The Uluru tour - Day 1 of 3
6.10am... AM!!!! That's the time I was picked up by Wayoutback, the tour company I'd booked with for my Uluru extravanganza. So much for a relaxing holiday, eh?
However, despite the unsociable hour luck was on my side. As I was the last person to be picked up I got to sit in the front seat besides the driver :) More room, best view... fabulous!
First stop was the tour company's head quarters for a safety and general welcome speech.
It was dark and it was cold... but surprisingly enough I was wide awake and raring to go. Waiting with baited breath to see my first glimpse of desert, and more specifically, red desert! It's over 450kms from Alice Springs to Uluru and we were going to be doing it all in the morning, arriving at Uluru Cultural Centre by midday for lunch.
Probably less than 2 hours into the journey we had our first 4WD escapade. We were trying to spot a Wedge Tail Eagle so that we could stop and get a photo... they are quite common but notoriously shy, so fly off as soon as they see anyone. We had spotted one at the side of the road feasting on some road kill (a nice red roo :) ) so we casually drove passed like we didn't care and then further up the road the intention was to turn the truck around to then drive back towards the eagle for photos. I say it was was our intention because, like all best laid plans, they never run smoothly.
Steve, our trusty guide, was expertly performing a U-turn manoeuvre and I was all excited that this was my first experience of some true off roading however we only went and got stuck in the sand! So there we were, trying to push a huge 4WD out of the dirt!! You can probably imagine what we were all thinking since we were only about 2 hours into the tour!!
We managed to get the van out the sand... only to discover that the eagle had scarpered (cue much cursing on Steve's behalf). So off we set again, only for a slight burning smell to start to pervade the 4WD. There was much muttering of "it's just the clutch, nothing to worry about" but when smoke started to billow around the windows Steve thought it best to stop to have a quick look.
Nothing is ever simple is it? To get to the engine the cab of the truck has to be tilted, but to tilt the cab the bull bars had to be un-bolted and pulled forward. Turns out that the bolts were pretty tight... much crow bar action and jumping on said crow bar enshewed. It didn't look like it was going to budge but low and behold eventually it loosened and here began the ancient art of men looking like they know what they're doing... lots of arms crossing, head scratching, staring thoughtfully and muttering.
After careful consideration (read standing back and looking at the engine) it was decided that all was fine and the smoke was just due to a bit of oil burning off after our sand adventure. And off we set...
Few more miles down the road a stone was thrown up from the road and cracked straight into the windscreen on the driver's side. Created a lovely crack on the windscreen, whose progress provided me with much entertainment for the rest of the trip.
I'm relieved to say that was the end of the truck traumas and the rest of the trip passed in mechanical obscurity.
So onward we tread, stopping briefly at a camel station (no time for a camel ride unfortunately) and then ploughing at full speed towards Uluru, which we arrived at in time for lunch.
Words really can't describe what it's like to be there. It is utterly magnificent and surreal. The landscape is so alien to anything I have ever known, a terracotta coloured earth, a deep blue sky, green plants but not in the lush green way that you would find in the UK and a huge monolithic sandstone rock rising out of an otherwise flat land.
It truely takes your breath away.
After some quick photos to mark our first glimpse we progressed to the Cultural Centre for a quick picnic lunch and our first opportunity to start getting to know each other. There were 10 of us and all but one were Europeans... oh and there was Steve the Aussie guide of course!
After lunch it was onwards to Uluru itself, when we started to see some of the awesome shapes in the rock itself, such as the "brain" of the rock and the Kangaroo Tail. Steve then took us on a short guided walk at the base of Uluru explaining some of the Aboriginal stories and showing us the caves where the Aboriginal men and women would shelter from the heat and the grinding stones, which can still be seen in the rock.
After all this it was then time to head towards one of the highlights of the tour... the sunset over Uluru. I can not tell you how fortunate I was to be with the tour company that I was on. As we we arrived at the viewing area for the sunset there were hundreds of people gathered. You couldn't help but think you were never going to be able to get a clear view to get any decent pictures. However, thanks to the lovely Steve all we had to do to get away from the madding crowd was to climb a small sand dune just at the end of the viewing area and we were on our own. Clear views, no noise, just peace, tranquility, beautiful views... oh, and champagne of course! :)
I can't tell you how beautiful it was, words defy. You have the changing colours of Uluru and also behind you the sun is going down behind Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). My photos will just have to speak for themselves, but seeing is believing.
We were the last ones at the viewing area, milking the evening for all it was worth, looking at all the stars, watching the satalites chasing each other across the sky.
So eventually we had to walk back down the sand dune by the light of the stars (the moon still hadn't risen) to be taken to our first camp site of the tour.
We arrived at the campsite at Ayres Rock Resort (the Venture company still insists on calling it Ayres Rock even though it is now officially Uluru) and I think we were all expecting to be camping somewhere a little more remote but with hindsight I think it was probably a pretty good introduction to sleeping in the desert. I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone was pretty nervous about the whole sleeping in outdoors in the desert.
It's funny how as human we revert to our basic evolutionary roles at times like these. The women all seemed to end up preparing the food and cooking whilst the boys built up a small campfire.
After cooking up a fabulous paneer curry for dinner we were all ready for sleep and our swag lesson!
Swags are fab! They're basically a thin mattress sewn into heavy canvass forming a bag. You can then have your sleeping bag inside the swag plus any other blankets etc you need to keep you warm.
Steve, in his infinite wisdom, decided to tell us a story about how on one swag demonstration a brown snake crawled out from the folds of his demo swag. We were all pretty careful unrolling our swags I can tell you! and none of us wanted the loosely rolled swags!!!
We all arranged our swags around the campfire, I'm not sure if it was for warmth or for the theory that there is safety in numbers! There was a lot of giggling and a lot of hats and sleeping bags being drawn down over ears, noses and mouths... forget about the snakes and spider, it's surprising there were no fatalities due to asphyxia!!
And so here ends the first day, lying back in my swag, look up into the stars, the billions and billions of stars...