Monday, March 12, 2012

Day Two- Kata Tjuta

After a quick 5.5 hour sleep (no bugs on face) it was up and at 'em for sunrise over Uluru. Gorgeous. Just too early.

We had breakfast as we watched the sun rise, and then it was off to the other main attraction in Uluru National Park- Kata Tjuta. Like Uluru, Kata Tjuta is the aboriginal name for the place that is more commonly known as the Olgas to Westerners.

Since we were there in the summer, there are heat restrictions to the park. No one is allowed to hike in after 11 am, so we had to get there early. There are also public water basins at strategic locations around the park, but it's encouraged not to rely on those, as they can be tapped out on high traffic days. Dehydration and sunstroke is a very real concern in the Outback, and one of the terms of the tour was that everyone carry 3 liters of water on them at all time. We were encouraged to drink constantly- regular sips every few minutes or so.

We had two choices on the hike- a shorter route directly to the main canyon or a longer hike that took a more circuitous route in the other direction and we would meet in the center. Olivia and Laurel opted for route #1, while Greg went on hike #2. Laurel and Olivia are professional, and glamorous, hikers as can be seen below, especially in their matching hats.

Now the two hikes met at the canyon, but Laurel and Olivia's hike came out above it, after a steep climb up the far side. The view was incredible. Check out how burny that sun is!

Greg has learned several things about himself on this trip. First, Laurel is a way better photographer. Secondly, left to his own devices 98% of his pictures will feature trees prominently displayed amongst the landscape.

And here is Greg's approach to the canyon. That's a big hill.

It was tough, but we both made it to the top. The picture oppurtunities made all the hard work totally worth it.

The Aborginal mythology is wide-ranging and literally covers every nook and cranny of the rocks and earth that the individual tribes lived on. Some of it is told to tourists and non-Aboriginals, but it's only the equivalent of what they tell their five year olds as they are beginning to learn their stories. It's very interesting, and we kind of like that idea that some things are too sacred to be shared; they are only for the Aboriginals. Below, this is the "Cat's Face," but we don't know any more about it aside from its name.

A funny thing about Olivia. She has a questionable, relationship with nature. She likes it, but she's not too wild about all those, um, wild creatures out there. Whenever a living thing of any kind appears, Olivia shouts "Animal!" to warn everyone else that something potentially hostile is nearby. "Animal" can mean literally anything- grizzly bear, lizard, ant, you name it. She found this pretty sweet looking lizard, or shall we say, "animal."

Now, you may have thought Uluru was one of a kind (we certainly did), but it's actually the best known of a series of rock slabs spread out across the Outback. It's the largest and one of the few that is still in one piece. During our drive to King's Canyon we stopped at a lookout point to get a few shots of another Uluru-like rock, Atilla.  Notice how flat it is compared to Uluru.

Facing the other direction from the lookout point was a dry salt-lake. Pretty incredible. Too bad there aren't any deer in this country; they would love this.

A long drive and a wild camel spotting later (sorry, no pictures) we made it to the King's Canyon campsite. While we stopped for gas, we picked up two eager stowaways.

People are not the only ones who are not big fans of the midday sun, and just want to be in the shade. This peacock decided the campground picnic area was the perfect place for a nice, cool nap. The long table doesn't even ruffle his feathers. He's a very wise peacock.

After a hearty dinner (all that hiking makes you hungry!) we walked over to a nearby ridge to watch the sunset over the valley. A few cows were wandering around, too. Now there is something about the air and sun in Australia that makes every sunset super vibrant and beautiful, but this is hands down the most beautiful one we have seen, probably ever.

Not a bad way to end the day. Not a bad way at all. We camped under the stars in our swags again, and knocked out pretty early, as we were in for another early day tomorrow. Up at 4 AM so we could watch the sunrise over King's Canyon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Day One - Uluru!

Olivia found this trip called, "The Rock Tour." She described it as "gangsta." Kids these days. It's a three day, two night camping trip that takes you to the main tourist attractions of Central Australia: King's Canyon, the Olgas, and Ayer's Rock. It was awesome. We highly recommend it to anyone-  It was a fantastic trip, and dirt cheap. Ayer's Rock is a tourist trap. There is one hotel complex there, and they jack the price up ridiculously high. A trip there is going to costs well over a thousand a person. The Rock Tour was $335 a person. Score! It means you trade off a few luxury items, but, dude, we're in the middle of the Outback.

Our group consisted of about 15 people from 8 different countries. There were also 4 Aussies in the group, which our tour guide commented was the most Aussies she'd had in a group, ever. Our chariot awaited.

First day, first stop- arguably the best thing.  Camels! Camels were imported to Australia with the idea that since they were used in the desert they would take to the Outback and be very helpful for those long treks across the interior. They were correct. There are several thousand wild camels now roaming the Outback. We saw a couple from the road once, but seeing as how huge Central Australia is, and that there are only about 4 roads it's not surprising we didn't see more.

The tour guide asked us if anyone wanted to ride a camel. Um, yes? Obviously. The three of us were the first in line. We kind of love camels. These two were named Earl and Duke. Look how ornery they are!

While you marvel at how we are such natural camel riders, here are a few fun camel facts. You are going to be a hit at your next party or when the camel category comes up at Trivia night. A camel pregnancy lasts 13 months, and a baby camel is considered full grown at around age 8. They can get up to speeds of 65 kph, can carry up to 400 kilos for 8 hours a day, and can go for over a week at a time without water. Not bad, Camel, not bad.

They also had a dingo. He didn't seem very wild, which is good, since we like not having our faces eaten off.

Olivia does a great job of hiding it in this picture, but she's actually terrified. As soon as the picture snapped she high-tailed it away from the dingo as fast as she could. She needn't have worried though, it didn't seem too interested in getting anyone that day.

Cuteness alert! Baby camel! Awww, he's adorable.

After our camely interlude it was on to the main event- Ayer's Rock! Alice Springs is about 400 kilometers away, so it was a bit of a drive, but it went pretty fast. Strangely, there is just not much traffic on the roads. Now, Ayer's Rock was named by a British explorer in the 1800's. In the last thirty years or so there has begun to be a real push to return Aboriginal places to their Aboriginal names. It is once-again, now Uluru, as it has been called for thousands of years. It is beautiful and majestic. We did about half the base-walk around it, about 8 kilometers. It's not a very intense hike, thankfully in the 40+ degree weather, and was pretty flat. The views of the rock are amazing though.

In this picture note the white discoloration going up the side of the rock. There is a small chain that runs to the top, and is used for climbers. Climbing the rock has been a mainstay of tourism here since the site was opened up. However, Aboriginals find this deeply disrespectful as Uluru is a religious site for them. It would be roughly similar to climbing up the side of Notre Dame or chipping off a piece of Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel.

This is really interesting about Australia. Climbing the rock is not forbidden, but it is actively discouraged. As in, next to the climbing path, there is a giant sign telling everyone all the reasons they should not. Also, on days where it is too hot or windy, the climb is closed. Several people have died over the years, and it's probably closed about 8 months out of the year.

Here are a few shots we took as we hiked.

Obligatory tourist shot.We were there! Looking exceptionally white.

Good thing Laurel was there, or it might have tipped to the side a little bit.

This is really cool. Uluru changes color all day, depending on how the light hits it. Look at the color of Uluru in the picture above, and now look at it below as the sun starts to set, and the light is really hitting the face of the rock directly. The color really starts to darken in the next picture as the sun is setting.

Now, when we say this was a camping trip, we mean this was a full-on camping trip. We got a sleeping bag and a swag under the stars. That's it. Thankfully, it didn't rain. What is a swag you ask? Its a big canvas, zip-up bag that your sleeping bag goes inside. It keeps warmth in, and water and critters out. It also has a flap that you can fold up over your head and face if you want. We were pretty legitimate bushmen on this trip.

After laying down, Laurel and Olivia both decided that there was way too much nature around, and something needed to be done about the threat of bugs in the night. Look how happy Laurel is knowing that the fly nets would ensure no rogue bugs on the face. In the background, Greg is clearly unconcerned. And passed out.

Busy first day. Next up tomorrow- the Olgas! Stay tuned to find out what their real names is! Oooooo, cliffhanger.