We picked up our rental car first thing in the morning given that the drive from Alice Springs to Uluru was supposed to be 5-6 hours and we wanted to get there before nightfall. The car rental company rents out complete camping kits – stove, water, pots, pans, sleeping bags and a “swag” or bush bed, which Lulubelle describes in her post here.
We had a stop at the grocery store to pick up food for the trip, then breakfast and we were on our way! The drive is beautiful, and feels a lot like driving across the Utahn desert landscape. We have a strict no screen policy in cars – we passed the time by alternately reading, listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks, and of course looking out the windows. Street signs warned us of crossing kangaroos, but sadly, none were to be seen the entire trip. Eric drove the entire way, mostly because he doesn’t really trust my driving on fast highway sections. I didn’t complain all that much, truth be told.
Most of us have seen pictures of Uluru at some point, a large monolith seemingly rising out of nowhere on a desert landscape, so I thought I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. You can’t stay in the national park itself, but there is a resort just outside with hotels and a camping area. After setting up camp we hopped back in the car and drove over to the park itself.
As you drive into the park and see Uluru rise above you, it is a humbling sight. It is unexpectedly beautiful and solemn at the same time.
You are aware of some sort of presence there, and it’s easy to understand why this is a sacred site to the Anangu people. We first stopped at the cultural centre which tells the creation tales woven into the rock itself, the ancestors who claimed and fought and crawled through the rock, leaving their marks in the shape of dark lines and caves upon it. I read an article that compared gazing upon Uluru to reading the Iliad and indeed, it is an epic.
We took a short hike to a watering hole on the side, where ancient aboriginals would gather for the much needed resource. Around Uluru there are many of these sites which were known to the nomadic people during times of need. The landscape of the rock itself changes as you walk around it, with small formations found everywhere, and placards telling you of the myths of how they were created. You feel the being of the rock inside your heart the closer you are.
After this, we drove to the sunset viewing area to watch the changing colors of the rock as the sun goes down. It is a stunning sight, and quite possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. As Eric mentioned, the boy was inspired to play “Space Oddity” to the monolith at the site, and while he’s posted a picture, here’s my particular favorite.
We headed back to the campsite and had a simple dinner of noodles before settling into our swag beds for the night with the sky as our only cover. It’s winter here, so none of the dangerous reptiles or insects are out at night, and it was a peaceful sleep until the morning cacophony of desert birds awakened us. At least for myself and the kids – Eric found himself constrained by the beds as he is a being of unusual size and didn’t sleep much.
The following morning we took the guided Mala walk around the base of Uluru which Eric goes into great detail in his post here and then in the afternoon drove to Kata Tjuta, an area 40 km to the west of Uluru where there are multiple large rock formations and just as many myths. Kata Tjuta is traditionally a men’s only area – the aboriginal culture is very separated by gender roles and areas – however all tourists can hike through. We chose to take the valley of the winds walk, which is well named! The breeze whipped through the air around us, and I learned that the myth of the wind is that of a snake god blowing air through the valley.
These formations are spectacular as well, and so different from the smooth sandstone appearing Uluru. There are large rocks seemingly stuck together by a dirt cement which comprise these formations.
I later read a book on the geology of the rocks – Kata Tjuta was formed by the rapid buildup of mountains in what was once a seabed and then the surrounding areas eroded away. The seabed was wet and muddy, trapping the larger rocks in it as geologic forces pushed up the rocks. After a scramble over some rocky slopes, we arrived at our lookout point to see the vast flat landscape in front of us, dotted with large domed shapes in the distance.
Later that day, back at the campsite, I started to get dinner together. The boy had gotten pasta and sauce…but when I looked at the jar it was actually triple concentrated tomato paste. I heard the theme song to MacGuyver play in my head, and said to myself, “Self, challenge accepted.” I crushed some crackers in a pot and added a bit of milk until it was a smooth paste. Then I melted cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese, added salt and pepper and a spoon or two of the tomato paste and ended up with a fairly serviceable tomato cream sauce! Not bad for camp cookery! 🙂
In the morning, we took another short hike around the base of Uluru and then back into the car for the drive back to Alice Springs, all of us wowed by the three days we had just spent there.