Friday, May 12, 2006

The Red Centre Rocks! (sort of)

I'm writing two posts about the last couple days: one about the tourist-y aspects and one ranting about some stuff. This is the post explaining all the tourist-y stuff I've seen/done.

My main objective for coming to Alice Springs was to travel another 5 hours from here and visit that all important symbol of Australia: Uluru (AKA Ayers Rock, but I am going to use the correct, non-colonized name). Since my lack of car prevents me from traveling anywhere myself, I was left with the option of taking a tour. Not a bad option because it meant I also got a tour guide, some traveling companions, some food, and to see a few other things besides the rock itself.

Since everything is such a long drive from everything else, the tour bus picked me up at 5:10am. Yes, it was still dark, and remained dark for about the first hour of the bus ride. After another three or so hours of driving in daylight, we arrived at our first stop: Kings Canyon (pictured left). There's really not much to say about Kings Canyon, except that it is a really big canyon and there were a lot of rocks. Pictures would explain more--it did look really cool--but there's not much I can write that would be of interest, except maybe to mention that we got to see the spot where they filmed a key scene from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert".

Next was another good hour and a half of driving before arriving at our accommodation for the night. The brochure said we'd be camping, so I was expecting to rough it a little, but really I was was not too disappointed by the fact that our "campsite" included a full kitchen, a screened-in eating area and permanent canvas tents. I also would not really call if camping due to the fact that there was not even one mention of s'mores, but maybe that's just an American thing. Anyway, you can't get Hershey's chocolate here, so really s'mores would be pointless.

Although there were the canvas tents, we were highly encouraged to sleep out under the stars in swags. A swag an Aussie sleeping bag of sorts (as in "Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong..."), and is sort of a canvas cocoon on top of what feels like a deflated air mattress. The air mattress aspect is actually quite comfortable--definitely more comfortable than some of the hostel beds I've been sleeping in. It was freezing cold--about 5 degrees centigrade (which converts into "too cold to be outside" in Fahrenheit"), but our guide assured us that the swags would keep us warm, especially with a regular sleeping bag inside. I believed him, even choosing to sleep in just shorts and a t-shirt (he said that the less you wear, the warmer it is). Maybe I set mine up wrong or something, because I woke up shivering in the middle of the night, put on about three more layers, and still ended up sleeping in the fetal position.

In the end, it was worth it just for the view when we were woken up in the "morning." I put "morning" in quotes because it was actually 5am and still dark out. But the full moon had set, nobody had lights or a fire on, and you could see the stars brilliantly. It's not too bad waking up to see the Milky Way overhead.

We were up so early so that we'd have time to make it over to Uluru for sunrise. People are right that seeing pictures of it does not compare to seeing the actual thing. Its size just can't be captured in a photograph (although I tried, with the requisite photograph to the right. I know, it looks like I'm standing in front of a postcard or something, but I swear I was there). The sunrise was pretty, and the rock definitely did change colors as the sun came up, but I was mildly distracted by the cold and by the fact that my camera chose that moment to stop taking pictures in focus.

After sunrise, we took a walk around the base. It's a 9km walk in total, but we skipped a part and cut it down to just 7km. That's one big rock! There were some interesting cave paintings along the way and lots of interesting formations, but in the end it really was just a gigantic rock. Next we went over to Kata Tjuta, a group of rock domes that's right by Uluru. Our hike through the part called the Valley of the Winds (pictured left, and you can see some of the rock domes in the background) was very pretty, and--you guessed it--filled with a lot of rocks. Again, pictures would help make this blog entry more interesting. I'm not sure I'm convinced that it is worth traveling all the way to the middle of nowhere just to see a whole lot of rocks, but I would have regretted it if I'd skipped it.


In other news, my travel plans have changed more than just a little bit. My original plan was to work here in Alice Springs until my visa expires in the middle of June. But by the time I got here, I didn't really like that plan much, so I've decided to throw in the towel and just cut the Australia portion of my trip short. I'm leaving tomorrow on a two-day drive down to Adelaide, stopping along the way in the underground mining town of Coober Pedy. Then on Monday I'll catch an early flight back to Sydney, and on Tuesday I'll leave for Auckland. While I've done and seen a lot here in Australia, that's sort of turning out to be the problem. Traveling is exhausting and I'm ready to settle down somewhere for awhile. Hopefully in New Zealand I can find a job for six months or so, and I can stop being a tourist and find out what it's really like to live--not just travel--in another country.


Adrian said...

Red rocks are cool...

Peter W said...

Uluru is impressive but I think I like Kata Tjuta better ... rocks were much more interesting

Wyatt said...

So I just listened to "Waltzing Matilda" and "Home Among the Gum Trees" after reading about the swagman. Have fun and stay safe.