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.

The geology of Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Uluru is made from a sedimentary rock, a coarse grained sandstone.20170901_125106.jpgBy contrast, Kata Tjuta is made from a sedimentary rock called conglomerate – a mix of gravel, pebbles and boulders cemented together by sand and mud.20170902_081640.jpgTheir formation occurred over millions of years; initially the material was on the surface then covered, then the upper layers were weathered and worn and with some faults fractured and folded the land, so that eventually what we see today is a small portion of the rocks.  Just as the majority of icebergs are below water,  the majority of the substance of Uluru and Kata Tjuta is out of sight, underground.

Superb diagrams here show the process and allow you to see that the seemingly large Uluru outcrop is, in fact, the tiny end of a sweeping many kilometre length of rock that continues below ground.  A further fact sheet can be read here. Since appearing above ground both rocks have continued to be eroded by climate and weather.  Nothing rushed of course.  I suggest both will be around long after the human race is extinct.

Statistics for those who like them: the height of Uluru is 348 m above the plain (863 m above sea level); Kata Tjuta is 546 m above the plain (1066 m above sea level); fauna species = 21 mammals, 73 reptiles, 170 birds and 4 frogs; flora species= greater than 400; average rainfall = 307.7 mm per year; temperature extremes=up to 47 degrees in summer and down to -7 degrees in winter.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Deep into Walpa Gorge

Thrilling. Walking up and up into a narrowing Gorge with immensely high walls getting closer and closer.  The wind pushing and pulling all the while.  Cold winds.  Beanie and thick winter jacket winds. The sun was striking strong out on the flat lands but its rays were yet to infiltrate the Gorge.  Looking back and westwards to the flat lands, I was surprised by the intensity of the contrast between light and dark. You would have noticed that aspect in the video at the end of the last blog post. And yet all was visible as I walked.

Gradually the wide stony track narrowed, descended then wound over a small creek and up and around through vegetation and onwards (in the following photos, the widening gap at the end of the Gorge provides some indication of distance travelled).   20170902_081746.jpg

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20170902_081423.jpgGradually I lost sight of my bus companions and driver, although other tourists were wandering along. This allowed me to enjoy looking at the local plants.       20170902_080526.jpg

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20170902_080234.jpgOver a few boardwalks finally I reached the viewing platform at the end of the walk allowed me to hold on (against the ruffling of the wind) and experience the end of the rocky Gorge.  I looked up and the sunlight was beginning to hit the top of the Gorge walls.  The sun line lowered as I began the trek out of the Gorge.    20170902_081426.jpg

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20170902_083549.jpgAs I retraced my steps, the driver caught up with me and relayed some of the information he had shared with others. Since I had one-on-one time with him I was able to ask the questions important to me.  Then, as we crossed an exposed part of the rocky track, I was blown violently into the driver on the lower side of the hill – thankful he was in the right place to halt my movement. Completely lost my balance and grabbed the air and the ground without falling. The strength of the eddies and gusts were most surprising.

The scale of each gorge amazed me. The vastness of the land impressed me. 20170902_074726.jpg

20170902_083553.jpgThis was a simple 2.6 km return walk, and an easy walk but certainly not suitable for those with mobility or balance problems.  Documents suggest the walk takes an hour. I believe we were there for longer – savouring the moments, feeling the environment.  Just being.

Then we were travelling back to the Ayers Rock Resort past the red earth.20170902_092013.jpg

20170902_092014.jpgWith a driver who continued to surprise.  I was the only obviously Australian on the bus; the others seemed to be tourists from Asian countries.  Had we heard of Banjo Patterson, the driver asked.  I responded with a yes but the rest were silent and looked blankly seemingly unaware they were being spoken to. Unperturbed, the driver explained the significance of Banjo and then began to recite his poetry.  Starting with The Man from Snowy River followed by Clancy of the Overflow, he continued on to The Road to Gundagai before concluding with Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.  I have a vague feeling The Geebung Polo Club might also have had an airing that day. The driver’s pacing and intonation was excellent, and I was impressed with his memory and delivery. My fellow bus travellers persisted with searching their mobiles for god knows what.  Seemingly it was a cultural expression too weird, too unexpected, and too foreign. For me it was an additional element in a package of accidental experiences; one that layered riches onto my visit.

Driving to the Walpa Gorge, Kata Tjuta carpark

The features of Kata Tjuta became more clearly defined as the morning light strengthened.20170902_071738.jpg

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20170902_073150.jpgAfter alighting from the bus at the Walpa Gorge carpark, we walked a little way along the flat desert track then stopped to listen to our driver explaining the geological history and aboriginal stories associated with Kata Tjuta, the walking options, the nature of the local vegetation, and much more. I like walking alone, so when the driver decided to walk with us into the Walpa Gorge and be a guide, I held back. I realised generally the group were walking faster than my injured leg wanted to travel so that a slower pace was sensible.

Again I was aware of an ancient landscape much worn by the millennia. This video and the following photos show the effects of weather and climate on the rocks.20170902_073312.jpg

20170902_073424.jpgFrom the flat landscape the path ascended on irregularly sloping rocks and the surface was uneven.20170902_074114.jpg

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20170902_074717.jpgDespite that, a well marked track was obvious to most (there were other tourists who came and went and some seemed unable to stay on track – in order to protect the environment my driver yelled to them through the intense wind to get back onto the track).  20170902_083549.jpg

20170902_081632.jpg As I walked higher, I could see the thicker vegetation in the lower valley section of the Gorge,some of which is a grove of spearwood.20170902_074222.jpg

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20170902_074726.jpg Some of the vertical wall surfaces reminded me of the caves of the Meteora in north western Greece. For example, in Greece some hermit caves looked like: 20140607_190315.jpgBy contrast some of the Walpa Gorge walls looked like: 20170902_074846.jpg

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20170902_075556.jpg This video shows the nature of the Gorge walls, the stony uneven walkway and, most of all, you hear the wind.  Walpa meaning whistle in the local Anangu language.

 

Driving to the Valley of Winds, Kata Tjuta carpark

From the Kata Tjuta sunrise viewing area we continued westwards.

Kata Tjuta map

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20170902_071719.jpgWhen we reached a T junction the bus turned left/north towards the Valley of the Winds.  Walpa Gorge was the later second stop further ahead.  20170902_071724.jpg

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20170902_071904.jpg What were my plans? After extensive pre-trip research I knew that the Valley of Winds offered a range of walks the longest being a 7 plus km hike.  In addition I knew there were lookouts to climb. You can read further details here and here and here. Before leaving Tasmania I planned to walk all the options plus walk into the Walpa Gorge.  However, once in central Australia,  I changed my mind. I knew the rising temperatures and my perpetually sore feet made any choice to walk in the Valley of Winds unwise. I decided to walk in the Walpa Gorge only.

At the Valley of Winds bus stop, a few people left the bus ready to undertake various walks with the expectation they would be collected early in the afternoon.  I was fortunate that my bus driver was an ex APT tour guide still holding his accreditation (he had lost his job after lifting visitors’ heavy luggage and damaging his back). He was a superb source of information.  Before the walkers departed for the Valley of Winds tracks, I listened as the driver provided useful background and safety information.

The Valley of the Winds is stony, rugged and isolated. From a variety of sources over the few days while I was in the area, I heard stories of people with bloody fingers from trying to grab almost smooth rocks as they  clambered up and over near vertical rocks on the ‘track’.  I heard stories of people who did not take any water or sufficient water even in mild weather – and being found at the last minute with severe heat exhaustion, dehydration and in a very fragile state.  Some tracks, and those around Uluru are officially closed once the temperature reaches 36 degrees – but I think that is too extreme when the time a person will be out in that environment without shelter; surely it will be too long for the body to cope safely. In the case of the Valley of Winds the time between drop off and collection is around  5 hours yet the advice (drink one litre per hour) and warnings of signs, brochures and the words of bus drivers are often not heeded.

Four of us stayed on the bus ready to be driven to the Walpa Gorge carpark.

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

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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

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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

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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

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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?

Back to Uluru for the Mala walk

Friday– I was careful to start later in the morning as a means to recoup energy lost during the previous day, and to give my feet the best chance before taking them off for more walking. I had the chance to wash and dry a week’s load of dirty clothes giving me more to wear again.  I used time to read all the available brochures and check the internet for more information about where I was to be sure I would not miss some marvellous opportunity, I familiarised myself with all the buildings and facets of my Hotel complex, and I made new bus bookings for more journeys to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  It was a comparatively relaxing time getting ‘my house in order’.  Meanwhile Betty had gone off to Uluru for her own discoveries.

Then I was back on the bus headed south again. I am always surprised in buses when people do not look out to see the world they are passing by; that bent neck and the fingers on mobiles is usually the reason.       20170831_130633.jpg

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20170901_121406.jpgDuring every bus trip I loved seeing Uluru and Kata Tjuta emerge from the landscape. The photos below of the north side of Uluru show the indentations along the rock.     20170901_122007.jpg

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20170901_122341.jpgThe bus rounded the western side and headed along the southern side of Uluru.     20170901_122513.jpg

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20170901_123945.jpg  Then we were travelling on the eastern side and around to the northern side.20170901_124000.jpg

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20170901_124513.jpgI was surprised to see Uluru differently; how riding on the bus gave me a perspective additional to that I had when walking around Uluru.  Eventually the Hop On Hop Off bus reached the Mala carpark, the last stop on its around-the-rock route.

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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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