to do all sorts of internet browsing.

When I arrived at my hotel, I went straight to the reception to try to get into my room ASAP. What I hadn’t known – or just completely misunderstood – was that check in wasn’t guaranteed until 3PM. Damn, that’s late. I arrived around a little past 1PM, so lots of waiting. Luckily, as I mentioned, everywhere has air conditioning, so at least I wasn’t suffering through that afternoon dry heat.

I went to grab lunch right away – my stomach was growling! There were a lot less solo travellers here, I noticed. Most people travelled in pairs, and did not seem as friendly as most people I had met/talked to in Sydney. No one approached me, no one smiled as I passed them wondering if I could grab a seat with them. Not the end of the world, I just sat alone and ate quietly.

By 3PM, I was finally able to get into my (air conditioned) room. Huzzah! Mostly, I just wanted to lie down. As I walked into the 4 bed female dorm, I met one of my roommates, whose named I later remembered was Molly – Dear God, I need to make better mental notes of people’s names! We talked for a bit, and I learned that she was from New York, studying in Massachusetts. She was travelling with her friend Jared, who was in another room on the grounds. They had booked their Uluru/Kata Tjuta tour with Uluru Express, which was exactly the company I had planned to book, so I asked if it would be alright if I tagged along with them tonight. She said that would be alright, but to make sure I could get on for the 4PM tour if I wanted to head out at the same time as them. So I headed back to the reception to get all that booked and then got ready right away to head out!

The shuttle driver was super nice and informative on the way over. He explained that this past year had been the period of time where they had gotten the most rain since anyone can remember. Apparently one day after Christmas, the amount of rainfall in one day was equivalent to the usual annual rainfall!! Now that’s a lot of rain! So as we looked out the windows of the shuttle bus, we could see that most plants and trees were actually not yellow like in most photos of the area, but almost all green!

But that wasn’t even the most beautiful part. We shortly thereafter started driving by Uluru itself, the infamous giant red rock in the centre of the Australian outback. Simply spectacular.

Then it was time to start the drop-offs. There were three different spots where you could be dropped off to either do a short walk, do a long walk, or check out the Cultural Centre. I was happy my roommate and her friend wanted to go to the Cultural Centre because I definitely wanted to learn more about the meaning of Uluru and its history because I started walking all around it.

Basically, the cultural centre is where it’s at. There is a TON of information about Ayers Rocks (Uluru) and The Olgas (Kata Tjuta). There are videos, drawings, and loads and loads of posters with interesting historical facts. Mostly, it all focuses around the fact that these amazing sandstone rock formations were sacred to the indigenous people of the land and held very important cultural meaning. I couldn’t possibly recall all the details, but there was this amazing story written throughout the building, explaining the story of the protector snake and its enemies, as well as the travels and journeys of their ancestors and how they became the keepers of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Unfortunately, the government seized possession of these cultural landlmarks, despite the fact that it was already known as a National Park. According to one website – because no, I did not memorize all these facts by looking at all those poster during my very short visit – it took the Anangu over 35 years of hard work to be finally recognized as the keepers of the land. It was only in 1985 that they received the deed back to their own land. Pretty sad story, but at least it all worked out for them in the end.

After a very thorough look through the cultural centre – and a very obvious employee who was waiting to leave, come on people – my new friends headed out the door where I had been waiting for them and we made our way to the nearest trail back to the base of Uluru. I believe it was called the Mira Walk, and although there appeared to be a sign saying something along the lines of “Trail Closed,” we had no other way of joining the shuttle unless we walked to the base of Uluru so we took our chances.

Holy crap. You would think that in that kind of heat – somewhere between 32 and 40 degrees celsius – that flies would die off. No, apparently not! They were buzzing all around us the entire walk. Both Molly and Jared walked behind me, and I was starting to wonder if I was the only one getting attacked, wondering how ridiculous I must look if it isn’t also happening to them. So I turned around quickly only to see them swinging their arms as fast as possible, looking just as silly as me.

Luckily, the shuttle driver was right when he said the walk wasn’t much more than a 20 minute hike. We stopped to take pictures once or twice – thank you to Jared for the only picture of me on my camera that is not a selfie! Then we had to play the waiting game once we reached Uluru, and try to avoid the flies until the shuttle bus came by.

Side note: these are completely harmless black flies. They are just annoying is all.

The shuttle arrived a few moments later and we all hoped in as fast as we could. The air conditioning was a “warm” welcome – HA, did you like my joke there?! – during the short ride from the base of Uluru to the sunset viewing area.

The shuttle driver parked the bus and we all got out to walk around and see the different hues of color change as the sun slowly sank down and created beautiful shadows all along the horizon. I took a few shots – ok, more than a few – and then made my way back to the bus because I just could not stand the flies anymore. I was the first one back so I sat near the door and started chatting with the driver – who’s name I later found out is Simon. We talked for a while about the regions and the sights and whatnot, and it was so interesting listening to him talk about it even though he had only been here for a few months. He was from Darwin and had just moved here to work for a while, and apparently did some photography. He started talking about this amazing shot he got of a completely red sunset that happened not too long ago, but unfortunately he couldn’t show me because his phone had died earlier. I was a little disappointed, and hoped I would run into him again before I left the area.

And then it was all over, just like that! The sun had set, it was time to head back. What I hadn’t realize though was how much time had gone by! Jesus. By the time we got back to the town, it was already past 8PM and I didn’t have anything to eat. Honestly, I was so friggen tired I was just going to skip dinner and go straight to bed. But my new friends told the driver they would like to get off at the town square/IGA and so apparently that was enough to convince me to get off. I started walking towards where I had been told the grocery store was, only to turn around and find out that my new “friends” had not followed me. They must have gone to a restaurant or something for dinner. Dang. I guess I was back to being alone.
I treated myself a little more during this visit to the grocery store. I bought myself some fruit loops – they were on sale, stop judging me! – some milk, some tuna, a small pack of bread (not sliced – frig), a banana, some cookies, and one of those instant noodle pack things.

I was able to stuff everything into my backpack and walk down to where the local bus would stop hopefully sooner rather than later. I had no idea where I was/how to get back to my hotel otherwise, so I waited silently on a bench, soon joined by many others. I must have JUST missed the last bus’ passing because I waited a good 10-15 minutes. I got on the bus with my stuff and looked out to make sure I didn’t miss my stop.

Back at the hotel, I unloaded all my things in the shared kitchen, heated up some water really quickly in the microwave, poured it into my noodle pack thing and went straight to my room. There, I gobbled it all up and, too lazy to return to the kitchen, I laid it down on the floor and went straight to bed.

Next morning was a super early rise from bed, since I had booked to go see the sunrise at Kata Tjuta! The bus pick-up was scheduled for 5:15AM so I made sure to get there a little early and met up with Molly and Jared, who I knew were heading out to the same spot. Unfortunately, the bus drive was not the same as the night before, and for some reason I think he loved his air conditioning because it was FREEZING on the bus! I was some glad I brought my sweater, jeez.

It was a longer drive out to Kata Tjuta – or Katuh Jou-dah as the Australians seem to pronounce it. Ok, it’s probably not that bad, but I swear I had no idea what the driver was saying until I heard him say it the tenth time. Anyway, it was a longer drive, and I was pretty happy to get out of the bus when we arrived. Pretty sure my glasses fogged up.

We all got out at the sunrise viewing area, and I got some pretty nice shots. Definitely very different lighting than sunset, and it was cool because you could see Uluru from where we were, so you could watch the sun rise over both of them – although you had to look in two different directions, as they are not aligned with each other or the sun.

When our time was up, the bus driver called us all back in and we headed out to do one of the two hikes. I had chosen the shorter one, called Walpa Gorge. It was said to take one hour, whereas the longer hike, called Valley of the Winds, was more like 3-4 hours long, which meant you would be getting that hot heat from the late morning. I definitely didn’t want to perish in those temperatures so I picked the shorter one and said goodbye to Molly and Jared. I took my time doing the walk, although everyone else was actually stopping way more than me (for pictures). I got all the way to the end of the gorge and walked back to the parking lot. The bus driver had initially said we could definitely do the walk in 40 minutes, but my God, it had already been a full hour when I got back there, and I was the first one by far.

The bus driver waited for everyone to come back, and then we were off to the resort. It was almost lunch time so I made sure to go and make myself a tuna sandwich and eat the whole thing since I hadn’t been eating all that much. Then it was the great debate: do I spend time in the pool first, or shower first? Obviously, the right thing to do was pool first, but I wanted to shower so bad… I’m pretty sure I ended up going into the pool, into the shower, and then back into the pool!

I was debating going to try another Uluru hike that afternoon, but it was just SO HOT. I figured my body would prefer resting, and it’s not like I hadn’t seen most of it anyway. So I trusted my gut and I stayed at the hotel and relaxed until dinner time.

I snacked a bit but decided I would wait until after sunset to eat. And I was planning on going out to eat and using that free drink voucher I got when I checked in! All this heat makes me feel like I deserve a good cold beer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the sunset first!

So around 6PM is the pick-up time to just do the sunset viewing. I waited by the entrance and was happily surprised to see the same bus driver as the first night! I didn’t know if he would recognize me or not, so I waited in line to get my ticket checked and all that. But what do you know, he just glanced my way, smiled and said I could hop on.

The sunset viewing area was the same as last time, so I knew it would be a quick session for me, just trying to get different lighting and new angles on my last night there. I ran into this lady who was there by herself as well, and what a chatter-box! I wasn’t too sure how to slip away, she was asking so many personal questions about my life, my relationship, marriage, children, religion… jeez-o, gimme a break lady!

I somehow managed to end the conversation saying I wanted to take more pictures. I only took one shot and then darted back to the bus so I could talk to the driver again. But when I got there he seemed to be involved in another mundane tourist-y conversation that I didn’t want to take a part in, so I got in the bus and sat down in my usual “closest to the door” seat. A few seconds later, the driver pops by and says he wants to show me something. He hands me his phone, and I’m greeted by this GORGEOUS super bright red sunset over this super clear shot of Uluru. Wow. Like, take-your-breath-away kind of wow. And with his phone! I couldn’t believe it.

He showed me some other shots, and then he told me about this website he has where he puts up his creations – he also does photoshop work of movements using water and inanimate objects. Really cool stuff, and pretty disappointed other tourists kept interrupting – I didn’t get a chance to ask him to write down the website!

On the way back to the resort, the drive was actually super interesting, because these super dark ominous clouds started rolling in. And just like that, it starts pouring rain as we arrive into town!! Everyone that gets dropped off has to run inside, and it’s so funny to watch! I honestly couldn’t stop laughing as I myself tried to run out to my room at the hotel. Mostly I was running to get my camera to safety. Nothing else really mattered, so I went back out in the rain a little and man – when it rains, it pours over there! The ground quickly started flooding in lots of areas, but the rain then came to an abrupt stop. I didn’t get a chance to take a video, I was so hungry I went straight to the dining spot. It was a weird kind of all-you-can-eat salad bar where you pay for a main entrée (mine was veggie stir fry) and you had to cook it yourself. There was also this weird pear/apple cream/cobbler dessert thing, and that was pretty amazing. The beer was less than desirable though, so I didn’t even finish half and I left the rest there. Some of the salads were not up to par either, so a little disappointing, but I filled myself up nevertheless – probably a little bit too much.

I then made the mistake of going straight to bed. The next morning led to – obviously – a little tummy ache, but it didn’t persist for very long, and I was still in good shape to do another sunrise trip, this time to Uluru! It was the shortest morning trip and I knew I had to be back as early as possible to pack all my things and take the coach back to the airport for my next flight.

The sunrise was actually a little better than the first morning, so that was pretty great for nicer photos. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same driver so I never did get to ask him about his website. I suppose I’ll just have to content myself with my own photos.

We made it back to the resort super early actually, our driver made sure of it because two older gentleman had an early flight as well. We got back so early that I actually saw Molly & Jared take the coach that leaves before the one I was taking, although we didn’t actually say goodbye to each other. I guess that meant I had plenty of time to relax and make sure I had everything packed before my coach around 9:20AM.

And that was it, my trip to Ayers Rock was already coming to an end! But the great part is that there’s still SO much to look forward to, especially spending an entire week in Brisbane with Vanessa & Matt!!

 

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