From Cairns we flew on Monday to the Ayers Rock Resort, which sits pretty much in the middle of Australia. Since the area is characterised by red sand and rocks, the region has been dubbed the Red Centre of Australia. Here’s where you find Ayers Rock itself, or Uluru as it’s now known – its original Aboriginal name.
The Ayers Rock Resort itself is some distance from Uluru, and is a complex of hotels, shops, and restaurants – but they’re all run by the same company, so there’s no competition, and consequently prices are somewhat inflated. Since we’re about 5 hours drive from Alice Springs, the nearest major town, it’s similar to when you’re skiing up the top of a mountain and the prices are much higher. It’s a real tourist trap, and there’s a palpable feeling that everyone here is just waiting to go on another tour, or to head on to another destination.
However, we had some idea of what we would be letting ourselves in for, and we checked out the various tours available. In the end we combined hiring a car with two organised tours – star gazing and a helicopter trip over Uluru.
Using the hire car we drove out to Uluru. The Cultural Centre gave us some idea of the local Aboriginal culture and customs, and the history of the Rock and the National Park around it and Kata Tjuta – similar rock formations 50km away.
The local Anungu people are quite secretive about Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the roles they play in their ceremonies. There are certain areas you are not supposed to enter or photograph, and they don’t like people climbing Uluru – though that doesn’t seem to stop many people making the ascent.
We drove around Uluru and stopped to take one of the shorter walks to a waterhole at its base. There were traditional painted images under some of the rock overhangs, and the features of Uluru around us, such as different coloured areas on the rock face, all had significance and stories associated with them. It certainly struck you as a special place, looming out of the desert sands, providing shelter, shade, and water.
We went on to the designated parking area to watch sunset on Uluru, where the colour changes as the sun goes down are supposed to be remarkable. We got there early, but we weren’t the first there by any means. The colours did change, from glowing orange through burnt ochre into dark violet as the last shadows rose surprisingly quickly up its face, and yet it might not have been as spectacular as I expected. Still well worth seeing though
The next morning we headed out to Kata Tjuta – similar to Uluru in its physical makeup, but made up of over 30 sheer-sided domes of rock. This area seems to be even more significant spiritually to the Anungu – certainly to their men. Again there are restricted areas and no climbing. We walked into a narrow gorge where there was water and rare vegitation, surrounded by the vertical sides of the rock domes.
The rock itself is an odd mixture of stones and boulders in seemingly solidified red mud – reminiscent of concrete. The surface weathers at different speeds, giving the rock a strange texture. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are impressive geological features, well worth seeing. I don’t feel that I really connected with the Anungu or got real information or insight into their people or culture – but maybe that’s the way they want it.
This afternoon we topped it off – literally! – with a helicopter ride around Uluru. We had our safety briefing, hopped in and donned our headsets. They were the best thing as far as Cora was concerned She talked non-stop through the flight! That certainly didn’t spoil it, or the view, which was spectacular. The real size and bulk of Uluru was revealed, along with a view of its rippled top. Amazing!
Almost as good – as far as I was concerned anyway – was just the fact of being in a helicopter I sat up front beside the pilot, and got a great view of all the controls and gauges. The flight was really smooth, and the noise from the rotors didn’t seem much different than the engine noise in the light aircraft I’ve done some lessons in.
Being up front in the helicopter meant I could see down through the window in the floor of the nose, and overall the visibility was excellent. You could see really far towards the horizon, and the ripples in the sand – which were low hills – were really clear. The aerial perspective really highlighted how much of an anomaly Uluru is in the local geography.
Anyway, I came off the flight with a big grin on my face. I’ve always wanted to fly a helicopter, and this is the closest I’ve come yet – and what a place to do it in!