I’d like to say I woke at the crack of dawn, but I didn’t. I woke well before that. Pitch black and 5.30am (not that early for me, but ridiculous for the kids) and tried not to make too much noise. I was getting organised for a number of hours at Uluru however, and putting the bikes on the rack so probably not too successful on the quiet front. Within half an hour though, a good third of the campsite was up and leaving too, off to see the sunrise. A tourism mecca. The sunrise platform is a fair way further around, of course, than the sunset viewing area, and by the time we arrived, there were already hundreds of people. In the dark, and with only a few green lights leading the way, we went the wrong way around a path and wondered why no one else was around. Turns out if we had gone the other way at the ’T junction’ of the path, we would have got to the proper platform a lot sooner. As it was, we got there when the signs of first light were appearing on the horizon and there were already tonnes of people milling around, cameras out at the ready. Again the sky was incredibly cloudy and I knew we would be lucky to have the sun come out from behind them.
The dawn arrived and along with it, a beautiful pink hue in the clouds over Uluru. It was so beautiful. Who needs clear skies, I found the clouds far more dramatic, especially with Kata Tjuta in the background. Finally, in much the same way as the night before, the sun peeked out for just a few minutes from behind the intense cloud and shone on the rock on the far right side and then highlighted a section on top, which I thought made it look like the spine of a giant beast. It was mesmerising.
Now I realise I too am a tourist, and I am one of the culpable ones that stream here, but I would have killed to be alone out here, or with just a select few. Soooo many people. So many cameras. It really does take away a little of the majesty of it for me, this rock in the wilderness no more. The Resort is so full on, the tours so expensive. It just seems out of place for me to see these massive AAT coaches pulling in and out all day long, loading and offloading hundreds of people. I think some places are special because not many people either know about, or care to visit them. I have a favourite place in Western Australia and I love being up there, either alone or with just a couple of others. You really can have the place to yourself. It makes you feel like you’re the first explorers, you’re the one finding your way. Have we gone too far in the need for the almighty dollar?
Anyway, sunrise gave us the brief window of beauty and the hordes drove (or were driven) back to the hotel. Just a few hung around, us included, to explore Uluru at first light. We grabbed our bikes and hit the road. It was a 2km cycle down the Liru walk to the Mala carpark, where we had taken our sunset walk the night before. The Liru walk was surprisingly lush and green and we rode under tree canopies and between long grasses.
Coming into the Mala carpark, we realised Tobes had a flat rear tyre and he said that he would run. It was nearly 11km around the base but I figured I could hop off the bike and give him a turn whilst I ran for a bit. It was pretty fun and he had some good interval training racing me and Charlie, whilst I stopped to take the odd pic. We saw hordes of people in a tour group coming in the other direction (possibly the Desert Awakenings Tour - not sure why you would pay money for this, when it is very easy to walk around yourself and read the signs to educate yourself on the Aboriginal tales surrounding various sites, but my own humble opinion! Perhaps there is no other way to do it if you do not have transport to Uluru? I am not sure). After about 3km, Tobes swapped with me and took over on my bike and I started to run. I got a lot of strange looks from walkers coming in the other direction! I was one of only two runners. Another woman was running around with her partner next to her on a bike. It is an easy, flat run and with loads to look at on the way! Bonus for training :) I have stupidly signed up for a 24 track event in August, only two weeks after we return, so I better get into training more, but it is so hard. I am just so tired at the end of each day; either driving or sightseeing and dealing with the kids with no other support. It is quite draining. The running whilst they are bike riding seems to work well so hopefully I can incorporate that a bit more as we go. The 7.5km I did back to the Mala carpark felt easy enough so I’m glad I hadn’t lost too much fitness in the past couple of months.
I highly recommend the base walk. Most of the time we were by ourselves, it was peaceful and tranquil and we saw all angles of the rock up close. A standout was the waterhole at the back. So quiet and lovely and drew a gasp out of me when I looked at the reflection. Just a stunning place. I could have sat there and stayed a while, but a tour group came through so we left to have some time to ourselves again.
After arriving after our lap at the Mala carpark, we headed the 2km back to the Cultural Centre where we had left the car. We overtook an older couple and got in trouble for riding our bikes ‘on the walk track’ as was pointed out to us as we rode past. Immature, big mouth me yelled ‘actually bikes are allowed too, they hire them out!’ back to him as I passed with a big grin. I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut on such occasions. Gets me into trouble sometimes!
Back at the Cultural Centre, the boys ‘schooling’ began for the day as we walked around and learned about the history of the area, some of the language and bush tucker. It really is well worth a visit. Toby got rather embarrassed that I left a rather large scathing note in the ‘I did not climb the rock’ book. Just a few words on why they don’t just ban climbing Uluru, the lure of the tourism dollar keeps it open etc etc. Only a paragraph, no major essay. But seriously. I read somewhere that they would close the climbing down in the future, once they had enough facilities and attractions to make sure they did not lose tourists. If they put any more attractions in that place it will be far too much. I really don’t understand. If the board is made up of a majority Anangu people, and they don’t want people to climb, perhaps something needs to be done about it.
A great coffee and amazing orange cake at the little cafe at the Cultural Centre after our amazing base walk/ride/run! I couldn’t believe it was only 11am - we had done so much already!
A lazy afternoon loomed ahead and we swam in the pool and lounged around at the Pioneer Hotel round the corner, as the campground pool was under maintenance in the ‘low season’. I use that term very loosely considering the amount of people around!
Torn between doing the astronomy tour on the clear night, and trying again for the sunset, we decided to go on the tour. It was very reasonably priced - I was cheapish and the kids were FREE - and I thought it would be a good Science lesson so off we went after a quick meal of very cheap sandwiches (freshly made and yummy) from the IGA at the Town Centre. We pretty much cooked all our own meals or bought cheap stuff from the supermarket because of the crazy prices in the area.
The tour was great, we all learned something and we got to see Saturn and Jupiter and the almost full moon through the awesome telescopes. Since the moon was bright, the Milky Way wasn’t as evident, but as it was such a clear night, we got to see some amazing things. I think we all enjoyed it immensely, and it was only an hour, so an easy ‘lesson’! Definitely a highlight for me. It is one of the best places in the country to see the night sky, especially on the right night.
Our past couple of days have had the first real tetchiness between us. I have read it takes a few weeks to get used to being together and being on the road; one friend told me 7 weeks for her family. I don’t know if I can wait that long. The teenager is giving me a bit of grief and we butt heads a bit. Hopefully it will all work itself out but for now, he’s taking time out for himself whilst I take Charlie to Kata Tjuta today. Yep that was the polite way of putting it. His choice, not mine. He’s getting old enough now to starting making his own decisions, but there is a line. He has mentioned he wants to fly home from Darwin, but I am hoping that will blow over. Perhaps he is just missing his friends and school. It is definitely harder with high schoolers, although I don’t know how I would do this without him as he does help me a lot. I can’t even put the awning up alone, it is a 2 person job! Fingers crossed it all works out and we are just getting used to being together 24/7. This is the last chance I have to be on a long holiday with him. It’s upper school soon and then he’ll want to holiday with his mates, not me. He probably does already, but he doesn’t have a choice at the moment. I’m a bit sad as he was so excited initially about the trip and a lot of our destinations have been planned around the birds and wildlife that he wants to see. Arrrghh, mothers of teenage boys, I’m sure will relate to the grunting (if I get an answer at all), the stubbornness and passive aggressive backtalk. Sigh.
After an easy morning, the younger child and moi headed out to Kata Tjuta, which is further drive away but a necessary visit. I would have loved to walk the Valley of the Winds walk but at over 7km and rocky, it was an improbability with an 8 year old who hates hiking. He whinged the whole way to the lookout (2km return) and was only slightly better on the Walpa Gorge walk (2.5km return). I will have to come back to do it sans-whinging and to finish the Valley walk. It looked amazing. I didn’t think the sunset viewing area was anything to write home about, but we stopped at the sunrise viewing platform on the dunes and it was absolutely magnificent. The panorama was spectacular and on a clearer day (cloudy and showers today!!) the photographs would have looked like a painting. Definitely the best view from here. Again, when I come back, sunrise from this platform would be magnificent. Far less people should be out here than Uluru, so I would say that is your best bet.
When we got back, the teenager’s sullenness had disappeared as he had been following a resident dingo around all afternoon, taking photographs and watching its antics. We got on our bikes and watched it go around the campsite, they are truly beautiful to watch, but watch your pet dogs in the campground, as one lady found out whilst she was walking hers. Nothing major, but the dogs had a go at each other and the poor woman was probably quite stressed about it by herself in the dunes behind the campground. Her partner ran in to shoo it away and all escaped unscathed, but it’s not somewhere to keep your dogs unsupervised. We were all very excited to see the dingoes (another one popped up later in the evening). Such an iconic Aussie. Toby's shots from Yulara below:
I thought since it was our last night and everyone was good tempered (amazing!), we would go to the Pioneer Bar at the hotel next door to the campground and have a go at their DIY BBQ thingy. You can just have a salad bar meal (inc dessert), or add on a huge variety of meat, mostly Australian. Toby had crocodile sausages (very tasty, I liked it better than chicken), Charlie had a homemade beef burger and I had the barramundi. All were very good and the all you can eat salad bar meant the meal was actually a fairly reasonable price. You did cook the meat yourself on the ‘ready to go’ BBQs but it was easy done and at least I didn’t have to clean up! I had heard some bad reviews on TripAdvisor but I found it quite good and the staff were extremely helpful and friendly. A great experience.
I was looking forward to getting to Kings Canyon the next day, it was time to hit the road again.