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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We adventured Uluru!

With a long weekend for Queen's birthday a trip sounded like a good idea. (It should be noted that the Queen's birthday is actually in April but observed in June...because, as one Aussie suggested, "it would otherwise be too close to the Easter long weekend of Good Friday and Easter Monday and we wouldn't have any public holidays again until October...unless you're lucky enough to get Bank Holiday off in August.") We had originally planned to visit the Whitsunday Islands (more specifically Hamilton Island) for some serious Great Barrier Reef exploration. Cyclone Debbie swept through in early April and changed our plans. We checked our growing list of places we'd like to visit and decided on Uluru.

Uluru, previously called Ayers Rock by non-Aboriginals, is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid "red centre." Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians, particularly the Anangu, and is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It’s within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta formation (sometimes referred to as "the Olgas").

The nearest large town is Alice Springs, about 450 km away (about 280 miles). The population in Alice Springs is around 28,000. All this is to say: you don't just stumble upon Uluru.

Thank you for the map, Larry Rivera for tripsavvy.com

Lucky for us Uluru has an airport (two gates! even smaller than XNA in Bentonville) and two daily nonstop flights from Sydney. A lot of people travel to / from Alice Springs but we flew directly to Uluru.


You walk off the plane old-school style and into the airport baggage claim area.

One of my favorite signs in the baggage claim area.

Our first sights of Uluru were stunning! The world appears flat as far as the eye can see. The land has sparse desert vegetation and the dirt is red. But then a massive monolith emerges from seemingly nowhere. It's awesome!


We had a well-balanced three days and enjoyed all of the activities we planned!

Our first evening we toured Bruce Munro's art installation 'Field of Light.' According to the official brochure, "More than 50,000 slender stems crowned with frosted-glass spheres bloom as darkness falls over Australia's spiritual heartland." Visitors can walk among the art installation along a guided pathway. Groups of lights "dance" in color unison. It's challenging to describe in words, and pictures don't do it justice. The entire installation is connected by fibre optic cable and it's all solar-powered, making it even more amazing.

Iterations of Field of Light have been exhibited in other places around the world but Munro's 1992 visit to Uluru inspired the idea. It has been so successful in Uluru it has been extended until 31 March 2018.

Here are some pictures.




It was much colder than what we've experienced in Sydney thus far.

I tried...

E really wanted to take our picture. Luckily Aaron's head isn't actually cut off.

The next day we had a full schedule: AM camel rides; PM museum; late PM family astronomy tour.

Off we went to the camel farm. What a hoot! I (Julie) had ridden a camel once before in the Negev and it wasn't the most pleasant memory. The camels were stubborn and defiant. I'm happy to report this was quite different! From what we could tell, the farm takes great care of their camels and it showed in the experience we had.

Getting ready to mount the camel.
Lean back as the camel stands up!


E was terrified! We thought he was going to jump off but he stayed on and enjoyed the experience. So proud.


Mommy and M on Trevor

Riding near the National Park with Uluru over the shoulder.

All smiles by the end!

After our ride, we spent some time at the camel farm. They have a great petting zoo (?) and someone at our hotel told us of an emu that dances with excitement when she sees visitors with a $2 bag of animal feed. This is a true story, though our thunder was stolen a bit by it being lunchtime for the animals.


After a full day, we did a family astronomy tour after sunset. It was a full moon so our views were hindered by the brightness but it was still awesome! We learned you can see about 70% of the stars in the sky from anywhere in the world. We got to see the big dipper! We also saw the southern cross (and can now positively identify it back in Sydney) and if we sing anymore Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young we're pretty sure the boys will disown us.


It's not easy to get pics in the darkness, but here are two pics from the astronomy tour (Jupiter and the moon)!




Our final morning before departure was spent at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Out of respect for the Anangu (the traditional aboriginal owners of Uluru), they ask that no photography be taken. We spent our time at the park in the cultural centre learning about the Anangu people, their struggle to protect the park, the taboo of climbing Uluru, the land's native vegetation and wildlife, and so much more.

Archaeologists believe humans settled in the area more than 10,000 years ago. In 1873, William Gosse was the first European (non-Aboriginal) to discover Uluru. He named it after Sir Henry Ayers who was the premier of South Australia at the time. The name Ayers Rock stuck for a long time.

In 1985 the land, already part of the national park, was titled back to the Anangu. The Anangu agreed to lease the land back to the government for 99 years; they also requested that visitors be discouraged from climbing the rock. While you still can climb, it is strongly discouraged. The path crosses sacred land for the Anangu and the Anangu feel a great sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors. The Park visitors guide says "the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Anangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing." Many people walk or bike the base of the rock but I didn't hear of any climbers during our visit. I hope it stays that way.

The respect of the indigenous at Uluru really got me thinking about how the US has treated our Native Americans. Food for thought...

When we returned to Sydney we took the boys to Vivid at the Taronga Zoo. It was amazing! More on that next time 😉

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