Our stayover in Sydney was at an end and we finished our stay on a high with a thoroughly enjoyable day by the sea walking from Coogee to Bondi which I covered in the last post in this series on Carolyn's and my adventure down-under, link below.
|JJ's on Tour - Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk|
We had been in Australia for only a couple of weeks since arriving in Melbourne just before New Year and our journey up to Sydney via Canberra had given us a slight appreciation of the vastness of the country and some of its outdoors, but that appreciation was now set to take on another dimension as we boarded the plane for our three and half hour flight to Ayers Rock, Aboriginal name Uluru, right in the centre of the continent.
|Map courtesy of https://www.freeworldmaps.net/australia/|
I mention the name Uluru, the Pitjantjatjara name for Ayers Rock, the Aboriginal people of the area of the central Australia desert and who have a heritage going back over thousands of years, because in 1985 the whole ownership of Uluru was returned by the Australian government to the Pitjantjatjara people with the condition that it would be leased back to the National Parks and Wildlife Agency for ninety-nine years under joint management.
That said up until our decision to visit Australia, I had never heard of the name Uluru, and being of a certain age am more familiar with the name, Ayers Rock, adopted by the majority of the English speaking world up until the late twentieth century and rather like an old aunt of mine who would refer to Constantinople rather than Istanbul I will pay homage to that tradition in this post, whilst making this very clear acknowledgement of a much older tradition.
|Farewell to Sydney with the opera house and harbour bridge, 'the coat hanger' a lasting memory of a thoroughly enjoyable stay, as we settled into our seat ready for the flight to Uluru.|
For our flight, Carolyn took the window seat and was happily snapping away with the camera phone, which meant that I could get a much better impression from her pictures of the change of terrain from the verdant coastal plain we were leaving, gradually giving way to a much more arid and eventually desert landscape of flat open vistas, baked under a cloudless blue sky and the grey white salt flats of Lake Eyre.
|The salt flats of Lake Eyre.|
Eventually I was aware of the change of engine noise as the aircraft was throttled back and we began our descent and the landscape became much more discernible at lower altitude, and with the classic red soil of the area becoming more and more vivid along with the eventual appearance of the astonishing monoliths appearing out of the surrounding flat ground that makes this area such a special part of the planet.
|Mount Olga, local name Kata Tjuta, or Kajagoogoo as we came to call it, the other monolith in the area, and a major landmark that confirmed we had arrived at our next location.|
The redness of the soil in the area was only hinted at when seen from the plane, as we came lower, but once we touched down and got our fist view of Ayers Rock from ground level at the airport, as we taxied to the arrivals building it was even more vivid; a feature we learned later that is brought on by the weathering of iron-bearing minerals in the soil that causes oxidation or more commonly referred to as rust and the area is getting redder over time.
|The view of Ayers Rock and that local red soil as our aircraft taxied to arrivals.|
We arrived at our hotel just after midday and spent the afternoon and evening just relaxing at the tourist village of Uluru and learning a bit more about our location whilst confirming the times of our planned trips which included viewing Ayers Rock at the classic times of day, namely sunset and sunrise and a walking tour of an impressive valley in the Mount Olga range, the area that is still accessible to walkers, as the former is now a protected sacred Aboriginal site for viewing only.
Needless to say we had an early night in preparation for an early morning bus ride out to the viewing platform to greet the new day and see the sun gradually rise over the desert and bring the monoliths of Ayers Rock and Mount Olga into stunning clarity and provide one of those classically spiritual moments of awe and majesty at seeing a breath taking wonder of the world close up.
I love the early morning at the best of times, hearing the dawn chorus of birds cheerfully welcoming the sun and another new day, only enhanced here with the stunning vistas that greeted our gaze as the light levels increased and we became more and more aware of the splendour that surrounded us.
Seen from ground level, Ayers Rock stands 1,120 feet in height and is 1.85 miles long and was given the name by William Gosse on the 19th July 1873 when he and an Afghan member of his exploration party climbed it, and was named by him in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.
|William Gosse, Deputy Surveyor General of the colony of South Australia|
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has been a UNESCO site since 1994 for cultural preservation and protection, with its two inselbergs or monoliths the remnants of sediments of an ancient mountain range that are thought to have existed some 550 million years ago.
The sediments were subsequently buried and compressed to form harder rocks known as conglomerate or arkose and were later tilted from their original horizontal position by powerful tectonic forces which when viewed from above reveal hundreds of the flat-lying layers that went to compose them originally.
The softer and younger sedimentary rocks that surrounded both features were subsequently eroded away to reveal them as we see them today, somewhat iceberg like in their appearance, there being a lot more of the rock hidden below the modern day ground level than lies exposed above it.
Of course the Pitjantjatjara have a much better explanation for the formation of the two features, thought by them to have been created during the Dreamtime by ancestral beings, considered to be some of their most impressive works and described as the essence of aboriginal culture and spirituality.
Ancient paintings throughout the caves and fissures of Ayers Rock in particular describe these traditions and relationships, keeping the memory of Dreamtime alive and well among the locals.
The rocks are one of Australia's biggest tourist attractions with more than 270,000 visitors recorded in 2014 and no doubt generating tremendous sales in fly nets, as modelled by Carolyn below, indicating the ever present need during the hours of daylight to keep the pestilential critters from any facial orifice left exposed to the elements.
As the daylight increased during our early morning excursion the local wildlife became more and more visible as the need to earn a living in this very harsh environment forced the hunt for food and water to be resumed.
|This delicate and well camouflaged preying mantis was spotted looking for a more suitable cluster of foliage to set up the next ambush position in.|
|A Yellow-Throated Miner with its distinctive white rump out looking for its usual diet of seeds, insects, pollen and nectar.|
After enjoying the delights of an early sunrise at Ayers Rock, we were back on the bus for the short drive over to Mount Olga and a walk up through one of its rocky chasms to get a better close up appreciation of these conglomerate formations, whilst enjoying the cool air of the morning that was set to rise very quickly to normal 'el scorchio' temperatures thus requiring hats, sun lotion and plenty of water.
|The layered sediment of the rock walls when viewed more closely revealed the layered formation of the compressed rock together with a multiplicity of round indentations left by the erosion of softer deposits within the conglomeration.|
The park has a hot desert climate with average summertime (December to January) temperatures of 37.8 degrees centigrade and an average rainfall of just 11.2 inches per year, so water is very precious and amazingly, in the little stream running the length of the gulley, there were the most unlikely of creatures to be discovered within what little water existed, namely tadpoles.
|The last creatures I expected to see in this environment - tadpoles. Not sure what species of frog or toad was responsible, but certainly a very hardy one.|
With the temperatures rising rapidly towards midday, leaving even the miners looking desperate for some shade, we made our way back to the bus and a return to our airconditioned accommodation for a bit of a siesta in preparation for our final expedition and return to Ayers Rock to enjoy a few drinks and nibbles as we watched the sunset over this extraordinary natural monument.
Memories are made of moments like these and Carolyn and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to visit this very special part of Australia and to soak up the spiritual vibe that resonates here and provided such a contrast to the places we had already visited and the others we had planned.
The next day we packed our fly nets and memories and boarded the plane back to the coast and more precisely the city of Brisbane to resume our antipodean travels.