The Red Centre Way

Thursday was pretty stupid. It got off to a bad start when the airport shuttle tried to actually pick us up at our hotel, instead of a block and a half away at the place their brochure and telephone agent stated pickups were supposed to happen. We called them and they got us in the nick of time. We got to the airport, checked our bags (there was a charge for the third bag which we didn’t expect), and flew to Alice Springs. Once there we made the incredibly bad decision to take the airport shuttle to pick up the camper van, instead of a taxi. We just missed the shuttle that was filling up, and had to wait until the next one filled up; after it left, it stopped at every place in town, leaving me off about two hours after the process started. And Alice Springs is a small place. So we ended up getting to the Ayers Rock Resort at 8:45 pm, well after dark. We saw one pair of kangaroos go bouncing across the road in front of us on the way, but fortunately night driving on that road wasn’t like near Exmouth, where some little kangaroo would hop in front of you every 10 meters.

Friday was much nicer. We got up a little late, went into the park, and spent most of the day walking all the way around Uluru, the name for Ayers Rock in one of the nearby Aboriginal languages. The rock is quite interesting close up; it has a couple of gorges you can walk into, and the entire surface all around has a variety of holes in it, many of them shaped like lips. After all the penis-shaped geology we’d seen on the trip, it was interesting to see something which was a little more female. Like lemmings we followed everyone to the Car Sunset Parking Lot, and took the official photographs of the west side as the sun set. There were no interesting shadows at all, and the colors didn’t really get intense red, they basically just faded.

There are some stretches of Uluru which are designated “sensitive sites” where you aren’t supposed to take pictures: the shapes of the rocks tell stories which are not supposed to be viewed anywhere else in the world. Also, you aren’t supposed to climb it. The government has announced that when fewer than 20% of the visitors to Uluru climb the rock, they will ban it for everyone.

This is a precis of civil liberties in a democracy. The government say they will develop Other Attractions. I am actually surprised that as many as 20% do climb it. The day we were there, the trail was closed due to high wind. We were well on our way walking around it, in the Buddhist-wise direction, before they opened the trail. We didn’t go back, but found our own ways to violate religious sensibilities.

Uluru is doomed. The alternative attractions, what might they be? ¨›The Uluru climbing wall? ¨› The Uluru Galleria? ¨›Ulurucoaster? Abos of the Caribbean by Disney? The whole park by Disney? ¨›Whatever it turns out to be, the Aboriginals will have been beaten again using their own superstitions as a club; just as happened when the government gave them back their land so that mining companies could work out sweetheart deals with dazzled corruptible elders without reference even to the rudimentary morality that rootles around the hedgerows of a parliamentary culture.¨›

Furthermore, the native people should be cautious about bruiting about their favorite water holes as sacred. One of these days the Aborigines will be converted to Islam, seeing how little the Christians and Secularists are doing for them, and then their Taliban will take it upon themselves to crush all idolatry but their own by dynamiting every significant cave in Uluru, if not the whole rock.

The practice of advertising one’s weakest point continues. The posters in the bathroom at Ayers Rock Campground and Resort advertising camel rides twice describe their camels as friendly and once as good natured.

Saturday was also really great. The other geographical point of interest in Uluru-Kata Tutja park is Kata Tutja, also known as “the Olgas”. Unlike Uluru, which is an immense sandstone rock sticking out of the flat desert, the Olgas are a series of conglomerate domes. We took the Valley of the Winds walk, which went between several of the domes with great viewpoints. We stopped constantly and took lots of pictures of rocks and plants, and watched flocks of zebra finches with their clownlike orange beaks. As we got back to the starting point, a honeyeater got about a meter away from Ray in a tree, completely oblivious or uncaring, and just posed for a few hundred clicks of the shutter. It was intermittently being chased around by another bird, who didn’t want his picture taken. I don’t know what they were fighting about since the other bird didn’t look the sort to be sipping nectar from a Grevillea.

Another walk went into another gorge between two of the Olgas, which had a pond which happened to reflect the moon rising into the gap between the two, which hopefully will turn into a nice picture somewhere someday.

On Sunday, after going into the park briefly to get some sunrise shots of Uluru, and returning to the Car Sunset Parking area in the middle of the morning to take pictures with nice shadows, we drove 300km or so to the Kings Creek Station caravan park and settled for an unpowered site as it was all we could get. This meant we couldn’t use the microwave or charge our phones, pad, and computer, and camera and GPS batteries. We did contract for a powered site for the next night.

Monday we visited Kings Canyon, going on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. The canyon doesn’t cover a very large area, but it is impressively deep and narrow. We walked up along what we thought was one side of a box canyon, but it turned out to be a “box ridge”: the canyon actually twisted around the end of the ridge. One short side trail led to a viewpoint at the end of the ridge. Ultimately we crossed a bridge to the “outer” rim of the canyon, and another side trail went down into the “Garden of Eden” to a waterhole, which is the only water that currently constitutes Kings Creek. We’d already seen hundreds of pretty Crested Pigeons, but this waterhole had even prettier Spinifex Pigeons, which were just as crested but were a nice brown color. This part of Australia doesn’t really have wet and dry seasons, it just has cold dry and hot dry seasons. This season is the “winter vacation” season for schoolkids, and every place has been booked solid since the beginning of the weekend.

The plan for Tuesday was to drive back to Alice Springs in time for our flight back Wednesday afternoon. At Kings Canyon, a guy suggested seeing “Serpentine Canyon”. We investigated a little, and discovered a whole chain of places just west of Alice Springs called the West Macdonnell Range. We ended up going to Standley Chasm, a beautiful little private gorge and camping area about half an hour out of town. We arrived at sunset, quickly checked out the gorge, and then fixed dinner.

In the morning we had time to go on another walk in the area, and to see the sun shining in the gorge we’d seen the night before. We ran into the same entire tour bus of kids from Nazareth College in Melbourne that we’d seen in the Olgas. Returning the van was moderately uneventful, except that they pointed out that the ATM card I’d been using declined the refund of the deposit because it was expired. They manually typed in an expiration date for three years later, which worked. This time the shuttle was great — it was on time, and there was only one other pickup. At the airport, we watched a magpie lark flying around inside the terminal, and setting down in front of the door sensor in order to fly outside. We flew to Cairns, went to the Shangri-La Hotel, a super-nice place by the beach which had a last-minute cheap room on Expedia, and had dinner at Ochre, which had a reasonably interesting seafood platter. The waiter talked to us a long time about his work travel visa adventures. They all have stories to tell.