Monday, 16 July 2018

Uluru Field of Light

The last night we did a tour 'Field of Lights', The Field of Light is an installation by Bruce Munro, and is over 50,000 stems of light that change colours. A very pretty display of colour, but we were disappointed that the full effect of the display could not be seen if one paid the basic cost of $42 per adult – a Field of Light “Pass”. We pre-booked the tour, and it does get booked out quickly. For $42 the price includes return transfers, entrance, self-guided walk, a souvenir booklet, and is approximately 2 hours, including transfers. We were picked up at 6.45pm and after picking up at other accommodation we arrived at Field of Lights at 7.05. We then had to wait for two buses to unload before being lead down a dark path to the lights. 
After being told the rules, which included two buses will leave at 8pm and one bus at 8.30pm – it was 7.15 by then, so we had 45 minutes or 75 minutes to get back to the bus.
The area is suppose to be equivalent to almost seven football fields. The paths we were instructed to follow were the short or the long. We went the long and we were finished by 7.45 – so I doubt that the paths we were told to walk along showed the full “almost seven football fields”.
The installation would be better seen from a viewing platform! 
Our total time from pick up to drop off was 95 minutes – far short of the '2 hours' advertised. We were very disappointed, and would not recommend the $42 tour. Included in the price was to be a souvenir booklet. The bus driver knew nothing about it, the tour guide knew nothing about it. I went to the information centre the following morning before we left and the lovely lady there said we were suppose to pick them up from the accommodation - but not the campground, so she said to go to the accommodation next door. They were quite rude and refused to give us one because we didn't stay there. They suggested 'Sails in the Dessert' next door, and they happily gave us one. It is a little booklet with the installation details that one can not remember from the short talk the night before. Very disorganised.
We did like the patterns the path lights made.
To see the display in its splendour, one needs to pay $90 per adult for a 'Star Pass' to get the dune top view, which would allow one to see it from above. This $90 pass also includes canapes and a drink. There is also a $75 'Sunrise' tour which includes the same as $42, and adds tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.... mmm … get up in the freezing cold (was 1 degree at 6am) .. for an extra $33! The next price is $209 for a 'Star Pass' added to a sunset camel ride (normally $132). There is also a $250 'Night at Field of Light' that includes a lovely dinner – if we could have afforded it this would have been the one!! Camel and dinner experience is $385. There are also flight tours $$$$. 
It could be an incredible light show. The lights were pretty, but the $42 tour is certainly not worth it - $20 maybe. Disappointing 😞

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Red Centre

Arriving we did a lovely circuit drive in the Ayers Rock Resort, that includes a number of accommodations and a town square. The town square houses restaurants, a bank, gift shops, and an IGA supermarket. The tourist information centre is mostly there to sell tours, although the staff at the first two desks seem to be the ones answering all the questions, and they were so friendly and helpful.
Queueing up is something one has to do at Ayers Rock. Queue up for coffee, for information, for petrol, to get into park to get into camp grounds. We spent a lot of time queueing up – not just minutes, but tens of minutes. We rang to book Ayers Rock Campground a few weeks before we planned to be there, to be told if we wanted the 'overflow', to just turn up. Ayers Rock Campground has cabins, powered sites @$63 a night, and unpowered 'overflow' @$25 a night. 'Overflow' is a distance from the amenities and is really suited for self-contained campers. A bit expensive for self-contained considering all one gets is a tight patch of dirt, but it is close to Ayers Rock, and a little bit more secure than free camping. We chose to stay about 25km from Ayers Rock Resort / Yulara at the free camp for two nights and then booked into Ayers Rock Campground for the third night, and the night we had booked a Field of Lights Tour. Well, after being told weeks before we didn't have to book 'overflow', we did!! The lovely, overworked Courtney, found us a site. Ayers Rock is expensive. Coffee $6.60, petrol $2.16 (another happy camper said -”Fraser Island” prices – and they are right) Even simple Noodle dishes are a lot higher than any where else we have travelled in Australia. We didn't try any meals at the different hotels, but everything was expensive. We were there at 'peak' time, certainly didn't plan that – and will not do that again! A pass into Uluru / Ayers Rock was $25 per adult and lasted three days. Unlike Alice Springs, we found a number of shops employing indigenous people and the cafe in the Arts Centre and one in town are actually training centres for indigenous people. 
The second day we queued up at the entrance to Uluru/Kata Tjuna (Ayers Rock / The Olgas) and paid our $25 each for a three day pass and we drove about another 50km to The Olgas. An interesting drive and The Olgas are spectacular. I could find very little information about Kata Tjuta / The Olgas at the site, so this is what I know, and what 'Google' added. The Olgas were formed the same time as Ayers Rock and are made up of 36 formations. It is thought they were originally the same shape as Ayers Rock, but weathered over millions of years. It is 35 km west of Ayers Rock. The highest point is Mount Olga and was named by Ernest Giles in 1872 in honour of Queen Olga of Wurttemburg, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I. In 1993 a system of duel naming policy was adopted to show both the English name and the Aboriginal name. Kata Tjuta is Aboriginal for many heads and that is what the Olgas look like.
I remember from teaching that there are legends about Uluru and Kata Tjutu. Aside from a few info boards at Uluru, there was very little associated with the Aboriginal legends available. I remember a legend about a big snake living on Kata Tjuta that came down in the dry season (now – July) and his breath was said to be the cold wind to punish the evil. The wind while we were there was very cold. The domes of the Olgas are home to Aboriginal spirits.
We had lunch and a short walk, and then headed back to Uluru and the Cultural Centre.

A very interesting and well thought out display of Aboriginal Culture, but lacking relevance to Uluru. Shame. If one is on a time limit, I would skip the Cultural Centre and spend time at the Rock. If there is time at the end go to the Cultural Centre. Yes, it is expensive, but everything is expensive here. One is not allowed to take photos so you will have to take our word for it :) I wondered why there was nothing about Uluru and its scientific history, or even the Dreamtime stories.
The second day we planned to spend at Uluru. Wow what a special. It is a place that we would come back to. Uluru is the name not only for the rock, but also the surrounding area (that was not mentioned anywhere in the Cultural Centre). Uluru has many different meanings to different Aboriginal clans. Some say it is a name of the snake, others says it is an ancestor, some say it is the name of a cave on the top of the rock. After reading many pages via Google, it appears the name Uluru is secret mens' business, and we will probably never know what it means. We do know that some individual features of the rock and named and have legends attached to them, and some were acknowledged with information boards on site. Some of the places at Ayers Rock people are not allowed and photographs can not be taken. It would be good to know why or the legend behind the area. The English name of Ayers Rock was named by William Gosse in 1872, and is named after South Australian Chief Secretary Sir Henry Ayers. We do know it is a monolith, or an inselberg – from the Greek meaning island mountain. (Uluru does not mean island mountain), and it is the largest monolith in the world. This was not mentioned anywhere in the area. Peter called into the Cultural Center to get his coffee and we went round to the first carpark – Mala (no idea what Mala means) – no car parks so we continued on. It is only about 10km around Uluru. The next carpark was Kuniya Piti (again, no idea what Kuniya Piti mens), plenty of parking and an interesting walk. One walks past a sacred site, that one can't take photos of, and wonders why? Why is it sacred? Why can one not take photos? Most would be willing to to respect the wishes not to take photos if one knew why. Lovely walk anyway. We had lunch here looking at the beautiful rock changing colour.
The next carpark, Kuniya (no idea??) was the best, and we would recommend going straight to this car park to start the base walk, or simply to do the short walk to the waterhole. This was recommended by the info fellow at the info centre. This is a must do! Waterhole, art work in a cave, great info boards explaining Dreamtime stories about this part of the rock.
If short on time do this one first!
We then drove back to the first Mala carpark and plenty of spaces then. This is where the rock climb takes place. I didn't think one was allowed to walk on the rock any more, but I was wrong. Last week a 76 year old Japanese tourist collapsed and died after climbing the rock. He is the 37th to die after climbing the rock, and the first recorded death since 2010. Climbing the Rock will be banned from next year. The climb was closed both days we were there due to high winds.
There is nothing about the scientific origins of the Rock, which occurred well before Indigenous inhabitation. The whole area has shaded seating and information boards which makes a base walk / ride (one can ride a bike around). There are also water stations.
There was nothing we could find about the formation of Uluru or Kata Tjuta at either site, so I Googled this information. The three structures, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Mt Conner, and many smaller ones were formed about 550 million years ago when an earth thrust lifted the high grade metamorphic rocks over low grade metamorphic rocks. Erosion lead to the formation of the Mount Currie Conglomerate, and Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), and Atilla (Mt Conner) are all part of the Mount Currie Conglomerate. They are made of basalt, granite, quartz, and volcanic rock.
Comparing Ayers Rock, The Olgas, and Mount Conner.
Height: Mt Olga is 546m high, Ayers Rock is 346m high, Mt Conner is 300m high;
Circumference: Mt Conner is about 30kms; The Olgas are about 22kms around; Ayers Rock is about 10kms around;
A bucket list item ticked off!

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Road to Uluru......

Leaving Alice mid morning our first stop was just out of town to see the old Ghan Train. We would have liked to see the new Ghan, but it hadn't arrived when we left so maybe another time.
A further 90 kms was the Cannonball Memorial. I never knew that Australia has such a race. The race was held from May 22 to May 27, 1994 along the Stuart Hwy from Darwin to Alice Springs, a distance of approximately 3200km. The monument commemorates the two officials and two Japanese drivers who were killed during the Cannonball Run. On May 24 a Ferrari F40, part of the Japanese team, crashed into a ckeck point killing both drivers and two officials. An inquest found that excessive speed and driver error were the cause of the accident. The race continued, but no further races were held.
Another 48km and about 11kms off the highway onto a gravel road was the Henbury Meteorite Conservation Camp. A meteor crashed into earth 4,700 years ago and left 12 craters in Central Australia. The Henbury meteor weighed several tonnes and is believed to have been travelling at least 40,000km per hour. The craters are named after nearby Henbury Station, and were discovered in 1899 by the station manager. There are a total of 12 craters. We walked out and around the main two craters and with the help of great information boards were able to see some of the other craters. Some are quite small.
The Aboriginal people, in their oral history, talk about the fire devil and an object he sent to earth as punishment for breaking sacred law. The Luritja people were forbidden from collecting water that pooled in the craters as they feared the fire devil would poison them. Collected fragments of the meteorite consisted mainly of iron (90%) and nickel (8%). The camp ground has covered picnic tables and toilets, but no drinkable water. We had planned to stay here the night, but felt a bit isolated so had lunch and continued on.
OH, and there were lots of flies!!
Back on the main Stuart Hwy we drove another 84km to the Lasseter Hwy, and the Erldunda Roadhouse and Caravan Park. We topped up with fuel $2.04 a litre, and had a look at the Emu Farm next door.
We were now travelling on the Lasseter Hwy.
There are many free camps along the Lasseter Hwy, so we were not to worried. We ended up travelling a further 101km to Kernot Range Rest Area. This was a great overnight camp, plenty of space, quiet. If we hadn't already booked an Ayers Rock tour we may have stayed a few days.
The next morning, just down the road about 12km, 0n the road to Uluru we passed the massive Mount Conner, Aboriginal name Attilla, meaning the home of iceman who create cold weather. Part of Curtain Springs Station, established in the 1940's, and on private property, it is often mistaken by overseas tourists for Uluru. The main difference is Mount conner has a flat top and Uluru has not. Tours can be arranged through Curtain Springs Station Roadhouse, $99 per person. Mount Conner was named by a government surveyor, William Gosse in 1873, after a South Australian politician M. L. Conner.
We ended up at Red Dune Rest Area, 56km from Curtain Springs and about 25km from Ayers Rock Resort. Over the dune at the back of the rest stop is a large area for vans and trailers. There is a little dip just over the dune so one needs to be careful with caravans, and it is sandy so two-wheel cars may get bogged. We found a good level site, secured the van and headed 25km to Ayers Rock Resort to see what was there.