Uluru – Day Four, Desert Awakenings Tour

Lets hope you’re not feeling a little dusty after indulging in that spectacular dinner last night! Our last full day began early, pre sunrise, as we were collected from our hotel by the engaging Jo, and transported to a sand dune out past the airport. Here, hot drinks and warm damper awaited us as we were about to witness the magic of an outback sunrise. Next, we would be heading into the National Park to the base of Uluru itself. Later today would see us venturing out to Kata Tjuta on an afternoon tour.

The biting desert cold night air which we had briefly tasted ducking from the warmth of our hotel into Jo’s All Terrain vehicle, now enveloped us as we reluctantly left the bus and trudged up the sand dune. The only noise in this expanse was the low murmmuring of voices which were occasionally raised to emphaise how cold each person felt.

We were only a small group, and the walk up the dune was not far. But, that little bit of elevation was going to give us a stunning, uninterrupted view of the sunrise, Uluru and Kata Tjuta.At the top of the dune, Jo gleefully greeted our breakfast cook who had an array of food including warm damper, pastries, fruit and hot water urns, filled with boiling water, ready to warm our chilled innards with a choice of hot beverages.

After loading up with warming drinks, everyone surrounded the gas heaters, trying desperately to breathe heat into numbingly cold bodies.

Its about now you regret being a photographer. Wistfully watching everyone else with one hand hugging a warm cup, the other either tucked deeply into a pocket or held out like a peace offering in front of a gas heater, I tried to encourage my unwilling fingers to operate the camera. It will be worth the effort of taking these photos I told myself. Ignore the cold, just do it.

The sunrise was simply magical. Soon forgetting the cold, you could not help but be mesmerised with the scene unfolding in front of you. Darkness was being tinged with the first rays of light out on the horizon, whilst Jo mingled with her charges, getting to know them and helping with breakfast.

With a gentle ease, the sun slid above the horizon, turning darkness to light as we thanked our chef and headed back to the vehicle for the trip to the base of Uluru.

First stopping at the park gates for clearance, we then drove on to National Park Land, home to the Anangu people. Don’t forget to organise your Park pass prior to arriving, it will cost a mere $25 for the few days you are here and the pass can be loaded on your mobile device for easy access.

The imposing rock grew bigger as we advanced down the road. Finally, we were going to get to witness this monolith up close.

Now Jo is one of the most engaging and heartfelt story tellers I have ever come across. Driving through the park she related stories of Anangu people and their beliefs. Listening as she told us of the history behind certain marks on the rock, you just could not help but be spellbound.

Eventually we arrived at the carpark at the base of the Uluru walk. The Anangu people ask that you respect their wishes and not climb the rock, however, it is open for walking until 26 October 2019 when it will permanently close. There have been many deaths resulting from attempts to climb the rock, dont allow yourself to become a statistical memory.

We had no intention of disrespecting the wishes of the community, therefore we did not climb, not even a short way. There were however a surprising large number of people clambering up the rock. Remember I mentioned the chain that Peter, the Curtin Springs station owner had installed many years ago? Well that is it snaking its way up Uluru. This is the chain Peter and four young men installed over the course of 8 weeks.

Wandering down the side path, I read the story laid out on the posts along the path about the Mala and Wintalka people, and the fight which resulted in a huge devil dog, Kurpany being sent to destroy the Mala peoples Ima (ceremony). Each story has a lesson to be learned. This one was to teach us that it is important to finish what you start and that you should watch and listen to warnings of danger. Rock formations are simply fascinating, and as we drove around to the other side of Uluru Jo told more stories of how these formations or holes in the rock occurred.

Around the back of the rock, every person in our group, including at one point a couple of cyclists who were passing through, were intently listening to every animated word. I was completely blown away not only by Jo’s knowledge, but the heartfelt way she delivered these stories, giving them every respect deserved.

We walked the path down into a little oasis of sand and water, tucked in amongst the sandstone rock forming Uluru. This peaceful area was heavy with spiritual presence from generations of the local community. A cave close by, had sheltered these generations in the past, and the drawings were still there from thousands of years ago.More photos on the facebook page and some on instagram. Simply amazing to see these still clearly showing on the rock face.The Cave wasn’t fully enclosed and one can only begin to imagine how difficult it would be living in these tough conditions, given our softer lifestyle now.

Our last stop was the Cultural Centre. You need to stop and wander through here, give yourself some time to do so and really soak it all in. Start from around the back and stroll through the tunnel which is cleverly put together, depicting community life over the years. There’s no photography allowed in here, so unfortunately I can not show how amazing this place is. But perhaps thats best left for you to find out yourselves.

Thank you to the Anangu people for allowing us access to this world heritage area. Your generosity in doing so is greatly appreciated. Remembering the words of Bob Randall, one of the traditional owners who has now passed, “We don’t own the land, the land owns us”.

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Uluru. Camel Ride to Sunset, the end of Day 1

We had an exciting first day, with everything new as we explored our temporary surroundings. There are some viewing areas set up on the raised sand dunes around the resort. From here you can watch the sun rise or set, whilst enjoying the changing canvas spread out before you. In one direction you have the imposing Uluru itself. In another, the interesting formations of Kata Tjuta dominate the horizon.Fantastic viewing from so close to your accommodation, with all the platforms an easy 5-10 minute stroll from the ring road, this one right opposite our accommodation.

But, this is our first fun filled day here. It’s been exciting, its been very long with an early start to catch that first flight, so how are we going to finish today? With a Camel Ride to Sunset. And this is one of those all inclusive tours with warm beer damper, bush foods, beer and wine provided at the end of the ride. Exciting!

By 4:15pm we were out the front of our hotel waiting for the 4:20 bus pickup which would take us to the Camel farm. In no time we had boarded the mini bus with the friendly Bella, who also turned out to be one of our helpful cameleers for the evening.

The Camel farm is located just off the resort ring road, an easy 5-10 minute drive. With anticipation mounting, we disembarked the bus and went through the shop front to check out our transport and sunset viewing platform for tonight.Well thats encouraging, not only does the camel look to be smiling slightly, he looks very placid. Or does this mean a bit of cat nap makes for a lively camel?? Hmm…

Our helpful cameleers, provided the safety information required, before dividing the group into the number of camels waiting patiently for their rider/s. Either two per camel, or one who sits the back seat of the saddle, not the front. Seated quietly in their two rows, the camels showed little interest as this new group approached. The cameleers were fantastic help and very encouraging, assisting everyone to mount their ride correctly. Starting at the back of the line, the last camel’s riders mounted first, with their camel standing up when instructed. This continued on down the line, until the cameleer took the lead camel. In our case, it was the friendly Bella who would lead us on tonight’s adventure.

Oh and did I mention, of course we were on the back camel and the first to mount. Positive side I guess, you do get to spend more time on your ride. Ours was Darcy, who’s name we changed to Mr Darcy, for the duration of the ride, purely out of respect of course. Tonight I was the back rider, with one in front, oh well there went those shots down through the camels ears I’d been hoping for, but that was ok, I could see it was going to be even more of a challenge, taking manual photos from this position, and still holding on. Challenge accepted.

Meandering our way across the farm, we had the informative Chloe walking alongside our camel caravan, answering questions as we slowly became accustomed to the odd movement underneath where one side moves, then the other. If you’re a horse rider, its not going to make any difference, these guys are in a world of their own.

They are fascinating creatures, as I’d discovered previously this year with an instameet at Summerland Camel Farm, near Brisbane. There’s an estimated 600 000 to one million of these guys running wild in the expanse of the Australian Outback. And yet, for the travelling we did in this area, we never saw one wild camel., and these are not small animals. That’s how big it is out here. Mind blowingly big, something I will probably keep reminding you of, as it really is incredible to experience this area of the world.

The sand dunes we were headed to, were directly behind the farm, not far, it just takes a while as the camels were certainly in no hurry to go anywhere. Mr Darcy was more than happy to lag along behind and seemed slightly peeved if he had to speed up at all to catch up with the line ahead. I think Smarty, just in front of us, was purposely throwing in some longer strides just to annoy the more relaxed Darcy.

Stopping for photos with Uluru in the background, you then head around the sand dune to come out atop the other side, in time to see the sun as it begins to lower over Kata Tjuta, directly in front. On your left is Uluru, which changes colour as the sun drops.As you sit atop your personal viewing platform, which moves occasionally as the odd camel fidgets or changes position, causing a domino effect to the back of the line, you cannot help but be mesmerised by the beautiful scene playing out in front, but also the silence. No noisy traffic highways out here. The silence is like a blanket covering the vast scene laid out around here. Describing in words the feeling you have on this experience, is impossible. You need to live it, but hopefully, this helps to immerse you in what it feels like to be atop one of these incredible creatures, as the sun plays a colourful game on the land, all coated in silence broken only by light conversation from your group and the occasional sliding plop of camel toes, gliding across the red sand.

Challenging to take a good photo with your camera or phone too, just as you have it right, your platform sways. Hence the photos aren’t as sharp as most.I feel the best days are those which begin with a sunrise viewing and ends with a sunset. For me, these are the two best parts of any day and a wonderful time for quiet reflection. One day I will have a house with verandah which allows for both of these special times to be viewed in peace.

As the sun drops behind Kata Tjuta, your helpful cameleers guide the caravan back to the farm below, where you dismount and thank your ride. If you’re at the back of the line, you will be dismounting last so be prepared to wait whilst everyone in front dismounts one by one.

Smarty, the camel in front of us, decided he didn’t particularly want to lie down again, which aggrieved Mr Darcy somewhat, as he was definitely up for another nap. Eventually though after voicing his displeasure and upsetting the other camels, Smarty obeyed and grudgingly dropped to the ground. A relived Mr Darcy was more than happy to drop fast, and he did, so he could rest his weary head again.After those final thank you’s and grateful pats, the blood flow returns to your legs, feet and extremities, which you may have forgotten about since you have been spending time in the unnatural position across the camel. Now you can head into the warmth of the shop for your food and beverage treats.

Lily was running the bar, offering beer, wine and soft drink, with a table laid out showcasing some interesting bush foods and that tasty warm beer damper. Relieved riders were more than happy to treat themselves to a welcome drink and tasty nibbles.

Take time to look around the shop, theres some interesting items displayed, including a camel Skeleton which explains their anatomy for you, a huge array of trophies from the camel races and plenty of options if you’d like to purchase a lasting memory to take home.

Thank you to the all the staff who assisted, your friendliness and information knowledge was fantastic. A lovely way to finish to with bar set up, it really did help everyone unwind and relax after their exciting experience.

An extra thank you to Bella who handed me the feathers in her hat which I admired on the bus ride back to the hotel. They were part of dress up for the Camel Cup Races we had just missed over the weekend. It sounds like an awesome experience and one day, might just be something to go back for.

Day One in the Outback is now done and dusted. Slipping into the comfy beds, after being retuned to our hotel, it was time to recharge those tired batteries for the big day planned tomorrow, a drive out to climb Kings Canyon. This will be a two part article as there is so much content to cover. Sweet dreams!

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So many stories to tell from this incredible area! Keep watching!

Uluru. What you need to know before you visit.

Welcome to the first part of my Uluru series. Preparing for your trip to Uluru is a fantastic way to build the anticipation. Leaving the coastal built up areas behind, you are going to be venturing into the remoteness off Australia’s vast outback.

How do you get there? There’s a lot of choices. Depending on your location, driving could take few days, or, fly in with direct flights from most major metropolitan cities. From Brisbane, Jetstar runs a direct flight, not every day, but at around three hours of flying time, it allows you a much easier trip than passing through Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne enroute.

We farewelled Brisbane through the smudgy window of our Jetstar flight, as the sun rose on a new day.

The mind blowing part of your flight, is spending a couple of hours flying over mainly uninhabited land, with red sand, punctuated with rare long straight dirt roads, stretching as far as the eye can see, and literally nothing. The further inland you go, the redder that sand becomes. Starting off as an orangey brown closer to the coast, the rich red sand dominates the landscape, and is going to be something you become very familiar with over the next few days. You are about to be surrounded by it. I did feel for the resort cleaners, it must be a battle to remove this fine sand from the carpets and floors, as it does attach itself to everything.

In the photo below, you can see a couple of salt lakes come into view. There are some massive salt lakes out this way, more on those in future articles.

Voyagers Ayers Rock Resort has a number of accommodation options, from a camping ground to individual hotel rooms or suites. When booking, check the package options, sometimes there are good deals, we found that to do the tours we wanted, it was easier and cheaper to book accommodation, flights and tours separately.

Don’t be fooled as you fly in from the East, that first big projection from the earth you see is not Ayers Rock/Uluru, its ‘Fooluru’. Commonly known as Mt Conner. Watch out for further information on this formation in future articles. From the other direction, you will first fly over Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas.

Everything out at Uluru runs like a well oiled machine, from the buses which collect and drop you at the airport, to the tours themselves and everything in between. If you’re a person who likes to sleep in, I suggest you prepare yourself for some early rising as you will miss some pretty incredible experiences and sunrises if you don’t make the effort to leave the warmth of your bed.

Our trip was at the end of May. Superb time to visit with the desert heat being in the easy tolerable low twenties range during the day. Nights did go down to 2-4 degrees during our stay. And it is cold. Once the sun drops, the temperature plummets. But, if you have a balcony, check out this incredible sunset we were treated to. All without leaving our balcony.

Luckily we took our own flynets. These can be purchased at the resort (until they ran out of stock) but we found them on eBay very cheap, around $1 each, so stocked up prior to leaving. Luckily the flies don’t like the cold so they disappear during the night, resurfacing as the day warms up. Around the resort the flies were patchy. More likely at this time of year to get one those small persistent little ones who keep coming back to your face no matter how many times you swipe.

Leave the resort though and there will be areas where you are walking through swarms of flies. That’s when you will realise how important that flynet is. Plus you get very good at the bus wave! As each person enters the bus, the one behind waves all the flies off their back. Keep in mind too, those little flies much prefer darker colours, they didn’t seem keen to settle on bright colours!

Sails in the Desert was our accommodation choice for this trip. Located on the ring road that makes up the resort, Sails was clean, comfortable and had the added bonus of being an Accor hotel, for those Accor Plus members looking for discounts on meals, or looking forward to your free welcome drink. Wifi is available, free to a certain download amount each day, but if you are on an Australian plan, you will probably find your own internet connection quicker.

The rooms here had a small bar fridge, plus the usual coffee/tea set up. Amenities were interesting in the bathroom, with camel milk used in products like the lotion, made just for the resort. More on those camels in the next article!

Dining options are many throughout the resort. You can purchase your own food at the IGA in the town centre or dine at one of the hotel restaurants, or cafes, anything from a cook your own bbq to some very pricey options. We had a couple of meals during the week at Gecko’s Cafe, the first being lunch on the initial day whilst we explored our new temporary home. Great to see the initiative given to training for the indigenous and local youngsters. Service was really good, the menu doesn’t host too many choices but enough to cater for most tastes. Food was tasty and enjoyable, and the atmosphere over all is quite pleasant.Certainly nothing wrong with these meals!

When choosing your tours, we found a few which provided breakfast or dinner, some with drinks too, so we didn’t actually need to many other meals. Yes it’s a captured market out here and it’s not cheap to freight anything out this way. this particular week it was $42 for a takeaway six pack of beer or $42 for a packet of 25 cigarettes. If you’re a smoker I suggest you take enough with you for the week. If you’re a drinker, remember this is a dry area, you can only purchase alcohol at one of the bars if you are staying at the resort. They will ask for your room key to check before selling you alcohol. Those food and alcohol inclusive tours are looking pretty good now aren’t they!

The resort is a short ten minute bus ride from the airport and about 30 minutes to Uluru itself. If you don’t wish to spend money in tours, you can self drive, there are hire cars available, or, utilise the hop on hop off bus which takes you to my points around the base of Uluru itself and Kata Tjuta. At the moment its under $50 per adult to have a day pass.

The resort has a number of free activities as well. On our first day, we listened to the bush yarn given by the informative Natalie. She popped up in a few of the free activities and was very interesting to listen to. As part of the bush yarn, Natalie showed us some of the indigenous artwork. I’m featuring this one below as Natalie did advise the artist was more than happy to have her work photographed, providing she received credit for the work. Thank you Rosalind Dixon, I think its wonderful you allow people to take those memories with them.

I do hope you have enjoyed the first article. Feel free to ask any questions on this area, more than happy to assist in your planning.

Dine Live Travel is now offering an itinerary service. If you would like some insider information on the places we have visited, then contact dinelivetravel@yahoo.com.au or via Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. You can leave a comment here on the website too.

So many stories to tell from this incredible area! Keep watching!