The DougBlog
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Monday, November 14, 2005

Colleen and Doug’s Excellent Outback Adventure, Part 2: The Outback

(The license plate on our rental car.)

[Note: scroll down to read the first entry first!]

Our Outback adventure began with a flight to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in the Northern Territory. These are Aboriginal lands in the Red Centre of Australia. From the air you can clearly see how and why the vast majority of Australians live on the coasts: the vast majority of the inland is arid, hostile, and uninhabitable—but hauntingly beautiful. About 100 years ago, when the “whitefellas” came and took the land, they gave the most famous landmarks their western names: Ayers Rock and The Olgas. But in 1985 the land was handed back over to the local Anangu peoples who restored the original names. So Ayers Rock is now properly Uluru (OOO-loo-roo) and The Olgas are called Kata Tjuta (KA-ta YOO-ta).

Our Qantas flight to Uluru:

Me using Colleen’s neck pillow incorrectly. Not sure if I look more like Norma Desmond or a gay matador:

It was an early flight, and we arrived at the Emu Walk Apartments by noon. The Red Centre is dry as a bone, infested by insects, and hot as hell. So midday is bad for doing, well, anything. We settled in and did a little shopping.

Colleen checking out the local generic brands:

The generic brand makes it very clear what they are offering:

Also, I guess “Krispies” doesn’t translate to Australian:

We arranged a few tours: a base walk around Uluru and the “Kata Tjuta Encounter”. When we signed up for the base walk, we both managed to hide our shock and dismay when the tour operator said that the bus would pick us up at FIVE AM. We also signed up for a dinner in the desert.

Then we drove to watch the sun set on Uluru, which was a beautiful show of colors and shadows:

That night I cooked dinner in our room and we hit the hay as early as possible. Sure enough, by 5:00 AM we were on the bus. We did see a dingo that morning, but he was too fast for me to get a picture. Probably heading out to find the resort’s nursery.

Living proof of us up at an ungodly hour:

Starting with the sunrise, our tour leader Scott led us on our 10-kilometer (6-mile) walk around Uluru, stopping at important sites as well as for a picnic breakfast. He taught us a lot about the geology and Aboriginal folklore of the rock, as well as about some of the native plants and animals. It was really great. Interestingly, there are sacred sites around the rock; some are “Women’s Sacred Sites” and some are “Men’s Sacred Sites”. Aboriginies of the opposite sex are not allowed to even look at them. You are therefore forbidden to photograph these parts of the rock for fear that the photos might be seen by Aboriginies of the opposite sex.

Sunrise at Uluru:

Up close, the rock is not nearly as smooth as it seems from afar:

Our tour guide, Scott:

I also think that The Professor from Gilligan’s Island was on our tour:

Different textures on the rock:

Aboriginal cave paintings on Uluru:

Uluru reflected in a watering hole:

Colleen and me pulling up the rear:

Colleen surfs “The Wave”:

Sunlight through a crevice:

There’s a rope walkway up the least-steep part of the rock for people who chose to climb Uluru:

There are very mixed signals about climbing. Being a sacred place, the Anangu do not like people to climb Uluru. There are signs and pamphlets everywhere asking you not to do so; but at the same time it is not forbidden, and many companies offer organized climbs and the such. At the gift shops you’ll see postcards right next to each other that say “I climbed Uluru!” and “I respected the wishes of the Anangu people and did NOT climb Uluru!”. Apparently many tourists come just to climb it, and the natives really need the income. That’s why they allow climbing, but prefer that you don’t do it. They hope to phase it out entirely within a few years. (For the record, we DID “respect the wishes of the Anangu people and did NOT climb Uluru”).

That night we did the Sounds of Silence Dinner, which was great. Coaches take you out to sand dunes in the middle of nowhere where first you sip champagne and eat canapés while watching the sun set over Uluru and Kata Tjuta and listening to the didgeridoo (which, for the record, is not native to this area…lies! All lies!)

Colleen enjoying her champagne:

A whitefella playing the didg:

Sunset over Kata Tjuta:


Me enjoying a kangaroo canapé (really!):

Then you walk to the dining area for a dinner that includes such outback treats as kangaroo and crocodile. We had a great table; from left to right: Malcom, Trudy, and their daughter Sophie (from Wales); Marie and “Reg” (Reginald, from Australia) and the Dutch couple whose names we never did understand…though the husband looked like Jim Backus/Colleen’s dad:

They were all really fun and outgoing people, and the free-flowing Australian wines certainly made for a rowdy time. After dinner, the torches are put out and you enjoy a few minutes of true desert silence and darkness. Then an astronomer takes you on a tour of the southern sky, which (for those of you who don’t remember your science classes) is different from the stars we have in the Northern hemisphere.

Stars over our table:

Stars over the encampment; Orion is one of the few constellations visible from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres:

They also set up some telescopes during dessert and coffee and then it was back to the hotel. The next morning we slept in and then drove to the Cultural Centre to get some more, well, culture. In the afternoon we visited Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) on a tour that included a hike into a gorge:

Colleen taking a try at the wheel:

Panoramic view of Kata Tjuta and, in the distance, Uluru (as always, click on it to enlarge):

The undulating shapes of Kata Tjuta:

Hiking into the Olga Gorge:

The guide wasn’t great, given that she didn’t realize that she’d left six of us behind (out of only NINE people to boot!). But on the way back, the pulled the bus over and saved the life of a Thorny Devil that was trying to cross the road. This is a lizard that lives in the area, and she brought it aboard to show us. It was strangely cute:

That night we had dinner at the Outback Pioneer BBQ. This was a lively place where you cook your own meat, supplemented by a salad and fixins bar. Colleen was boring and had a steak, but I was more adventurous with the Outback Platter: beef, crocodile, kangaroo, and emu. There’s also live Australian music (such as the predictable but welcome strains of Waltzing Matilda.

On the way back to our room we saw the largest insect of my life! We named him Bugzilla:

That night we packed up and prepared for our next great adventure, Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road…


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