And another early start. Several of the group I arrived in Alice with were also on this trip, a three-day trek south-west of Alice Springs and around the nearby national park. Bleary-eyed, we loaded our luggage onto the bus and set off before our bodies registered what time it was and shut down in protest.
Our first stop was at a camel farm. Yes, camels. There are around half a million camels in Australia, and that’s only the wild ones. Camels were brought into Oz to act as pack animals when the telegraph line was being built between Adelaide and Darwin, and the railroad from Alice to Darwin, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Once the railway was built, the camels had effectively done themselves out of a job and their handlers (cameliers) set them free to roam in the outback. Technically, all the camels you see in Oz are dromedaries – they only have the one hump – and they’re now highly sought after by the Afghans from where they were originally purchased all those years ago – talk about ice to Eskimos or coals to Newcastle! The ones which have bred in the Outback are very hardy and stronger than the native Afghan camels.
When we left, our guide handed out whiteboard markers and told us to scrawl on the windows of the bus. Names, nationalities, flags… whatever. Makes a change to introductions around the dinner table! Our mix of nationalities on this trip:
1 x Aussie (the guide), 5 x Germans, 1 x Scot, 4 x Irish, 4 x English, 1 x Czech, 2 x Swedes, 1 x Dutch, 1 x Canadian, 1 x French, 1 x Japanese, 2 x Korean and 1 x Dane. Thankfully, as ever, everyone spoke English to some degree. I think two of the German girls were a little “rusty” but speaking to them never posed any problems. If they’re reading this – your English is better than you think it is!
An hour or so down the road and the coach tilted as everyone rushed onto the left hand side to catch their first glimpse of Uluru… only it wasn’t. Locally known as “Fooluru”, Atila (“home of the iceman” in Aboriginal) is 1.5 million years older than Uluru and is actually horseshoe-shaped. However, as you drive along the main highway, only the closed end is presented and it does a passable impression of its more significant sibling. No Aboriginals live in the area as it’s believed to harbour bad karma.
Passing this, we stopped at Curtin Springs to gather supplies. OK, to gather beer. The last alcohol stop before the campsite, and they know it judging by the prices. Laden with cans and bottles, we drove to out campsite in Yulara – actually a complex of holiday homes and permanent tents a few minutes’ drive from Uluru itself. No building in the resort can be higher than 13m tall – the height of the surrounding scenery.
After unpacking and eating lunch, we boarded the bus and drove to Kata Tjuta, a nearby range of mountains formed around 1000 million years or go. Give or take. We took the Valley of the Winds walk around the base, and you can see how it got it’s name when you get around the back and the breeze is channeled into a miniature gale. Kata Tjuta is formed mainly of volcanic rock (granite and basalt) and sandstone, plus conglomerate (dry mud) which packs it all together. Uluru is purely sandstone.
Here’s some science, folks. This is how we westerners believe it was formed. All those years ago, the surface of our planet was one huge landmass. Australia was part of the southern section called Gondwana. Parts of what is now Western Australia were above water. Tectonic plates (huge slabs of planet, basically), moved and where they clashed formed mountain ranges running north/south. These eroded down and the ocean started drying up. 350 million years agi and another shift in tectonic plates from Antarctica formed east/west ranges of mountains – the McDonald Range around Alice Springs, Flinders Range in Southern Oz, Uluru and Kata Tjuta. These ranges rose out of the earth at maybe 1cm per year. Again, over time, these were eroded and shaped by the weather and are now a fraction of their original size.
Kata Tjuta came from rocks under the ground being forced upwards and this shows as the striations on the present formation run horizontally. Uluru was a single segment of rock which rose upwards – its striations are vertical and could extend as far as 6km below the surface. Plant life and stable tectonics prevent further erosion.
Our last stop was to the sunset viewing at Uluru where we met quite a few of the other people we’d travelled from Cairns with. Pretty much everyone had gone on to do similar trips with various companies. The sun sets fairly quickly, but the view we had was magnificent as Uluru changed from a bright red to a darker colour and then vanished in the darkness.
Back at camp, I manned the barbie and managed not to kill a single person with my cooking. I was very pleased, though probably not as pleased as they were.
Tonight, I slept outside in a genuine swag. Essentially, it’s a sleeping bag which includes a mattress on the bottom. Most of us slept under the stars and believe me – there’s a lot of them if your hemisphere’s not as polluted as the one back home.