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Visiting Ayers Rock In Central Australia -- Adventures In The Australia Red Centre
Australia's Most Famous Rock Star
When my husband and I took a trip to Australia, we just knew that we had to stop in Central Australia to see Ayers Rock. We'd seen plenty of photos of Australia's must-see landmark and were intrigued by the rusty, red landscape of the Outback and this giant boulder that sits right in the middle of it. The Australia Red Centre just seemed to intriguing to miss.
Well, none of the pictures of this monument (which the Aborigines call Uluru) even came close to doing the Australia Red Center justice. Uluru was beautiful, exotic, mysterious and surprised us with the many things that she came to unveil to us over the course of our stay in the desert.
Our first glimpse of Ayers Rock came when we were flying right over it as we landed at the nearby airport. The reddish land seemed to be as flat as can be, but then we suddenly saw Uluru emerging from the ground as if she were reaching for our plane. Even from the sky, we could appreciate her beauty and realized that this would be one of the most memorable sights in Australia that we'd have the honor of seeing.
But it was when we drove past the rock for the first time that my breath caught in my throat. Uluru isn't just a rock -- she's a masterpiece, like a sculpture in the Outback. We immediately began to understand why Uluru is sacred to the Aboriginal people.
The Many Moods Of Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Scenes From Uluru
Settling Into The Australia Outback
Plenty of Australia tours go to the Red Centre, but we rented a car so we could explore Ayers Rock by ourselves. One thing that we hadn't been prepared for is how EMPTY the Outback is. We've been to the United States Southwest several times and in some ways -- the red landscape, the dusty roads -- this reminded us of our visits to Utah and Arizona. However, even as you drive through the most isolated areas of Utah, you're bound to come across some little towns. Here, outside of the Uluru resort area, was nothing! We even passed a sign saying that if we needed gas for our car, we should get it there because the next station was about 1000 miles away. Yikes!
When you visit Uluru, you don't have that great a choice of hotels. The nearby resort town is made up of several lodging options, ranging from campsites to super-expensive places. But because they know that they have you, none of the options is cheap. We chose to stay at the Outback Pioneer Hotel And Lodge, which was listed as a budget hotel in Ayers Rock, but we were being charged $250 American per night for their least expensive rooms.
The Pioneer Hotel looked decent enough when we arrived, with well-kept buildings and a nice barbecuing area out back. However, when we got to our room, we got a surprise: we had bunk beds! We'd expected our quarters to be very basic since we weren't willing to shell out the big bucks for one of the suites, but we'd envisioned it being more like a Motel 6 -- not one step about camping. Plus, there were FOUR bunk beds -- did this mean that we'd be sharing?! We were pleased to see that the bathroom was clean and the shower worked well, but we both slept with one eye open that night for fear that our "roommates" would suddenly barge in. Thankfully, that never happened and we had the room to ourselves; we ended up using one of the extra bunk beds to store our luggage.
Uluru At Sunrise And Uluru's Waterholes
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Sightseeing In Uluru
Many people climb Ayers Rock, but we chose not to since the Anangu people view Uluru as a sacred entity and ask that tourists leave it be. Instead, we awoke at sunrise to take a guided tour around the rock.
Like everything else involving Ayers Rock, sunrise at Uluru captivated us with its beauty. It amazed us how this one rock could look so different, depending on the light that hit it. We also learned, as we got up close to it, that the Outback surrounding Uluru isn't as barren as we'd first believed. Ayers Rock is actually surrounded by shrub grass and small trees, making it look more like the savannah than an empty desert.
Once at the rock, we met up with our guide, who was one of the Anangu. As we circled the HUGE monument, we could see that Uluru isn't smooth at all; it bends and creases and is full of interesting-shaped cracks. To the Anangu, explained our guide, these marks in the rock read like a story; each crack or cavern in Uluru has a special, sacred meaning.
Hearing our guide's stories made the rock come alive from a mere hunk of stone to a character in its own right. As it turned out, though, Uluru literally is alive in some parts where water has collected over the millennia; in these pockets, larger trees grow and animals host.
As we walked, our guide filled us in on the types of food that his people eat, which is basically anything that is edible and not poisonous in the area. At one point, he spied some honey ants on the ground, so he picked one up and showed us which section was the tastiest -- he then had himself a snack and enjoyed some of these critters (we didn't join in, though!).
Later, we headed to the nearby Cultural Centre to learn more about the Aborigines and Anangu. We especially loved the beautiful artwork that they created, meant to depict "Dreamtime," the sacred era in which these ancestors' spirits formed The Creation. The swirls of paints and combinations of bright, earthy colors were simply mesmerizing.
The Olgas (Kata Tjuta)
Aerial View Of The Olgas And Uluru
Australia Red Centre - Kata Tjuta
Exploring The Olgas And Savoring The Uluru Sunset
Though Ayers Rock is the better-known natural wonder in Central Australia, there are actually two rock formations in the area, both of which are considered sacred by the Anangu. The Olgas (Kata Tjuta), which are about 15 miles away from Uluru, are these rounded series of rocks that look almost like a bunch of grapes in the desert.
After our tour with the Anangu guide ended and we'd checked out the Cultural Centre, we drove out to Kata Tjutu so we could see what Uluru's sister rock looked like. The Olgas were almost as impressive, especially since they have such an interesting form.
The Anangu also ask that you don't climb these rocks, but there is a marked trail that goes right through the center of the Olgas, that leads to a gorge. We hiked along it for a while, admiring the red and pink landscape around us. Because we were there in the winter, the weather was pleasant, but we were constantly being attacked by the black flies that came out in the midday sun. One woman whom we passed by on the trail wore what looked like a bee keeper's hat -- definitely a great idea!
After we'd finished our hike, we returned to our rental car and spent about an hour simply driving the road that goes around Ayers Rock (and got a kick out of seeing a "kangaroo crossing" sign along the way). Watching the Uluru sunset was particularly spectactular as each time we circled the rock, it would be another color. When we first drove past, it was a bright orange, but then it became rust, then pink and then a deep red.
Uluru-Kata Tjutu National Park Links
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End Of Our Uluru Adventure
Once the sun set and we could barely make out Ayers Rock in the distance, we headed back to the Outback Pioneer Hotel for an Aussie-style barbecue. Some of the hotels in the resort town had fancy restaurants, but we thought it would be nice to try some Australian cuisine.
By the time we reached the barbecue area, the outdoor tent was filled with families and backpackers. A cowboy sat on a stage, singing and playing the harmonica. We were offered a variety of meats to grill ourselves, including the standard chicken and beef, but we chose crocodile, kangaroo and emu meat. I enjoyed the emu, which tasted like slightly gamier turkey and my husband's favorite was the kangaroo. But while he liked the croc, I could barely take a bite of it without gagging.
Even so, we both acknowledged that this was one of the best dinners we'd ever had. The air was clean, everyone around us was happy and it was the perfect end to a wonderful day. Who knew that a rock could provide so much history and bring so many people together?