It’s hard to describe just how incredible last Monday’s two day, overnight Outback adventure with Emu Run was (but I sure as heck will try, probably with a hefty word count!)
I was picked up from my hotel in Alice Springs at an hour I shudder to even mention, 5:44 am. My hotel was the first pick up of the day, as, lucky me, it was really close to Emu Run HQ. We spent 30 minutes picking up the others then headed towards Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and our campground close to the park. It’s a five to six hour drive, and strangely enough, for part of it, it was raining. The Outback is not exactly known for rain, though our guide Andy did clarify that the Outback is a semi-arid environment, not actually a desert. Makes sense since they have cattle ranches out there, but still strange to see all the green from the recent rains.
Luckily by the time we arrived at camp, it was not raining. We set about getting a lunch of burgers put together (yay BBQ, Australia’s national cooking method!) then headed to Uluru.
Those first glimpses were so exciting – the biggest monolith in the world! Otherwise known as a darned big, single piece of rock!
The first excitement had more to do with the fact that I was seeing this iconic landmark, one which I imagined to be, well, monolithic. But the closer we got, the more I realized that there were features on Uluru that distinguish its different faces.
I joined the group doing the almost full base walk (9km out of around 12, I believe, or around 6 or 6.5 miles). This meant that I had less time in the cultural center, which I was sad about. The cultural center helped put a bit of context around Uluru and the sacred spots of the Anangu (the traditional owners, aka a couple of Aboriginal peoples). So did some of the signage. I won’t go into detail of the stories here, as part of the tradition is that the stories and specific views of Uluru are intertwined and contextual. (I don’t know that the word “stories”does justice to the complexity of the Anangu interaction with Uluru, either.)
Because of this contextual dependence, they ask that you not take pictures within specific areas. (For religious respect, safety, and minimization of environmental damage, they also ask you not climb Uluru. I signed the “I came and didn’t climb” guestbook they have in the cultural center.) Interestingly, it’s not just a specific marking or feature of Uluru that is considered sensitive, but the feature viewed from specific angles. I’ve taken some pictures, but only from outside of sensitive areas, respecting the beliefs of the Anangu.
Trudging through the red dirt, you get a sense of respect and awe for this enormous rock. It is easy to lose sight of others doing the base walk, what with all the scrub around the base, and you could feel yourself completely alone barring your hiking buddies, dwarfed both by the majesty of Uluru and the knowledge of the empty Outback spreading around you.
Back at camp, we headed to a viewpoint behind the camp to see sunset over Uluru and Kata Tjuta, a glass of bubbly in hand. The clouds parted enough for us to get some good color, and for a short instant to see what looked like a straight chunk of rainbow right next to Uluru. (Sadly, the rainbow doesn’t come out in the pictures.)
Andy had kindly made us dinner and started a campfire, so we ate, cleaned up, and went to bed early after a discussion of how we did not have to worry about snakes or spiders in the clear patch of dirt of the campground. Surprisingly enough, I did feel rather reassuref. I was rather hoping to hear dingoes at night (they don’t generally bother anyone larger than, say, a baby) but no such luck.
It wasn’t terribly cold, and the Australians have a fantastic device called a swag which is like waterproofing, mattress, and insulation all in one that you slip your sleeping bag into. I decided to risk the possibility of rain and sleep under the stars in the Outback. Unfortunately, there were no stars due to cloud cover.
As usual when camping, I woke up several times. At one point I opened my eyes and the sky above was sparkling. The clouds had lifted and more stars than most of us will ever see outside of a planetarium shone above. I have never seen so many stars. Stars lay behind other stars. It was clear enough that you could even see a milky band of what seemed like an unmoving cloud of stars – the Milky Way.
It was a privilege to see those stars, a profoundly moving sight. I woke up again and saw the stars before the clouds rolled in.
And Tuesday morning was another equally early morning as we headed to the viewpoint to see the sunrise behind Uluru. As the light dawned, we saw more and more of Uluru, and then suddenly it disappeared. Clouds had rolled in and we were getting rained on.
We headed out to Kata Tjuta, the rain coming down in buckets. The primary hike in the Valley of the Wind was curtailed, as it would not have been safe in the downpour. We did a shorter hike, beautiful, but increasingly wet and windy. Going wasn’t too bad, but the combination of wind and rain led to somewhat slippery conditions. Several of us turned back a little early due to that.
Everyone was drenched once we made it back to the bus. Our guide made the decision to go back to Uluru since we couldn’t hike Kata Tjuta and it’s very rare that visitors get to see waterfalls on Uluru. They only last maybe an hour after rainfall as there is nowhere for the rain to soak in to the rock – it all rushes down and past.
We were all game and started to exit the bus at the Mala Walk part of Uluru. Then suddenly the middling amount of rain became a downpour that assaulted us and we gave up, taking pictures from the open door of the bus. Eventually the rain slackened back to a middling downpour and I ventured out. It was worth it. The waterfalls were incredible!
We made a last stop at a waterhole that was shrouded in cloud then headed back to camp. Almost everyone else was heading out for the third day of hiking (due to be King’s Canyon, though that might have changed due to the rain) but another person and I headed to the airport.
I was off to Cairns!