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.

 
 

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