Today was our day to explore a couple of the world famous natural attractions here in Australia – Uluru and Kata Tjuta- massive rock formations that are of major spiritual importance to the native people. Now this is the heartland of Australia and it is a famously harsh environment. This past January the weather service had to add another “hotter” color to the weather map because red no longer reflected how hot it actually was here. It can go years without raining. Well, guess what, today it rained – all day!
Uluru is this massive monolith rising from surrounding plains and people come from around the world to watch the rock color change as the sun moves across it. All the photos you might ever see of Uluru are when the sun is on it. Well, we got a rare treat today and that was to see Uluru with waterfalls streaming down from its 1,100 foot plateau top! A truly unique opportunity! There is a trail around the base of Uluru so that was our goal. The 6 mile loop gave us a real feel for the immense size of The Rock and we were able to see the many sacred sites of the Aborigines on Uluru. We started our hike in a light drizzle and were enjoying the various deep shades of red on the rock, but by the time we were half way around the base, it had been raining long enough to start the flow of many waterfalls! It was spectacular!
Once we completed this hike we returned to the Cultural Centre for a quick take-away lunch and then we drove 50k to the Kata Tjuta part of the park. The rock formations in this area are completely different from Uluru. Instead of the single piece of Sandstone that is Uluru, these fins and domes of rock appeared to be some sort of rough conglomerate. Here we hiked the Walpa Gorge trail, a 2k trail that took us to the head of a canyon. The narrow steep walls of the Walpa Gorge have provided shade, water and food for animals and people for thousands of years. It was a lovely, although wet, walk.
By now we needed to think about heading back to our motel at Curtin Springs Cattle Station because we’re not allowed to drive the rental car after dark. Let’s say we made it back just in time!
Our day today had a pleasantly surprising start. Because we wanted to get on the road as soon as it was light, we decided to show up for breakfast when they first started serving it, 7 AM. We walked up to the outdoor menu board by the thatched roof and were met by a woman who we hadn’t seen before. She took our breakfast order and money and told us we could eat inside, in the kitchen area as soon as the workers had finished their breakfast and left to start their work day.
We were very excited about this opportunity because at dinner last night the kitchen was off-limits to the guests. Family and farm hands ate in the kitchen. We were invited into the kitchen with the only rule being that we didn’t sit at the head of the table, that was reserved for family. This woman started cooking our breakfasts on a huge stove and we chatted with two workers who were just taking their last bites of breakfast. Once they moved on this woman started talking about the cattle ranch and it quickly became apparent that she was one of the land owners! Our thought of a quick breakfast was soon abandoned as we realized what an opportunity we had to ask questions of this woman (whose name we still don’t know!) and to learn about life in the outback. We learned that they frequently go 7-10 years without rain – think about that, 7-10 years with no rain! She showed us photos from the fires on their property from last October, including photos of a fire tornado! Scary stuff! We talked about tourism, drilling for water, education, camels, salt lakes and trips to town. To the best of her recollection, she only went to Alice Springs 3 times last year! After a bit, her husband came in, sat at the head of the table and we recognized him as he was in the store when we checked into our motel room. After an hour or more, we said our thanks and goodbyes to these fine people and were on our way to Uluru. What an honor to share a meal with these folks! Our outback experience has been enriched because of this interaction.
Tomorrow we are off to Kings Canyon for more hiking. We have more driving to do tomorrow than we did today because we need to position ourselves to make the drive to Alice Springs on Friday morning to catch our flight back to Melbourne.
Today has been a remarkable day on so many levels, one that none of us will ever forget.