Day #10,338… (and kinda 39): The Outback. We could see it as we descended from our jostley flight across Australia: a huge expanse of brick-red peppered with silvery explosions of desert shrubs.
Feeling like Adventurers in the truest sense of the word- due in no small part to surviving the flight… I always feel a self-satisfied sense of having outsmarted death whenever the plane touches down- we collected our rented 4×4 and tore out into the wild of the Australian Outback.
Uluru- or Ayers Rock as it was deemed by its European ‘discoverer’ in 1873- is a massive monolith square in the center of the Outback. It’s an instantly recognizable World Heritage site… a giant rocky anomaly in a sea of flat dirt.
Before heading for Uluru, we drove out to a second crazy-cool rock formation 50km away called Kata Tjuta- and saw a herd of wild camel running along the side of the road! I couldn’t get a solid picture before they galloped off towards wherever Australian camels gallop (Epic party at the waterhole? Camel family reunion in the dunes?), but I was nonetheless excited and had visions of taming one and riding it through the Outback. Or at least back to our hotel.
Mr. M was not sold on trying to saddle a wild camel, so instead of chasing them down, we set off on a 3hr hike called Valley of the Winds, which winds through Kata Tjuta and into the Outback.
After hiking Valley of the Winds, we headed back to the Ayers Rock Resort for a quick shower before… drum roll, please… the night I was most excited about on our Australia vacay: dinner in the Outback, under the stars. The Sound of Silence dinner was so hyped that part of me prematurely accepted it wouldn’t live up to expectations. Yes, it was touristy. Yes, it was gimmicky. But it was dinner… in the Outback… under the stars. One makes exceptions. ;)
An hour before sunset, our tour bus left the resort (it was easy collecting passengers because ours was the only place to stay anywhere near Uluru) and headed off down a dirt road. The bus left us in the middle of the Outback (although to be fair, anywhere in the Outback feels like ‘the middle of the Outback’), and we made an easy walk across the red dirt to a hilltop where we drank champagne and watched the setting sun casting a glow on Uluru. It was a bit of magic.
After the sun went down, mini torches magically appeared and led us down the hill to a host of tables in the sand and a huuuge buffet. I invoked the ‘omnivore while traveling’ clause and tried kangaroo (SO FREAKING GOOD and alllmost enough to make me revoke my vegetarian card), barramundi (a so-so local fish), crocodile (Like chicken. But… dryer…), and a whole host of other slightly more standard yummies while our host told us about the strong spiritual and cultural ties that the local Aboriginal people have with Uluru.
Then all the torches and candles were snuffed out, and we sat completely in silence in the cold desert night. I’d say it was dark, but it wasn’t… the sky was littered with stars and galaxies and space dust unique to the Southern Hemisphere. We just sat there and didn’t move and imagined we were all alone under the giant sky on the red, red earth. It was beautiful and completely uncaptureable by camera.
Our host pointed out constellations like the Southern Cross and the South Pole Star- which until that evening, I would not have recognized as the name of a real thing. So, so cool. I was really happy I’d made a ‘touristy’ exception to our itinerary. The end experience was so… well… real!
Just a few hours later, having slept incredibly soundly and incredibly briefly, we drove ourselves back towards Uluru to catch the sunrise.
Uluru has deep spiritual significance for the local Anangu people; all visitors to the park are visitors to their land, and signs are posted everywhere requesting that visitors please Not. Climb. Uluru.Directly behind one such sign was a solid line of horrible tourists doing what? Climbing Uluru. I was so pissed. How can you come to experience this beautiful land and be so disrespectful of its guardians? I went on a full-force rant (Threat Level: Midnight), gesturing wildly at the dumb ass climbers trying to ‘conquer’ the rock and yelling things like ‘all y’all are going straight to hell, don’t pass go!’… like a crazy American. Dumb Ass Climbers.
A hike around the base of Uluru helped to restore my faith in humanity just a bit, as we met several other visitors respecting the wishes of the Anangu and celebrating Uluru for the spiritual place that it is.
Plus, we saw this camper parked in a nearby parking lot, which locked down my good mood for the awesome day ahead:
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: As mentioned, the Ayers Rock Resort is THE ONLY place you can possibly stay near Uluru. Due to this monopoly, the prices are whack, but what are you going to do? Within the Resort are different lodges of differing price & comfort level- including a campground. We opted for the Outback Pioneer Hotel- the second-cheapest indoor option- and it was quite nice! Even so, you’re really not there for the room.
Sounds of Silence dinner: This is put on by the Ayers Rock Resort because… sing it with me, kids… they’re THE ONLY place out there. It’s touristy and ridiculously expensive and so, so magical. Just eat your kangaroo, enjoy the didgeridoo, shut out the other tourists, and remember you’re in the Outback, under the stars. Book early cuz it’s rightly popular.
Tips & Tricks: With the purchase of a $25 pass (which is good for 3 days, so you can catch sunrise and sunset without getting zero sleep in between), you’re given access to a wealth of hiking trails around Uluru and Kata Tjuta… and admission to the National Park’s Cultural Centre, which explains the strong spiritual significance of the land and the history of the local Aboriginal people. Worth the stop.