Australia Part 4: Australia’s Red Center – Ayers Rock and Alice Springs

Flying into Uluru was quite remarkable as I was seated on the window side and got the first glimpse of the rock from high above.  When I was in Australia 8 years ago with Steph Smith, I really debated coming out to see Ayers Rock.  At that time, Steph and I didn`t have the time, and wanted to make sure I did this time and am very glad I did.

After 5 nights in the middle of Australia in about 132 degree weather during the day (100 degrees by 9am), I loved it!  I was able to see two sunrises (leaving the resort at 4:45am – ouch!), many sunsets and even hiked around Ayers Rock and The Olgas (and these are two different rock formations).  This whole area has a lot of cultural significance to the Aboriginal owners.  Tourists call it Ayers Rock and the Aboriginals call it Uluru (I didn`t realize that as I always heard the two names and wondered what the real name was).  Ayers Rock towers to 348 meters from the ground, yet more than 2/3 of the total size is said to be beneath the ground level.  To walk all the way around it, it`s about 10 km and can be done in a couple hours.  I ended up walking about 3/4 of the rock and that was plenty!

Uluru (known as Ayers Rock)
– Once I was at the resort, I realized I would have a lot of time to relax, read, sit by the pool as that was about it during the day.  It was so hot, and I got tired just walking around.  I never went anywhere without my liter of water and we were all told to drink at least one liter of water per hour in this heat.

– I finally decided to sign up for a 3 day tour pass that was transportation to and from part of the rock I wanted to visit.  All the other tours were so expensive and really catered to people that had a lot of money and were there for a day or two and would pay anything.  Since I was there 4 days, I could take it a little slower and do one or two things in a day.

Sunrise
– Waking up at 4 in the morning isn`t fun when you are on holiday or traveling, but that was what needed to be done to see the sunrise.  So off to the rock and my first morning the sunrise was crap as it was so cloudy we didn`t even see any colors change, so I decided to go back another day (as I could go back as many times as I wanted with my pass).  The nice part was at 6:15 in the morning, I was awake and alert so we were off to hike around the rock.  I met a few others that wanted to talk so we trekked to the gorge and then back around to the watering hole.  I think this water hole was one of the most spectacular settings…and I still look at the photos and don`t think they are real.

The Climb
– It`s possible to climb Ayers Rock, but tourists are asked not to based on Aboriginal beliefs.  The aboriginals don`t like when tourist climb as many are stupid and 35 have fallen and died (but I heard more have actually died, but since they died at the hospital after falling, they aren`t in the official count of 35).  I will say, it was a very steep climb and there was a “fence” to hold on to, but it didn`t look like it would help that much.

– With that said, I was told the climb was closed since it was summer and too hot, but sometimes it`s open before 8am.  So both morning I went out, I tried to climb, but the climb was closed due to high winds at the summit.  Bummer but I tried.  I met a guy that climbed it the day before I got there, so it has been open recently.

The Olgas
– I decided to take a hike to the Olgas in the afternoon (leaving at 3:30 for the hour drive) and then hiking for an hour (at 4:30 in the afternoon).  The driver said it would be about 50/132 degrees in the sun and man did we feel the heat.  I will say it was a gorgeous hike through two huge rocks that are 200 meters higher than Ayers Rock (at over 500 meters tall). There were so many senior citizens that were struggling in the heat and terrain, but in the end, we all made it and it was worth the effort to get out there.

Sunset
– After our hike, we got to drive all around Ayers Rock and enjoy it from the comfort of the car and it did look a little from the distance vs when I was up close walking around it.  Our driver thought we would have a disappointing sunset as it was so cloudy, but he did say to wait till it all does down as it sun may be able to peek through and light up Ayers Rock and in the last few minutes of sunset, it did just that.  Ayers Rock was glowing red and was amazing.  I guess good things go come to those that wait!

-All in all, I had a lovely time at Ayers Rock and it`s a place I would recommend coming, just maybe not as long as I was there.  I ended up staying longer based on flights and costs, but it was a nice relaxing time and I managed to enjoy the sun without getting a sunburn (which many other weren`t so lucky).  Luckily, the only place to stay is a resort area with 5 different accommodations from basic camp ground, simple lodge (with dorms where I stayed and had my own room 4 of the 5 nights), to fancy hotels and luxury resorts.  So anyone can go and stay at the level you want.

-Only thing…the food was so expensive, I ended up cooking every single meal there as my lodge had a great kitchen and I was able to make better food for somewhat less, as the grocery story still robbed you, but it was much better and I made more friends in the kitchen cooking.  I also met Rytas and we figured out we flew in on the same flight from Perth, are both going to be in Melbourne and Sydney at the same time and will actually be on the same flight from Sydney to San Francisco on January 12th, so we may meet up again for drinks somewhere in Sydney or at least on the flight back to SFO.

Alice Springs

-This was a quick stop over for me in route tot he east coast on December 21st and 22nd.  Only famous thing Alice Spring`s is known for is this is where Tom Selleck filmed “Quigley Down Under” and he ate at the Italian place right down the street from where I`m staying as his photo is all over the wall.  Guess I`ll need to watch that movie upon my return to see the landscape he filmed it in.

– For those that live or work at Ayers Rock, this is the closest city (and nearest McDonalds) and it can be reached in a quick 5 hour drive.  I originally planned to take the bus here (as my flight to Melbourne is from Alice Springs on the 23rd), but when I learned the bus ticket was the same price as the flight, I opted for the quick 40 minute flight.  I`m actually glad I did as when I got to my lodge in Alice Springs, that night we heard the bus broke down and those people would be getting in 7 hours later (and being broken down in the outback doesn`t sound really great to me!)

-I was a little weary of Alice Springs as a few people told me it was “dodgy” with all the local aboriginals that have nothing to do and don`t work and end up being drunk most of the day, but I knew I wasn`t going out at night and would use the time to relax.  It`s so hot here…you don`t want to exert any more energy than you need.  I actually didn`t think there was a problem with dodgy locals.  Only thing is they smell really, really bad that I just wanted to walk further away from them.

-While in town on a Sunday, when EVERYTHING is closed, there wasn`t much to do but walk around and see the city (and dried up river that runs through town).  I decided to escape the heat and visit the Reptile Center which I heard was pretty fun from others.  Once inside, I saw a whole lot of snakes, lizards, dragons and got to feed live crickets to four tree frogs (special treat every three days).  Plus there was a live show (in an A/C room) where they explained the life and mating rituals of some lizards and snakes and then we got to hold them all.  I was the most comfortable holding the snake and had the python around my neck when a little girl starting having a coughing fit (and threw up in the room) so the reptile expert rushed to her aid, and I was left holding the snake.  The snakes head kept crawling around my neck and shoulders, but I wasn`t worried as it was just slithering around.  So when the expert was taking care of the kid, I starting walking around showing the snake off to the other little kids in the room.  Maybe I could get a part time job as a snake charmer.  While I was holding the snake, I was thinking of my friend Debbie as she hates snakes and everywhere we were in India, I had to protect from the snake charmers on the street.  Also, at the reptile center, there was a huge saltwater crocodile “Terry” that was rescued in Darwin and transported to the reptile center. He was pretty cool to see in the underwater observatory.  I just looked at those teeth and it was enough to make me stay away from river edges (as that`s how they get people!).

Buying Alcohol In Alice Springs

– Alice Springs is also a dry city, so no drinking anywhere in public and the police really enforce this.  It was strange as when I went to get wine at the bottle shop, it was a drive up bottle shop.  Seriously people pull up in the car, place their order for booze and the young guys run to get it and collect the money.  I was odd as I wanted to go in and look around before making my purchase, but I didn`t know what they had.  As I noted, Aboriginal drinking is the biggest problem in Alice Springs.  It was a little sad to see so many cars full of entire aboriginal families driving up and buying 5-10 cases of beer.

– You actually have to give photo ID to the cashier to buy any alcohol.  When I was asked, I asked if they wanted my student ID or a photo copy of my passport.  He said anything (for me).  When I asked why they need it, he told me many of the aboriginals have alcohol limits to how much they can purchase and the computer will tell them with they put in the ID (maybe prior arrests or problems in the past?).  Not sure, but found that interesting that it had to be monitored and yet the locals were buying a lot.  Guess there`s not too much else to do in Alice Springs.

So that`s my week in the Outback.  Very hot (but at least not humid) and loved seeing all the red sand everywhere.  I`m excited to leave all the flies behind (as they are SO ANNOYING).  It`s wasn`t so much the mosquito`s and with some bug spray they were gone, but the flies were everywhere and don`t fly away when you swat them or move your body.  They are fearless.

Off to Melbourne next to spend an Australia Christmas with my friend Vanessa and her family.

Logistics:

Ayers Rock:  Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge (you can book any of the hotel at this link).  My dorm bed was $44 AUD ($27 US)  www.ayersrockresort.com.au

Alice Springs: Alice Lodge Backpackers.  www.alicelodge.com.au  This was a simple place with a great pool for $22AUD ($14 US).  Very chill and 5 minute walk from town.

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