Into The Red Centre
The Red Centre includes Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta is not easy to get to, so it is often overlooked in visits to Australia. But it is the key destination that MA missed when living in this country as an expat. So we added this to our list for our 50th birthday excursion.
To truly appreciate these sites, you need to get a brief understanding of the Aboriginal culture. The Aboriginal Australian people in central Australia lived in small communities spread across vast areas. When Europeans arrived to colonize the country, they brought with them diseases that caused dramatic population decline.
The British settlers treated the Aboriginal people as nomads with no right to land or water rights, and felt that these people would be happy living anywhere. But the Aboriginal people have strong spiritual and cultural ties to their land, which makes it difficult to relocate and maintain their cultural ties.
The Aboriginal people were seen as "unevolved" and there was debate about where they stood in the evolutionary scale between ape and man. This affected how they were viewed and treated by white Australians, and particularly by the Australian government. Although all Indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in Federal elections in 1963, the Aboriginal Australians did not receive the rights to the return of their traditional lands until 1992.
It wasn't until 1998 that an inquiry took place into the "stolen generation", the name given to the Australian government forced removal of Indigenous children from their families in a quest to "civilize" them. The Australian government actually issued an apology for their treatment of the people and a concerted effort has been made to make restitution and improve conditions for the Aborginal people.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjute are considered sacred sites by the Aboriginal people. This makes it difficult to encourage visitors to the area while still respecting the status of these sites by outsiders. One of the compromises that has taken place is that Uluru is actively marketed to tourists, while Kata Tjuta is not. It might explain why many non-Australians have never heard of Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas). MA and I wanted to explore these areas and learn more about their history.
We headed out of Alice Springs by midday. You are warned to get gas before you go and to carry lots of water. The highway to take you to these sites goes through long stretches of nothing - lots of grazing land for animals but few roadside attractions. It was going to be a long day of remembering to "drive on the left!". Somehow, we survived...
As we were driving, I looked out the window and saw a camel. Yes - a camel. You may not have realized that Australia had camels. Everyone knows about kangaroos and koalas, but someone had the bright idea to import camels to help work the land. So you do see camels in the Outback.
As you drive to the Red Centre, you have to watch out of animals on the road. Hitting a kangaroo is quite common, and quite dangerous. This knowledge helps keep your speed in check. Well, this and the fact that Australia has zero tolerance for speeding.
I will admit that I had little appreciation for Uluru as we headed into the Outback. Atlanta has Stone Mountain - a big granite rock that you can climb. In my mind, Uluru was very similar. But I was wrong.
The first time that I viewed Uluru I realized just how massive it it! The base has a circumferance of 6.2 kilometers so you can see if from a great distance. And it truly is red! We pulled over on the side of the road to get a picture with this rock as soon as we first saw it. It was my first understanding of why people make this trek.
After settling into our room (bunk beds! and shared rooms...), we drove out to see the sunset at Uluru. It was as spectacular as I could have imagined. The colors on the rock actually change with the light. But the sun sets quickly and it really does get cold. After all, it is winter in the Southern hemisphere.
We had reserved tickets to see a Bruce Munro light installation at Uluru. There are 17,000 lights dispersed across a vast area near Uluru. The view is amazing as there really is no other light interference - just these LED bulbs and more stars that you can imagine.
The next morning, we awoke in time to head to Uluru for the sunrise. At this point in my trip, I will admit to being jaded by sunrises, and tired of getting up this early to see something that happens every day! But the sunrise at Uluru was so amazing that I agreed to go watch the same event the next morning.
Our big plan for this day was to rent bikes and ride around the base. It was such a beautiful way to see the rock from so many angles! From a distance, the surface looks very smooth. But up close you can see how erosion has created these beautiful patterns on the surface.
The ride also gave us a chance to see the various sites that are sacred to the Aboriginal people up close. There are many places where signs ask that you not take pictures of specific parts of Uluru because of their sacred nature. We honored the request and continued the journey.
As we approached the end of our loop, you can see a place where you can climb Uluru. The Aboriginal people ask that you not climb Uluru, but they do not prohibit climbing. We did not climb - frankly, in addition to showing respect for the request, it is a scary looking climb! Many people must be rescued from this climb as they can make their way up but not handle the descent.
When we had the chance to talk with a ranger about why climbing Uluru is not prohibited, he explained the difficult position this provides to the Aboriginal people. On the one hand, they need the fees associated with the visitors as there is little opportunity to earn money while living in the Outback. Many Chinese and Japanese tourists companies market climbing Uluru as part of their travel packages. So the Aboriginal people just request that you not climb because of the sacred nature of the site, but leave the decision to you.
After we finished cycling, our next venture was to see Kata Tjuta for the first time. There was a short hike at the base, and then we planned to watch the sunset on Kata Tjuta. The hike was fairly easy, reflected in the fact that a bride was in here full gown (with hiking shoes!) with her groom having professional photos taken at the site.
The sunset was quite different from the one we had witnessed at Uluru, mainly due to the fact that Kata Tjuta is a series of 30+ peaks so there is more variety in the setting. But it was still stunning!
For our last day in this area, we hiked through the Valley of the Winds inside Kata Tjuta. It was a very difficult hike, made more complicated by the fact that we both had the wrong shoes for this hike! The views were spectacular, but we were unable to photograph these because both of our camera batteries were dead. Not good planning...
Our drive back to Alice Springs was uneventful. I was so grateful that MA had added this destination into our itinerary. I knew very little about the Aboriginal people before I made this trek, and have a better appreciation of their culture now that I have visited one of their sacred sites.
MA was leaving me the next day, and I was really sad about this fact! We got along so well throughout our 3 weeks together - no spats at all! But there was still one last stop on my journey. I was off to Africa!
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