For a long time Uluru was referred to by its European name, Ayers Rock, only recently reverting back to its aboriginal name in 1993. It has a huge draw for tourists and locals alike, hundreds of thousands a year visiting on day tours or camping trips, but the area is still a deeply spiritual location for the aboriginals of the area, the Anangu. The aboriginals believe that in the beginning of time creator spirits carved the landscape, and Uluru holds significant meaning in the history of their people who have a direct connection with these creator spirits. Every mark on the rock from erosion to algae growth has an educational tale or folk lore to explain it. Ceremonies are still held in particularly sacred areas, where they ask you not to take pictures. People used to climb the rock, and some still do, but most choose not to out of respect for the beliefs and wishes of the Anangu.
My trip to Uluru was a 3 day, 2 night camping tour with Emu Run Tours. I paid $350 all inclusive. Hugh was our guide/driver and he was wonderful; part time tour operator, part time anthropologist, and expert BBQ chef, we could not have asked for a better or more knowledgable guide. We got an early start from Alice Springs on day 1. The drive to Uluru was something like 5 hours, but was broken up by a few short stops at a camel farm and bird sanctuary, and a bar where we could buy booze for camp. Here is an interesting fact that I didn't know before: Australia has a pretty huge wild camel population. So much so that people were once given license to hunt them, similar to our deer hunting season in the US.
Camp was easy to set up since we were basically just sleeping on the ground in canvas swags under what should have been a starry sky. The weather since leaving Darwin had been terrible, rainy, cold and generally overcast. I was a little worried about getting rained on during the night but more excited then anything, and besides Hugh assured us that the swags would protect us, and if things got really bad the eating area at our camp had a roof over it. Once we were set up we took off for our hike around Uluru. We started at the cultural center to learn some history and cultural lore about the landlocked island. There is now a council made up of half aboriginal people and half westerners who manage the site and assure that visitors treat it with care and respect. It was all very interesting, and I could have spent much more time there, but I was also eager to begin our hike around the base. The rock itself is magnificent. It just rises out of the flat red earth, in a huge, smooth mass. Its not until you get up close that you notice the beautiful, natural blemishes carved into its seemingly smooth facade. It's comprised mainly of sandstone and has the most spectacular erosion marks, forming caves, holes, and crevasses, which as I mentioned earlier, each have a story or spiritual meaning associated with it. Green algae and black water marks from dried water falls contrast with the deep redish brown stone in such an unnatural way that you almost begin believing the Anangu tales of how they came to be. Part of our walk was guided, we drove around another part, and then got to take a large area at our own pace at the end. I think we were there for 3-4 hours in total. Then we all gathered back into the van to head to a lookout point to enjoy the sunset over the rock and sip champagne. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans and decided not to grace us with the famous Uluru sunset. We only just barely got to see the top of the stone painted with the setting sun, but that was it. So we returned to camp a little disappointed. Things turned around though at camp when everyone chipped in to make a delicious stir fry meal on the BBQ and the group started really coming together, regardless if our language barriers. Bedtime was particularly exciting as we nestled into our swags in the open air right beside fresh dingo tracks. The night was cold, but the canvas swags kept me toasty warm, and dry, even though it did start drizzling a little during the night.
We rose early the next morning so we could travel to our next location in time for the sunrise. Kata Tjuta is another similar rock formation to Uluru, except that it is made up of several large rocks with deep valleys and more foliage and fauna. Again, the weather did not cooperate and at 7AM the sky remained dark as night under cloud cover. We decided at around 7:30 to just begin our 3 hour trek around the site, and despite the overcast weather and chilly wind it was a gorgeous walk. Some parts were challenging, but it was mainly pleasant and relaxing as we tried spotting wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies and parakeets. By noon we were back at camp, enjoying lunch and packing up to head to our next campsite closer to our third and final location, Kings Canyon.
The next morning we got up early once again to try to catch the sunrise over Kings Canyon, but Mother Nature had more tricks up her sleeve, because even though we could still see the starry sky when we left camp, by the time we arrived at the canyon the clouds rolled on in, blocking our view once again. Bah!
The hike however around Kings Canyon ended up being my favorite part of our 3 day tour. The weather did end up clearing as the day went on and we got a little bit of sun which was a nice change, but the sights along the canyon walls and into the deep gorges were simply spectacular! By noon we had finished our hike, and after a quick lunch began our long ride back to
Alice Springs. Later that evening just about our whole group got back together at a local bar to reminisce and say farewell. Great group, great time in an amazing place out in the middle of no where.