DAY 9 – Uluru and the Olgas to to Sydney
Climbed into bed and woke up at 3.30am after 5 hours sleep. Texted H (realised I’d been texting without +44 earlier so not sure we got through). Couldn’t get back to sleep so got up and sorted out my stuff, had cups of tea and a shower and feeling absolutely fine and clear headed. Now 5.20am local time and will get ready for my tour to the Olgas. First I must eat some yoghurt and biscuits!
5.45am – bus arrived, a full house, taking us to Uluru sunrise and then 3 different trips. Very informative driver. Once again lots of couples and Americans. Drove out in the dark having picked up more passengers from the hotels. Sunrise was timed at 7.12am. We arrived at the viewing area before 7 and they set up 2 tables for hot drinks. Basically the viewing area is a stretch of road with a long lay-by both sides. Coaches, buses and cars are all arriving – hundreds of people gathering as the light of dawn began to emerge behind us across the bush and tint the clouds orange.
Uluru stood silent and unmoved in front of us, ready to become the reflective red screen for the rising sun show. Many people lined up now taking (or trying to take) photos. I set my new sexy tripod on a post and took steady photos using the self-timer. This is what I needed for the neon lights of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, people have a tendency it seems to congregate unconsciously around small knee high wooden posts!
I walked along the road until I found a post free and where the view wasn’t obscured by shrubs or trees. As the sun rose, the great rock began to glow more and more orange until it became like a radioactive lozenge running off solar power. Behind us the clouds glowed orange and red to accompany and echo the main event.Then, as the sunrise completed, the light returned to normal and the show was over (next performance in 24 hours). Conceived, designed, engineered and executed with light and power and perfection by the creator.
We jumped back into the coach for 7.30 and those of us visiting Kata Tijuta (the Olgas) were disembarked to join coach 8. A small party of 13 and once again I was the only single person, the only Brit and probably the only one under 45. Or maybe others don’t age as well. They all turned out to be pretty quiet and in the next 4 hours not one of them engaged me in conversation. So the myth of extrovert Americans/Australians was disembued, at least for today.
The walk pace was slow which gave me plenty of time to take photos of the bumps. The walk was in a number of stages intercepted by lookout points. Stony underfoot and a strange selection of semi-desert shrubs and trees, of various colours – silver, black, white. Typically very small, dry foliage. Some burned, some with new growth rising from their charcoal (if not their ashes). A good clear path in the now familiar terracotta sand.
But beyond the paths and shrubs, towering above, the huge, red, barren dunes of the Kata Tijuta. Scarred with lines of erosion, exhibiting the lines of sedimentation. We meandered through these obelisks, nothing too strenuous. Our oldest team member was an 86 year old granny who brought up the rear of the procession but who, we all agreed, was amazing. Hopefully I will be as determined and fit at twice my age!
We stopped, like camels, to take on water, although it wasn’t hot and no sweats were broken into. Our tour guide pointed out bits of vegetation, once again marvelled how God has made such variety adapted to their environment. The walk culminated in a final viewpoint (the Saddle) across more of the Olgas (to use their western name) and then we retraced our steps and I found myself alone in the middle of a very stretched out line. At the turning point, and then all the way back, we passed many other groups, of mainly young people/students (and a fast moving wallaby!).
By this time I’d given up trying to engage conversations with my group, until near the end I caught up with two young women with English accents who I engaged in conversation. They, too, were travellers, both doing so at a much more modest pace than mine (ie months not days).
Dash for the Plane
Back at the coach we took on orange juice, fruit cake and a battalion of pesky flies, as the group came home, like the peacemakers and stragglers in a road race. All throughout I took photos, although the things are too darned large to capture and swallow whole and also throughout I worried about getting back in time. I hadn’t checked out of the hotel by 10 (as required), had left my bags in my room, and had to catch a bus to the airport at 11.50. The driver assured me I would be back by 12! And we were not ahead of schedule. Ultimately the whole pace was determined by Mrs 86. I hoped she was not going to drop dead or collapse or slow to a crawl. I had visions of piggy-backing her if necessary!
So, we left at about 11, stopped for toilets and then at a viewpoint where we were told firmly that we had 8 minutes and no more. Unfortunately Mrs 86 had slept like a baby (no wonder) throughout these instructions. I led the sprint up the path to the viewing point, took 3 or 4 snaps and was mortified to find, as I raced down, old Mrs 86 dawdling up with her camera. So we waited for her as others commented on how she was determined to do everything. Well good for her!
The coach sped off until it caught up with a slow van and motorcycle and at 11.45 was 20 minutes away. The driver had told me he would drop me off first but evidently forgot. I had visions of having to stay another night for £160 and messing up my schedule (ie losing a day in Sydney). So the folk got off at the first hotel – 6 of them with, yes indeed, Mrs 86 bringing up the rear, checking her seat and giving me a sweet smile as she bid me farewell.
Then to the Lost Camel we cruised. I jumped off, thanking the driver, to find a load of people waiting outside with luggage. So the airport bus was late (12.05 now). I sprinted to room 109 which had been serviced and no sign of my bags! Checked the safe and retrieved my valuables. Darted back to reception to see the bus being loaded. The man on reception was on the phone. When he had finished I explained and he retrieved my bags from another room, I tossed the key on the desk and jumped on the bus, hopefully with all my bits and pieces. Searched for my glasses and shades without success. Decided I must have left them in the room when I opened the safe and punched in my code. Oh well – a small price to pay, I needed new glasses anyway.
So we arrived at the airport. Probably the most action packed 24 hours of my trip. Casually checked in and got a window seat (the benefit of having no hold luggage) bought a $4.90 hot pie and a $4.00 coffee, and boarded 1pm. As it happened, once again, have no-one next to me, or in the seat C either. As I went through security my bag had been intercepted and my deodorant removed. It had no top, so I just gave it up. Based on my airport seat experience, it wasn’t working anyway, or as my kids would say “Dad, you smell.”
Flying at 40,000 ft and very hungry. 2.30 and had only fruit cake in the last 9 hours.