Rollins in the Northern Territory: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1) Rising early to catch the Sunrise over Kings Canyon, the drive back to Ayers Rock highlighted the fact that while we had slept, every living animal in the territory had walked up on the road and pooped.  So I forgave Hertz’ a little for their “no coverage after sundown” policy.

Why Tour Buses and Brumbies Don’t Mix

 Within the first hour, what looked like a fat person with a ponytail could be seen walking slowly on the highway ahead of us.  It turned out to be an actual horse’s tail, and we saw our first Brumby (wild feral crazy nuts Aussie horse).  Even with a few blasts of the horn he was reluctant to leave the highway, but eventually trotted off into the bush.

Okay, so there are animals on the highways.  Within the next half hour, we saw up close and personal what the after effects are from a 20 person bus hitting a full-grown Brumby.  The front of the bus looked like an accordion, and the horse was, well, dead.  It couldn’t have happened more than 10 minutes before we came by.  So maybe single car accidents are a problem in these parts.

The rest of the drive was less eventful, though it seemed Dingos kept appearing, likely to make sure people realize that they aren’t all baby-killers.

Uluru or Ayers Rock?

The British Explorers named it Ayers Rock while the aboriginal name is Uluru.  Much like Mt. McKinley / Denali, Bombay / Mumbai, or Asking a Question / Axing a Question, different cultures have different names for things.

Getting to see Uluru unobstructed was impressive.  All the photos make it appear to be shaped like a loaf of bread, while it’s actually more like a lump of dough dropped onto the floor – asymmetric and without a memorable form.

The hike around Uluru was less impressive.  The trail starts right up next to the rock, where you can climb to the top – even though the aboriginal people would prefer you do not, because the rock is sacred.  If you’ve ever climbed half-dome in Yosemite when they have the poles up near the top to make it easier for people to summit the last 100 meters, this is similar – but Uluru has a much steeper incline, and the poles extend 4 or 5 times further.  The climb was off limits for us even if we’d wanted to, because of high winds: over 30 people have died falling off the side of Uluru.

The trail quickly moves alongside Uluru, giving you some great up close looks at how the rock is dimpled by craters and not a smooth or consistent shape.  Then, the path takes you back out to the road (what!?) where you walk along the park highway for a kilometer before taking a path that keeps you 500 meters from Uluru.  If I wanted a view from this far away I could have stayed in our rental car.  About 1/3rd of the way around, we saw our first “no pictures” section.  Apparently some parts of Uluru are super-sacred to specific parts of the aboriginal people.  One section is sacred to the men, and only men come to view it and learn what it means.  Another part is sacred to the women, and it’s a part of their rituals.  Another part is sacred to left-handed shortstops who really, really need a hit to get out of this slump.  And at each of these sections, they ask you not to take pictures.  The first time, we didn’t take any photos mostly out of shock.  The second time, we didn’t take any mostly because we were moving quickly.  The idea behind it being sacred is that the images on the rocks have spiritual meaning, and reproducing them for others is blasphemous.  The third time, where a signed indicated a full km that was sacred and you not to take any photos, we were finished with this and decided that for us, our hiking religion required digital documentation of what we’d seen.

Eventually the trail gets you back closer to Uluru, and those are the best parts.  The trail has a walls of Jericho feel about it where you’re just walking in a big circle around a rock.  I’m glad we did the trail, but if I had to skip one thing on our trip, I’d pass on the Uluru hike.

Once again, our room at the Outback Pioneer Lodge had no bathroom, so that meant showering in a windstorm.  We had our one “decent” outfit for the trip, for the “Sounds of Silence” dinner – a dinner under the stars with Uluru in the distance and the sun setting over the Olgas.  The dinner was a great change from the horrible chow we’d been scarfing for the last three days, and we were lucky enough to be seated at a table with interesting folks: a young couple from Melbourne who were driving around Australia for 7 months, a university student (and her mom) from Oregon who had just finished up a semester abroad in Perth, a woman from Darwin visiting a friend who worked in Ayers Rock, a Japanese mother-daughter pair, and Lord and Lady Rollins.  We looked at the Southern Cross and learned how to find South (a LOT harder than our “find the North star”, let me tell you), looked at Saturn and the moon through a telescope, and gorged ourselves on seconds and thirds and dessert.  And, the waiters made it dangerous – your wine glass was always full.   Highly recommended.

Olgas – My second favorite spot in Australia

Only Cradle Mountain in Tasmania has a bigger place in my heart, now that I’ve visited the Oglas, or Kata Tjuta.  I’m very happy Lisa made the executive decision to get us out of bed and into the car, even though we were both feeling it from the late dinner the night before.  A convenience store bacon and egg muffin in our stomachs, we were on our way.

Crickey!  We saw our first wild camel.   There are now over 1 million camels in this region in Australia.  Originally brought over as pack animals to bring goods from Adelaide up to the Northern Territory cities like Alice Springs, when their owners didn’t need them anymore, they just released them.  It turns out that camels breed like, well, camels.  And now camels have actually charged into towns, smelling water during drought conditions, and torn apart rain gutters, faucets, and anything with any water behind it.  Bad Camels!  Bad!

After the 50 km drive to the start of the hiking trail for the “Valley of the Winds”, we hopped out of the car to find the wind gusting around us, making it really, really chilly.  We blazed the 2.2 k to the edge of the rocks at double time, getting ourselves warm in the process.  Each day of hiking was like this – start with four layers, a hat, and sometimes gloves, and gradually get down to just two layers mid way through the hike.  Once we got down  into the Valley, no wind.  So I’m a little dubious about the naming.

Instead of just being one rock, the Olgas are a number of rocks, all close by the trail.  Several of the “rocks” (really mini-mountains) appear to be the size of Uluru.  Why isn’t this more sacred?  Well, I’m glad it’s not because we could scramble and take all the photos we wanted.  The trail was exceptional, taking you in and around the rocks, showing you different parts of the terrain, and bringing you through hills and grasses that were chock full of roos.

The sunlight was all around – another brilliant, cloudless day in the Northern Territory.

(Check out the first image, you’ll see one of the roos bounding across our path.  Nice mid-air shot by Lisa.)
The one image of the entire trip that I will always remember is this final one.  Hiking up a shaded divide between two of the rocks, all of a sudden your view expands into the valley showing you the rest of the Olgas in the distance, and the green valley ahead.    The sun catching one side while the other is still dark.  The tangible sensation of crossing into the light and the warmth of the sun.  The massive blue sky above you.  The slope of the trail down into the valley, inviting you to charge forward into territory that makes you squint to catch a glimpse of a dinosaur ahead in the trees.
I already miss being there.

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