We finally hit the NT and it felt familiar to see the landscape beside the road and the 130km/h speed signs from days gone by, visiting my sister in Darwin. It did feel pretty sad to have gone from doing 5-10km/h under the limit to over 30 under the limit though and even more so when we hit the ‘open speed’ sections of highway!
Before heading to Yulara we stopped overnight at Kulgera – I wasn’t going to get much further in daylight hours. It was a brief stopover but enough to refuel the car and recharge the batteries before the drive to the rock.
We’d heard enough about the trip to Yulara to not be fooled by Mount Connor on the way in – as big and impressive as it looked. It was surprising that the lookout didn’t include much information about the mountain or it’s Aboriginal heritage.
It was here we not only stopped for a token selfie but also a quick loo break at the drop toilet. In the words of Kenny himself, the smell coming from those toilets would outlast religion itself. I think I could actually feel my eyeballs burning from the ammonia!
After setting up our camp for our four night stay we headed to the information centre to book some of our ‘must do’ activities. Miss6 was nearly jumping out of her skin for a camel ride but we missed out on the sunset tour so instead booked sunrise – this will be a rare occasion where I can get her out of bed in the morning with any sort of enthusiasm!
Up at 5am for our sunrise camel trek through the bush land of the camel farm, set between Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The colours of the environment, let alone the changing colours of the sky against the two formidable structures of nature, were just spectacular. Two hours later and we were enjoying some freshly baked beer bread, a tour around the farm and Miss6 even got to brush one of the camels to her delight (apparently I need to buy a farm when we get home so we can get a pet camel). We watched a few practice runs by a number of the resident camels in preparation for next weekend’s Uluru Camel Cup – if the practice run is anything to go by, the big day should be a lot of fun.
We managed to drag Miss6 away from the camels to go and do a traditional dot painting workshop with a local Anangu woman. The kids and I really enjoyed this and have a much better understanding of Aboriginal artwork made this way. We got to create our own story using dot painting and the kids did a great job of not only creating an artwork but also standing in front of other participants explaining the story behind their artwork too.
Master14 I think was looking forward to our evening astronomy workshop the most but all of us had a great night in the end. Our host and resident astronomer had a laser to trace the constellations out, which is more than any well-meaning nomad has been able to do and really brought the stars to life. It also helps to have a very powerful telescope to see things like stars, planets and even the full moon!
The next morning we headed to the national park to see Uluru. As we drove in, the rock loomed ahead and it was breathtaking. The sheer enormity of it and the patterns, water marks and large open spaces in the rock face brought an overwhelming sense of emotion and connectedness to the place.
We met a couple of the Rangers for the Mala walk which took us to a number of ancient places used by the Anangu people. We didn’t need to go to the cultural centre (though we did later on) to understand the significance of the rock and its water holes and other spaces, just being there we could sense a significance and tranquility of place.
As an ancient monolith, the geology is almost as impressive as its cultural significance. With around 500 metres above ground and 5kms below ground, permanent water holes and rusty veneer, it really is a sight to behold.
After the walk we thought we’d continue to walk the remainder of the 10km base but Miss6 was too tired after our big day previously so we thought we’d hire bikes and ride around instead. The trailer bike for Miss6 and I was too wobbly and a tad scary for her so Master14 took a ride on his own while Miss6 and I drove to the other waterhole to meet him there. It was supposed to take him 20-30 minutes to arrive at that waterhole riding anticlockwise around the rock. After 40 minutes he finally arrived and had actually ridden clockwise nearly completing the full 10km in that time. Our bike hire was 3 hours so I told him to ride to the carpark and meet me so I could have a ride while he hung out with his sister. His honest subconscious must’ve got the better of him though as he ended up riding the bike back to the hire place instead!
We took one last walk to the waterhole together and enjoyed the serenity and Tjukurpa (traditional law and dream time story). Miss6 also took great delight in telling the story of this place and pointing out marks in the rock to the other tourists.
Back to camp before we got to see the Field of Light by sunset. Pity the information centre gave us the wrong bus pick up time so we missed sunset and only got a second bus there in time for a very rushed walk through. It was a vast and beautiful installation and we were very disappointed to have been herded through it so quickly.
Miss6 and I were in the showers later that night and a group of high school girls on school camp were also showering in the booths next to us when one of the girls broke out in song. I was impressed she’d chosen an old 80’s number though her singing wasn’t the best and her friends had a laugh at her expense. Not to be deterred she repeated her verse, only this time I helped her out by belting out the next verse. She seemed happy about someone else wanted to sing with her and Miss6 wanted to join in so she asked if we could sing her favourite song. Together we belted out ‘I wish I was a punk rocker’ as we finished up and got our pj’s on. The girls on camp thought it was great with one commenting we should be on The Voice – Miss6 was very happy with the whole experience!
The next day it was off to see Kata Tjuta for the Valley of the Winds 7km walk. Though the ancient rocks are strong and have stood the test of time I think our camping neighbours description of it as ethereal is still fitting. This rock formation seemed to keep Miss6 energised as she happily walked the rocky and sometimes steep walking tracks (with the exception of about 1km that I piggy-backed her!).
The toilets here were much like those at Mount Connor and even caused a couple of German backpackers to walk straight out without using them, eyes watering and lots of screwed up faces. We did bump into our friends from Coober Pedy on the hike and even made some new hiking friends enroute. One of the best parts of travelling is the people you meet and unofficially take the same journey with.
We had managed to make a few new friends at camp, all of whom had dogs that Miss6 couldn’t resist patting. She even got to take Zoe the dog for a walk, wearing her little hand held UHF radio to stay in contact with me if she got lost. Those radios are one of the best investments I’ve made – allowing Miss6 some independence around caravan parks and helping me to be in two virtual places at once. They’re also handy while driving to communicate with other drivers.
Our last night at Yulara and I was hoping for a good nights sleep but some nearby late night loud talkers and another lot of distant party goers made it hard to get to sleep. At around 4.30am the van was bouncing around and it woke me up. I thought it was Master14 stomping around the van like an elephant (why do teenagers need to stomp everywhere?) so I yelled at him to cut it out. He woke up confused so I figured it was our drunk party goers and when one of them yelled “earthquake!” I’d had enough. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a morning person and loathe being woken early, especially by drunks, so I opened the window and yelled “shut up!” and the campground went quiet.
Next morning Zoe’s owner asked if I’d felt the earthquake last night?! Oops, turns out Master14 and an innocent drunk copped the wrath of my tired grumpiness when in fact it was a 6.4 tremor in Alice Springs that shook the van and woke me up! Quite the eventful end to our time at the rock.