Since I can’t drive, the only way to go see the rocks in the desert is a tour. On my journey, I met a handful of people who recommended The Rock Tour, so that was my choice – unfortunately there’s a lot of driving, so we start early. As in 5:30 in the morning, and roll out in 2 buses – Beth, Celine and I hog the back seat and settle in.
Along the way, our guide Mark has us come up to the front and introduce ourselves, before handing us pens and getting us to deface the windows. We have to put our countries flag, or name and a random picture. The one he likes best will get a drink from him at the end of the tour. I draw a platypus, which was fairly unique in that is didn’t involve any alcohol like the majority.
About 4 hours in, we start seeing a mountain in the distance…but it’s not Uluru.
Its Mount Conner, and it’s been nicknamed ‘Fooluru’ – because tourists go past on their way to Uluru and mistake it for Ayers Rock. A quite photo op and we were on our way again. Another 3 ours, and the real one starts looming in the distance. First stop, the cultural centre.
The local Aboriginal people have had a hard time regaining this land. When the Europeans first came, their farming decimated most of the usual food sources, and when tourism came in, working for hotels or selling souvineers became their only way to make income. However, most of the settlers considered them a nuisance and loiterers for swarming Ayers Rock. The settlers also heavily damaged several places of importance to the local Aboriginal people. In the 1970’s, a law was passed that could allow Aboriginals to claim back land – however, since the area including Uluru and Kata Tjuta was declared a National Park, it couldn’t be returned.
Several more years of fighting, and eventually a compromise was made. The land was given back to its rightful owners, and then leased to the government to be used as a National Park. This allows the Aboriginals to live on the land, and they hold an equal standing in the parks running as rangers and in the management.
Thanks to this change, people can no longer climb Uluru – it’s still technically legal to do so, but people are expected to respect the request. It used to be that it could only be climbed by boys undergoing the ceremony to become men – however, since they request that visitors don’t climb it, they’ve stopped doing it too. Instead, people walk along the base of Uluru, which takes at least 90 minutes to do, because this thing is HUGE.
All the photos are of the same spot, so I always had it in my mind that Uluru was rather oval and smooth. In reality, that’s just one small area – Uluru has hundreds of different surfaces and shapes.
The base walk covers about 3/4 of the rock, for the final part, Mark took us around to see some areas that were of importance when the Aboriginals lived here, including rock paintings, the woman’s cooking area, an area boys were taught, and an area woman came to give birth.
By this point the sun is starting to set, so we head off to the viewing area, where all the the famous photos of Uluru are taken. It’s pretty popular at sunset since the red dust makes the rock change colour in the light. Mark also made dinner while we wait, 2 different types of noodle dish which we ate as the light dimmed. It’s hard to see the colour change with your eyes, but camera’s are pretty good at picking it up.
Tonight we were sleeping at a campground outside the park – all the original hotels and campgrounds built here have been closed down out of respect, and it was my first chance to try sleeping in something I’d seen at the Roadhouse caravan park several times, a swag.
This is basically a waterproof zip up sack with a flap for a pillow and a very thin mattress turning it into a bed. I’d not hired a sleeping back as the person on the phone had suggested it would be too warm to need one, so just zipped up, tucked my shoes under the top part of the mattress to make a raised pillow and went to sleep.