The Field of Light will stay lit

Months ago when I visited Uluru in Central Australia I posted a story about the sculptural installation known as the Field of Light. I explained this remarkable land-covering spectacle would be removed early this year. I urged people to come and experience this. Well – stop press news!  The exhibition is being extended until 31 December 2020.

So give yourself a break, a much needed holiday. Travel to Uluru and while you stay somewhere in the Ayers Rock Resort complex, make sure you dedicate one dark evening to exploring this Field of Light.

FOL_ANAFOL_SilhouttesInField_0X0A9983_480x480.jpg

From the Dunes and then away

All the hotels have their own Uluru viewing dunes and, since I had not walked along the track to the one closest to the Outback Pioneer Hotel, I found the track on that morning before departure.20170903_104450.jpgI reached the top of the dune and there it was, that rock which had been the focus of my attention for days, under the largest sky.20170903_104506.jpgIn the west, Kata Tjuta stood colourfully.20170903_104606.jpgAll around me the red sandy earth predominated. 20170903_104636.jpg

20170903_104647.jpg

20170903_105007.jpg  Native plants flowered profusely.    20170903_105114.jpg

20170903_105149.jpg

20170903_105552.jpg

20170903_105223.jpgThen I wandered through the planted gardens of the hotel complex, all the while wondering whether these plants would be happy in my Bellerive garden.   20170903_105723.jpg

20170903_105821.jpg

20170903_105826.jpg

20170903_105832.jpg

20170903_105942.jpg

20170903_105951.jpg

20170903_110001.jpg

20170903_110100.jpg

20170903_110115.jpg

20170903_110242.jpgNever let it be said that flowering plants do not grow in desert conditions.

Finally it was time to bus out to the airport; me and a number of large coach loads of people. Enough to completely fill a large jet plane.  In the inevitable queues I felt a mood shift. People’s normal uncaring, unkind and self-centred behaviours began to return. They were no longer relaxed and generous because, I imagine, they felt no longer on holiday. It was an unpleasant reminder there was a world out there that was not always a sharing and giving one.

I was seated on the left side of the plane so my last sightings of Uluru and Kata Tjuta were made as we taxied along the runway. 20170903_135001.jpg

20170903_135159.jpgThen I was back to seeing the vegetation on the red land as dots. Until a green world re-entered below as I travelled closer to Sydney.20170903_135527Throughout our stay at the Ayers Rock Resort, Betty and I did our own thing during the day and met for dinner at night where we told each other the stories of our days. It would be so interesting to have Betty’s stories to complement those I have written. I feel sure her perspective must be so different to mine.

Day of departure

Sunday.  D Day. Departure day. As the day dawned I began to feel bereft yet I was still in that extraordinary environment. I had no time to revisit Uluru or Kata Tjuta but there was time to revisit the town centre and the cultural outlets nearby, this time with feet less sore (my visit there would be early in the day) before travelling to the Connellan airport and flying home to Hobart.

When my luggage was packed and stored at the hotel’s reception, I boarded the town shuttle bus and headed off to the Town Centre, with Betty expecting to take a later bus because her flight to Cairns was leaving later in the afternoon.

Methodically I worked my way through all the clothing and souvenir shops admiring the quality of the products and the creativity shown with many. I spent some time in the IGA supermarket and left with a prepared salad that I could eat for lunch. Then I ordered breakfast at the Kulata Academy Café .  At Kulata, trainees of the Ayers Rock Resort’s National Indigenous Training Academy take the first step in their hospitality career. Here, trainees learn a range of skills in a supported environment to help prepare them for exciting careers in the hospitality industry. The Kulata Academy Café menu included a wide range of fresh sandwiches along with salads, coffee or tea with an array of cakes and pastries, and breakfast classics like fresh yogurt, smoothies and fruit options.  The traffic flow within the café and the management flow for making an order, paying and receiving an order were most professional – and fast and accurate.  Very impressive. ‘The resort displays an impressive commitment to training indigenous employees who now make up 36% of the workforce, and who also lead free cultural activities each day, including at the Wintjiri art gallery, and the Mani-Mani theatre, where local stories are told through song and dance.’ (Amelia Lester, The Age Good Weekend, mid 2017).

Passing the Mani-Mani theatre  (too early in the day for it to be open) I walked through laneways to the Wintjiri Art Gallery adjacent to the Desert Sands Hotel.  Contemporary art and craft are for sale. In addition, a large space to one side has been established as a museum.  Drawings showing the underlying geological shape of the area, were displayed here.20170903_094342.jpgI exhausted the possibilities in and around the Town Centre and bussed back to my hotel.

Dinner in town

Still Saturday. Initially Betty and I expected to dine in each of the three hotels for comparisons and a broad experience, however on our last night we were ready for something casual and comparatively simple.  In particular, we loved the whimsical name of one outlet in the town centre; Ayers Wok Noodle Bar.Ayers Wok shop.JPGWe knew there were a range of cafes and restaurants in the town centre so we decided to take the bus and walk around the town centre until we found our fancy.  The noodle bar was our final choice.

Ayers Wok.JPG

Ayers Wok’s take away menu was attractive and popular, but I also wanted to drink a glass of red wine something which they did not provide. I approached the Gecko’s Café/Restaurant next door to ask whether it would be possible to sit at their outside tables, eat the Wok food and drink their wine.  ‘Yes we are connected businesses’, was the easy response.  Our dinner that night was incredibly pleasant sitting in the mild evening air, and watching people moving around the town centre. A wonderful conclusion to a magnificent day.

Uluru’s Cultural Centre

Still Saturday. Once back at the hotel after the memorable trip to Kata Tjuta, I found the next bus to Uluru departed soon after. Forget my feet. Forget the exhaustion. Forget the heat. No other time to visit the Cultural Centre except this afternoon.

I never tired of the views of the big red rock as we bussed along the highway.   20170902_092039.jpg

20170902_092337.jpg

20170902_092410.jpg

20170902_092419.jpg  The Cultural Centre was the final port of call after the shuttle bus’s circuit around the rock dropping off and collecting others at the various car parks. It was to be the last time I would circumnavigated Uluru. This time when I reached the Cultural Centre and once off the bus, I followed directions to the entrance ready to experience these pavilions in the order as intended by the designers.     20170902_104051.jpg

20170902_104149.jpg

20170902_104135.jpgI looked out over a red land and followed the curving wall of a freeform structure that led me into mud brick walled spaces. The design concept was based on Tjukurpa ancestors Kuniya (the woma python-southern building) and Liru (the poisonous snake – northern building). Kuniya is built within its shape. Her body is made of mud and the roof is her spine.20170902_104201.jpg

20170902_104207.jpgIn the Pitjantjara language of the Anangu people, I was welcomed. Pukulpa pitjama ananguku ngurakutu.  By entering the Tjukurpa tunnel, visitors learn about the traditional and ancient culture of the area.  The Cultural Centre represents four major Tjukurpa stories associated with Uluru. Kuniya, Liru, Kurpany and Mala are all ancestral beings who help form the basis of traditional law and custom for Anangu today. They connect Anangu with country in all directions around Uluru. Kuniya comes from the east and is still present at Uluru. Liru came from the southwest and returned to that  country after the battle with Kuniya’s nephew. The Mala people arrived for ceremonies from the north. Kurpany was sent in from the west and chased the Mala people through Uluru itself and then into South Australia.Cultural Centre map.JPGOn this second visit to the Cultural Centre, I had more physical energy but insufficient mental reserves to spend time in the Tjukurpa tunnel, Touch Wall and information area. I realised that many hours could be allocated to a visit here and I did not have sufficient time to see and absorb it all. In addition, I could see that a fresh mind was essential.

Again I went to the Ininti café for lunch. Then I perused the products in the adjacent shop; interesting and unusual souvenirs many of them useful.  I coveted a number of items but resisted making any purchases. My rule is to never take luggage that is too heavy for me to handle, and I knew my suitcase was heavy enoughwithout adding new weights.

I wandered out into walkways around a courtyard, and looked in on an art studio and shop, Walkatjara Art. I was drawn in when I noted half a dozen Anangu women painting canvases.

I asked two painters if I could sit on the bench in the middle of the room, and watch them paint. They agreed.  I sat for over an hour mesmerised by their dedication and immersion in their work.  I was hesitant to ask questions and break the flow of their practices. Besides English was their second language and I found it difficult to understand their accents when they spoke.  Mostly they painted in silence; when they talked occasionally with each other I assumed it was in the Pitjantjara language. Over time, I felt released to look around at the hundreds of canvases hanging on the walls and in piles of unstretched canvases. I made determinations of what seemed to me to be the more successful paintings; but those judgements were based on my background of western aesthetics since I had no idea of their cultural connection to the Tjukurpa law and their value for Anangu customs.

This Walkatjara workshop is the Mutitjulu Community’s Art Centre, a not-for-profit enterprise where 60% of sales proceeds goes back to the artists while the remaining 40% is recycled to support the running costs of the studio workshop. ‘Walkatjara’ in the Pitjantjara language means having designs or meaningful marks. If I took photographs here I felt I would be intruding. I felt it was not appropriate. So I was delighted to find this website page (http://www.walkatjara.com/contact) which includes photographs of artists at work in the studio. From these you can derive some appreciation of how I saw the experience.

I had no intention to buy a painting, but then I found a small picture in one of the many piles. As the sales woman processed the transaction, she remarked that the artist was in the room.   Already she had given me a generic information sheet that could explain, in general terms, some of the imagery. I wanted to know more specific information.  ‘Let’s ask her’, the sales woman suggested.  Valerie Brumby sat at a table working on a new painting. I found it difficult to understand all her answers, but my eyes lit up when she told me the pink/purple dots represented the Parakeelya flowers in the local desert. Blog followers might recall my earlier posting where I talked about seeing these plants during my walk on the Liru Walk from Mala to the Cultural Centre, that time when I felt I nearly perished in the heat.  It was a serendipity that I had chosen a painting containing something special that connected with me directly. Other marks referred to  waterholes in the area and the medicinal plant Irmangka Irmangka.

Valerie Brumby painting.JPG

Artists working in the studio asked me to hold up the painting; ‘that’s a good painting’, was their response. I thought so too.

Other tourists came and went without making any connection with these women.  By stopping and sitting silently in their presence for a considerable time, I began to feel something of the thousands of years of existence emanating from some.  Strange to say, and perhaps difficult to accept, some seemed as old as Uluru and Kata Tjuta and beyond.  It was a depth I found hard to fathom.

My painting on canvas was unstretched, and the sales woman rolled and packaged it safely to fit into my suitcase.  While I was delighted with my purchase, I felt the richness of the entire experience more.

From the Walkatjara studio I proceeded to the Maruka Arts outlet, but information overload  and the impending arrival of a bus to return me to the Resort, shortened my visit there. The photographs of specific artists can be seen here – when you look at these perhaps you will gain a sense of the connections between the shape of the land and the faces of the people; plus a sense of immense age and antiquity.

I bussed back to the Resort with my head brimming with ideas and questions while my fatigued body yelled at me to sleep and recuperate.

 

Kata Tjuta –sunrise

Saturday. The bus collected me from my hotel at 5.30 am. I loved these small Hop On Hop Off shuttle buses because they carried a maximum of around 14 people, so I never felt I was part of a mass impersonal movement.  That morning the bus was not full.

Kata Tjuta was my destination.  On 26 October 1985, title deeds to Uluru and Kata Tjuta were handed back to Anangu traditional owners who then leased the land to the federal government for 99 years.  Since then the Anangu have been working with the Director of National Parks to jointly manage the place. During this time, the park has been recognised as a World Heritage Area for both its natural and cultural values.

Firstly we were driven to the Kata Tjuta Dune viewing area to watch the sun rise over those hills. 20170902_070345.jpgSeeing sunrises and sunsets seem to be an integral part of visitor experience and expectations. I suspect, the world over, some people come and look at the dawn or dusk spectacle and seldom walk or explore or try to find meaning in what they do.  What are they seeing?  What is it that is important in seeing a particular landscape under the conditions of the rise or setting of the sun? What makes that view more special than other times of the day?  Why? Why? Why?

In taking that first bus of the day I could not go directly to my destination, rather I had to stop for a special viewing of the sun hitting Kata Tjuta before I could go any further.  That was the way things worked. En route, I loved the changing sky colours for the dramatic impact they had across the landscape.  I loved the way the increasing light revealed the landscape incrementally. The variable light offered  an air of expectation, places of unknowns, expanses of possibilities.20170902_061552.jpg

20170902_062012.jpgProminent Uluru was visible from this location, 30 or so kilometres distant.20170902_062221.jpg

20170902_062347.jpg A while later,  the shape of Kata Tjuta began to become visible.  20170902_062721.jpg   20170902_062942.jpg

20170902_063355.jpgGradually the colours of the grass covered lands became visible.20170902_063348.jpg

20170902_063439.jpgAnd then daylight was cast across and Kata Tjuta was close to lighting up.20170902_064125.jpg 20170902_064053.jpg

20170902_065612.jpgFinally, the sun struck and the rich rock tones were splendid.  Finally definition came to the rocky parts of this large complex.  Its huge scale and irregularities of shape were now apparent.20170902_065731.jpg

20170902_065854.jpg

20170902_065931.jpgClearly Kata Tjuta is a composite of dome shaped monoliths separated by deep ravines and gorges.  Apparently there are 30 of these domes spread over an area around 35 square kilometres, and only an aerial view gives the full picture of the large scale of this rocky configuration. Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ in the local language.  This area is sacred under Tjukurpa and Anangu men’s law.

I was delighted with the signage given to identify plants, placed next to the track leading to the viewing platform. 20170902_065643.jpg

20170902_065800.jpg

20170902_070022.jpg

20170902_070230.jpg

20170902_070247.jpg

20170902_070259.jpgAs usual flowering plants were everywhere.  20170902_070057.jpg

20170902_070113.jpg

20170902_070154.jpg In addition, information was provided about the landscape.20170902_065827.jpg

Walking the Liru Walk

Still Friday -The Liru Walk connects the Mala carpark in a south westerly direction to the Cultural Centre.  Two kilometres.  Shouldn’t be a problem. Track flat and wide as usual. But I was concerned it may be too hot. However,  there was no shelter from the sun at Mala and the next shuttle bus wasn’t due for an hour or more, so I headed off despite my feet yelling at me to give them a rest.

Uluru walks

20170901_132526

20170901_132603

20170901_132611Perhaps the temperature was 30 or 35 degrees ( I will never know except the forecast expectation was a maximum of 33) with no shade except the occasional wispy shadows from a few open trees as I walked along the Liru Walk. There was no-one else around except one couple who passed me coming from the Cultural Centre and headed for Mala.  I felt very isolated, and wondered what would happen if I collapsed.  Again it was mind over matter that propelled me to the Cultural Centre. Later, while waiting for the bus to return me from the Cultural Centre back to my hotel, I talked with a couple who looked half dead (perhaps that was how I looked) – they had also walked the Liru Walk seemingly not far behind me, carrying and drinking lots of water as I had.  Both seemed to be suffering from heat exhaustion, but we were under cover as we talked and they were still drinking so I decided not to worry about them too much. We exchanged stories about how 2 kms seemed like 100 in that seemingly airless, unforgiving relentless environment.   There were no seats along the way, and no signs to indicate how far you walked with the exception of one at the midway point.20170901_133829The height of the trees blocked out Uluru for most of the walk, but it was always spectacular when visible.20170901_133836

20170901_135016However, there was no landscape marker ahead to judge the remaining distance to the Cultural Centre.  That couple and I all agreed signage would have given us more confidence with continuing on.

Over and above the physical struggle, I had sufficient mental reserves remaining to love many aspects of the Lira Walk.  In particular, I found the desert plants with their flowers endlessly appealing.  Initially I spotted a carpet of White Paper Daisies.

20170901_133125

20170901_133136Then I began to see more and more of the brilliant pink/purple coloured flowers of the Broad-Leafed Parakeelya.  I noted that the fleshy quality of their ‘leaves’ reminded me of our pigface plant.  I knew this means water and it means edible – in that extreme environment with the heat radiating up from the ground as well as pouring down from the sun, I thought in an emergency this would be a moisture and food source.  A couple of days later I learnt local aboriginals have used this plant for sustenance.20170901_134607

20170901_135009

20170901_135237Now I can see that I did not take many photos and I can only put this gap down to my mind being devoted to survival and making it to the Cultural Centre. When I saw the bare bones of a building and then the edge of a vehicle I knew I was close. But there was no signs to tell me how to get into this curvy building with its high walls and fences – later I was to learn the official entrance was diagonally opposite where I arrived.  By the time I reached the Cultural Centre I was almost staggering.  When I saw a group of people walking down a tiny side lane, I asked them was this the way in. They were vague (probably assuming I was a weirdo because they had come through the main entrance and wouldn’t be able to conceive of someone arriving by a different route) so I proceeded to  stumble along in the direction from which they came. Later I realised it was the toilet block that I had passed.

In the shade at last.  A souvenir shop with the Ininti café attached was the first thing I noticed and in I went for a drink and lunch.  Sitting down.  Lowering the body temperature.  Restocking the reserves.

When I set out to explore the different facets of the Centre there were no signs and someone vaguely waved me over to a facility where they thought I could get a map and more information. Across the sunny courtyard I plodded following a line of images.20170901_135922Inside I found help in what turned out to be the reception and the entrance spaces with museum and aboriginal stories and displays. I could hardly stand. The receptionist sold me a very useful $2 booklet with maps.  I sat near the reception counter and when the space was empty I explained the challenges of walking the Liru Walk and the fact there was no entrance to the Centre designed for such walkers.  Whether or not he would pass my suggestions on I have no idea, but I hope he did something as a result of my experience.

I was simply too exhausted to read the booklet and to explore the Cultural Centre complex. Instead I decided to catch the bus back to my hotel and somehow fit in a return visit another day.

The day finished with Betty and I enjoying dinner in the Arnguli Grill and Restaurant at the Desert Garden Hotel – their website explains Arnguli is the Pitjantjatjara word for bush plum.  After bussing back to our hotel,  I was soon asleep with another big next day planned. I would be travelling to Kata Tjuta and expecting new marvels.

 

Walking the Mala Track

I stepped out from the Hop On Hop Off bus into the late morning sun ready to explore the 2 km return Mala walk located close to the base of Uluru (you may recall I had walked along the road bypassing this part of the track yesterday). The word ‘mala’ is the rufous hare-wallaby in the Pitjantjara language.20170901_124800.jpgAs usual, I found the powerful shapes of the rock very attractive.    20170901_124829.jpg

20170901_124848.jpg

20170901_125007.jpg

20170901_125056.jpg

20170901_125109.jpg

20170901_125255.jpg

20170901_125653.jpgAt intervals, side paths left the wide main track and led to panels interpreting aboriginal stories associated with the rock, to labels identifying plants, to local animals that call Uluru home, and to caves with wall paintings in colourful ochres created by local aboriginals in times past.     20170901_124911.jpg

20170901_125039.jpg
The walls of a teaching cave were covered with paintings.   20170901_125946.jpg

20170901_125640.jpg

20170901_125716.jpg

20170901_130012.jpg

20170901_130005.jpg

20170901_130002.jpg

20170901_130136.jpg I continued along the Mala track to the aboriginal men’s cave.    20170901_130119.jpg

20170901_130147.jpg

20170901_130108.jpg

20170901_130153.jpg

20170901_130158.jpgThen I was back in bushland which provided some relief from the penetrating sun. This was the perfect place to stop and chat. When a women near me asked ‘are you a Roller’, I smiled. We talked for ages recalling our Stuck in the Middle With You’s experiences and now the new wonders of Uluru and more.  We took photos of each other.Helen on Mala walk Uluru -2.jpgAnd we meandered together for a while, exclaiming at this and that as we noted new sites and sights.20170901_130245.jpg

20170901_130254.jpg

20170901_130258.jpgBeside the track were signs naming plants.   20170901_125157.jpg

20170901_125236.jpg

20170901_125247.jpg

20170901_125506.jpg

20170901_131919.jpg

20170901_131921.jpg

20170901_131950.jpg

20170901_132209.jpgSome flowering plants were not identified.

20170901_124936.jpgAhead a sensitive site, the Mala Puta needed passing by without taking photographs, and then a little further the Kantju Gorge, with its walls of vivid colours, was worth visiting.     20170901_130340.jpg

20170901_130345.jpg

20170901_130433.jpg

20170831_095606When Betty visited, the Kantju Gorge made a special impact on her for its complete quietness.  I thought the whole area was quiet and created an embracing contemplative environment.

I returned back to the Mala carpark, seeing Kata Tjuta on the horizon, and wondered whether my next goal was achievable.20170901_132053.jpgThe sun was very hot, the land was dry and mostly without shade, and my feet were not made for any more walking.  Yet I was keen to get to the Cultural Centre.  Would I?  Could I?  Should I?

Thank goodness for comforts

My feet were so sore I felt like crawling, but mind over matter is the way forward and so, at the Mutitjulu/Kuniya carpark, I climbed onto the bus without a grimace but with a sigh of pleasure.  We shuttled back to the Ayers Rock Resort. I resolved to get off at the first hotel, have one or more well-deserved sparkling wines, and suss it out as a potential place for dinner one evening.

I staggered off the bus at the Sails in the Desert Hotel, the most expensive of the three hotels in this little tourist town.  I made it through an airy foyer with glass cases containing beautiful objects (none of which I had the energy to look at, regrettably) and collapsed into a comfortable chair in a light atrium. A waitress, travelling the world from France, kept me supplied with drinks while I logged into the WiFi and checked myself back into the electronic world. Apart from the fact I never wanted to stand on my feet again, I was chuffed. So profoundly happy.  So excited about the things I had seen and experienced during the day.

I took a much larger volume of photos than appear in this blog, and there were people I met and other situations which have not made it into the blog (if I included everything, then it could be Christmas next year before this series of blog posts are complete). It is sufficient to say my walk around Uluru was a remarkably rich experience mostly because of the landscape and the way the changing light affected it, and for its associated aboriginal histories.

As I sat in the hotel I could see that I carried the dust as evidence of the walk – and even though I travelled back to Hobart in these boots that wonderful desert soil stayed attached. The photos show my greenish coloured leather boots as a shade of brown but it was red dust that coloured them.  Images in earlier blogposts show the red soil –I will add another below to remind you. IMG_0537

IMG_0539.JPG

20170831_091452.jpg  Before leaving the Sails in the Desert Hotel I visited the restaurant and realised Betty and I could expect an excellent meal. However while we planned to eat there one evening, the range of eating options across the Ayers Rock Resort township meant we were attracted to other places and we never made it.

Once the bus shuttled me back to the Outback Pioneer Hotel,  Betty and I prepared for dinner at our Hotel’s restaurant, the Bough Restaurant.  On offer – ‘For dinner, share in the spirit of outback Australia and enjoy a roast of the day served alongside a delicious buffet. Buffet selections offer international flavours that include vegetarian options, with a great selection of desserts to complete your meal.’ Unfortunately, dinner requires guests to be locked into a one-price deal so if you only planned to have a soup for example, this wasn’t possible unless you paid the full price.  At that stage of our experience in the Ayers Rock Resort township, the fact that a hospitality training school (the National Indigenous Training Academy)for indigenous peoples from all over Australia was stationed in the complex and their students had work experience in various venues across town, was not registering with us.  If we had known then we would have been more accommodating when we found offering a tip wasn’t straightforward, and when the bill for our evening meal was entered onto our room account incorrectly – all of which was solved later.

With the achievement of having walked around Uluru in mind, and fascinated by all of Betty’s local discoveries during the day, the excellent meal made me drowsy quickly.  Our first full day in this region was over. Bed beckoned and I was soon unconscious.

Taking the walk around Uluru – from Mala to Mutitjulu

This photo, from above Uluru, gives clear indications of the road and other features; photo courtesy of Andrew Bertuleit with my identifying names overlaid.  The viewpoint is from the northwest of the rock looking south eastwards.By Andrew Bertuleit with notes

The track heading south from Mala to the Mutitjulu waterhole and the Kuniya carpark, on the western side of Uluru, is the Lungkata Walk (Lungkata is the blue –tongued lizard man).

Uluru walks

My feet were so sore that I contemplated catching the Hop On Hop Off bus from the Mala carpark back to my hotel and returning another day to complete the last short section on the Lungkata Walk.  But I stuck to my plan because I knew the next bus to the Mutitjulu/Kuniya carpark was an hour and a half away and the walk should not take me less an hour even at my slowest.  I plodded off, taking last looks at the people climbing on Uluru.  Loving the very dramatic rock shapes.     20170831_105534

20170831_105538

20170831_105708And then I was back to admiring the rock surface.20170831_10573820170831_105843 20170831_105846

20170831_110026Ahead of me the rock shapes, caves and deeply indented gorges were similar to those seen on the first two legs of the walk.  20170831_110158 20170831_110542

20170831_110906

20170831_111206  With the heating sun I was pleased that this track, in places, had more trees to provide protection.  20170831_11155620170831_111740

20170831_112243

20170831_112912Some distance along the way, another sacred site for aboriginal men’s ceremonies was marked.20170831_113748Some of the track was exposed and unsheltered and I felt the heat keenly. 20170831_113951

20170831_114227I should note that the walk around Uluru was incredibly easy for people with able bodies who don’t get sore feet.  The flat and smooth track was so good that I felt people in wheelchairs could race around Uluru. Nothing to trip on except your own feet if you are that way inclined. Different people had ideas of how long a typical person would take to get around the rock and the times varied from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. The walk took me 3.25 hours not counting my rest at Mala – but including hundreds of photo stops. The walk seemed a smidgin easier when in the shade again and with the greenness of trees around.  20170831_114745

20170831_114907  I was relieved when it was clear that my walk was ending and that the Mutitjulu waterhole was close by.  20170831_115250

20170831_115317One sign indicated the presence of native figs outside a cave where families of aboriginals had rested. One large tree/bush was covered in small native figs; those coloured red indicated they were ripe.  Ochre paintings adorned the cave ceiling and walls.  Other signage provided information about the family cave, with its entrances on two sides. These caves are still used by Anangu people.20170831_115411

20170831_115443

20170831_115558

20170831_120041

20170831_120100

20170831_120044

20170831_120056From the cave, the track continued to the waterhole and its viewing platform through an open woodland with grasses. 20170831_120304

20170831_121211

20170831_120336

20170831_120644

20170831_120345

20170831_120513Only a small amount of water pooled at the bottom of a steep hill.  The last rain was 8 months ago. This waterhole is the home of Wanampi, an ancestral watersnake.  20170831_120554

20170831_120601

20170831_120616The story of a python woman and poisonous snake man is the basis for this important location in aboriginal history;  details on the sign below.20170831_121028Then it was time to stumble back to the carpark and wait for the Hop On Hop Off bus.  The beautifully constructed rustic furniture was a boon for sore feet.  Under cover, I sat on another wooden ‘couch’ and looked out over the landscape at the southern side of Uluru now in shade, with the sun almost overhead.  I had the chance to talk with other visitors, and to begin to get my mind back into being social again. 20170831_121022

20170831_121545But overall I mused about the nature of Uluru with all its indentations and ‘scales’.  After seeing acres of promotional tourism photos, none have ever displayed the complexity of this rock.  I hope you, like me, have been astonished.  In addition I hope that, by seeing the differences in the rock and environment in the photos I have presented for the Kuniya, Base and Lungkata Walks that circle the rock, you have a new appreciation of Uluru’s size and power.

Taking the walk around Uluru – from Kuniya Piti to Mala

The last post was devoted to a range of flowering plants on the Base Walk. By contrast this post will look at the way the eastern end and then the northern side of Uluru appear.

The track extended eastwards until perhaps one or two kilometres of land separated me from Uluru, effectively excluding my access to the sensitive zone used for special aboriginal men’s ceremonies. I never saw footprints in the red earth indicating people left the wide track to disrespect the sacredness of the land closer to Uluru.20170831_082808.jpg

20170831_082858.jpg

20170831_084444.jpg

20170831_085220.jpgMostly I walked in silence and saw less than a handful of people. Suddenly, I heard a whirring coming fast behind me. As I turned, a Segway machine followed by two others ripped past. They looked so silly. I broke out into a serious laugh and said g’day as the three riders disappeared into the distance, with the woman holding on for dear life and coming in a distant third as the two males raced ahead. So incredibly silly to see these machines in a pristine desert. I knew the Segways could be hired but it never occurred to me that people would (well of course they would, I realised at that point).  A little further along the track I passed the riders where they had stopped for their guide to provide information about Uluru.  Ah … the joys of the unexpected. 20170831_085257.jpg

20170831_085300.jpgAs the morning wore on I realised there was a constant sky noise; seemingly endless helicopter flights and small planes whizzed overhead.  Previously I had considered taking a helicopter ride but I developed an itinerary into which I could not squeeze another event.  Hearing those sounds during my walk that should only have given me bush sounds, was an unwelcome distraction, and I am glad I didn’t go flying to disturb other walkers.  Each to their own, but it is a shame when one person’s pleasure reduces that of another.

Wishing I had another pair of feet in my backpack, I continued plodding and getting slower,  all the while watching the ways in which the surface of Uluru changed.  20170831_085645.jpg

20170831_091447.jpg

20170831_092341.jpg  Around the north east corner of the track the vegetation was higher.  20170831_090659.jpg

20170831_090703.jpg

20170831_090820.jpgI was incredibly happy to be here.Helen at eastern end Uluru.jpgThen I turned the ‘corner’ and headed along the northern side of Uluru.20170831_093218.jpg

20170831_093035.jpg

20170831_094016.jpg

20170831_094746.jpg

20170831_093606.jpgI continued until I reached another two areas associated with different aboriginal men’s ceremonies, and then skirted around these.20170831_093737.jpg

20170831_095009.jpgOn the northern side, some of the ‘track’ is the circular road for vehicular traffic without a footpath; after a while a new red dirt track leads closer to the rock. Instead I continued on the road to the Mala carpark, with the notion I would return and complete the close-to-the-rock walk in the next day or so during subsequent planned visits to Uluru.   20170831_095559.jpg

20170831_095603.jpg

20170831_095606.jpgNot long afterwards,  I realised the incline ahead of me was the walking slope for people who choose to climb the rock.  When I looked closely I could see people on Uluru.   20170831_100227.jpg

20170831_100612.jpg

20170831_100932.jpg

20170831_101457.jpg  I had believed that access to walk on the rock was now removed.  In September 2017 while I visited this was not the case because of a deal with Japanese tourism agencies that extends until 2020.  When a coach disgorges dozens of Japanese tourists in the Mala carpark, they arrive with the belief that climbing Uluru is part of their travel package.  And up they go, despite large signage indicating this is sacred ground. The pathway of the climb has spiritual significance to the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru. It was the route taken by ancestral Mala men on their arrival at Uluru.  I wondered what Japanese people would do if someone was to clamber all over their Shinto temples.20170831_105531.jpgI saw no sign of penalties being applied.20170901_132401.jpg

20170901_132358.jpg

20170901_132350.jpgWhen I sat in the Mala carpark resting my aching feet and legs, plus re-hydrating and adding to my energy stores, I fumed each time I saw another group rush the first hundred metres then sit around before trying to go higher – but at that time, I was not aware of the deal.. Naturally, when non Japanese people see someone walking up the rock, they also think the sign requesting people not to walk on Uluru does not apply to them.  So I watched as some were able to climb way up high and continued out of sight on the ‘flat’ top (not really) of Uluru. Thankfully 2020 will arrive soon!

STOP PRESS – I wrote this blog post a couple of days before a momentous, globally significant decision was made.  I was stunned, happily so, when the news to stop the option to climb to the top of Uluru was announced – the decision will take effect on 26 October 2019. The story broke as Uluru climbs banned from October 2019 after unanimous board decision to ‘close the playground’.  Read the ABC online news story  here.

Taking the walk around Uluru – the flowers from Kuniya Piti to Mala

The track heading north and then west from the Kuniya Piti carpark to Mala is known as the Base Walk; this is the longest continuous section of the walk around Uluru.

Uluru walks

More (and mostly different from those in the first walk section) desert flowers grew through this landscape.20170831_08274020170831_083654

20170831_083339

20170831_083301

20170831_084918

20170831_085639

20170831_091814

20170831_090220

20170831_085351

20170831_091615

20170831_092854While walking this section, I realised these plants cope with extreme cold and extreme heat in mostly a dry environment, with the occasional torrential rainstorms to flush the ground. Where I live, mostly my soil is exceptionally dry, the winters are cold and the summers can be very hot, at least for some of the time. My home is in an environment that receives little rain. I wonder if these desert plants would thrive here in Bellerive.

Taking the walk around Uluru – from Mutitjulu/Kuniya to Kuniya Piti

The Hop On Hop Off bus driver advised me to start my 10-11 km walk around the base of Uluru from the Mala carpark but I wanted to get going as soon as possible.  I also wanted to test myself on a shorter section to see whether I was physically able to complete the walk. The longest section is between Mala and Kuniya Piti and so I wanted to try something simpler first. As it turned out, Mutitjulu/Kuniya was the best starting place early in the morning.  The Mutitjulu start is about half way along the southern long side of the rock so, as I walked, I was facing directly into the sun, then I turned the corner for a long walk on a shorter eastern side of Uluru with the sun on my right side.  At the turn towards the Mala carpark, located about 2/3rds of the way along the northern side of the rock, I had the sun behind me.  If I have waited and got off the shuttle bus at Mala then for most of the walk the sun would have been in my eyes. I tried to explain this to the bus driver later (same one who had previously advised me) but he didn’t seem to understand.

The track heading east from Kuniya carpark near the Mutitjulu Waterhole to the Kuniya Piti carpark is titled the Kuniya Walk.

Uluru walks.JPG

20170831_073223.jpgInitially it was very cold even though I was rugged up with beanie and warm jacket.  As I walked from the carpark to start on the circular track, the sun struck the rock hard creating strong contrasts (while some edges remained totally in shadow).  This was the start of an hour or so of squinting to minimise the glare.20170831_073411.jpg

20170831_073241.jpg

20170831_073419.jpg

20170831_073746.jpgThen I was walking on the circular track heading east. Desert flowers (it was springtime) flourished everywhere.  The world was alive!  I felt alive!     20170831_073714.jpg

20170831_074517.jpg

20170831_074706.jpg

20170831_075733.jpg

20170831_075136.jpg

20170831_080200.jpg

20170831_080844.jpg

20170831_082030.jpgI marvelled at the surface of the rock. Worn seemingly smooth. Sculptured by the weather over millions of years. Then, up close I could see the surface was scaly. 20170831_073928.jpg

20170831_074037.jpg

20170831_074053.jpg  One lower section presented as a worn unbroken wave. At every turn the rock presented dramatic vistas.  My heart wanted to burst with the joy of the privilege of being here, the gratitude that I could walk, and the pleasure of seeing new ways to understand the look of Uluru.     20170831_074222.jpg

20170831_074428.jpg

20170831_074434.jpg

20170831_075023.jpg

20170831_075920.jpg

20170831_080232.jpg

20170831_080310.jpg

20170831_080653.jpg

20170831_081425.jpgI watched birds swoop in and out of some of the higher caves; the small size of the birds in comparison to the size of the rock means they are not visible on my closer cave specific photos.

As I neared the Kuniya Piti carpark the rock sloped more gradually towards the ground, and gave me new opportunities to closely inspect the ‘scale’ of this otherwise comparatively smooth rock.      20170831_081835.jpg

20170831_081910.jpg

20170831_081915.jpg

20170831_082145.jpgEventually I reached the sensitive area at Kuniya Piti where men’s ceremonies would be held in the distance; the track made a very wide berth around this eastern part of the rock.20170831_082412.jpg

20170831_082547.jpgHave you been amazed by the irregular rocky structure as shown in this small selection of photos (I took over a 100 photos on this short section alone)?  Is this type of imagery all new to you?

Sunrise over Uluru

Thursday – Was it 4.45 am when I awoke and dressed warmly (was it 2 degrees outside?), loaded my backpack with food and water and clothing for sunny times, and left Betty sleeping? After paying for my three day Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park’s Pass, I caught the shuttle Hop On-Hope Off bus (at 5.30 am in pitch blackness) – with Uluru my ultimate destination.20171026_084443.jpg

20171026_084454.jpg

Hoponhopoffbus map.JPGUluru bus shuttle.JPGAt the official entrance to the National Park sits a drive-through small building where car travellers buy their Parks Passes. As a bus load, we were instructed to hold our Pass up to the window, and then the bus drove very slowly through while the Park’s entry-station staff member stared then nodded their approval to proceed. I loved the efficiency of this process but it did make me smile; and every time I entered the Park the process was repeated.  I had entered officially onto Anangu land with its Anangu law.

The sky began to lighten gently as we travelled towards a viewing platform at Talinguru Nyakunytjaku  (about 35 minutes away from the Ayers Rock Resort),  to watch the sun rise over Uluru.  I was not particularly interested in the drama of a sunrise, rather I was keen to start walking around the rock. However, no shuttle buses drop passengers close to the rock until around 8am so I was locked into the sunrise viewing after which the bus’s first stop at the rock would be the Mutitjulu Waterhole.

When the bus reached the carpark at Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, we were situated about 4 kms away from Uluru and passengers were alerted not to walk through the grasses in that direction – the distance was greater than it looked.

20170831_064100.jpgTalinguru Nyakunytjaku has a viewing platform and a number of walks.  A long wide track led to the platform and people from tours and other buses sped uphill eager to see the sun rise. As usual I dallied. I talked with the driver. I walked up the track (almost a freeway!)  slowly and read all the interpretation panels.  Being alone – everyone had raced ahead –  allowed me to feel the morning. To get a sense of where I was.20170831_064202.jpg

20170831_064214.jpg

20170831_065335.jpg

20170831_064241.jpgGradually the light brightened.20170831_064250.jpg

20170831_064721.jpg

20170831_064742.jpgNote Kata Tjuta on the horizon to the left of Uluru in the last photographs.

Eventually I reached the many layered extensive viewing platform.  At one end people stood three deep facing east to take photos directly into the sun. I thought that was foolish and stood waiting for the light to change on Uluru.20170831_064927.jpg

20170831_065000.jpgAnd then I decided to begin the walk back and see the changes across the landscape between me and Uluru rather than being distracted by hyper people.20170831_065549.jpg

20170831_065715.jpg

20170831_070251.jpgA while later we boarded the bus and set off for the Kuniya carpark near the Mutitjulu waterhole.  It was during these minutes on the road that I became conscious that Uluru is not a smooth ‘loaf of bread’ (my mind had expected it to be more or less smooth and it took a while for me to face the truth), a fact that was reinforced time and again as I walked around it later.20170831_072809.jpg

20170831_072823.jpg

 

 

Off to dinner- not just any dinner

Uluru airport.JPGThe airport shuttle bus dropped us at our accommodation, the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge after driving around the Ayers Rock Resort circuit with the driver noting key spots for our information – other hotels, cafes and restaurants, the Town Square, staff quarters, walking tracks, the caravan and camping park (where 300 or so Stuck on the Middle With You’s women lodged themselves) vantage points to watch sunrises and sunsets on Uluru, and much more. 20171026_084610.jpgAt reception we bought our bus passes to transport us to and from Uluru and Kata Tjuta (me a 3 day pass and Betty a 2 day pass). 20171026_084506.jpgWe wandered around our Hotel complex and found shops, bars, restaurants, laundries, kitchens, a swimming pool, and more.  We stayed in the Hotel while the Lodge buildings seemed to be designed for low priced accommodation suitable for backpacker type guests who chose not to camp.

At 5.30 pm packed with all our warm gear, Betty and I joined our pre-booked coach for sunset over Uluru, dinner in the desert, a talk about the stars, and the experience of the Field of Lights sculptural installation.20171026_084546.jpgAs the sun was setting the landscape coloured richly.20170830_175221.jpgI noticed thousands of tall trees with a narrow shaft of vegetation.20170830_175402.jpgIn subsequent days I learnt that these trees grow in this way until their tap root reaches water very deep down, and then they give themselves permission to grow out as well as up. In this way they grow to look like what we might think of as a typical rounded bush tree top shape.

I do not seem to have photos of the sunset over Uluru (perhaps the endless sparkling wine in my glass and the delightful canapes kept both hands full) but I do have shots of the sun setting near Kata Tjuta.20170830_182911.jpg

20170830_182920.jpg When a dusky light covered the land and my camera was not facing the too bright light of the sunset, Uluru stood out prominently.20170830_182954.jpgWe walked along a red dirt track until we reached a cluster of round tables with crisp white fabric cloths.  At random, we were grouped into eight people and directed towards a table.  The wine and bush tucker inspired food flowed for hours. As did the laughter.  We were so fortunate to sit at a table with entertaining people who were loving the experience. Portable heaters kept the air warm around us. And millions of stars sparkled above us. An astronomy expert, a Star Talker, with an excellent conversational style introduced us to configurations in the heavens, and we all looked up in wonder (that is if my experience is a general one, often wondering whether we were looking at the right thing – the many glasses of sparkling wine made distinguishing the stars in the sparkling night sky challenging). But that part of the night was another vital ingredient in a mix that was endlessly entertaining.

Finally it was time to leave the dinner table and my congenial companions for the Field of Lights, in an area larger than two MCG grounds. Over the hours we had seen, in the distance, part of the landscape colouring with light. Now it was time to experience this extraordinary installation up close. Bruce Munro is the artist and he shows some of his work here.

The Ayers Rock Resort website says ‘The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in the local Pitjantjara language is Munro’s largest work to date, with more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres over an area the size of seven football fields.’ Please go to this website and look at the photos – as you can see below my camera was most inadequate for night shots of the Field of Light.

20170830_213146.jpgThe artist Bruce Munro has said ‘I saw in my mind a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light.’ The look of this site-specific light installation was spectacular. The scale of the installation was larger than I imagined.  The colours varied and blinked. And there were multiple pathways through these slender lit stems so that, as I walked (we were free to self-guide our way), I became immersed in that strange landscape. I felt like ‘picking these flowers’ – that is how it seemed to me. Another Northern Territory website presents a colourful view of the lights. Hypnotic. Dazzling.  A big idea for a big space. A world of visual magic.  This installation was due to be dismantled earlier this year but by popular demand it’s life in the central Australian desert has been extended to March 2018.

From our morning in Ross River dust and rustication, to experiencing an aerial view of the big land,  to the sophistication of a technological marvel at the end of the day in pristine night air, I was moved through extremes of thought and emotion. It was a big day of rich encounters. I hardly recall getting on the bus, travelling back to the Hotel and falling into bed after 5 hours of endless delights. But I know I did, because the next day involved me in new monumental  episodes.

Between airports

We were lucky. As we parked the car at Alice Springs airport after the agreed return time, the man who had hired the car to us and helped to get it started days before, just happened to be in the carpark.  We fell about him offering profuse apologies.  No extra charges were added to our account!

The Alice Springs Airport is delightfully airy even while you look out at a searingly dry heated landscape. Rich colours and patterns made this airport interesting to look at.   Wikipedia provides factual information here.

Our destination was Connellan Airport which services the Ayers Rock Resort (Yulara) and access to Uluru (including Mititjulu) and Kata Tjuta.Alice and Yulara and Mititjulu.JPGWe were lucky in our flight choice.  Very few passengers had booked on the Qantas Link plane so every guest had a spare seat next to them if they chose, and a window seat from which to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the wide land beneath.  The attendants were relaxed and comfortable to chat (or not depending on need ) because they had time on their hands and no unruly passengers to divert their attention.  The views were expansive. Grand. More salting lakes. 20170830_141048.jpg

20170830_141350.jpgAnd then.  My heart missed a beat. From the haze that monumental ‘loaf of bread’ took shape. I was on my way to Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock).  It would be days before I understood the geology of its existence as a high prominence in an otherwise flat land.20170830_142255.jpgDirectly below, the way the vegetation dotted the land indicated to me that some aboriginal paintings are simply a realistic depiction of the randomness and the clustering and the odd open spaces between.  They are not stylised symbolic depictions.  They can be true representations.20170830_142327.jpgPhew! Another highlight.  Another grand vision.  There on the horizon sat the aged Kata Tjuta (previously known as The Olgas). I felt I stopped breathing.  Here I was in a machine only recently invented in the bigger scheme of things, flying above one of the oldest surfaces on earth. I found all the ideas difficult to put together.20170830_142459.jpgThe closer we flew to the ground the redder the earth seemed. We landed at Connellan Airport and red roads and red soil brightly packed itself across the landscape.  I realised that when aboriginal painters use this red colour as a base, they are creating a realistic depiction of the landscape.  It seems I am a ‘doubting Thomas’ who has to see to believe, to understand, and to know.

Outside the airport under the shade of a long overhang, an air-conditioned hotel shuttle bus waited for us.  The driver was an excellent source of information about the Ayers Rock Resort/Yulara complex and all its services.  I can see clearly that people who drive themselves here cannot know what we learnt, and therefore will not know how to get the best out of the Resort and the access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  I am so pleased that Betty and I decided not to hire a car.  Half a world of relevant and useful information would have passed us by and we would not even have realised our ignorance.

Between the airport and the resort complex, Uluru was visible.  Betty and I took over the front four seats and marvelled at unforgettable views of the landscape. 20170830_144957.jpg

20170830_145102.jpg  Kata Tjuta was barely visible from within the bus but it was out there, poking up from the horizon.20170830_145125.jpgI was in awe of the big sky.  An expanse of azure. Then I spotted the moon.  Stunning.20170830_145159.jpgToday we had travelled 600 or so kilometres from one environment to a new location.  Central Australia is a huge space.Uluru - map of resort.JPG

From the north to the middle

This blogsite was always going to offer a changing feast.

The last set of blog posts introduced you to an aspect of Far North Queensland;  some of the savannah country (with a smattering of tropical rainforest thrown in for good measure) out west of Cairns.

This new set of blog posts will take you into the heart of Australia; to Alice Springs, to the east and west MacDonnell Ranges and then southwards to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas) – all within Australia’s Northern Territory.

A series of maps (courtesy of Google Maps) will help you to locate the places I visited. The red indicator in the map below pinpoints the town of Alice Springs which was the starting point of my exploration and personal discoveries.

Australia.JPG

The Northern Territory represents  millions of hectares of land.  Its capital Darwin is almost 1500 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

Alice Springs.JPG

The following map shows both Alice Springs and Yulara, the base point for visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  These two towns are approximately 450 kilometres apart.

Alice and Yulara and Mititjulu.JPG

Initially I planned to investigate the east and the west MacDonnell Ranges to the extent that time and resources allowed.  I have circled a topographical view of those ranges stretching in both directions from Alice Springs for a total length of around 500 kilometres.  Looking at this landscape using Google maps, before departure, amazed me because of the dramatic shapes of the geological structures.

McDonnells circled.jpg

The day after arrival in Alice Springs I was on the road eastwards. The topographical map below shows an ancient landscape in the east MacDonnell ranges.  The rocks around Chillagoe (seen in earlier posts on this blogsite) are 400 million years old and these are around 800 million years old.

East McDonnells.JPG

A few days later, I entered the west MacDonnell Ranges.

West McDonnells.JPG

The second part of my central Australian trip involved travelling to the south west corner of the Northern Territory to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The cluster of rocks on the left is Kata Tjuta, and the township of Mutitjulu is slightly south east of Uluru on the lower right of the map below.

Kata Tjuta and Uluru and Yulara.JPG