Wonders of Australia – Day Ten

Wonders of Australia – Day Ten – Sunday 18 October 2015

Weather: Dante comes to mind.

I rolled out of bed at five and was down for the transfer while it was still dark out. The Desert Gardens is part of a community of four hotels that together are called the Ayer’s Rock Resort. But don’t do as one guy did when he got a transfer back from an activity. He told the driver Ayer’s Rock Resort and the driver asked which hotel. The guy didn’t know.

Picking up the brochures in Alice Springs meant I knew what my tours today would include and the exact name of each tour. In the morning, there is a tour for the sunrise and one that also includes the walk. Mine was the latter called The Rising Sun and Sacred Walk and it also included breakfast at the Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

After the grand tour of the Ayer’s Rock Resort to pick up a dozen or so participants, we drove for about twenty minutes to the platform. We arrived about fifteen minutes before sunrise and the trail brings you to a platform with a decent view of Uluru.

DSC01267aoxBut it gets crowded fast and you know what people are like on a crowded viewing platform. I noticed that the trail loops around below so I went down there and walked until I found a spot with no major obstructions between me and the rock.

DSC01268aoyThere was plenty of space along this trail and it gave a view just as good as the crowded platform. It was about a five minute wait before the sun rose and lit up the rock.

DSC01303aqdI think it was better than the sunset.

About ten minutes after sunrise, I started to head back to the bus but not before I surprised the family next to me as the dad took a pic of his wife and two kids with the rock behind them. I offered to take one of all of them. No sense in them coming all this way and have one missing from such a great photo.

Back on the bus, we took about another twenty minutes or so to get to the cultural centre.

DSC01314aqmOur driver, Phillip, brought us in and said they staff would be out to get us for breakfast. The shop opened but no one showed up. Some in the group started wondering what was going on and I went in and asked at the shop. They looked at me and said they were wondering where we were.

We were here all along.

Breakfast was a small buffet but it was well done. The tea was hot and delicious. We had until 8:30 to eat so the delay didn’t affect our breakfast time. From here, we went into a fenced off area for the Campfire Stories part of the tour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe indigenous guide was named Lance and our driver interpreted for him. We weren’t permitted to take photos of Lance but could later take photos of the tools he showed to us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALance explained that in their culture, the men pass on their skills to the boys and the women to the girls. Then he explained some of the tools in front of him. He picked up the green bowl balancing ring that the women used on their heads to balance bowls. It’s made from emu feathers and human hair and twisted into the ring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe half round and bowl pieces are bark that the women peel off the tree and put into a fire to harden. They used the one on the right as a shovel to dig down for water and the one on the left as a container to carry the water. The one Lance showed us was decades old and as he said, it was made by a “deceased person.” Names are not used after someone has died.

Fire is also used straighten spears. The Achilles tendon of a kangaroo is used as a glue on the spear. They would chew it up and apply it to the shaft then heat it up to strengthen the spear. To throw them, they use a hooked piece of flat wood called a spear thrower. The spear is placed in it and then the spear is flung, using the thrower like a catapult.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALance said there isn’t a lot of hunting anymore because there are few animals and many fences.

He said there isn’t even a lot of roadkill.

Probably because some company up north is picking it all up and selling it as jerky.

The spear was also used for punishment and Lance figures that the lack of spears today is the reason why there are more “troublemakers.”

Lance told us that, in the old days, they used to track animals by following their tracks in the day time until they came to the water source. Then they’d settle down and wait until the animal returned at sunset.

Dinner is served.

Another valuable tool is the grinding rock which was used to ground up seeds into a paste which was then placed in the fire to cook as a snack. Honey was added to make it sweeter. But not a whole lot sweeter. On average, the Aborigines consumed about tablespoon of sugar per year.

Do you know how much sugar is in a can of Coke?

(About two and a half tablespoons…in case you were wondering.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey didn’t travel with the heavy stone from camp to camp but rather would have one at each camp as a permanent fixture.

To make fire, there is the old way and the new way. One of the old ways was to put dung inside the split in a branch and rub a stick over it, using friction to heat up the dung until it became an ember. Lance gave us a demonstration and let us touch the stick he was using to generate the friction and it was too hot to touch.

Then Phillip demonstrated the new way to make fire. He took out his lighter and lit the campfire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALance finished up and then we headed over to Uluru to do the Lungkata Walk which is about two kilometres long and is on the west side. I found it hard to walk and take notes as the guide moved pretty quick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom what I understand, the Aborigines believe that Uluru was created by ten dreamtime spirit people. For example, the south face is believed to have been created by a battle between the poisonous snakes Liru and the carpet snakes Kunia.

The whole story is quite long and detailed and one of the best descriptions I can find online is here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we walked, Lance would point to a rock formation, a crack or smooth side and link it all to something out of the mythology. It seems nothing was left without an explanation and I imagine one could do a course in university just to explain the basics of the mythology surrounding Uluru.

DSC01342arkFrom the trail, we could also see where the walk to the top of Uluru takes place. There is a chain that was embedded into the rock that starts about fifty metres from the base. The idea is that if you can get that far, you should be fit enough to do the rest.

DSC01316aqoThe local indigenous people prefer that people not climb the rock and I respect that just as I wouldn’t climb over a barrier at an altar in a church in Italy. Part of the reason for the request is that the climb is very difficult and it kills two to three tourists a year. Phillip told us of people who go up with a single bottle of water and have to be recovered by helicopter. Some get taken by surprise by the change in weather at the top, especially in winter as it can get quite cold.

I think a walk around the base is adequate and I wouldn’t recommend it without a lot of water. Two bottles was barely enough for the two kilometres. If you want to do the full nine kilometres, you should start it at sunrise so that you can get the bulk of it done before the scorching yellow ball gets too high…in the sky, that is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got back to the bus, and just like in Darwin, the AAT Kings buses have a huge cooler in the luggage area full of water and ice cubes to refill our water bottles. Very economical and refreshing!

DSC01605azjThough I missed the cold towel service we got in Vietnam.

Phillip dropped us back to our hotels and I walked over to the town square to get a sandwich to eat. When I got back to the hotel, I asked the front desk about stargazing and sunrise helicopter rides. She called and there was space on both, so they charged both to my room and I headed to my room to pack for the next day since I wasn’t going to stop for long before my morning transfer.

I was back down to the lobby at 2:30 for my pick up for the Kata Tjuta and Uluru Sunset tour and I was sporting my brand spanking new pink fly net.

Kata Tjuta means “many heads,” referring to the thirty six domes that make up the formation. It was named the Olgas after the Queen of Spain. The area is located about forty kilometres west of Uluru.

It takes less than an hour to do the pick-up run to all four hotels and get to our first stop – a look out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are told that we can’t see all thirty-six domes from this vantage point, though that doesn’t stop people from trying to count them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow remember the colour you see here (the sun is high and to the right).

DSC01362asbAs we head back to the bus, the guide points out some desert plants including one that provided the Aborigines with a sweet substance. The guide also noted that the desert trees can grow for centuries but that it was impossible to know the specific age of a tree using its rings because the tree would go dormant in times of drought and produce no rings.

We get back aboard the bus and drive to the trail that we can walk into Walpa Gorge. The guide reminds us to take water so that we don’t get heatstroke. She says there is a benefit to one person getting heatstroke. Everyone else starts chugging water.

As we approached the turnoff, the guide pointed out the highway that goes all the way to Perth.

DSC01381asrYup. Highway.

We make a bathroom stop at what the guide describes as Aussie Longdrop Toilets. I don’t think I need to describe what this means.

When I get back to the bus, I get my two bottles topped up and then we drive to the trail head. The guide offers a quick lecture on the geology of the area but I opt to head right in so that I can make it all the way to the end of the gorge.

Yeah, she had said most don’t make it all the way in but you know me.

Challenge-Accepted-MemeSilly me.

With the fly net on, I’m off. I ration the water so that I drink one on the way in and one on the way out.

DSC01390aszRemember the colour before? Now the sun is behind me and a tad lower in the sky and the gorge is lit a beautiful red/orange.

DSC01397atgThe gorge seems to go on forever. Everytime I turned a corner, I expected to see the end of the gorge but it just kept on going.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd there wasn’t a bit of shade. I started getting early symptoms of heatstroke. After a while, I figured out that my fly net was increasing the temperature of my head and I took it off.

Then I found the end of the gorge!

DSC01401atkI took my pic, turned around and headed back. A few seconds after I took the above photo, I took the one below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee how the colour changed completely now that I’m walking into the sun.

On the way, I chatted with another Canadian and she had decided to turn around early and her husband kept going. She had extra water that she shared with me so I was able to chug down what I had. It helped but I still had some symptoms for the rest of the day.

We got back to the bus and the driver told us that the temperature was 44.

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

We made one more photo stop of Kaga Tjuta…

DSC01403atm…and then continued on to Uluru for the sunset. It was a different set up than the sunrise platforms. It was just a trail next to the parking lot and there were tables set up with wine, beer and soft drinks for each group as well as some finger food.

DSC01442aufIt’s not hard to find a spot to watch the rock as the sun goes down.

DSC01447aukWith no cloud today, there was more to see.

DSC01445auiAs soon as the sun was gone, the tables were packed up and we all were driven back to the hotel.

By this time, my sunstroke was making me nauseous. I never threw up, but with only an hour and a half before the stargazing session, I spent all that time in my room trying to quell the nausea. Getting a cold shower wasn’t much help since the water just doesn’t get cold. Standing in front of the air conditioner helped a lot.

By the time I headed out the stargazing session, the nausea was gone and the night air was actually nice. I went to the town centre which was about a ten minute walk and waited around until two guys showed up with clipboards. They took us up above the town centre to an area that was pretty free of ambient light.

Well, except for the half moon.

Or as they called it, that big light bulb in the sky.

It drowned out the Milky Way that was right next to it but the other side of the sky was pretty impressive. There were two telescopes set up and they pointed them to the moon first and then some more distant objects. It was impressive.

We were done by 10:30.

And so was I.

I’ve never been so happy that I packed earlier in the day. All I had to do when I got back to the hotel was brush my teeth and crawl into bed.

 

 

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