Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Day 8 and 9 – 14-15 April 2008 – Yulara/Uluru/Kata Tjuta

Day 8 and 9 – 14-15 April 2008

Yulara/Uluru/Kata Tjuta – 503 km

Running total – 2,751 km

Soundtrack: Gigantic – The Pixies

We headed into and alongside Pitjantjatjara land, and very much into the heart of the country. Crossing into the Northern Territory, we felt a sense of homecoming. We had lived in Darwin for two years until 2002, although this was a very different NT to the one we experienced then. Somewhat surprisingly, the soil is actually red. Of course we knew it would be – all the postcards, documentaries and souvenir tea towels tell us so, but it still had a significant ‘wow’ factor.

It also reminded us, because we actually needed reminding, that this country is huge. Most Australians take their country’s physical dimensions for granted, but it’s quite affecting to be amongst the vast distances between towns and settlements, and, ultimately, consider the way in which Indigenous Australians lived their lives prior to European settlement. Aborigines would cover enormous distances by foot, guided by the knowledge of their country that was passed down through generations, for physical and cultural sustenance. Yet even now, one can drive at 110 km/h or more and still see no evidence of human inhabitation for hours on end. In short, the place is gigantic – and The Rock we would see soon was further evidence of that.

Through the roadhouse of Kulgera and left into the Lasseter Highway, past the impressive yet relatively unknown Mount Conner (we thought it was The Rock at first), Uluru (formally Ayers Rock) suddenly loomed large on the horizon.

Uluru’s shape is firmly etched onto our brains as one of the most recognisable pieces of Australiana, yet nothing prepared us for its sheer presence. We made our way to the ‘resort’ town of Yulara – a humorous and somewhat exaggerated description of a settlement that has the monopoly on accommodation in the area – negotiated the extortion being offered for the price of a campsite, renegotiated it when it became apparent that we had been allocated a pile of lumpy red dirt in direct sun alongside other sites of shady, lush green grass, set up camp, and headed to one of the designated sunset areas to admire The Rock.

And we did. Like the other tourists from near and far in that car-park, we took photos of it, and photos of us admiring it, and were certifiably awe-struck at the colours of Uluru as the sun set behind us.

The next day we spent exploring some of Uluru, and it was a remarkable experience to touch the smooth, undulating rock. We came across ancient water holes and rock-paintings and admired the ways in which the rock has been formed and forged by the elements over time. The cultural centre was an informative and cleverly designed building, in which the stories of the rock, its significance and how it was returned to the traditional owners were clearly and sensitively told. The publications and signage were really fabulous, providing information about the sites, trails, maps, and illustrating the co-operative relationship between the Anangu People and National Parks.

We also admired, rather dumbfounded, the number of people lining up to climb Uluru. We were astounded because one would need to work pretty hard to avoid all of the signs, brochures and displays outlining and detailing the Indigenous custodians’ consideration of Uluru as a sacred site. There are specific rules and guidelines stipulating who could approach the rock, at what times and in what circumstances that are tens of thousands of years old. Tourists are continually reminded of the importance of respecting the wishes of the people who own the land that is currently leased back to the government. Nevertheless, bunches of pale-skinned plodders in designer travel gear and draped with duty-free technology were making their way up and waving to the onlookers. The four of us were appalled, and, as parents, Sandy and I found it difficult to explain to our children why, when it was so obvious it was wrong to walk on Uluru, some people chose to do it anyway. And our children, likewise, didn’t understand why people would be so rude and offensive, after being asked repeatedly not to do it.

After lunch we headed to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). The road to Kata Tjuta took us past a construction site for a new sunset viewing area for Uluru that, it seems, would cost $20 million – a handsome sum for a carpark and for something the original inhabitants of the land had historically gratis. In view of Uluru, Kata Tjuta is another astounding rock formation that defies its surrounding terrain. We walked along the path through the rock formations, and marvelled at the sheer size of these beautiful rocks.

Again, we made our way to a sunset viewing area and this time took our folding chairs to watch the sun go down. So did lots of over people, many of whom were more interested in hearing their own voices, playing ball, or eating to appreciate the vista. We didn’t enjoy this experience nearly as much as the quieter, more contemplative sun set the day before. Before the sun was quite down, we headed back to camp.



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