Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shades of red, orange and purple

I am writing this on a plane back to Melbourne for business. We are just coming over the continent of Australia, in Western Australia. Ayers Rock or Uluru is quite far away. It is far from almost everywhere, even the town of Alice Springs which is the closest town. The area is sacred to the native peoples who have lived there for centuries. There is a national park surrounding it and the neighboring Olgas or Kata Tjuta. But where one lives is a resort town that is owned by the native peoples. I think one can camp outside the resort, but I am not sure. For tourists like us, who aren't into camping and don't want to rent equipment for the few days when one is visiting, the resort is the only option.


There is a campsite in the resort, and 3 levels of hotels along with a tiny town center with a bank, a supermarket, a couple of restaurants, a travel agency, and a post office. We arrived there in the height of the summer so it wasn't very crowded and it was easy to see why. The heat hits you like a wall. We were there for about 24 hours but our sightseeing time was limited to the late night and the early morning.

Our first sights of the rocks were from the plane and the bus that took us to our hotel. In the top photo, you can see the Kata Tjuta, the bottom one is Uluru. The desert was particularly green because it had rained only a few days before. It took us about 3 hours to fly there from Sydney. It takes about that long to fly there from anywhere. It is slightly less from Cairns. Ayers Rock is not close to anything except the Kata Tjuta.


In addition to the fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, one can also go see the sights on a camel. There are buses that go all around the resort and we took a bus to go find something to eat and pack some snacks for later in the evening and the next morning. We were booked on a sunset tour and a sunrise tour of Uluru, but we also wanted to go see the Kata Tjuta. A very helpful front desk clerk had helped us set up a ride to and from the Kata Tjuta after our sunrise tour and before our flight out. But it meant we had no time for breakfast. And a sunset and a sunrise tour back to back in summer, when the days are long, means minimal sleep. But that was all OK. I wasn't sure if we would ever be back, so I was willing to pack everything into whatever time was available.

So, as we headed out to find some food we could pack, we drove by the camel sheds. Camels were introduced to Australia as a means of transportation in the interior. I think there are feral camels who are doing a lot of damage to the habitat. But these are domesticated and help the environment.

While we were dropping/picking up people from another of the hotels we saw this ad for the camel tours. We really couldn't do much in the afternoon. We hung out a bit at the town center but then decided that it was better to take a nap while we could.

Our sunset tour included wine and cheese as we waited for the sun to set. What we failed to take into account was that there are hundreds of flies that are looking for moisture. They sit on your skin, your eyes, your lips, get in your ears, and generally make life miserable. We should have bought a fly net for each of us when we could. Oh well. It was too late for now. We fanned ourselves, used our T-shirts, handkerchiefs, whatever was handy to keep them off.

A bus dropped us off at an area set up with tables that had juice, water, wine and champagne along with cheese, crackers and crudites. We chatted and made friends as we waited. The objective here is to capture the changes in the color of the rock as well as the air around it as the sun sets. So we all took lots of photos to capture those elusive colors.

But first, a parlor trick: I tried getting this in a champagne glass with bubbles going up the rock but the glass was too narrow to get the reflection. It also takes two people to do this as one can't really hold the glass and the camera steady at the correct angles.

You can start to see the rock face getting more rusty and a few pinks appearing in the sky.

Behind us, we had a gorgeous sunset. My original thought was that we would be seeing the sun set behind Uluru but it is actually seeing the light reflections, rather than the direct light.

More pinks, some purples.

The rock face itself goes from a brick red through rust and into a deep brown.

Once the sun set, we packed up and went back to get some sleep before our 4:45 am start the next morning. Our morning schedule was to go for the sunrise tour without the walk around Uluru as we didn't have time for that before our flight. We had to be all packed up because as soon as we returned, I would check out and head out on the van to the Kata Tjuta to hike one of the gorges. The hotel would pick up our luggage and bring it out to the lobby. On our return, we had two choices of shuttles to the airport - at 10:30 or 11 am. If we missed both, the van driver had promised to take us to the airport.

We showered, packed and went to bed. The next morning we were taken to the sunrise viewing area on the other side. Again, the objective is to see the light reflecting off Uluru and the colors in the sky. It was dark but they had some guiding lights leading us up to the decks of the viewing area. No flies so early but they would be out in force later. We chugged some coffee before heading up.

There was already light to the east. This session had a lot of 180 degree turns trying to see both sides - the sunrise and Uluru at the same time.

As it got lighter, one could start to see other things in the vicinity.

Sunlight reflected off the clouds to create fabulous colors.

And, as it lightened and the sun's light was reflected from under the horizon, the sky started changing color around Uluru.

Purples turned to pink...

and then to peachy orange.

Until the sun finally came up over the horizon and the show was over.

One last look before we headed back.

The bus took us to the base of Uluru for a brief visit before we went back. On the longer sunrise tour, a walk around the base is next. One can photograph Uluru from most angles but the native peoples request that certain sections not be photographed. They have sections that are part of sacred initiation rites for men and women. Children aren't supposed to see either before initiation and then only those appropriate for their gender. The problem with us taking pictures is that we put them up on the internet and since they have internet, searches frequently bring up images of areas they shouldn't be seeing. So one is requested not to photograph these areas. The bus drivers tell us what is off-limits.

Similarly, people have been climbing Uluru even though it is only supposed to be scaled as part of rites. The Australian government doesn't ban climbing but requests that people don't do it. When the number of requests drops below a certain level, they will consider stopping issuing permits. But it is a dangerous climb especially on windy and hot days.

As one gets closer, one sees the carvings made by erosion. There are also aboriginal paintings in some of the caves, but we didn't see any.


There is a trail that goes all the way around the base. At 7:00 am, there is a ranger guided walk but we were on our sunrise viewing at the time. So we just walked part-way around and then back to the bus.


Close-up, there are holes and cracks and rocks that have split off due to erosion.



After the bus dropped us back at the hotel, we had a few minutes before the van came around to take us to the Kata Tjuta. I checked out and we refilled our water bottles and then set out. My plan for the flies was to wrap a T-shirt around my head Bedouin-style. It was OK as protection but it limits one's peripheral vision. We should have just bought nets and left them for others who needed them. We didn't buy them because we didn't want to have to carry them around on the rest of our trip. It didn't occur to us to just leave them behind till it was too late to buy them.

The Kata Tjuta consist of many rocks sticking up with valleys and gorges in between. I think the native name means many-headed. They are about 45 mins away so it took a while to drive there. The hike was about a 45 min- 1 hour hike. Neither of us was in great shape so we knew we had to take it easy but it was rated an easy hike. And it was. However, it was already way too hot and the flies were in full swing. When you walk into the wind, it keeps the flies away. When the wind is at your back, they attack in full force.

We hiked the Walpa Gorge. I took a photo of the trail which also shows the many rocks of Kata Tjuta. The trailhead has a shelter with a beautiful chair. We rested here waiting for the van after we were done hiking.

It starts off pretty flat with just a gravel trail. Easy-peasy.

I was very enamoured of the effects of the sun peeping out from behind the rocks. So I played with photographic effects of the sun in various places in the photos.

After we climbed a bit, this is looking back over the desert.

The rocks here are compressed bits of other rock that have been glued together. The trail is getting more rocky now. It is climbing a bit but not much. Overall it is a pretty flat trail.

Looking out from the deck at the end of the trail.

More sunlight reflecting photos of the gorge. Basically we hiked between these two rocks.

This area is also very green. I took this photo for Peter, who told me not to forget to look down.


This photo shows the trail. There were some bridges over clefts in the rocks. You can see people to give you an idea of the scale.

Parts like this were a bit slippery and one had to watch where one stepped. But as I said, it was an easy hike except for the heat and the flies.

The van took us back to the hotel where we found we had missed the 10:30 am shuttle. Our luggage was sitting waiting at the shuttle stop - rather forlorn. We caught the 11:00 am shuttle which gave us plenty of time to check-in and even check out the souvenir shop. The van driver was very nice. He came in with us to make sure that we had a ride to the airport as the 11:30 would have been too late.

Finally, I leave you with a view of the Australian countryside from the plane with little fluffy clouds casting shadows on the ground. We flew back to Sydney and caught a flight to Melbourne where we spent the next couple of days.

Overall, it was a tight itinerary - what I view as a sample of Australia. There are places we want to come back to. As I finish this, I am in my hotel room in Melbourne. Tomorrow I will be wandering around on my own before work starts up again on Monday.

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