Here I was approaching the end of my 7th decade and still hadn’t been out to see Uluru (AKA Ayer’s Rock, or The Rock) in the Red Centre of OZ.
After a quick check of the budget and a decision made not to give anyone Christmas presents we were booked and off to “Touch the Silence”.
First up, we noticed something was definitely missing. But what?
Then a lightbulb went off – we realized there were no TRAFFIC LIGHTS or car horns blaring!
Desert Gardens Hotel – Ayers Rock Resort
Our Accommodation was at the Desert Gardens Hotel which is set among gardens with masses of Australian shrubs and flowers.
There’s a long list of organized tours available as well as many free activities such as:
Astronomy – Capturing the Cosmos.
Here you learn about black holes, dark energy and dark matter – now you’re an expert on everything space related.
Learn about the early culture of the local Anangu people. How they hunted, lived and collected valuable “bush tucker” for both food and medicinal purposes – everything from antiseptics to chest rubs for colds.
A walk through the gardens of the hotel with a guide turns you into an expert on what bush foods can be eaten (berries, figs etc.) You then morph into a pharmacist with a great insight into bush medicine at your fingertips.
Bush Food Experience
Watch “melt in your mouth” Wattle Seed Shortbread being made and then taste the end result – very special.
Here’s the Shortbread Recipe – just in time for Christmas
- 200g unsalted, softened butter. Lightly cream the soft butter and sugar
- 90gms icing sugar Mix in the egg yolk
- 1 egg yolk Fold in the flour, baking powder and seeds
- 250 gms plain flour Pre-heat oven at 190C (375F)
- 2 gms baking powder Bake for 15-18 mins until golden brown,
- 5 gms wattleseed Cool on a wire rack.
Resort Shuttle Bus
This was a convenient way to get around the massive Resort (which has three hotels, a self-contained apartment block, camping area (including cabins) and a Town Square which was a 10 minute walk.
The Square has an IGA Supermarket, two cafes, gift shops, bank, newsagent, Visitor Information Centre, Post Office and an Asian Takeway called “Ayers Wok”. Literally a small township.
The buses do the loop every 20 minute so there’s never a hold up.
Where to Eat
Each day we walked to the Town Square to have breakfast at the Kulata Academy Café which is staffed by indigenous trainees.
Total breakfast cost for two was $23 – what a bargain and served by such friendly and happy trainees.
Most evenings we enjoyed dinner at the Mangata Bistro and Bar (in the hotel). Really enjoyable meals at reasonable prices – considering that all food supplies need to be transported from Adelaide. World has it that three B-double trailers deliver food each week!! (NB – There’s several other restaurant choices at the neighbouring hotels)
There are 5 lookouts around the resort area, all which can be reached by shuttle bus. Our favourite was the Uluru Lookout – giving a perfect view of the giant monolith.
Colourful Landscape of Uluru
The kalaedescope of colours forming the landscape were a surprise (a nice one). Everywhere was so green, with patches of red soil showing through. The expectation had been in reverse – red soil with a couple of scrawny weeds poking out!
In December of 2016 the annual rainfall was received in one day. This added to another wet year (2017), has made for a very attractive and lush Outback.
Hot, Hot and Hotter!
Morning and late afternoons are definitely the best time to be walking. You can head out to the national park and walk around the Rock on your own. Car hire is available from the resort on a daily basis and there’s also the Hop On Hop Off Bus. (Different to the Shuttle Bus)
Keeping up the water intake is a must as it literally pours out of you – and it wasn’t even summer.
Tours that weren’t cancelled because of storms
Having five nights of storms and heavy rain threw a spanner in the works with pre-booked tours. But, with a shuffle here and there we managed to do everything except for the Sounds of Silence Dinner. (Keeping this for next time)
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) at Sunrise
A 3.30am start is a bit off-putting but definitely worth the effort.
We had a brilliant guide (Bruce) for this five hour sunrise tour with SEIT. Bruce had an incredible knowledge of the history, culture, spiritual legends and daily life of the Anangu who are the traditional owners of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and surrounding land.
We were blessed with a stunning sunrise looking over Kata Tjuta – what we usually call “The Olgas.”
Back on the small bus (9 of us) we drove out to Kata Tjuta for a hike through the overwhelming Walpa Gorge in the Valley of the Winds. Let me tell you they’d named that place right – I was so pleased I wasn’t wearing a wig!
Uluru Camel Ride at Sunset
That same afternoon saw me making a very nervous ascent into the saddle of Tjani, a very chatty Drumodary camel. He was definitely a happy camel who lives in five star camel luxury at the Uluru Camel Farm along with 60 other working camels.
Did you know there are one million camels wandering around this big country of ours! Thank goodness they don’t all come to town at once!
Here we were, 10 feet off the ground, in the middle of an approaching storm and lighting strikes! While the other 20 people were all oohing and aahing over the lightshow, I was busy thinking up a strategy to get off the camel and hide underneath him!
I joke too much! Being in that remarkable landscape with nothing but silence, the sunset and plodding of camel hoofs will be committed to memory for ever.
We arrived back at the Uluru Camel Farm just as the first big drops of rain fell and the storm hit. Didn’t matter – we were under cover by then, swapping stories of our dune ride and enjoying a glass of bubbles and snacks to celebrate our incredible experience.
Field of Light at Sunrise
Storms caused the sunset dinner to be cancelled but this was substituted with another sunrise tour the next day. Yes, up at 3.30am again!
You arrive at the field in darkness and wander through 50,000 coloured lights on stems, waist high. These are continually changing – giving the impression of a shimmering field of light. Bruce Munro, internationally renowned British artists is the brain child behind the venture.
Tripods weren’t allowed, so clear photos were difficult. I managed to use someone’s head for a photo, but the clarity wasn’t crash hot. The idea apparently, is to enjoy the experience and forget about photos.
The top of the dunes offered terrific views of another sunrise over Uluru with Kata Tjua in the distance. Holding a hot cup of coffee while drinking in the views was again, very special.
Uluru at Sunset
At last the time had arrived to get up close and personal to this world famous monolith that’s already enjoyed 400 million plus birthdays.
Would you believe, the large dome of rock we see sticking out of the ground at 348m high is only a small part of The Rock. There’s another 7 or 8 kilometres underground!
(By comparison the Eiffel Tower is only 324m to its very pointy tip…)
I decided then and there to be a geologist in my next life – such a fascinating field of work.
We had two walks (quite long) around the base stopping at various gorges, waterholes and caves with rock paintings explaining the Anangu culture that dates back 5,000 plus years.
After three hours it was off to a viewing platform for champagne again (no complaints from me) and more delicious bush tucker nibbles. The silence while waiting for the sunset gave time to reflect on this (probably) once-off experience at Uluru in the unique Red Centre.
Flowers of the Bush
Being a hopeless fanatic with flowers, I felt the need to stick in a photo of the Sturt Desert Rose (LINK), the emblem of The Northern Territory. You’d expect to see this exquisite flower alongside orchids in a hot house, not in the middle of the desert!
Dot Painting Workshop
This very meaningful, and fun exercise, was held on the last morning. After having all the Aboriginal graphic symbols and meanings explained – it was our turn to create a story. After completing our masterpieces our stories were told to the group. (I’m sure I heard a few chuckles about mine!)
The strange thing was, not one painting or story was even remotely alike! Except… every masterpiece had a Witchety Grub featured.
After six days Uluru felt like a second home – we wanted to stay longer! But, all to soon, we climbed aboard the airport bus taking with us a greater appreciation of the Anangu people and “Dreamtime” – the essence of their society, culture, traditions and spirituality.
- Water bottle
- Hat – broad brimmed
- Walking Shoes
- Bandana to stop sunburn on your neck
- Fly veils – mainly in summer. You can buy these at the IGA in Town Square.
- Insect Repellent
- Umbrella or poncho
- Book on the small tours that are offered
- Go for an Outback Cycling ride around the base of Uluru – these are booked through your hotel reception. (link to Outback Tours).
- Sense of Humour
- Sign up to Travelat60.com
- Check out their terrific holidays (short and long)
- Cancel all family presents for a year and start travelling on the savings!