Uluru: driving through desert
My Australian sojourn last month would have been far from complete if I hadn’t visited Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia.
The Qantas flight from Adelaide (three hours and fifteen minutes) landed at Alice Springs airport, a sleepy town about 500km from Uluru at 12.30pm. We took a bus from the airport and reached Desert Palms Resort around 2pm. Located in Australian outback, the hotel offers a tropical oasis in the middle of the desert. The setting of the resort is stunning with palm trees all around.
Visitors to Australia mostly travel along the coastal towns savoring bewitching beaches and stunning sandy landscape Down Under. But, watching the cultural landscape and one of the oldest human societies on earth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Welcome to Uluru, the massive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia.
Sneaking a peek into history
The local Pitjantjatjara people call the landmark Uluṟu. This word has no particular meaning in the Pitjantjatjara language, although it is used as a local family name by the senior Traditional Owners of Uluru.
Europeans came to the western desert area of Australia in the 1870s. Uluru and Kata Tjuta were first mapped by Europeans during the expeditions made possible by the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872.
While exploring the area, Ernest Giles sighted Kata Tjuta from near Kings Canyon and called it Mount Olga, while on 19 July in 1873 William Gosse saw Uluru and named it Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, the chief secretary of South Australia. Since then both names have been used.
In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. On 15 December 1993, it was renamed “Ayers Rock / Uluru” and became the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. The order of the dual names was officially reversed to “Uluru / Ayers Rock” on 6 November 2002 following a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.
The Grayline bus arrived at the resort at 6 in the morning. It was still dark. The bus then moved to another hotel to pick up some other tourists. We were the only Asians in the bus. With the sun emerging slowly from the desert horizon, the spectacle was awesome. After about an hour’s journey through the desert, the bus screeched to a halt at Stuart’s Well Roadhouse. Friendly staff and the camel farm made our stop for breakfast memorable. I met an Aussie guy who said he always enjoyed staying there on his Adelaide-Darwin trip.
We left Stuart’s Well Roadhouse after 20 minutes. Sitting in the front seat I could see from the bus the shimmering heat haze in the desert. An eagle was flying majestically over the treacherous terrain. The desert silence was occasionally broken by some heavy-duty trucks whizzing past along the highway. I saw a few intrepid youths camping by the wayside for desert safari. The sudden gust of winds produced by the speeding bus took them by surprise.
I could hear an announcement. The bus driver asked us to keep our eyes open in case some kangaroos emerge from the desert. “They might be sleeping now,” he said. I became doubly watchful hoping to get a glimpse of the animal. My attempt proved futile though.
Our next stop was Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse.
(To be continued)