Red Sand and Famous Rocks

The horrendous corrugation experience riding into Hermannsburg the day before made us decide against riding the Mereenie Loop. Neither of us was particularly keen on trying to find out whether we could survive 200km of continuous corrugations without losing all our teeth or the bikes shedding piece after piece until they collapse. And all that for a pretty straight road with no scenery to speak of. It just wasn’t worth it.

Instead we embarked on a different kind of endurance challenge. 500km of boring highway to reach Uluru the long way round. We had to return to Alice Springs, the wall of red rock to our right and then head back south on the Stuart Highway the way we’d come all those days ago. It was a long ride with short fuel stops at the road houses.

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Before you reach Uluru there is another mountain that looks very similar: Mount Conner. We stopped for a quick photo but it looked predictably uninteresting.

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We’d heard of a free camping spot from which you get a great view of Uluru by sunrise and of course Aidan wanted to take that picture. So we broke our rule not to ride in the dark in Australia, prayed that no kangaroos would hop out in front of us and hoped the thunderstorm in the distance wouldn’t get any closer. After a lot of searching we found the sand track into the bush. Lots of campers were already here but we followed the track deep into the dunes. Unsure how far we had to go and unable to see anything in the dark, we picked a random spot and pitched camp, totally exhausted.

The next morning Aidan was up at first light, grabbed his camera and sped off. We were nowhere near the viewing spot yet. I said I’d follow. And after a few sips of coffee I did. Last night Lea had had real trouble getting up the steep sand dunes in the knee-deep soft sand. Even with me pushing and heaving the little engine was threatening to cut out. Unlike Pippa Lea never really sank in. But the lack of traction in the loose stuff meant she simply didn’t have enough force to climb the hill.

This morning was no better. After the first dune I struggled up the second only to find there would be another and then another. This couldn’t possibly be good for the engine. It seems I had finally found Lea’s limit. So far she had gone anywhere I dared go. It wasn’t worth killing the little bike and we still had to get back out of here.

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I climbed higher on foot and had a peek at Uluru from here. It was cloudy anyways so Uluru looked dark and wore a grey hat. By sunrise or sunset it looks a stunning bright orange, but it seemed unlikely today. It took a lot of wrestling to just turn Lea around. I rode back and enjoyed the leisurely coffee and breakfast I was in the mood for anyways hoping Aidan wouldn’t wait around for me.

He and Pippa returned covered in red sand. They’d ridden to the final dune but even Pippa hadn’t quite made it up to the top. Apparently the place was stunning and the perfect camping spot. Aidan had spent a while taking photos and then a much longer while digging Pippa back out of the hole she’d dug herself into. She was standing up without the side stand and Aidan had no choice but to take the heavy panniers off and push her over and put some branches under the rear wheel for traction!

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Exhausted from this morning’s adventures we packed up and rode the short distance to the national park. The visitor’s centre was real nicely set up and informative about the local aboriginal culture. Wee decided to go on a walk around Uluru. Some people climb it, dragging themselves up on some chains specifically attached for this, but it is a spiritual place and the aboriginal people ask you not to. Not sure why they don’t simply close the climb for good. Too much money in tourism I guess.

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Back in the day aboriginal people used to live here hunter gatherer style. On the walk around you see some really special places that have a certain tranquil feeling to them.

Like the cave that was used as kitchen. The rock is shaped like a huge wave forming a protective roof and framing the view over the dry landscape.

There are two water holes on opposite sides of the rock. They still act as a vital source for the animals of the surrounding desert and people are asked to approach quietly so as to not scare them off. But of course the hoardes of tourists ruin much of the peace and tranquility of these places.

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In some of the caves and under sheltered rocks are the cave drawings the elders used to teach the youngsters about things like hunting and the dream time creation.

Some parts of Uluru shouldn’t be photographed and signs ask people not to. To the aboriginals these rock faces tell sacred stories and it would be wrong to look at them anywhere but in their original place. These were often some of the most interesting parts of Uluru but we respected the request.

Some of the aboriginal stories are told on metal plates near the features of the rock tat tell them. One of them is that of the good serpent woman defending her nephew (I think it was) from an evil snake man. The markings of the rock where she assumed human form, kneeling with her battle staff, has a beautiful grace to it. The place where the battle was won is now a permanent water source.

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After we had walked all the way around Uluru in grey drizzle the sun finally came out. But we’d had enough of the rock for one day and didn’t fancy waiting in the designated sunset viewing area to squeeze past hundreds of tourists for the perfect picture. Instead we returned to the free camping spot, this time pitching the tent before the first dune.

It was a restless night with more and more campers pulling up and then packing up again before dawn to get to Uluru in time for sunrise. Helicopters were noisily flying above with those who could afford to view Uluru from above. We decided to snooze through it and take it easy. When we finally crawled out of the tent mid-morning we were greeted by thick fog. I almost felt sorry for all those people that had gotten up so early. They probably didn’t catch a single glimpse of the famous red rock.

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After navigating tourist shopping hell in the Yulara town resort to try and find a couple of new diaries we returned to the national park, this time to see Kata Tjuta. They looked stunning on approach, changing shape as the road takes you around them. Being a bit lazy we just chose the short walk into the gorge. I wanted to experience the tall closing in walls after so much wide openness in the outback we’d been traveling through recently.

There is a tranquil water hole at the end of the path and signs asked people to approach quietly once again. And most did. But of course tall walls mean echos and one bunch of tourists were shouting the dumbest comments back and forth, ruining it all for the rest of us. Even Aidan, who has limitless patience for anyone felt compelled to comment “You’d think that if they are that stupid, they’d be quiet about it!”

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are amazing places with a real special feel about them, especially if you take the time to watch, listen and learn, as the aboriginals say. But as with many such places the tourism industry pretty much destroyed them. Somewhat fed up with that we decided to give Kings Canyon a miss. The pictures on Google images are stunning but we were loosing our travel spirit with all this organised sight seeing. Instead we bought some ice creams to cheer us up and returned to the campsite in Alice Springs where a couple of spare parts should be arriving in the post any day now.

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