Australia Trip Day 4 and 5: The Outback

We woke up, had a leisurely breakfast in Cairns and then flew into Ayers Rock/Uluru airport in the outback of Australia.

The plan flight was uneventful, but once we got near Uluru everyone in the plane got a little more excited as the big red monolith of a rock could be seen from the plane window. It was Uluru/Ayers Rock.

I am still flabbergasted by the size and the vibrant red color that seems to appear out of the desert. The low scrub brush and small desert trees are simply dwarfed by Uluru. So after that minor heart palpitation, we took a shuttle to our hotel, checked in, and were off to the races for our evening sunset tour of Kata Tjuta.

Many of you have probably never  heard of Kata Tjuta, so let me give you a short primer. It is another rock formation close to Uluru that is made up of rocks that are different than Uluru but still glow with the same vibrant red in the morning and in the evening. Kata Tjuta is actually made up of 36 individual peaks and looks more like a miniature mountain range (whereas Uluru looks like one very large mountain).  What’s particularly amazing is that there isn’t such a huge formation like this jutting out from the dessert landscape anywhere else–flat for as far as the eyes can see across the outback except for these two formations.

So back to the tour … We had booked a tour of Kata Tjuta to do some hiking, hear some stories about how these rocks were formed, and of course enjoy the sunset colors.

The hiking was great through the Valley of the Winds with wonderful views up close and personal of the rock formations and the various outback plants. We also learned that the Aborigines had uses for almost every plant in the outback no matter how deadly they looked at first glance.

<<please note what I is wearing! yes that is a jacket.  August is middle of winter down under, and it was especially cold in the outback.  Even with hiking, I still had my jacket on>>

After the hiking we headed back to the bus and then off to the sunset viewing area where we enjoyed a glass of sparking wine and soaked up the palette of colors on the canvas of Kata Tjuta.

 It really is a surreal experience to view the pictures after the fact and note just how different the colors were at various intervals.

The night was finished off with a buffet at the hotel including crocodile, kangaroo, emu, and some other more ordinary food like chicken, beef, and salads.

Day 5 of our trip had an rough start. The night before we had confirmed at the front desk that our sunrise tour pickup would be at 6am sharp. So we set the alarm for an early morning and woke up on time at 5:30am. We quickly put our warm clothes on (as it was 3 degrees Celsius or 37 degrees Fahrenheit that morning) and got down to the hotel lobby at 5:50am. We were quite proud of our ten minute early arrival and only slightly dismayed to see no one else in the lobby except two Japanese couples.

When the tour bus arrived at 6:05am to pick up the Japanese couples we inquired with the guide about the English tour. She said “oh they already left for sunrise at 5:45am. Were you supposed to be with them?” We of course looked at her with disbelief and said something like “Of course, because we don’t speak Japanese and didn’t get up this early in morning just to sit in the hotel lobby”.

The tour guide was kind enough to take us on her tour bus to the sunrise viewing area and connect us with the English tour, but the first 30 minutes of my morning were in Japanese (kind of felt like work in Singapore). I do know ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Japanese so the ride to sunrise at Uluru was explained by the tour guide like this. ‘Hello … jargon, jargon, jargon … crazy white people in the front missed their bus … jargon, jargon, jargon … thank you.’ <<we’re still laughing about it>>

After arriving at the impressive sunrise viewing area, with platforms and LED lighting on the pathways, Carrie and I chugged hot chocolate, ate some biscuits and raced for a good viewing spot. Luckily Carrie is a tall white girl (compared to our original tour group) and got some good photos <>. I on the other hand was soaking up the experience and still trying to understand whether I could use any of the last 30-mins of Japanese at work, but I doubt my boss cares that I can say ‘red rock’ in Japanese.

Sunrise in the Desert

 Again seeing the rock change colors dramatically over a short span really was an amazing experience and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Sunrise at Uluru with Kata Tjuta in the background

 After the sunrise we got on the English tour bus to depart for some hiking around Uluru and a brief visit to the cultural center. When I say English I mean the language as the tour consisted of two American couples, including us, 8 couples from Italy, Spain, Germany, and about 3 couples from Australia or Britain. Yet everyone spoke English fairly well. Yes, we as native English speakers are spoiled travelers, but I will take it.

The hike around Uluru much like the tour of Kata Tjuta was wonderful. Being up close to UluruUluru and some of the stories associated with Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Very
interesting indeed.

The afternoon was at leisure and our evening was capped off by a wonderful experience called “Sounds of Silence”, which if you ever go to the outback you HAVE to do this. It was a dinner in the middle of the outback, under the vast sky, where we started off with a glass of sparkling wine while watching sunset over Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta. We then enjoyed the sound of the didgeridoo while eating a delicious buffet dinner.  The stars came out and as we were outside (under heaters) it was amazing to look up and see completely unrecognizable constellations. You could see everything because there was no cities anywhere nearby to generate light pollution.  It was at this point, that a resident astronomer (planned part of the dinner events) had the staff turn off all lighting (except for the dull glow of the heaters) and we let our eyes adjust as he guided us through the Southern Hemisphere night sky. We learned about some of the local aboriginal legends, the southern cross (and how to determine due south), and various constellations at which I was amazed I could actually see the characters they were describing being outlined in the stars (…or maybe it was the free flow wine).  It was a magical night: bundled up for warmth, delicious food, free flow wine, the beautiful outback landscape and the magnificent southern night sky. 

It was remarkable to see sights that people in the Northern Hemisphere will never
see and to really feel like we were down under.

Sunset and Champagne (noticing a theme)
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