Monday, 17 November 2014

Lightning and Uluru

A few days ago I ticked off my second Australian icon from my list - the controversial-among-travellers Uluru (Ayers Rock). 

Is it worth all the money and bother of going to the middle of nowhere to see a rock? My conclusion was: yes. It's much more impressive in person than in photos, and walking around its base to see the contours and caves, along with aboriginal drawings that are tens of thousands of years old was fascinating. It opened my eyes to the indigenous peoples' culture, which is something that you don't get in the big cities. It showed me a different side of Australia. 

Having said that, it's undeniably expensive and bothersome to visit. I flew in and out, and booked a tour with The Rock Tour to see Uluru at sunset and sunrise, and Kata Tjuta (pronounced Kah-tah Jew-tah). You can save money by taking the Greyhound bus from the coast, but with only two weeks to see Australia, I didn't want to spend a day sitting on a bus. 

My Uluru experience was somewhat unconventional. First I ended up having to do a one-night tour instead of the two-night that I booked with The Rock Tour. This was because I was the only person doing the itinerary on that particular day, so they had to move things around. 

Then on the first day, after a blisteringly hot base walk around Uluru in 42C heat, it started to cloud over, and we were inundated with a massive electrical storm during sunset. So I didn't get to see the rock changing colours as the sun goes down, but seeing fork lightning flash across Ayres Rock is something I never thought I'd see. 

We were meant to sleep in swags under the stars, but in the middle of the desert, where it doesn't rain for months on end, it poured all night. Thankfully there were pre-erected tents in the campsite that we could use. Unfortunately halfway through the night I woke up covered in ants and had to fight them out of my sleeping bag. Our 4am start that day turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it meant I could just escape the amassing hordes. 

We had breakfast outside and watched the sunrise behind Uluru. That was a gorgeous sight, and the rain stopped for us to see it. 

As soon as the sun was up the notorious Red Centre flies came out to play with our eyes, noses, ears, mouths... They're not fussy. 

We then did the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta, and I have to say that while Uluru is the popular sibling, Kata Tjuta is the one who got the looks. Made of the same beautiful sandstone, it undulates and twists around itself in a much more interesting way than Uluru. The walk takes you through scrubland, desert woodland that seems to be lifted straight from Africa's savannah, through canyons and over steep passes between sheer red cliffs. 

The clouds were apparently celebrating our triumphant arrival at the top of the walk, because it started to rain quite heavily. Our guide was ecstatic - he'd never seen rain there. The best part of the weather was that the rainwater ran off the rocks in waterfalls. A very rare and captivating sight. 

Overall my experience was quite different to the average visit to Centralia, but I was blown away by the natural beauty of the area. I feel there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied in Australia, but for me it opened my eyes. Not to mention I got those picture-perfect photos! 

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