We made it to Cairns airport, which was only a fifteen-minute shuttle ride, and checked in. It was a small Quantas plane that only carried 125 passengers, however, on this flight, including Stef and I, it contained just 16 people! It was really empty and I’ve never experienced a flight like it as it gave me and Stef a chance to spread out and have a whole row each! Another bonus was the provided lunch. It was only a sandwich but as we’d been travelling on budget airlines for so long we’d become accustomed to starving the whole journey. Touchdown went smoothly and we collected our bags, which didn’t take long to get on the luggage belt, and jumped on a coach to take us to our next hotel in OZ, Alice’s Secret Backpackers Inn. Although it was a hostel, I managed to book us into a private room for just the pair of us. When we got there, we had just missed the check in window and had to wait 2 hours for the next one. It didn’t matter though as we walked into the town and had a beer. I also wound Stef up along the way by saying we were staying in a 12-person dorm. She was getting so stressed and angry with me. It was hilarious. But I had to tell her the truth as I kept seeing her fists clenched and feared being punched!
We had originally booked to go on the 3 day Uluru tour with a company called Emu Tours. However, a day before our flight to Alice Springs, they emailed me to say that they had to cancel our tour. No explanation. It was the only reason we were going to Alice Springs so it would have been over £1000 wasted. Luckily, we managed to get booked on another tour with The Rock Tour just in time as although our plane was empty, Alice Springs was rammed with backpackers all there for the same reason.
The next morning we had to be up at 4:45am as our new guide from The Rock Tour was picking us up at 5:30am! It was so early it still felt like the day before. Along came the 21 seated bus and we jumped on. We were first in and we continued to fill the bus up making a couple of stop offs. Now it wouldn’t be our style to have at least one bus journey without a hitch. The first one being that the fuel gauge didn’t work and it was showing nearly empty. We stopped at the petrol station and filled it up with only a few litres anyway! The second happened about 40 minutes into the 4-hour journey to Uluru (which is also known as Ayers Rock). Our tour guide, Tommy, who was a joyful young fella from OZ who likes music where they are screaming at each other (Death Metal I think) and Lord Of The Rings, realised that the person who sorts out the bus for the next day, had not put our sleeping bags in the trailer. It might be desert weather, however, it gets freezing at night. So back we went to the town to pick them up. Leaving the yard, Tommy asked if anyone had any music to play, otherwise, he’d play his. He played a bit of this Metal. It wasn’t music. It was torture. It was just a load of noise with men screaming. I was relieved when someone came running to the front of the bus with their iPod!
The first stop was Mount Connor. It was a humongous flat rock that was miles in the distance. It was very impressive and Tommy told us that some call it Fooluru as it often tricks tourists into believing it was the Uluru Rock itself. We all jumped off the bus and had a leg stretch. This is where we got introduced to one of the most annoying guests of the tour. The flies. Every second one would be landing on your face or trying to get into your mouth. We saw head nets at the airport but failed to realise how much we’d really need them! Over the road from the bus was a massive salt lake. Probably the largest I’ve seen but it’s not that I’ve travelled the world looking at salt lakes…. To get to the viewpoint of the lake, we had to go up a sandy mound. It was the reddish sand I have ever seen, it looked just like red paint powder. Back on the bus and we stopped off for a toilet and snack break at Mount Ebenezer. We got chatting to a couple of young girls, Jen and Helena. They were from Stockholm but had been in OZ for a while. You could hear the Ozzy twang in their Swedish accents. We swapped a few stories and jumped back on the bus to get to our most important stop, to get booze! We stopped at a little petrol station to pick up the beers. We had to decide prior as to how many beers we would be drinking. Now, this was the first time that I wouldn’t be driving, so I could have easily gone crazy, however, the thought of having to wake up at 5ish in the morning with a banging headache just did not appeal to me. My dad and uncles would be ashamed of me as I only ordered 6 cans for the 3 days! Both Jen and Helena ordered more than me. I hang my head in shame….
In true camping style, we stopped at a random spot along the way to find some firewood. We went off in our groups to get the best piece of wood we could find. Stef and I brought back some thick branches thinking that we’d done well. But no. Some people were bringing back what seemed to be trees! We tied all the wood to the top of the trailer and continued on.
After picking up the final passenger at Uluru airport (as his flight had been delayed) we took some time at the Aborigine Culture Centre that was situated at the Rocks National Park. Stef did her usual reading and I was grateful just to get inside away from the flies!
All the fun and games out of the way, it was time to go and see the main rock. It took us about 30 minutes driving but you could see it from miles away. The plan was to walk around the base. It was a 2-hour walk. In the heat. With the flies. There was another option that we could have done and that was to climb it. The rock itself is very significant to the Aborigines. It’s used in a lot of rituals in the past and present. Now although the previous owner of the rock has provided a way up to the top, via a very dodgy looking chain, they ask you not to climb it. People have died in the past in doing so as it is very hot and VERY steep. To climb it would be like climbing a roof of a church or mosque. So out of respect (and the fact you’d have to be mental to attempt it), Stef and myself bowed out, as did the rest of the bus. Tommy dropped us off at the start of the trail and we all started the long, hot and fly ridden journey around the rock. You can’t really get a grasp on how big the rock is by photos. But after you turned a corner, it just kept going. There were sections along the route where they asked for no photos to be taken. After hearing some horror stories of people having bad luck as a result of not following the notices, my lens cap stayed on my camera! After many photos taken (of the allowed sections), many mouthfuls of water, many steps walked and many flies swatted, we made it to the end where Tommy met us with biscuits and crackers. After the long trek, these felt like a gourmet dinner! I haven’t walked that far in ages and could see why Tommy chose to have a couple of hours sleep in the bus instead!
We made the walk just in time as we only had a short while until the sun was setting. We drove to a lookout point and we all waited. The sun was still up and there we all were with our cameras at the ready. After realising that it isn’t an instant thing, every one chilled out and chatted while we waited. As the sun set, it glowed up the Rock a bright red. It was great. But the best thing about the sunsetting? The flies went to bed! Whilst we were watching the sunset, Tommy made us all a stir-fry. It was probably the best stir-fry I have had out of the back of a bus. But seriously, it was tasty and provided us with the much-needed energy that we’d lost during the walk.
We made our way to the camp. Before Stef and I left the UK for this yearlong trip, Stef told me that she wanted to sleep under the stars. This was the only place that it seemed right to do so. However, over the past 2 and a bit months, we’d encountered some nasty spiders and the thought of laying in the middle of a desert, open to the world, wasn’t sounding too good. A campfire was made and our tour group joined with a few more from the same tour company. We were all provided with a thing called a swag. It’s basically a sleeping bag but bigger. It has a small foam mattress at the bottom and is a bit more heavy duty. You then get inside your own sleeping bag and then inside this. As we were all getting ready, an Asian couple next to me asked where we would be sleeping. They were already sitting on their opened out swags, so I pointed at it and said “here, under the stars.” They looked at me in disbelief and gave a little chuckle in the hope that I was joking. I wasn’t.
We sat in a little group chatting about where we were all from and what we did back home. We sank a few beers but as it was quite late and we’d all had a very long day, we decided to hit the swag. The next day was going to be even longer and we needed all the rest we could get.
I was expecting to hear dingoes howling throughout the night keeping me up. This, however, was not the case. They must have been scared off. Scared off by the very same Asian man as mentioned above. His snoring was the loudest I’ve ever heard. I shall not be sleeping near him the next night!
I hardly got any sleep that night. Thank you Mr Asian Man.