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Dreamtime

Mid December.


Pitch black. It is 450am.


A cloak of darkness envelopes our family’s rental car. We edge our way slowly from the parking area at the Ayers Rock resort. Turn left and head west. The Lasseter highway stretches endlessly in front of us, a ribbon of asphalt framed by hardy plants, mulga trees, desert grasses and oaks.


Half an hour later, we enter the heart of Australia’s Red Centre. To the geographical wonder that is Uluru, now an UNESCO World Heritage site. A massive sandstone monolith, it dominates the landscape.



The iconic landmark stands some 350 metres tall, though, in the manner of an iceberg, most of the rock extends deep into the Earth’s crust. The hidden depth only adds to the mystique.


Slowly, the sun crawls over the horizon. Uluru’s sheer size mesmerizes and captivates. Its distinctive hue comes from the oxidized iron content, the colours ever changing. As the minerals in the sandstone react to the light, we gape spellbound as fiery reds soon make way for pinks, crimsons, and oranges.


The sunrise complete, we begin a hike, aiming to manage a full loop of Uluru’s base. Over 10km in total, with little to no shade available. Information boards suggest walkers aim to channel the spirit of Wanampi, an ancestral water snake believed to live in the various springs and waterholes. The serpent is one of the mythical creatures who held great powers and gave shape to the Earth.


If an army of tiny flies proves an annoyance, it is the sheer heat that proves most draining. A potentially lethal force, it is energy sapping, relentless and punishing. Signs posted at regular intervals provide reminders of the dangers of dehydration and extreme thirst. At 630am, the thermometer already reads 37 Celsius, with park closures set for mid morning in order to avoid even more severe temperatures.


As we soldier on, the Red Centre comes to life. We hope to spot a kangaroo or an emu roaming the surrounding desert. Search the sky for a glimpse of an eagle soaring overhead. On Uluru itself, erosion and weathering dramatically shape the rock, forming various caves, cracks and crevices. All of these nooks and crannies, formations, and ancient paintings are unique, part of the area’s important culture and heritage.


Significantly, Uluru remains the sacred and spiritual heart of Australia’s Indigenous people. Current members of the Anangu, the traditional owners of the land for over 10,000 years, share stories and reflections passed down through countless generations.


Indeed, “Tjukurpa” loosely translates as Dreamtime. Central to Aboriginal spirituality, it includes not only creation stories, but also the knowledge and guidelines that govern behaviour. Most authentically within the patterns of its rock art.


Much to ponder, as the heat ratchets up. The final stretch of the hike draws nigh. The carpark shimmers in the distance.


Though still shy of 800am, it is time to head back to the creature comforts of our hotel.


A day later, and repeat. Another stiflingly hot, early morning departure. Only this time we travel 40 kms further west. For there lies another geographical marvel, Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas.



Kata Tjuta, in the local language, means “many heads”. As proof, thirty-six massive, soaring rock domes, unique in shape and estimated to be 500 million years old, dominate the terrain.


As with Uluru, Kata Tjuta also features prominently in the cultural traditions of the Anangu people. Tjukurpa is alive and well. Testament to the ongoing connection between the locals and their land. A clear reminder of a thriving heritage in an ancient landscape.


On arrival, we pause. Ready for what promises to be another spectacular sunrise. It does not disappoint. In the vast, half lit desert, grasses sway in the gentle breeze as the sun’s rays begin to play upon the massive rocks. Like the day before, the walls change colours literally before our eyes.


Eventually, we enter the Valley of the Winds. The hike is steep and rocky in several places, but the views on offer are breathtaking. The Karu and Karingana lookouts ensure a full spectrum of the rock formations on display. The latter track, somewhat awkward to navigate due to a steady draft, uneven steps and tricky descents, takes us down into the canyon and neighbouring creek beds.



Not a moment too soon, after a lengthy climb out of the valley, with the sun blasting down mercilessly, we complete the 8km loop. If Uluru and its surroundings were magical, Kata Tjuta is, for me at least, even more enchanting. Still, both are stunning, beautiful and majestic blends of nature, culture and adventure.


Either way, as we return to the resort, I am not too proud to admit fatigue. My body is sore and tired. Feet throb, ankles lock, knees and hips ache.


I head for the sanctuary of our air-conditioned suite. Guzzle an icy sports drink. Sink happily down onto the couch. My exertions and the heat have taken a definite toll. Soon, I am asleep, wrapped in a kaleidoscope of my own red rock dreams.


Outside, the pavement, walkways, trails, and paths become one large, sizzling frying pan. The thermometer reaches 45 Celsius. 113 degrees Fahrenheit.


Undeterred, Uluru and Kata Tjuta wait patiently. Rest during the day before again entertaining waves of visitors, this time at sunset.

2 Comments


teddaly
Mar 07

I suspect the pictures do not do it justice at all..especially the one from the lookouts…spectacular. The way you describe the hike down the rocky slopes I can’t imagine doing it without poles! The heat you describe reminds me of a group of buddies hiking in Joshua Tree park in the summer without nearly enough water. Not sure the heat was that extreme though. Thanks for another great read Ian.

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lmjives
Mar 07

I love this post Ian and can feel/see you all there facing challenges together. Magic.

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