MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “April, 2018”

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

Growing up in Scotland, I feel I’ve lived a somewhat sheltered life. Into adulthood, immigration became a hot topic in the years before I emigrated myself, and whilst I always had an awareness of what has and is occurring in other countries around the world, it is only since moving to New Zealand, where not only am I not a native, but my race is not the indigenous one, that I have had my eyes opened a little more to the realities of race relations. Whilst it looks like progress is being made in both Australia and New Zealand with regards to Indigenous rights, there is still a long way to go it would seem, and a lot of dissidence, misunderstanding and prejudice still remain in both countries. I’ve had a side-ways interest in the Indigenous Peoples of Australia for some time, mainly sparked through movies and books over the years. I was interested to see what my experience would be upon visiting the Northern Territory. I’d already been made aware of the lack of recognition by many people within and outwith Australia of the return of naming Ayers Rock to Uluru, being met by blank faces multiple times when I chatted to people about my trip plans. Having visited Fraser Island, now renamed K’Gari, just a few weeks prior, this slow rate of progression was very evident.

So when I got off the Uluru Hop On-Hop Off bus at the Mara car park, excited to be next to this most famous of geological structures, it was with a divided heart that I watched the people climb up the rock face to the summit in front of me. I’d long since heard about the request of the Indigenous landowners not to climb Uluru, and right in front of the track up there is a sign stating this also. However it is not illegal, and so there was a steady pilgrimage of people hauling themselves up with the chain that is still steadfastly bolted into the sacred rock. I was divided because it looked so achievable, and I love summiting mountains, but I was brought up to respect other people’s beliefs, and understanding the significance of this rock, I knew it was not right to climb it. But as multiple tourists turned up to climb including a busload led up by their guide, I did wonder about why these tour companies were allowed to do this, and why they were not promoting the right message. I was waiting for the guided walk to start, and had a bit of time to kill at the base. It was already hot at 10am and there was little shade around. I watched and pondered for some time, distracted only by a large perentie, the largest monitor lizard in Australia.

 

I would highly recommend the guided walk, which follows a small section of the base walk around the bottom of Uluru. The Indigenous guide gave a fascinating insight into the spiritual significance of Uluru to the Indigenous landowners, the Pitjantjatjara Aṉangu, as well as covering flora, fauna and geology. I’d already been amazed in Queensland about how knowledgeable the Indigenous Australians are about living off the land and utilising it to its best potential. From understanding the seasons and what to harvest when and how, to navigation and survival in the harsh Outback. The stories can vary from one Indigenous group to another, and within them there are rules and traditions, which can mean some things can only be passed on by women, and some only by men. Others are sacred and cannot be translated. And others still, require trust and understanding to have the privilege of hearing them. To the local Aṉangu, only the chosen few should summit Uluru. As the guide pointed out, if you were asked to wear a head scarf or take off your shoes to visit a church or a mosque, you would do it. So why would you climb Uluru when you were asked not to? To them, it is akin to respecting someone else’s religious beliefs, and I totally agree.

 

I took few photos during the guided walk as I was absorbed in everything the guide told us, but after it was finished, I had a lot of ground to cover in the heat of the day. I planned on walking the base track that circumnavigates the base of Uluru, despite the insane heat. I was slathered in suncream, had the hat on I’d bought in Adelaide, and I had as much water as I could carry. There was no point rushing, and once on my own, because hardly anyone else was crazy enough to hike in the heat, I became snap happy as the shape and pattern of the rock next to me constantly changed. In places there are signs requesting no photographs are taken due to the significance of that part of the structure to the Aṉangu, but large portions can be photographed without disrespect, and I was as much fascinated by the flora and fauna that surrounded the track as I was by Uluru itself. I was just loving the oranges and reds of the rock and the desert.

 

As the track heads east along the northern face of Uluru, there were all sorts of gouges and crevices in the rock face, creating an effect of artwork, the largest of which looked to me like a brain and face. The vegetation surrounding the path was a mix of desert shrubs and flowers and occasionally there were insects and birds flitting amongst them. When I eventually reached a shelter after some time in the full exposure of the sun, I took the opportunity to hide out in the shade for awhile before pushing on.

 

As the track turned south around the eastern end, it passed a no-photo zone before reaching a car park. There were a few people around here, and from this point onwards, I had a bit of company on the track, after having the northern aspect pretty much to myself. Whereas the northern and western aspects had been more about steep verticals, the eastern and southern aspects were more rolling and rounded. It was still steep but the look and feel of this side was quite different and even the nearby vegetation seemed different too. It was possible to see fissures and cracks with rocks breaking apart, and streaks of black through the orange denoted where waterfalls streamed down after rain.

 

After some time, a track split off to cut up to a little pool and nearby was an overhang where some Indigenous rock painting could be seen close up. From here onwards, the track hugged the base of Uluru quite closely, giving a close-up view of the make up of the rock. When I made it back to Mara car park I was dismayed to see a coach load of tourists heading up the track to the summit. I retraced part of the track I’d done with the guide earlier that day in order to photograph a few of the spots we’d stopped at in the morning, before returning to the car park once more, 4hrs after starting the walk.

 

From the nearby toilet block, the Limu walk cut across the desert to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre where I had planned on getting back on the bus. I’d originally planned on getting the last day bus back, but after chatting with the driver at the centre, there was space for me to go on the evening bus which included an additional stop on the way back. This meant I had a bit of time to spend at the centre and explore. Aside from the shop which sold me some much desired ice cream, and a few galleries of local artist’s work, there was an interpretation centre giving more insight into the local Indigenous culture and tradition. Ownership of Uluru was taken by the Northern Territories Reserve Board and it was renamed Ayers Rock before the Australian Government later returned it to the Aṉangu on the condition that they lease it back to the Government, resulting in it being co-managed. This lease lasts for 99 years, starting in 1985. The footage of the handover was an interesting video to watch, and it was clear there were mixed emotions about getting ownership back in theory, whilst still not getting it back fully.

 

I got picked up by the very last hop on-hop off bus to join a small band of people to head to a special lookout spot to watch the sunset over Uluru. In an uncomfortable and awkward moment, the bus driver accidentally killed a perentie that was sunbathing on the road. This immediately reminded me of one of the excursions I’d done in the Galapagos Islands when the bus that was taking me to see the endangered bird life, accidentally killed one of the endangered birds. It was yet another reminder of what implications tourism can have on local wildlife. The driver felt really guilty and kept apologising to us for the rest of the way.

There was only one other small coach there when we arrived, but we were warned it would get busy, and sure enough, coach load after coach load began to pull in and unload a crowd of sunset watchers who spread out across the viewing spot, jostling for the perfect place to watch the colours of Uluru change. As with the night before, the sky went through a range of blues and Uluru itself turned from orange to red as the light level faded. After a while, I crossed to the far side of the lookout to view the opposite direction, where the hint of Kata Tjuta just about peaked over the horizon close to where the sun sunk low. The colour palate was beautiful, and despite the crowd around me, it was a magical experience.

 

Back at the Outback Pioneer, I had some laundry to do before dinner, and now in darkness with only the low-level lights marking the pathways, I came out of my dorm room to head towards the main building when suddenly a creature shot out in front of me from near the kitchen disappearing into the darkness. The moment was over as soon as I acknowledged it but I was excited after the failed sightings on K’Gari to add wild dingo to the list of animals spotted on my trip. Taking the shuttle to the main square, I had a delicious dinner at one of the eateries in the resort, seemingly confusing the staff by being a lone diner. Perhaps they don’t get many there, but I personally don’t have a problem eating out on my own. Afterwards, there was a long wait for the shuttle bus back. I was tired and full and didn’t want to walk back, but I got antsy waiting, aware I still had to sort out my laundry before getting to bed. By the time I crawled into my bunk, I was eager for sleep but despite the coolness of the night outside, the dorm room was oppressively hot. I had my stuff all ready to make an early exit, as I had another early rise the next morning. As impressive as Uluru is, there is more to see within the National Park, and I was determined to see as much as I could.

The Red Centre

It’s interesting how different an experience people can have at a place. I recently heard someone say their friend described Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) as ‘just a big rock’ and as such they weren’t fussed about going themselves. To say my opinion of Uluru is the total opposite would be an understatement. From the moment I stepped off the airport transfer bus at the Ayers Rock Resort, there was the hint in the air of something special. I cannot put in words the emotions that I have attached to the next few days of my trip. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but something about this place spoke to me in a manner that I cannot describe. Perhaps it was the immense heat fogging up my perception. Or the mesmerising idyll of the red sandy desert. Or the fact that I saw some things that I’d wanted to for a long time. Or perhaps it was all of it, combined together into a hot desert perfection. Whatever the reason, Australia’s Red Centre is a very special place for me.

A lot of people visiting Uluru do so from Alice Springs, nearly 6hrs away. Without your own transport this means being tied to the constraints of an organised tour. When I found out about the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara, the nearest accommodation to Uluru, I knew that this was where I was going to stay. Offering a choice of accommodation types, a retail and eatery zone, and ready access to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it was the perfect base to explore the area. I was on a budget and had booked into the backpacker wing of the Outback Pioneer Lodge. The complementary shuttle from the nearby airfield circled the upmarket resort accommodation first before dropping me off at the lodge. There was a bit of queue to check in, but getting this out the way, I was soon dumping my stuff and getting out to explore. The resort is set up in a large U-shape with a wide wild zone in the middle. The tourism and retail centre was at the far side of this central wilderness zone from my accommodation, but despite the heat and availability of a resort shuttle that regularly loops between the zones, I decided to walk under the blazing sun to the retail area to arrange some excursions, grab a drink at the cafe and visit the supermarket to stock up on food. Reliant on a twice weekly train delivery for supplies, there were quite a few empty sections where stock had run low. This was life in the Outback.

 

Taking the shuttle bus back to the lodge, I followed a trail leading out the back of the accommodation, up a small hill to a view point where I could see not only across the desert to Uluru but also Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), the lesser known rock formations in the region. A crowd gathered as the sun lowered, and we watched the changing colours across the famous red rock. The resort is littered with walking trails, several of which lead to natural hillocks offering a sunset and sunrise viewing spot. Aside from the people, I was accompanied by some doves and as the sun lowered, a large colony of ants appeared out of the ground. Aside from a few wisps near the horizon, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I watched in silence as the rocks turned from orange to various shades of red, and the sky went through a range of blues. Only once the colour changes faded into darkness did I leave to eat dinner before going on a night time excursion.

 

My trip to Yulara coincided with a temporary outdoor art exhibit called the Field of Lights. At the time of visiting, it was only due to be there for a few months, but it has since been extended until 2020. Made up of 50,000 lights spread across the equivalent of 7 football fields, the artist Bruce Munro has created a colour-changing light display to be enjoyed in the darkness of the desert night. It has proved very popular and was close to being booked out during my visit. I had had problems making a booking online in advance and as such thought I would have to miss out on it, but I was lucky to be able to grab a last minute ticket the day I arrived, and at the scheduled time on my ticket, I joined several coach loads of people to drive out to the field in the middle of nowhere to go see it. After a briefing from the staff about how best to enjoy it, and when to be back at the bus, I did my best to escape the crowd and take it all in.

Two paths lead through the exhibit – a long path and a short path. I opted for the longer one first and once the crowd of visitors thinned out a little, it was easy to get lost in my own thoughts. Early on into the experience I looked up to see not only an amazing array of stars but I was overwhelmed to see the Milky Way very distinctly sweeping across the sky above my head. I’d never seen the Milky Way before and I was awestruck at how clearly it appeared. I spent the rest of the night torn between the dazzling light display below eye level and the mesmerising astronomic display above me. Following first the long path and then looping back round through the short path, I was last to get back to the bus pick-up area, only to discover our bus was running late. I spent the time staring up at the Milky Way until it was time to board and return to our accommodation where I attempted to sleep in the hot and tiny dorm room.

 

The next morning I was awoken by my roommates stirring so it seemed like a good idea to get up and watch the sunrise. Donning my clothes and making the short distance to the lookout hillock, I huddled in the chill morning air watching the colour creep back into the sky and the landscape below it. It amazes me how cold the desert night is, considering how hot the desert day is. I’ve read stories of people lost in the desert succumbing to the cold nights despite putting up with the hot arid days. As time passed I was eventually joined by others although less than had ventured out the night before for the sunset.

The hulking outline of Uluru grew clearer and clearer as the sky turned from a deep blue, lightening through to peach and pink ahead of the sun bursting above the horizon. Then the form of Uluru changed once more from a deep red, lightening up to the characteristic orange. In the distance, Kata Tjuta went through the same changes and it was very evident it was going to be another cloudless day. Aside from those other early risers, there were a couple of courting doves strutting around the lookout, and unfamiliar birds flitting around the nearby foliage.

 

The sun rose quite quickly and there was plenty of light spilling across the landscape by the time I retraced my steps back to my room to get ready for the day. I had pre-purchased a ticket for the Uluru Hop-On, Hop-Off bus service and arranged to be collected for the first day trip into the park. Ready and waiting, I was excited to board and get going, ready to explore up close the behemoth that I’d come all this way to see. Just a short drive from Yulara, we reached the entrance to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, an exposed tourist mecca under the baking Outback sun. This was the day I had waited for for a very long time.

Heading East

My visit to Western Australia’s Rottnest Island, an absolute gem of a place, marked the most western point of my great Australian adventure. From now onward, it was all about moving eastward. I’d arrived back in Fremantle in the darkness, and made my way back through the streets with the hope of grabbing some dinner at the Fremantle market. Unfortunately, I arrived just as the place was beginning to wind down, and I was forced to pick my way through the Friday night revellers to find a place to get dinner. Thankfully the market was open again on Saturday morning, because my brief foray into it had looked like it was worth some time, so that next morning, after I lazily got myself up, packed up once more and checked out of the prison hostel, I headed down there for brunch. And it was awesome.

Full of stalls selling artwork, gifts, homeware, clothes, jewellery, and a ream of other things, it also had a fresh fruit section at one end, nestled amongst a choice of food options, with sweet treats, meat, and drinks also well catered for. Whilst quite different from Adelaide‘s Central Market (my favourite market in Australia), my enjoyment of the Fremantle market rivalled that which I had had wandering around Adelaide’s market, and I wished many times, that I not only owned a house, but also lived locally, so that I could go to town buying beautiful paintings and the like. I spent quite a bit of money there, finding gifts for my family, buying gifts for myself, and sampling several of the food and drink options. I have a rule that I will never diet on holidays – travelling is all about enjoying, experiencing and embracing cultures, and I very much include cuisine in that category. After 4.5 weeks on the road though, I had definitely overindulged and was both looking it and feeling it. But I wasn’t ready to stop pigging out yet.

 

Eventually though, it was time to bid farewell to Fremantle and head back to Perth. My flight was leaving early the next morning, so I needed to be in a more convenient location to get to the airport, meaning I was returning to the hostel in Perth’s city centre that I had stayed at a few nights prior. It was a noisy trundle through Fremantle’s streets with my suitcase, returning to the train station to catch the convenient service back to Perth, then after trundling to the hostel and dumping my stuff, I was ready to explore the state capital’s city once more.

I was aiming for Elizabeth Quay, but I got side-tracked at Stirling Gardens where there were some life-sized sculptures of kangaroos and a view across to the pretty St George’s Cathedral. At the far end of the garden was the Supreme Court building which stood looking rather grand. Towering above it was a hint of what was to come, as I discovered a plethora of large cranes dominating the skyline as I moved closer and closer to the quay. The Bell Tower is a rather distinctive spire that points sharply up towards the sky, and for a small fee you can go up it and get a view over the nearby area. What I discovered sadly, was that its view is very rapidly diminishing as a multi-million dollar development including casino and restaurants is rising up from the ground right next to it. The view it used to have over Elizabeth Quay and the city centre skyrises, was marred by the cranes at the time of visiting, but will eventually be blocked out. As unique as the building is to look at, I feel the value in going up to the lookout level will soon be rather limited.

 

Skirting round the construction site, the area around Elizabeth Quay was much more pleasant to wander around. The broad expanse of the Swan River lies to one side, and the waterfront development to the other. It was yet another roasting hot day, and after taking in the views over Elizabeth Quay from Elizabeth Quay Island, I managed to procure a table at the exceedingly packed rotunda-shaped restaurant overlooking the waterfront. In a moment of thoughtlessness, I requested a table in the sunshine, and proceeded to perspire greatly as I sipped on a chilled cider and tucked into a pizza. Nearby, the beautiful archways of the Elizabeth Quay bridge led off to the far side.

 

Once full, I joined the steady stream of people to meander across the bridge, arriving at the sparkling First Contact Sculpture which stood proudly on the banks of the river. From this far side, the cranes made an interesting juxtaposition against the spire of the Bell Tower, and I simply followed the waterfront back round in a circle, admiring the large arches of Spanda up close, and finding myself at Gusto Gelato, a locally famous gelato parlour with a rather long queue out the door. I did not need any more food, but I wasn’t going to miss out on a local legend, and thank goodness I didn’t skip it, as it turned out to be the most deliciously delightful ice cream I have ever eaten.

 

After vegetating at the waterfront to allow for a bit of digestion, I decided to round off the afternoon by taking a long walk north in an effort to justify all the calories I’d eaten that day. I had my sights set on Hyde Park in the north of the city, and made a beeline for William St, a long road that led from the waterfront all the way there. This led me first through the streets of skyrises in the CBD (central business district), across the railway lines of the central railway station, and north into a student area and then Chinatown. The TAFE building had some artwork on its walls which distracted me briefly away from the main road, and I perused the windows of the Asian food marts and Chinese restaurants as I passed.

 

By the time I reached Hyde Park, after what felt like a very long time, the clouds had begun to pack in a little, and I was a little disappointed with the park itself. I think the name had led me to believe it would be some beautifully grand expanse, but although the central lakes provided some incredible reflections as I walked around, it was smaller than I imagined, and being September at the time, the plant life was not in its prime. It was however very busy: surrounded by residential streets and being a Saturday, it was abuzz with families and friends enjoying themselves with picnics. I sat for a while in contemplation. I was moving into my final week of my trip, and it was suddenly hitting me that my adventure was nearly over. Grabbing a bubble tea on my way back through Chinatown, it was time to return to my hostel, ahead of an early rise the next morning.

 

After all the overindulgence the day before, I awoke feeling a bit rotten. In the end, I had to quickstep to the bus stop to catch the airport bus, making it with just a few minutes to spare. Being early on a Sunday, both it and the airport were quite quiet. Taking off and heading east, I was returning to Adelaide in South Australia, a city I hadn’t been to since 2014. One of my old work colleagues from my former life in Scotland has made Adelaide her home, and having not seen her since that last trip, I was to have a flying visit with her for 24 hours. My stay coincided with the Adelaide Show, and after picking me up, we headed straight there.

A smaller version of the Melbourne Show which I’d attended back in 2012, it was still full of activity, from carnival rides to eateries, to outdoor shows and beyond. We decided to do one carnival ride, a 9D movie experience that was pretty terrible, then we watched drone racing, a sport which I’d never known was possible, and then we stood for ages for a prime viewing spot at the pig racing, an event which proved highly popular and entertaining despite not lasting very long. We hung out over drinks and food, catching up on each other’s lives, before heading indoors to join the crowds at the show bag arena, something which had amused and intrigued me in equal measures at the Melbourne Show. An entire hall was dedicated to selling bags containing whatever themed goodies your heart could desire, from kids shows, to daytime tv and movies, as well as perfumes and magazines. My need for a hat at my next destination tempted me to buy the Home & Away themed show bag, and finally it was time to head back to my friend’s place for dinner and drinks.

 

My friend’s partner ran me back to the airport the next morning. There was a sense of familiarity about the place, and I grabbed myself some breakfast before meandering around the displays and shops. I was amused to find a smiling face at the bottom of my cup of coffee, but it seemed fitting as I was heading to a part of the country that I had wanted to visit for some time. I had an indirect flight with a very short connecting time, so I was a little anxious when my flight was delayed. After take-off we headed north over the great Australian desert landscape, the near-featureless expanse stretching out for miles below us. Against the burnt orange, great grey-white lakes offered occasional contrast, and then finally we descended towards Alice Springs, a semi-green little oasis amongst the burnt orange. We’d managed to make up some time, and in the end the plane landed just 10 minutes late. Alice Springs airport was small, and in the shortest time I’ve ever spent in an airport in my whole life, I entered the terminal building having disembarked the plane, to find myself already at the gate for my next flight, and they were announcing boarding as I walked in the door. Assured that my luggage would be there to greet me at the other end, I headed back out onto the tarmac to board my second flight. Then it was just a 40 minute plane ride to Yulara, the closest airport to Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock. And so began the incredible trip to Australia’s Red Centre.

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