So Australia is a pretty big country, larger than most non-Australians realize. One of the reasons for this misconception is because of maps, specifically their inability to display three dimensional surfaces in two dimensions. Below are two maps (click to enlarge). One is the traditional one you’re used to seeing, with big ol’ Canada and Russia at the top. The right map, while peculiar looking, is far better at representing the actual sizes of our Earthly domain.
But hey, you wanna put a globe onto a piece of paper? You gotta make a few concessions.
This new map recently won a design award in Japan. If the map thing isn’t putting things into perspective, than try this one: If Canada gave Australia Ontario, then both countries would be the same size.
While the map on the right may not be as pleasing to the Northerner's ego, or as something to hang up on a wall, the sizes are accurate. The Pacific is now the watery bohemoth it should be, the northern Canadian islands have properly shrunk, etc...
So what I’m trying to say is that Australia's a big country.
We hopped on a 3.5 hour flight one long weekend in October, to the direct centre of Australia. Why?
Not to see the Opera House, beaches, kangaroos, or Great Barrier Reef, but for the other post card image that comes to mind when you think of the land down under.
Forewarning: Some of you are about to tune out...
For around 550 million years, the large chunk of sandstone jutting out from the bottom of a prehistoric ocean had no name. Then for an indeterminate amount of time (5,000 – 15,000+ years ago), it was called Uluru, the aborigonal name for the location.
It will probably stay as Uluru / Ayers Rock until all of the promotional material and signage needs to be reprinted, at which point it will likely go back to being just Uluru. If all of this is confusing, then I have created this handy-dandy visual breaking down the different periods of Uluru names.
Uluru is far more than just a contentiously named hunk of sand stone. It’s an incredibly sacred site to the natives, and it also received more than 270,000 tourists in 2014. From my limited understanding, and what was communicated to Lindy and I upon our arrival, it is that the regional natives are
happy and proud to share their culture and scenic beauty with the world.
Their single request is that you do not climb the rock.
Okay. I generally try to avoid grand gestures of disrespect whenever I can, so I won’t lose sleep over not climbing the rock.
So we picked up our rental car from the nearby Ayers Rock airport (an airport constructed for one reason), and headed down to Yulara, the village made for tourists, about 20km from the national park entrance. Yulara is composed of lodgings (budget accommodation to five star), bars and restauarants, as well as a town square with souvenier shops and grocery store. As well as an ajoining village for staff accomodations.
Yulara is the 9th biggest human establishment in the Northern Territory, at about 2,500 people. Unless you are doing one of the camping under the stars packages, you are staying in this town. There is no where else. You are truly in the middle of nowhere, which is kind of creepy/cool.
We were only here for 2 nights, so relatively speaking, we didn’t do much. Sounds of Silence dinner, sunrise/sunset viewing, pool lounging, Uluru base walk, Kata Tjuta hike.
Sounds of Silence, was not in anyway associated with Simon and Garfunkle. Let’s get that out of the way.
Instead, it was a bus that took you to a sunset viewing platform, with all you can drink wine/champagne/beer. Then you are shuffled down a lovely path to an outdoor kitchen/dining area and proceed to eat and drink until the sunsets, the moonrises, you’re left with nothing ….. but the sounds of silence. Get it?
But no, there’s like an astronomy talk after your desert dessert and then you take the bumpy ride back to your lodgings. Normally, the night sky in the desert would be nothing short of mesmerizing, a spectacle difficult to overstate. However, our available weekend coincided with a big bright full moon. So basically I saw better stars back in Sydney. Full moon aside, it was really a beautiful night.
We finished the walk around 10:30AM, which meant it was time to get out of the sun. If you’re into napping, Uluru might be the place for you. Basically everyday you have to find indoor activity between 11:00AM-4:00PM, it’s just too freakin’ hot and sunny. To get around this, Lindy and I woke up between 4:30-5:30 each morning.
Skipping passed some mid-afternoon beers and pool lounging, the sunset, the buy-and-grill-your-own-meat BBQ, and we’re up again at 4:30 to make it for sunrise over Uluru. Maybe my first sunrise ever? I dunno.
Since we were up earlier than the rest of the crowd, we were one of the first cars to arrive at Kata Tjuta to watch the sunrise, after which we would do the Valley of the Winds hike.
I have to say, as someone who isn’t normally up before sunrise, driving through the desert is a nice place to be for it. It’s incredibly quiet, it’s still cool (only like 10-15°C), and everything is more of a pastel-ly type colour. It’s nice.
I get a good spot to watch the sunrise, and since I’m well early, Lindy’s elected to have a quick nap in the car before the sun comes up. So I’m up there basically by myself a good 35 minutes before the action, plenty of time for self-reflection, universe pondering, et cetera, and I kinda get into the zone.
About 20 minutes later, the tour bus comes.
After another short drive, where we saw a pack of wild camels, we were at our Windy Valley hike. Don’t let the name fool you, it is REALLY windy (also not a Sonic the Hedgehog level). We had to take off our hat and sunglasses because the wind was whipping up such a frenzy. I actually wasn’t quick enough, and lost my red ball cap into the abyss… :(
Long story short, if you find yourself at Uluru National Park, make sure you a lot atleast 75% of the time you give Uluru, to Kata Tjuta as well. It’s far more interesting and expansive of an environment. Uluru, on the other hand, photographs way easier. Hence why I don't have more pictures here from Kata Tjuta, it was very difficult to capture the feeling of it.
So we wrap up the hike (Lindy found my hat on the way back!), shook the ants off my hat, and head back to the airport to make the flight back to Sydney, and to work on the next morning.
So that “next morning”, was just under two months ago. I am now unemployed, finished a great 6-month contract, and Lindy and I are trying to buy a campervan. Right now, we are heading to Borneo in few hours for two weeks, then back to Australia to see some of its South and East coast.
Jeez, where does the time go, eh?