Monday, September 13, 2010
Uluru: red dirt, blue sky, check and check!
Well, we've been here two and a half years so when Virgin Blue began competing with Qantas on the Sydney/Uluru route, we decided to make the pilgrimage to the red center. Winter is a good time to travel to the Northern Territory because it is unbearably hot there many days of year. Tour companies really play up the beauty of witnessing the sunrise over the rock, but I think the real value lies in exploring the area before the desert reaches oven-like temperatures.
And before I write another word about value, I must mention that a major factor preventing us and many others from visiting Uluru was cost. Sure, we got a reasonable deal on our flights, but everything else at Voyages, the only resort near Uluru, is wildly, almost comically expensive. The regular fee for our room was over $400/night, but we got a "deal" for $230/night. Even this price was too much for what we got: an average room with no insulation. We had to run the fan all night to cancel the noise coming from the Lost Camel.
The most shocking prices of all, though, are attached to tours. Transportation via a shuttle van to Uluru from the resort and back (24km) costs $42.50 per adult, not including a whopping $25 per adult national park fee. I felt like a broken record when confirming this information with the concierge. "So that's just for one person? - Yes. And it doesn't include a tour guide, it's just transportation? - Yes." Transportation to Kata Tjuta, the other lesser known rock formation that shares the national park with Uluru was an additional $70 per adult. Mickey and I wanted to see both and worked out that renting a car was actually $120 cheaper than taking the bus. Who would have thought?
I started that last paragraph with the word 'enjoy' and ended complaining about costs again. Let's see if I can focus on the positives. Walking the perimeter of the rock (9km) with Mickey was delightful, the weather was ideal: sunny but not hot. It took us about two and a half hours at a comfortable pace and we enjoyed watching the landscape and the position of the sun change as we walked anti-clockwise around the rock.
A display in the visitors center and other places in the national park explain this request in kind of a curious way. All the signs seem to say 'we don't climb' in big letters because, I'm told, indigenous language/culture prevents them from telling visitors outright, 'please don't climb.' Apparently, telling others what to do is a no no in aboriginal culture. I'd be interested to learn more about the relationship between these people and the rock that they deem sacred, but much of this knowledge is secret and not shared with outsiders. The fact that Mickey and I didn't see a single aboriginal person while visiting the Northern Territory only added to the mystery.
We enjoyed our most memorable meal that evening at the Outback Pioneer barbecue, a restaurant that sells raw meat and allows you to cook it to your liking on the grills that they maintain. The crocodile skewer was tough and terrible, but the steaks were great. Of course, that evening the stars were out in full force and Mickey used a phone app to point out constellations.
Anyway, we didn't have a lot of time to explore Kata Tjuta, but did enjoy a brief romp through Walpa Gorge and the Valley of the Winds. Mickey and I had a philosophical discussion on why Uluru is the star attraction of the region instead of Kata Tjuta. It's not one big rock, but was formed by the same geological processes that created Uluru. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 domes and hundreds more smaller boulders and resembles a sleeping Homer Simpson of all things when viewed from a distance.
Voyages asks guests to complete a survey about their experience at the resort upon checking out. Why they do this is a mystery, though, because they are a monopoly and thus have little incentive to improve. I imagine the replies going to a central office where a team are employed to laugh at the responses, 'yeah, you would like clean bathrooms, wouldn't you? Ha ha ha!'. Anyway, I dutifully completed this survey and answered one of the last questions about whether I'd recommend the resort to a friend. My answer was a resounding no, yet I would encourage people to see the majestic Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Watching the sunset over the rock was not exactly spiritual, but extraordinarily beautiful. So, if a decent competing hotel pops up, I'd encourage everyone to give it a go.