Making up for months on the wagon, here I am getting stuck into the bubbles whilst marvelling at sunset at Uluru, the aboriginal name for the mighty Ayres Rock.
Every time I told people I was only spending two weeks in Australia they were surprised at such a short visit. My reasons were twofold. Firstly I didn’t feel I wanted to get back into a western culture and secondly my wardrobe wouldn’t permit more that a few days in winter temperatures. Also, Australia is very big and to do it justice would require several weeks and if you throw NZ into the mix and maybe Tasmania, there goes most of my remaining travel time.
But where to go? My plan was to do Melbourne and Sydney but When I saw 12 degrees in Melbourne (25 degrees less than I was used to) I blew that idea out and decided very last minute to go to Uluru or more correctly Yulara, the town which services Uluru- Kata TJuta National Park. It was an ace decision. The NP is a magical place and the Rock draws you in and envelopes you in its spirituality.
The land was officially returned to the Anangu aborigines in 1985 and whilst it has been leased back to the government to develop tourism, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Land Trust protects the sacred sites and preserves the local heritage.
I spent three fabulous days in the park. I walked round Uluru being told centuries old creation stories and staring in awe at this immense natural phenominal with its wateing holes, caves and cave paintings, in the middle of nowhere. The Rock , at 350 odd metres is not that tall but it descends an incredible 6km below ground.
About 20km away are The Olgas, Kata Tjuta’s (means ‘many heads’) huge domed rocks which are really impressive and offer some stunning walks. I particularly liked the Valley of the Winds.
Further away still (like a 3.5 hour drive) is the King’s Canyon, another astounding area of natural beauty where I spent happy day climb up and walking round the rim (sounds like volcanoes all over again only this was a river canyon!).
Of course the best time to be around these natural wonders is sunrise or sunset. I was able to experience both from my Lodge, and there is a marked difference in the colour changes the rocks project at either end of the day. I was fortunate to have three crisp, clear blue skies and uninterrupted sunshine by day and the Milky Way and dazzling stars, including bright red Mars and yellow Jupiter at night.
I also walked through the “Field of Light” – Bruce Munroe’s installation of 50,000 solar powered lights. It was a surreal moment finding myself in the middle of the Central Western Desert surrounded thousands of coloured lights on the ground and a million stars in the sky.
Yulara has several art galleries exhibiting indigenous arts and crafts and there are storytelling, song and dance performances which are enchanting.
I met a man who was an expert on bush flora and fauna and was fascinated to learn about the controlled rotational fires which replenish the bush, the parasitic plants and the beneficial ones, the destructive and the productive animals and the effects of the markedly different seasons (two only). One of the most abundant trees is the dessert oak introduced by the, which can withstand raging fires.
I really, really loved Uluru and could have lingered longer, however…..it was time to hit the hedonism of Bondi Beach!
I’m sure there’s not much I can say about Sydney that you well-travelled people don’t already know. Suffice it to say I made the most of my week there, soaking up exhibitions, going to the opera, whale watching, lazing in the parks with their wealth of melodical birds and by the beach with surgers aplenty, walking the cliffs (amazing cemetery) and window shopping downtown.
But OMG is Sydney expensive. My last meal at the Michelin starred hawker stall in Singapore’s Chinatown was under £4 My first coffee in Sydney was over £4!
Lucky for me I spent 3 nights with a friend I’d met in Vietnam. He invited me to his ocean-view home in Bondi where I had a relaxing time hanging out with his family doing.
I was doubly lucky to be invited to stay with a friend of a friend in Leura, a small picturesque town the Blue Mountains. My host made me feel so welcome and did everything in her power (heated blanket, pashmina, Shih Tzu) to keep me from getting hypothermia, my bones being unprepared for the cold. We drank red wine and smoked some good s*** and watched the Antiques Roadshow! I went on two mammoth walks through the mountains, which are quite spectacular even in the drizzle and mist. They must be sensational in the summer!
What I was unaware of prior to arrival in Oz was how important it has become to recognise and support the aboriginal people. They are thought to have inhabited the land for more that 20,000 years, the Aussies just 250 years. In Sydney it is the Eora tribe. On a tour of Sydney Opera House, the guide paid homage to their forefathers who lived on the land where SOH is now situated and there are many wonderful stories and videos in the Australia Museum. Yulara is one of the most important aboriginal areas in the whole country but poverty, lack of education and discrimination still exist. The government is being fiercely held to account but there is still a way to go from this moving 2008 declaration.
I’m writing this blog in the Business Lounge at Santiago airport where I’m enduring a 9 hour layover before my 00:50 flight to Bogota. I left Sydney at 11am on Monday took a 15 hour flight and it’s still Monday. By the time I get to Colombia I won’t know if I’m Arthur or Martha (one of my Mum’s priceless expressions). Whilst I’m working it out I’ll leave you with a few photos………………..hasta la vista!