Day 4. Tuesday 9/8/22

An 8.15am start for the 309km journey to Ayres Rock. We stopped to view Uluru on the skyline, seeing the outline of its “toothbrush”, a distant range of hills providing the handle. Then we crossed the main road to walk up a sand dune and view the white mass of the Salt Lake Amadeus in the distance.

Things unraveled in the final two days of what should have been the highlight of our tour. Uluru, a double World Heritage site, is a jewel of a place. But we were crammed like helpless sheep into an unacceptably tight, often changing time schedule.

There was no overall Leader for this part of our trip, no continuity, no focus for queries or requests. Coach drivers changed frequently and struggled to keep to schedule. A disabled lady in our group was slow, and always last to board and leave the coach; she was not given a reserved seat at the front, except once on request.

We arrived at Sails in the Desert Hotel, grabbed our room keys, then hurried out for a 3.10pm helicopter flight. My ten-minute flight from take-off to landing in a tiny ‘copter was a complete waste of time. I guess it all depended on which seat you were in. I was sandwiched in the middle back seat with limited views and no opportunity to take a proper photo of Uluru squatting below us in the desert scrub. We flew once along its side, turned, and flew back again.

We were dropped back at the hotel, then hustled out again in a full coach at 5.15 prompt for the Sounds of Silence dinner.

Canapes and wine were served atop a dune followed by dinner in the hollow below. Wine and talk flowed freely, accompanied by the mellow notes of a didgeridoo. We tucked into a generous buffet offering many choices while attentive waiters hovered nearby. It was dark. Then, between courses, big drops splattered the tables… and the heavens opened.

Out came waterproof coats, some put damask napkins over their heads, bowing like praying nuns over the table. A Scotsman, who had served nine months in the British Army in Kenya forty years ago, kept us entertained with language sometimes bordering on the blasphemous. Mercifully, the cloudburst did not last long. Ours was the most hilarious table.

We slept well that night – once we had found our way along the maze of stairs and corridors to our room on the 3rd floor.

Day 5. Wednesday 10/8/22

Up at 5.30am for the Uluru Sunrise tour. The sky was beautiful beneath a layer of lowering clouds, but our schedule was tight, and we could not wait for the light to hit the rock.

Back for a hasty breakfast, then out again for Uluru, where we did the brief Mala walk past a series of fascinating caves – for men, women (no photos allowed), the elders and children. Our twenty-minute Cultural Centre visit included a toilet stop. There was so much to see and absorb, and we were disappointed.

After a hasty snack lunch, we left for the 45minute drive to Kata Tjuta. Even this was tightly scheduled, as our new coach driver was clearly required elsewhere.

It is a fascinating range of conglomerate rocks (Uluru is sandstone). The Walpa Gorge walk was mostly on haphazard rock surfaces, with well-constructed bridges over especially uneven places.

It started raining again, but we strode out with purpose, pausing now and again to take photos. A trickle appeared down the valley, but the rain stopped as the canyon walls closed into a cleavage between two enormous rocks pitted with cavities. We headed towards the V-shaped end, arriving in about 35 minutes.

Returning, heads down with dogged steps, we marched back, the wind increasing against us as we approached the opening mouth and a light rain washed down. I was grateful the weather was cool.

Day 6. Thursday 11/8/22

Our coach was the last of three to arrive for the Field of Light Sunrise, with no opportunity to view the pre-dawn lights on the crowded dune. Clouds filled the sky, and we walked down to the field in the morning gloom as others flashed their torches on the fading lights among myriads of tangled white cables.

Our return flight had been changed and changed again. It was a mad rush in Sydney to find the Qantus terminal for our connection to Perth. Going through security, I was stopped. The official indicated a red patch on my scanned body and asked me to take off my walking boots and put them through the x-ray again. I returned through the scanner which now showed several large patches of red on my arms and legs. She frisked me all over, then gave me the ‘all clear’.

Arriving home at midnight, I was happy to be back in one piece, and very much wiser. I will definitely return to Ayres Rock, which deserves a better experience.

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