The drive from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock is really an eye opening experience because you get a feeling of how big and vast the Australian outback is. We had traveled for 19 hours in a train followed by another 5 hours by car to reach Ayers Rock.
During all that traveling the only real towns in between the locations are Adelaide and Port Augusta just to the north of Adelaide and then Alice Springs in the middle of the red center. That is it. Where in America can you travel a thousand miles and not hit a town? Alaska is the only place I can think of.
Northern Territory Outback
Most of the drive between Alice Springs and Ayers Rock on the Stuart Highway is a few rocky hills and endless red desert. About three hours down the Stuart Highway you need to turn on to the Lasseter Highway to reach the rock. About an hour down the Lasseter highway you see a really spectacular sight that many people at first think is Ayers Rock. However, this mountain is not Ayers Rock, but in fact a rocky plateau known as Mt. Conner:
A closer look at Mt. Connor
Mt. Conner is quite a sight to see after traveling through four hours of nothingness. Mt. Connor may looks just like something you would see in Arizona or Utah, but the fact that it rises out of the nothingness of the Australian Outback is what makes it so impressive.
Near Mt. Conner is the campground called Curtain Springs. We decided to camp out here for the night since the campsites were free and then drive the one remaining hour to Ayers Rock the next morning. Curtin Springs is actually a pretty nice place because it does have simple hotel accommodations if you don’t like camping, plus has a small general store, and a restaurant. We decided to stay here instead of proceeding to Ayers Rock because the accommodations at Ayer’s Rock at the resort site of Yulara are extremely expensive. A campsite at Yulara costs $25 bucks and the cheapest hotel rooms go for about $150. Camping for free and than driving an hour the next morning sounded much more appealing to us. We put up our simple two person tent and then my wife proceeded to cook up some ramen noodles. This would be our first time camping in the Outback:
The Outback can be quite hot during the day, but it can also be equally cold at night during the winter. The day time temperatures hovered around 28C and at night the temperature fell to 0C. I was glad we brought good sleeping bags to sleep in. The cold turned out to be less of a problem then the nearby noisy camels. Curtain Springs runs camel tours to nearby Mt. Connor and the camels they raise in a fenced off area are quite noisy at night for whatever reason.
We slept through it the best we could and woke up about 5AM the next morning to eat a quick breakfast and make our way to Ayers Rock. As we drove down the final stretch of the Lasseter Highway we were filled with anticipation as we tried to get our first glimpse of Ayers Rock. Here is that first glimpse we so eagerly wanted to see:
Our first glimpse of Ayers Rock
I have to say that with how much Ayers Rock is hyped the first sight of the rock really was quite exciting, but have to admit though that the first view of the rock did not quite give me the same overwhelming feeling I received from viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time, but nevertheless it was sensational to see. From here we continued driving down the highway, and then stopped at the park entrance to pay our $25 per person park fee before going to the visitor’s center. The visitor center is actually very well done and visitors to the park can learn about the history of the rock.
A closer look at Uluru and how waterfalls cascade down the rock during rain storms.
The official name of Ayers Rock is the aboriginal name of Uluru thus in turn causing the park to be named the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and is designated a World Heritage area by the United Nations due to it’s geographical and cultural significance. Uluru was handed back to the original aboriginal inhabitants of the area in 1985 in a wave of land returns to the aboriginal people across Australia. The local Aborigines the Anangu in turn leased the rock back to the government to be used as a national park. You do see a few Aborigines working at the park, but the majority of the park workers are white Australians.
The rock actually was first sighted by white Australians back in 1872 by Ernest Giles who famously called it the “remarkable pebble”. The rock was later named Ayers Rock after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.
The rock is extremely holy to the local Aborigines because many of the song lines that the Aborigines sing and use to navigate in the Outback originate or end at Ayers Rock. In fact 25 some years ago some Aborigines had popped up at Ayers Rock who had went on a pilgrimage following one of their ancient song lines to Uluru. When they reached Uluru it was the first time they had met white Australians. That should give you an idea how big and unexplored much of Australia still is.
From the visitor center we made our way to the area that you can hike up the side of Uluru. The local Aborigines strongly discourage people from climbing Uluru, but judging from this picture you can see not to many people really care:
Busloads and busloads of people in the morning hours scale the mountain like an army of ants in a line:
What is very interesting about the flotilla of tour buses is that most of them are for German tourists. In fact I think the Aborigines have leased this land to Germany and not Australia if you only judge by the amount of German tourists. I decided to climb the rock later in order to avoid the mob of tourists and proceeded to try some of the surrounding perimeter hikes instead. Here are some of the pictures from my early morning perimeter hike:
Around the rock there are numerous caves where the Aborigines used to live in. Some of the caves were used for religious rituals and signs are posted forbidding the photographing of these caves:
The redness of the rock is just amazing:
The redness of the rock is due to literally the rusting of the rock by the elements. The rock is actually a type of iron deposit that used to be inside of an ancient mountain range that has since eroded away leaving the iron deposit inside of it exposed. It is estimated that Ayers Rock actually extends 3-5 kilometers below the surface of where it is currently located. It is even further speculated that the rock may be even connected below the ground to the Olgas located about 50 kilometers away. That is one big rock if true.
Here is are views of Ayers Rock looking from the North:
This picture really shows the redness of the soil and the erosion on the sides of the rock:
The Aborigines saw animals and other shapes in the erosion on the side of the rock which further added to the holiness of the site:
Around this corner leads back to the south side of the rock:
The contours of the rock are really dramatic on the south side:
Rounding the corner you can see how large gum trees are just overwhelmed by the size of the rock:
Gum trees are dwarfed by the huge Ayers Rock
Of course on the south side of the rock there is more tour buses and they to are dwarfed by the massiveness of the rock:
After going around the hike we headed back over to the area where you can climb up the rock. It was now about 11AM and the sun was out which for me was a good thing because all bus loads of tourists were gone. So I proceeded up the steep path:
The most difficult portion of the hike is the very beginning because it is very steep and a chain rope is necessary to climb the first steep portion. It is quite tiring and now I understand why the Aborigines don’t want people climbing the rock. I passed a number of older and out shape people who shouldn’t have been climbing the rock. People every year die climbing Ayers Rock due to not being in shape and dying from heat stroke. To reach the top of Ayers Rock took about an hour.
As you climb the rock you are rewarded with magnificent views like of the mighty Olgas that can be seen in the far off distance:
Additionally, Mt. Connor can be seen in the further distance:
All over the top of the rock you can see dry streams that would rush with water during a rare rain storm:
These rare rainstorms leave pools of water that last all year long:
The water is of very un-pure quality thus obviously a filtering technique would be needed to drink it. I’m sure this would be quite a water slide during a rain storm though:
Once on the top of the rock the summit is truly vast and pot marked with small craters:
Some of these craters are filled with water, which is of course scarce in the Outback:
Nothing like a little suntanning and rest on top of Ayers Rock:
Amazingly on top of Ayers Rock there is actually trees growing on top of it. If you look in the distance of the below picture you can see trees out in the distance:
Once you get close to the trees you can see they are not very big but is still interesting to see that the trees are able to find enough soil up here to grow from:
Getting down the mountain was just about as strenuous as going up because of the steep incline. Once again I had to pass a bunch of people who were extremely exhausted from climbing the rock. I got off the rock and then skirted the rock to walk over to the final trail at Uluru that leads to its only natural waterhole. Like everywhere else on Uluru the walk was spectacular with many caves and holes along the side of the rock:
Here is the start of the trail and you can see how the path leads into a gap in the rock:
The path is wooded and even has a bridge to cross a small stream that forms whenever it rains here:
This gap in the rock causes water to drain into this natural water hole:
The gap that the above water hole resides in, is the only year round source of water for the local Aborigines and was thus considered very sacred. The valley is quite lush and green which stands in great contrast to the surrounding scorched desert. The valley also contains some nearby caves where the local aboriginals lived, which makes since with the water hole located nearby. The inside of the caves were covered with various forms of aboriginal art:
Here is a closer look at the art work:
This artwork is no where near as impressive as the artwork I would see later on during our journey in the Northern Territory at Kakadu National Park, but it was interesting to see none the less. After checking out the water hole we proceeded to drive to an overlook location to take this photograph that is nearly picture postcard perfect:
Plenty more of excellent pictures were to come as we sat back to enjoy the sunset behind Ayers Rock:
Here is me enjoying the sunset at the rock:
Uluru is well known for how it changes colors throughout the day and this very evident at sunset as the rock begins to change colors to a bright red:
From its bright red color the rock begins to change to more of a darker red with many shadows:
It was also scenic just to look out into the Outback where the colors of the sky are just tremendous in the clear, clean air:
Then finally at dusk the rock has sort of a purplish glint to it as it settles in for the night:
Just an absolute great day and we still had plenty more to see in Australia’s incredible Red Center:
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