The Last Hurrah


 

Mt. Conner, Northern Territory, Australia

Or, as it is known in some circles, Fool-uru. On account of all the tourists who have passed this way and mistaken it for something else entirely.

 

And so we are almost at the end. Approaching the final destination of our Australian odyssey. It’s three months almost to the day since we left Australia and yet I am feeling the sadness all over again. Thank you for indulging this personal journey. I know it’s been a bit of a departure from the normal rusty duck fare but there were just too many wonderful sights not to share.

 
 

 

Uluṟu (Ayers Rock)

And it was green here too! The rock was created over some 600 million years and is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Aṉangu, the indigenous Australians of the area. Composed largely of sandstone, it originally sat at the bottom of a sea but today stands 348m above ground. What you see is a bit like the tip of an iceberg, even more of the rock lies underground. It’s about 3.6kms long and 1.9kms wide, with a circumference of 9.4kms. The surface is made up of valleys, ridges, caves and weird shapes that were created through erosion over the millennia. Pitjantjatjara Aṉangu own the land, although the Australian government currently holds a 99-year lease.

 
 

 

Rain followed us up the road

Three weeks before we arrived here the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park had actually been closed after torrential rains caused flooding. Flash floods are not unknown in the central outback but average monthly rainfall for this time of year is just 1.5 inches.

 
 

 
 

 

Kulpi Watiku, the Mala men’s cave

The spirits of the men who used to meet here are said to remain in the cave as faint images of faces contained within the art. Can you spot one of them?

 
 

 

The symbolism used in Uluṟu’s rock art is thought to date back at least 5,000 years.

 
 

 

The natural colour of the rock is grey, it is the weathering of iron-bearing minerals by the process of oxidation which gives the outer surface layer of Uluṟu its characteristic red-brown rusty colour. You can see this clearly on the floor of the cave where the surface is eroding.

 
 

 
 

 

Incredible rock formations

 
 

 

Kantju Gorge

We had come to visit this part of Uluṟu at sunset. The sky had cleared and in the evening light the rock takes on an even more vivid hue. There’s a small waterhole at the base of the waterfall far right. I took this story from an information board close by, written by the Aṉangu:

The Last Emu

We would hide in the trees and wait for a mob of kalaya (emu) to come and drink. When they left the waterhole we would spear the last one so the others would not be frightened of the waterhole in the future, they would just wonder where that emu went.

 

First night, first Uluṟu sunset. What better end to the day?

 

.

 

“There’s a problem.”

“What.”

We had been standing on the deck of our room, some 15 feet above ground level, gazing out across the outback towards the rock. It was late. After dinner. The only light shining from the many thousands of stars. And given that no-one had anywhere to drive, wine may have been consumed. Mike was wrestling with the floor to ceiling glass door that offered access to within. “I can’t open the door..”

 Options were limited. We could holler and holler and hope that one of the neighbours had left their own double glazed door slightly ajar. Unlikely on account of the bugs. Or Mike could climb over the rail, leap across an open void to the staircase and go for help. He opted for the latter. The nice man with the pass key couldn’t understand it. It had never happened before he said. We didn’t make the same mistake again.

 
 

 
 

 

Uluṟu sunrise

 
 

 

Kata Tjuṯa, The Olgas

The 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuṯa cover an area of 8.37 sq miles. The highest dome, Mount Olga, is 1,066 m (3,497 ft) above sea level, or approximately 546 m (1,791 ft) above the surrounding plain. 198 m (650 ft) higher than Uluṟu. The Pitjantjatjara name Kata Tjuṯa means ‘many heads’.

 
 

 

Kata Tjuṯa has the same composition as Uluṟu and dates back to the same time period. The sites are about 16 miles apart.

 
 

 

The desert floor in bloom at Kata Tjuṯa

 
 

 

Wild grevillea?

(Edit: Grevillea eriostachya. Thanks Hoov.)

 
 

 

Many of the grasses seen growing across the outback are spinifex

Spinifex thrives on the poorest, most arid soils Australia has to offer. Its roots go down a long way, approximately 3 metres. The spiky leaves contain silica which makes them stiff and rigid. Brush against it and you surely know it. It grows outwards from the original young plant. As the older sections in the centre die out the plant forms a ring around a bare middle providing a safe haven for desert lizards, snakes, birds and small mammals.

 
 

 

Kata Tjuṯa

 

And if all this natural beauty were not enough there is even more reason to visit Uluṟu just at the moment..

 
 

 

Bruce Munro’s Field of Light

With more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres over an area the size of seven football fields it is Munro’s largest work to date. Waves of softly fading and alternating colours cover the desert floor as far as the eye can see.

 
 

 

To me it was reminiscent of neurons in the brain, communicating through a web of interconnecting filaments. A vast collective consciousness.

 
 

 

A circular path through the installation allowed us to walk right into its heart. Absolute magic.

The Field of Light will stay at Uluṟu until 31 March 2018.

 
 

 

Fighting fit after six weeks of walking around Australia the finale turned out to be the 10km (6.2m) base walk around Uluṟu.

 
 

 

It’s really the only way to appreciate the other-worldly nature of this hunk of rock sticking out of the otherwise flat outback

 
 

 
 

 

At intervals there are caves bearing more art

The concentric circles most likely refer to meeting places, possibly around a waterhole. Those joined by multiple lines suggest a travel path between them.

 
 

 

The structures around the base of the rock are far more interesting than you’d think from the usual distance shots

 
 

 

Well worth the 5.00 a.m. alarm call..

 
 

 
 

 

Kapi Mutitjulu

The most reliable kapi (water) around the base of Uluṟu.

 
 

 

Water still trickling down the face of the rock

 
 

 

Oy! Who goes there.

Great desert skink

 
 

 
 

 

Uluṟu sunset

 

I would like to thank Janna Schreier (here), garden designer and blogger now returned to the UK having lived and travelled extensively in Australia. Without her invaluable help on the itinerary for this trip I’d almost certainly have missed many of the highlights. Kangaroo Island, Lord Howe Island and the West MacDonnell Ranges to name but three.

 
 

 

Looking back to our home of the previous three days and, ultimately, departing from a country with which we have formed a deep bond of affection. Would I go back? Tomorrow. Make that today. Except that at the time of writing the plane has already left.

 
 

pin it?

 
 
 

2017-10-26T10:13:46+00:00 April 18th, 2017|Tags: |

56 Comments

  1. FlowerAlley April 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    I was mesmerized by this. I will have to look at it over and over again. Thank you for sharing this dream adventure. I have wanted to see Australia since childhood. This was wonderful. That skink looked alien. Lucky Duck.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      Our driver almost ran over the skink, spotting it just in time. We all got out to make its acquaintance but he doesn’t look overly happy about it does he!

  2. Christina April 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Jessica, I have so enjoyed reading all your posts about your truly amazing holiday with all the beauty, trails and tribulations you have made me feel as if I was right there with you – a wonderful experience. Unlike FA above I’ve never before been very keen to visit, that has changed now. I doubt I’ll ever go now, but who knows and I can always read all of your posts again. Thank you.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      It’s such a long way, that’s the trouble. A trip out there takes so much planning. And given the jetlag it really needs a bit of time as well. I’m convinced we’ll go again. Maybe fewer places and a more leisurely pace.

  3. kate@barnhouse April 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Oh, bravo, Jessica! Your beautiful images show the deep connection you have discovered with this iconic landscape and draw us in. Bruce Munro’s magical Field of Light was the icing on the cake!

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      The Field of Light was incredible. We tried to go back for a second look but ran out of days.

  4. New Moons For Old April 18, 2017 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    It’s been amazing, sharing your and Mike’s own personal Dreamtime.

    I like ‘Fooluru’ – it reminds me of the way guides and keepers in Scotland call the buzzard ‘the tourists’ golden eagle’.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      Ha! I hadn’t heard about the buzzard. There aren’t that many large rocks sticking out of the outback, I guess it’s easily mistaken.

  5. jannaschreier April 18, 2017 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    Oh, Jessica, it was an absolute pleasure to talk Australian itineraries with you! I can’t tell you how much joy it has given me to see you fall in love with my second home, just as I did all those years back, and I have delighted in every word, and every photo, reliving my wonderful experiences through your eyes. Thank goodness Paul’s just been looking at flights for us to visit later this year – it couldn’t come a moment too soon given that I will no longer be getting my weekly ‘fix’ from you! I still hope you might return again before too long though!

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      I’m banking on it.. Tasmania is definitely on the list for next time. Start thinking about the places we should go!

  6. ann hyde April 18, 2017 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    What a great journey you went on, so glad you shared the trip here with us all.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks Ann. It’s a beautiful country without a doubt.

  7. Vera April 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, just beautiful……

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      It is that. I had feared I might be underwhelmed with Uluru when we finally saw it. But no chance.

  8. Karen B. April 18, 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    Fan freaking tastic! Thank you so much for this! I’ve also wanted to visit since childhood and I better get going cause I’m not getting any younger!

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:03 pm - Reply

      It’s the flight that takes it out of you the most, it’s such a long way. But well worth it!

  9. linda April 18, 2017 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    This will be in your mind 4ever!!! Fantastic shots Jessica…truly an inspiring trip…for all to see and read about.
    Where are you off to next????
    Enjoy your week…hope you had a lovely Easter….
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:06 pm - Reply

      Ha! Think I’d better catch up with the garden a bit first.. little bit of sunshine and everything has taken off, weeds included.

  10. Virginia April 19, 2017 at 1:00 am - Reply

    I’m so sorry you’ve come to the end of the tour – thank you for taking us along – what a weight of excess baggage you’d’ve had if we weren’t simply ‘virtual travellers’ – that little plane would never have lifted off! I do enjoy your local trips away, and used them as you know, to plan our itinerary last year. But the footprint of humankind in Australia, particularly in the remote areas, although reaching as far back as cant in England, seems much less intrusive – would you agree?

    Anyway, a million thanks.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      Absolutely. The indigenous people led much simpler lives and still do. The trip brought home a lot of things for me, not least how badly we are managing the environment. The likely destruction of the Barrier Reef. And the ancient rainforest, felled to make way for the sugar that is killing us. Why, oh why.

  11. Beth @ PlantPostings April 19, 2017 at 2:12 am - Reply

    Oh, thanks for sharing your journey! You’ve given us a treat! I’ve heard of Uluru and I’d love to see it someday. I don’t recall hearing about the Field of Light–that’s awesome. One of my favorite writers is Bill Bryson, and one of my favorites among his books is “In a Sunburned Country” (or “Down Under,” as it was titled in the UK). He had me clamoring to visit Australia, which has been a lifelong personal dream for many reasons. And now you’ve fueled the flames even more. So many amazing places to explore on that continent! Thanks for taking us along.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      I’ve read that book too.. last year whilst I was planning for the trip. He has a wonderful way with words. Although I do hold him personally responsible for my angst about stingers and crocodiles and everything else that might kill you!

  12. germac4 April 19, 2017 at 2:50 am - Reply

    Stunning photos, Jessica, and the best I have ever seen of Uluru…..you should offer them to National Geographic! The detailed photos of the rocks and surrounds reminds me again of what a spiritual place Uluru is, a must see, and thanks for coming….it is on our bucket list, and now a big closer…

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gerrie. There is a huge amount of atmosphere in that place, particularly in the caves and around the paintings. Especially when you think about how old some of them must be. Watching the sun go down over the rock.. just as the first indigenous Australians would have done many thousands of years ago.

  13. Kris Peterson April 19, 2017 at 4:46 am - Reply

    Even without the mystical Field of Light, much of the continent has an other-worldly presence. Thanks for sharing your trip.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm - Reply

      I wish I’d managed to get a decent photo of the salt lakes while flying over the outback. Now that does look like something from another planet.

  14. Anne April 19, 2017 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for taking us on your journey to Australia. Fantastic photos and lots of stories to make us smile. It was a real treat and I hope you can go back for another visit before too long. For now – “back to the garden”.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Yes indeed. From the sublime to the ridiculous, most of the afternoon spent clinging to the vertical face of the bank. Stiff as a board this evening 🙁

  15. Sue Garrett April 19, 2017 at 8:59 am - Reply

    It’s a very dramatic landscape

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      It really is. I loved the contrast between the red rock and lush green of the trees and the grass.

  16. wherefivevalleysmeet April 19, 2017 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I was hoping that you would visit Ayers Rock and it doesn’t disappoint at all – that is somewhere that I would defintely want to visit if I went to Australia. What a unique, beautiful and historic landscape.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:53 pm - Reply

      In truth I did wonder if I would be disappointed. Sometimes these iconic sites are a bit of an anti climax when you actually see them for real. Uluru does not disappoint, especially getting close up to it and exploring all the hidden nooks and crannies. I’m also glad we did the drive from Alice Springs and didn’t fly both in and out. Then you get to appreciate the character of the outback which surrounds it.

  17. Rosie April 19, 2017 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    How wonderful, the cave drawings are fascinating and the whole landscape amazing, no wonder you love it so much:)

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 8:58 pm - Reply

      The outback was always going to be on my list of places to go. I’m perhaps just a little disappointed that the landscape wasn’t as desert like as I was expecting. That rain again.. can’t get away from it!

  18. Brenda April 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    Thanks again for bringing us along on your magical trip down under.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 9:06 pm - Reply

      It’s very tempting to do what you did, only do it in Australia. How many times have I threatened to sell up and buy a Winnebago.

  19. Chloris April 19, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Stunning photos Jessica, I have enjoyed your Australia series. Those rocks are wonderful and the Skink looks as if it was designed by an amateur who was just practising . I can see why you would love to go back. What an experience.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Poor skink. He did look rather grumpy. Perhaps being a prototype has its disadvantages.

  20. Cathy April 19, 2017 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    That Field of Light was magical – thanks for sharing that and all your other holiday highlights Jessica. It has been an education 🙂

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      I’m sure the Field of Light has been in England, although probably not seven acres worth. It was the scale of it that got me, truly as far as the eye could see. Waves of constantly changing light but quite subtle.. and very difficult to photograph in the dark. Mike’s pics.

  21. snowbird April 19, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    I didn’t visit Ayers rock so really enjoyed this post. The heat and the train journey put us off…..and of course I wouldn’t fly! What an astonishing place it is, the rock, the caves, the colours….and a desert that is green! Stunning, all of it. I managed to spot a couple of faces amidst the art, how interesting. It’s fascinating seeing it fro a plane. What a shame this series has ended, I did enjoy it. Australia is such a beautiful, varied country. It has it all.xxx

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 9:24 pm - Reply

      I did wonder whether I would cope with the heat. I’d been monitoring it and for many weeks it had been 40C plus. But the rain cooled everything down. Even the 10km walk was comfortable, albeit it was quite early in the morning. Mike would love to go on The Ghan and I looked into that too but the timetable didn’t work, it only goes once or twice a week.

  22. plantbirdwoman April 19, 2017 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Fantastic photography as always and the subjects are magnificent. It is hard to choose a favorite but I think mine might be the Uluru sunset.

    • Jessica April 19, 2017 at 9:48 pm - Reply

      It was a great way to end the trip. Albeit somewhat poignant. Thanks Dorothy.

  23. hb April 19, 2017 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    I’m sorry the trip is done–it could go on and on as far as I’m concerned. Your photos are magical and the commentary fascinating. Thank you for taking us along.

    The striking Grevillea, Grevillea eriostachya, perhaps?

    • Jessica April 20, 2017 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Thanks Hoov.
      Spot on with the Grevillea I think. I thought you’d know.

  24. Indie April 20, 2017 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    What an incredible vacation! The rock formations are amazing, the scenery is so different and exotic, and the light art is gorgeous. What a magnificent place to visit.

    • Jessica April 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks Indie. Yes, it is pretty special. A wonderful finale to the trip. It was quite a wrench to come home, especially as it is still quite cold here.

  25. Sarah April 22, 2017 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    It was fantastic to see more unusual pictures of Ayers Rock which really made me appreciate its size and the landscape surrounding it. The Field of Lights looks so magical too. I did wonder how you found some amazing natural places to visit on your trip, I will remember your images for a long time. What an incredible holiday you had, thank you so much for sharing it with us, Sarah x

    • Jessica April 23, 2017 at 8:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sarah. There is a lot more to the area than you’d think. I found Kata Tjuta fascinating too and I’d never heard of it prior to researching this trip.

  26. Sigrun April 23, 2017 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Thank you for this last pictures from your holiday. Uluru is spectacular! Sigrun

    • Jessica April 23, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      It certainly is. It just seemed so strange seeing it in the rain! Luckily that was only for an hour or so.

  27. ginaferrari April 23, 2017 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    As ever, your photographs are absolutely stunning. I’ve so enjoyed sharing this Australian adventure with you.

    • Jessica April 23, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gina.

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