Overland adventure to the Australian Outback
In the morning of February 9th, 2019, I had to get up very very early, because we (i.e. my group of fellow travelers from the ship and I) had to catch the early morning flight from Carins to Ayer`s Rock; it was raining when the plain took off at 6:45 a.m. Coming above the clouds, sunshine showed me the Australian countryside deep below, turning from lush green jungle of Queensland to the reddish desert in the heart of the continent. Could see the interesting geological formations of the MacDonnell Ranges, flew across Alice Springs, and landed at Ayer`s Rock airport after a pleasant, approximately 2 1/2 hours flight.
Since at this early time our accommodation was not yet ready for check-in, we right away started with a first visit to the Uluru (known as Ayer´s Rock). It had been on my bucket list for many years, and now this lifetime dream was coming true - I was very excited and happy! Although it was not the best time of the day to view it, at first sight I was overwhelmed of its sheer size and simple beauty. After an interesting visit at a Cultural Centre at the entrance of the Nationalpark, where we learnt very interesting facts about the indigenous Aborigines people (the Anangu) and why the Uluru and Kata Tjuta are sacred places to them, we went for a first walk into one of Uluru`s gorges, to a waterhole and stood close in front of its high walls. Very impressive! Our nice guide, Caroline, explained the various rocks around us and their meanings to the Anangu people, who own this land and the rock.
Around noon, we then proceeded for check-in at one of the most beautiful camps of Australia: Longitude 131°. Everything was perfect, and from my tent (which was a spacious room with all comfort) I had a most wonderful view of the Uluru - nothing spoiled the view, there were no buildings, no smog or pollution, only wide landscape. The air was so clear, there was no noise at all (even the a/c was hardly to be heard, yet very effective!) - everything was so peaceful and quiet and just beautiful. The heat was immense, but I could deal much better with it than with the humid heat in the tropics. Lunch in the main lodge was delicious.
After a leisurely afternoon, we started for another tour at half past 5, driving to the Uluru again and going for the so-called Mala-walk into Kantju Gorge, which led us by historical caves with rock art of the Aborigines. To get these close-up views of that magical rock and seeing the bright and changing colors of orange on the rock with the downgoing sun was a great experience, indeed. Only a million of flies around, always trying to sit on your nose, eyes and around your mouth, was disturbing, but fortunately, we were supplied with flynets, which really helped; as soon as the sun had disappeared, also the flies were gone. After sunset, the Uluru stood without colors and was „just a giant rock“ in its vast surroundings. Driving back to the camp, I enjoyed the still bright sky as darkness slowly fell in. Dinner was ready for us when returning to Longitude 131° and our group enjoyed the delicious dishes and relaxed in the cosy atmosphere.
On the second day, February 10th, 2019, I woke up before sunrise and was fascinated by the lights at the dawning morning next to the Uluru. Changing from deep blue of the diminishing night sky into a yellow ring, then into an orange and golden turning sky when the sun sowed up, was very different from what I had ever seen before. I loved the wide far views and seeing the long horizon - as I also do on the ship, when there is only us, between the the wide ocean and the endless sky.
Our morning tour that day started at 7:30 a.m. and our guide Caroline drove us to the 50 kms distant Kata Tjuta landform, which rose from earth about the same time as Uluru did, some 550 million years ago. Kata Tjuta means “many heads“ and it is a group of 36 domes (round mountains) , with Mount Olga being the tallest one (565 m) and consists of conglomerate, a mix of gravel, pebbles and boulders cemented together by sand and mud, while the Uluru consists of arkose sandstone. We enjoyed a nice hike into the Walpa Gorge, where a strong wind was blowing towards us - just what Walpa means: windy. I was amazed by the very steep and high walls on both sides. When returning to our accomodation, we were able to enjoy the camp as such. In the afternoon, I got the great opportunity to do a scenic flight over the Uluru and Kata Tjuta in a helicopter - so wonderful to see these sites from above, and now I understand why Australia is called the red continent.
The next great tour started in the early evening to enjoy sunset on Uluru, but this time from a distance. We were standing on a dune with perfect views of the Uluru seeing it as the whole rock standing alone in the wide Outback. As sun went down behind us, I was again fascinated by the changing intense colors from ocher to orange. And again, after sunset, there was this beautiful light at the sky…
By the time when we arrived at the “Field of Light“, a unique art installation by Bruce Munro, it was almost dark and some 50.000 lights started blooming and illuminated a big field, where we meandered around. Quite an amazing show -very peaceful and silent, no flickering!- which can only be visited until end of December 2020.
Upon return to the Lodge, another delicious dinner was served, but this time outdoors, around a fire place and under the nighty sky, with a million of stars above us. Caroline pointed out many of the star signs via a helpful laser pointer. At the end of the dinner, Caroline spoke a beautiful poem “My country“ (written in 1904 by the young Dorothea Mackellar, who was age 19 then), which nowadays is regarded by many Australians as the universal statement of the nation´s connection to the land. When we walked back to our tents, we saw flickering fires on each balcony, which were lit for the guests to enjoy, which I certainly did! I didn’t want this last so very wonderful evening to end, sitting under the milky way and seeing so many shooting stars, with all the peace and silence around. So, I remained on the balcony all night long and slept in a provided sleeping bag under this truly amazing firmament. I felt totally happy then and was very grateful about this outstanding experience!
February 11th, 2019, was the day we unfortunately had to leave this spiritual heart of Australia again. I could have stayed there a much, much longer time for sure!
Once more, I woke up before sunrise and enjoyed the magnificence and splendor of the rising sun over Uluru. Skipped breakfast - wanted to stay on my balcony until the final call to leave for the airport. The flight to Alice Springs, 450 kms northeast of Ayer`s Rock, lastet only 50 minutes. From the air I got great views of the imposing MacDonnell Ranges, which were formed about 340 million years ago and stretch over 640 kms from east to west, running thru Alice Springs. Since our continuing flight was only scheduled for the late afternoon, we had a good opportunity to spend the time discovering some of the city and its surroundings. Our local guide drove us along the mountain range, some 50 kms to the Stanley Chasm, where we hiked thru a cleft, which became more and more narrow and ended between 80 m high craggy slopes on both sides. Around last Christmas, a bushfire had rushed thru this cleft and had left the small river dried out and trees burnt, however, some plants in a bit sheltered areas had started to turn green again - quite interesting. On the way back to Alice Springs, we stopped at another gap in the range and walked thru a dry river bed into Simpsons Gap. Where the range had been „torn apart“ millions of years ago, one could feel the power of the once moving earth and see beautiful rock formations. Some water was left back there and a waterbird enjoyed swimming around.
Our next stop was in Alice Springs, at Anzac Hill, a visible landmark on a hill, where an obelisque and many signs remind of lives lost in all world conflicts. Then it was time to return to the airport to catch our next flight, taking us to Darwin at the northern coast of Australia. From the air I saw, how the red soil in the centre of the continent changed to lush greens up north, and when we landed in Darwin, tropical heat greeted us. After check-in at a hotel downtown, we had dinner at a restaurant by the waterfront. That night I went to bed early, still being overwhelmed from such great adventure to the Australian Outback.