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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #029

Editorial

Going...going...gone.

Australia's best known landscapes and natural wonders are disappearing.

Not literally of course, but they are vanishing behind a fog of tourist busses and red tape.

There was a time for example when you could experience Uluru (or Ayres Rock it was then called), you could actually camp in the shadow of the rock and feel the mysticism of the place.

Or so I'm told, I didn't come to central Australia until this year, way too late for anything like that. These days you can't camp within a bull's roar of the rock. You can't even see it from the campground at Yulara, which is probably just as well because at $30 per night most of us can't afford to camp there anyway.

It's not the fault of the rangers, nor the traditional land owners; not even the bollard-wielding bureaucrats.

The problem lies with all of us, there's just too damn many people, and where there's more people there's idiots who do the wrong thing, and therefore more rules to curtail the idiots.

So yes, we've now seen Uluru, but I will never be able to say I've experienced it, and neither will you unless you've already done so.

Still, despite my grumbling, Uluru and Kata Tjuta really should be seen by every Australian (and non-Australian for that matter) before they die. They are quite amazing.

Now what have I learned from this experience, I learned that I should have come here in the 70s when I was last in the Territory. I also learned that we should now go and experience as many places as possible before they too vanish into the fog.

There's no time like now, don't wait until you retire in twenty years, unless you're happy to just see things, and not experience them.

 

 

Sun 13 Jun 2004

After a late start we only make about 30k before pulling over for a cuppa.

The bread is nearly baked, so we stay for lunch.

It's a very pleasant spot amongst the desert oaks, so we stay for the night.


Fellow campers under the desert oaks

Mon 14 Jun

It's crazy but since yesterday I find myself scanning the horizon every time we crest a hill, looking for "the rock".

Of course there's been no chance of seeing it so far, but I can't help it.

We do eventually see something similar, but it's Mount Connor, a landmark that is often mistaken for Uluru.


Mount Connor, often mistaken for Uluru even though it really doesn't look much like it at all

Just after passing the AR50 sign (Ayers Rock 50k, it's called Uluru these days, but I guess the signs were made some time ago) we finally see it on the horizon. Even from this distance it's quite obvious the thing is massive, although I'm pretty sure it couldn't be seen that well from 50k away and I check the map. The road isn't straight, we're really about 30k as the wedge-tailed eagle flies.

We have lunch at Curtin Springs and think about staying the night, however it's still early and we've been told of a good rest area not far away.


A flower and old airport baggage loader near the disused abattoir at Curtin Springs.

We pull into the rest area, but it's not very nice after all. However I spot a track heading over the dunes, we follow that, and find a very pleasant place to camp for the night.


A beetle and weevils. Note in the second photo the weevil is being attacked by ants.

Tue 15 Jun

At about 10 we pull into the Yulara resort, just outside the national park. We check on the price of permits, camping etc.

TIP: The price for a three-day pass into the national park is $25 per person, which is a bit steep. But, for $32.50pp you can get an annual pass which gives you access for more than three days (a whole year if you're really keen) to both the Uluru and Kakadu parks.

The camping fees are very expensive (about $28 without power, $31 with), we won't be staying here.

We ring M&J to see where they are. They're in the campground, just a few hundred metres away, so we walk over for a cuppa.

Michael seems to spend a large part of his time pulling over to help stranded tourists. Just yesterday apparently he stopped to help a person of Aboriginal persuasion.

The fellow had his car's bonnet up, the universal signal for a break down.

He was short of oil, so Michael offered a couple of litres. When they restart the engine there's none of the usual noises these old cars give when low on oil, rattling tappets for example.

Still, no matter, the vehicle is obviously a goer now and they close the bonnet. Then the fellow asks for a cigarette, but Michael had none on him.

As Michael pulls away he looks in the rear view mirror. He sees the "stranded" motorist lighting up a cigarette, then lifting the bonnet.

Presumably the next kind-hearted motorist will donate some petrol, and the next some food.

NOTE: Occasional scams notwithstanding, you should always offer assistance on these remote roads. Just remember, it could easily be you standing there watching everyone whizz past.

ANOTHER NOTE: On the same day Michael offered help to a German couple with a broken fan belt. They did have a spare belt, but snapped a bolt while adjusting the alternator to fit it. With no decent tools or spare bolts they were looking at calling out a mechanic from the nearest town, 200k away. At $2/k and $105/hour that would be a minimum of $505 for a broken fan belt.

On our return from the campground we pop into the supermarket and find that the prices are much better than expected. In fact they're the cheapest we've seen for some time. Very unusual for such a remote place.

We drive a few kilometres back along the highway and find a spot to camp that's not only very pleasant, but free.


Our campsite just a few kilometres from Yulara

Later we explore the area, we can't see Uluru directly from our campsite, but can from just a few metres up the nearest dune.

The view's not great for a camera though, so I look for less grandiose subjects.


New growth in the desert sand.


A track leads to (or from) an ant lion hole

Wed 16 Jun

I spend the day exploring the dunes.


Beetle and ant in the sand dunes.


A weevil puts his head down as a defence posture.


This golden desert cockroach also has a defence posture, but he turns around and puts his bum down

Thu 17 Jun

Today we walk around the rock, on the "Base Walk" as it's known, a distance of 9km.

The blurb states that three hours is required, but that's for people who don't stop to look at every bull ant and bush.

NOTE: Photos taken in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have to be approved by the park's media centre if they are to be used commercially, and that includes sticking them on your personal web site. Click here for more info.


Eroded shapes in a rock overhang. The staining is partly caused by bird droppings.


Bloodwood trees at Kantju Gorge.


Water-stained rock at Kantju Gorge.


Trees around the base walk.


Zebra finches.


Amazing shapes in the rock.


Cliffs on the southern side of Uluru

After about five hours we are pretty much over it, and bolt for the last kilometre or so.

In the afternoon we drive down to Kata Tjuta. If anything they are more spectacular than Uluru.


Kata Tjuta from the viewing platform, and the classic view from the western side at sunset.

It's getting late, so we hang around to watch the sunset, then leave the park.

Fri 18 Jun

I need a lay day to process all the photos from the last couple of days. The new camera is great, but I'm sure taking a lot of photos, and they all need to be titivated, catalogued and saved onto DVD.

Michael, Jackie and I do however go to photograph Uluru at dawn. Having fought with the crowds and the official sunrise viewing area the other day, we decide to go against the flow and pull into the sunset viewing area.


Uluru at sunrise, but from the sunset viewing area.

Sat 19 Jun

Sit around talking with M&J, they planned to go into Alice today but our slackness seems to be catching. They'll go tomorrow.


The two motorhomes camped under the desert oaks.


Sandy track near our campsite leads to an Uluru view.


A mulga ant nest, they decorate the mound with foliage.

Sun 20 Jun

M&J head off today, we don't. We do however move camp to a gravel pit a few kilometres up the road.


Oops, it's a bit soft in there.


Ant nest with protective tube over the entrance, presumably to keep the water out

Tue 22 Jun

We can't go into the park today, for reasons that I won't go into, instead we think a nice relaxing day in the gravel pit is in order.

Unfortunately this is a gravel pit for a reason, the gravel is due to be used for the road widening that's in progress just down the road. And today's the day.

At around 10 a truck pulls in, then another, and another. Before long we're surrounded by trucks and contraptions of a road-building nature.


The road workers move in.


"OK Bill let's find somewhere to dump this load of stinking bitumen".


"I know, over here next to this motorhome should do"

Wed 23 Jun

The roadworkers return bright and early this morning, and we use that as a cue to head into Uluru.


The truck with Kata Tjuta in the distance (40k away)

We wander around the Mala walk, a short walk that incorporates much of what to me is the best part of the area.


Some abstract photos at Kantju Gorge.

While avoiding the tour groups I meet Peter Marlow, an English photographer on assignment for Magnum.

We discuss the restrictions placed on artists of all kinds who want to record Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We separate, but meet up back at the truck shortly after.

After a quick cuppa he has to fly, literally, he'll be photographing the Blue Mountains later today.

Peter leaves us a bottle of mineral water and some orange juice, presumably because he doesn't need it on the plane, and he heads off.

Not long after we spot girls walking towards our end of the carpark. As we're the only vehicle here we figure they must be coming over to see us.

As they get closer we see a puzzled look come over their faces. They look unsure about something, but continue anyway.

When they are close enough to talk we find out what the story is. They thought we were a refreshment van, and came over to buy a drink.

As it happens we are in possession of an unopened bottle of mineral water, which I give them. I should charged them I suppose, but knowing the rules around here that would probably be considered a "commercial activity" and attract a $5500 fine.


Uluru at sunset from the walk carpark

Thu 24 Jun

Today we'll do the "valley of the winds" walk at Kata Tjuta, but first we drop into the viewing platform to witness the sunrise.


The Kata Tjuta viewing platform.


Uluru at sunrise from the viewing platform.


It gets cold here in the morning, a good time to have a friend and a doona.


Kata Tjuta at dawn.


Uluru and grass on plain.


Grass next to the footpath that leads to the viewing platform.

After sunrise we eat breakfast then walk into the Valley of the Winds.

It's quite fantastic to walk between the massive conglomerate domes that form the mountain range. Unfortunately it's all out of bounds, photographically speaking. The rules preclude the showing of anything here accept minute details that could be anywhere.


Spinifex.


A solanum flower.


Fungus on a rotting log.


Flowers.


Nicotiana excelsior flower.


Showy (or Basedow's) Indigo flowers.


Isotome flowers, one with an insect.


Daisy bush, mulla mulla and something else flowers.


An Australian Raven (AKA crow) and a Port Lincoln Parrot.


Huge tadpoles in the creek.

Once again it's supposed to take three hours to complete the walk, we return to the car park after nearly six.


Kata Tjuta at sunset

Fri 24 Jun


The truck's shadow on the dunes.


Insect tracks on the sand ripples.

I climb Uluru. It's quite a slog up the rock but well worth it. The top is a wonderland of valleys, many of which I explored.

Unfortunately I can't publish any photos of "the climb", or anything that implies the climb, such as a photo taken from the top.

Them's the rules.

After the climb we visit the cultural centre to enquire about restrictions on commercial photography. We talk at length with the ranger who deals with such matters, and leave with the appropriate application forms.

Later in the afternoon we drive down to the Kata Tjuta viewing platform to photograph the sunset.

I can show you some photos from here.


Uluru from the Kata Tjuta viewing platform.


Last light on Kata Tjuta

As it gets dark we leave the park and make for our gravel pit.

Sat 25 Jun

Just a quick drive out to the 25k rest area. We plan to spend a few days there catching up on cataloguing photos and doing some maintenance on the truck.

I also have to submit any photos I want to publish to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta media centre for approval, and will need some time to fill out the forms and make a CD of images.

Sun 26 Jun

It's M day, that's m for maintenance. I spend most of the day greasing and oiling all the truck's joints, diffs, gearboxes etc.

We also have a broken gas strut bracket, so I weld it back together.


The workbench and welder are out so I can do some repairs

Mon 27 Jun

More maintenance, this time the batteries. All done, now I can go wandering with the camera.


Curly bits on spinifex grass.

Fri 2 Jul

Had another slack attack for a couple of days, apart from riding into Yulara to mail some photos, we've just sat around reading.


This spider has just caught dinner, a nice juicy fly.

Sat 3 Jul

We are supposed to leave for Curtin Springs today but slept in. Tomorrow will do.

Sun 4 Jul

That's it, we're really off this time. We've been here over a week, it's 50k to Curtin Springs, so we'll need an early start.


A dead feral cat on the road. WARNING: The second photo is quite graphic and you may find it a bit off-putting. Personally I can't stand to look at it. For this reason I have blurred the above thumbnail image.

Tue 7 Jul

After spending two days at Curtin Springs we drive towards Kings Canyon, pulling up in a very nice rest area about 120k from the canyon.

I find the terrain here to be very pleasant, rolling sand dunes that create small valleys filled with desert oaks.


Desert oaks in the undulating sand-dune country

There's no firewood collecting allowed in the national parks, so every tour bus and four-wheel-drive we see is stacked with timber. For the last 50 kilometres we've seen piles of firewood on the side of the road, hundreds of them.

Sometimes the piles are just remnants, obviously someone collected more than they could fit on top of their trailer. At other times the piles look complete, as though they were stacked then just left.


Storm clouds over our campsite

 

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