It’s been a demanding few days, but I want to write about the rest of the adventures I enjoyed recently, so, in this final instalment of the series, enjoy the Q&A format.
Day 8: Uluru
Q: Did you see it change colour at sunset?
A: Yes! On the evening I arrived in Yulara (Day 7) I watched the rock change colour from deep orange to fire-engine red, to purply blue.
Q: How big is it really?
A: Let me put it this way – the experience of visiting Uluru and seeing the giant rock firsthand has prompted some broader reflections about the power of experience, over and above testimony and tradition. The pictures and even the stories Aboriginal people tell about its spiritual significance just don’t hold a candle to actually seeing it yourself. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s no wonder it’s such a special place to many.
Q: What do you actually do there?
A: You try to stay on the correct side of the road while you drive towards it, marvelling at this shape rising out of the desert; you park and choose one of the ‘bush walks’ open to tourists and then you do said walk. I chose to do the base walk, about 10.5km, because it encompasses all the other shorter walks and detours on offer (an additional 4km or so).
Q: How did the virus affect the experience of being there?
A: It was deserted. Pun absolutely intended! I hear from other travellers that usually the sunset viewing area is heaving with rubberneckers like me, that the base walk resembles the queues at the Easter Show and that National Park’s Cultural Centre can’t keep up with the demand for champagne dinners with Uluru views. None of that this time. I saw ten people on my walk around the base, and had an entire section of the sunset viewing area to myself. It was a little bit eerie, but mostly amazing for this crowd-averse solo road-tripper. I feel very lucky!
Day 9: Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas)
Q: What, or who, are The Olgas?
A: A series of rock domes, spectacularly shaped and impossibly huge, about 40 mins by car from Uluru. At a certain point on the Uluru base walk you can see Kata-Tjuta, cloaked in a blue haze, on the horizon.
Q: Why visit?
A: As if it were possible, the silence of the desert struck me even more profoundly here than at Uluru. The landscape is captivating, of course; but being here really did feel like being on holy ground. Speaking of which, at both Uluru and Kata-Tjuta there are areas of such importance to the Aboriginal peoples whose country it is that you’re not allowed to photograph or film them. The stories these rocks tell are like sacred texts whose meanings become distorted when taken out of context.
Q: Can you fill a whole day just visiting one of these rocky places?
A: Absolutely! By the time I left Yulara just after 9am to drive to Kata-Tjuta, walked from the car park to the starting point of the walks, completed the Walpa Gorge walk (3km) and the steep Valley of the Winds walk (8km), sat for a while, ate something, walked back to the car, visited a lookout, drove back to Yulara, it was close to 4:30pm. I think… I didn’t have much need for clocks during this trip.
Day 10: Yulara to The Devil’s Marbles (Wauchope)
Q: How many hours did you drive each day?
A: Most days I drove between 3 and 5 hours. On this day I drove 7: through Alice Springs and then back up the Stuart Highway as far as a little place called Wauchope (pronounced ‘walk-up’, which is different to the place of the same name in NSW – ‘war-hope’).
Q: What’s there to see in Wauchope?
A: An award-winning wayside inn called The Devil’s Marbles Hotel! It’s named after the nearest major tourist attraction, which is 8km up the road, and has an impressive wall of accolades for its its pub grub and atmospheric beer garden. I paid for a room for the night, went for a sunset stroll among the eponymous marbles, then enjoyed some drinks, dinner and a chat with other travellers stopping there for the night.
Day 11: Wauchope to Katherine
Q: When are you going back to Katherine?
A: Today! I woke early and went for a jog on some of the trails around Karlu Karlu (the Warumungu name for the marbles) before making my way to Tennant Creek, then home to Katherine via a pit stop in Elliot. I forgot to fill up in Mataranka on account of a captivating podcast series, so rolled in to the driveway on fumes. Phew!