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Day 9 - Kata What?

We’d bought muesli for breakfast and had this with milk in coffee mugs with teaspoons. Who needs rooms with kitchen facilities anyway! My alarm had gone off at 4.30am again and on this day I could have easily slept another three hours but it was time for the tour to continue!

We waited out the front for our tour bus and it wasn’t long before our guide, Wayne, drove up to the curb and loaded our bags. I noticed there were already five people on board as we shuffled our way to the back so we’d have a little more room. A couple from Austria joined us next, so far we were four Australians, three Germans and two Austrians. Wayne followed them onboard to give us a run down of the day and a few “need to knows.” We were left with no doubt how very important it was going to be to keep hydrated.

All parts of the Northern Territory can experience temperatures in excess of 30 degrees. In the

Top End this combines with high levels of humidity and in Central Australia, temperatures can exceed 40 degrees. Anyone can fall victim to heat stress through a lack of hydration, over exertion or being over exposed to the sun and Wayne wasn’t about to let that happen to anyone on his watch! I knew about the dangers of dehydration but it was good to hear it again, and again. In fact I was wondering at the time if I could borrow Wayne and take him to work with me. I always forget to drink water at work, though borrowing him would be a bit self serving - I can only imagine he would feel as hemmed in as I do in an office environment!

We stopped at Erldunda Roadhouse for a toilet break and to ride a camel if we so desired. No one desired which made me think everyone had tried this before at some point in their lives and came to the conclusion that once was enough, or maybe that was just my view.

My first experience was in Broome at sunset:

I got to the beach a little ahead of time so I took some photos while I waited, all was going well until one let out a prehistoric bellow that seemed to reverberate through its dinosaur like frame, at which point I went and sat on a rock to contemplate if the next hour plus was really going to be the best use of my time.

After a brief demonstration it was time to board, once seated with our seat belts firmly fastened we were advised where to find our life jackets and then we were off, at a slow and rather lopsided pace.

My dinosaur’s name was Jacko and we were second last in a line of at least 20. Jacko was from Alice Springs originally and used to work at Uluru before deciding on a sea change and taking up office on Cable Beach. He kept his bellowing to a minimum but preferred to walk beside his friend Isaac as opposed to in a line. Thankfully Isaac was very tolerant and didn’t seem to mind.

Once I was on my feet we were to reward them with carrots, as I held mine out to Jacko it fell to the ground, he looked at me as if to say ‘“Seriously, you’ve just sat on me for over an hour and all you had to do was give me a carrot, come on!” I got it right the second time, I think he smiled.

I’d heard the elderly lady behind me on a slobbering dinosaur say that she was sure she wouldn’t be able to walk when she got down, but as I was waddling back up the path she sped past with a normal gait. She must do yoga. I don’t recommend taking photos of the sunset from a moving camel; you’d have more luck from a moving vehicle.

The camels did look very friendly at Erldunda, maybe they were Jacko’s relatives. There was a whopping great not so friendly wasp in the women’s toilets. There were six of us lined up and we looked like we’d choreographed our own dance, awkward as it was as we dodged and weaved until the wasp decided to depart.

Back on the bus we were bound for Yulara, a service village for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which has effectively turned one of the world's least hospitable regions into a comfortable place to stay. Lying just outside the national park, 20km from Uluru and 53km from Kata Tjuta, the complex is the closest base for exploring the park. On the way there we spotted Uluru in the distance. “Phwoooaaar, it’s massive.” Said Domi.

We arrived in time for lunch, two salads and chicken wings. We tucked in, filled up our water bottles (water, water, water), changed out of flip flops and into walking shoes and lathered on the suncream.

Kata Tjuta was our afternoon destination, via the airport to pickup the rest of our group, we were now double. The 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are spread over an area of more than 20 kilometres about 35km west of Uluru. The sandstone domes are believed to be around 500 million years old and the tallest rock, Mt Olga (546m and1066m above sea level) is approximately 200m higher than Uluru.

Kata Tjuta is sacred to the Anangu people, who have inhabited the area for more than 22,000 years and our group who’d inhabited the car park for all of three minutes was about to set out on the short 2.6 kilometre Walpa Gorge walk.

Sunlight flooded the gorge as we were lead up a rocky, gentle slope and along a trail that follows the natural creek between the sheer red rugged walls of two of the tallest domes. At the end of the walk was a viewing platform where we took some time to take in our surroundings. On the return there were two tourists coming the other way, they were almost across to our side of the little bridge when they stopped in their tracks and not a moment too soon. A large lizard (a perentie) was crossing their path and they were oblivious as they looked back over their photos - almost upon it before they noticed.

We’d also sighted two nuns on the way in, wearing full habits and carrying a large backpack, which was more bum-pack because it was so low. They looked very uncomfortable. I hoped they had water.

After some apples and a group introduction while we cooled off in the shade of the bus it was time for sunset over Uluru. The perfect evening to see the rock at its blood rest best while sharing a glass of sparkling and a tasty antipasto platter with new friends.

Back at camp we were in time for a late dinner, the table setting was beautiful, there was a campfire going and torches were lit nearby as we all sat down and poured ourselves each a glass of wine. Dinner was a great Aussie barbecue, steak, sausages, marinated kangaroo, coleslaw and potato salad.

It was a good chance to get to know everyone a little better, in the midst of doing so a glass of red wine fell over at the other end of the table, then another, then another. There were seven of us at the opposite end of the table and by this stage we were laughing and saying that maybe some of us had too much sun. Then karma struck and Italy’s glass of wine hit the deck followed by Spain’s glass that promptly spilt all over her husband's new hat. We soon realised that they were picnic tables with the usual gaps between the wood and when covered in a table cloth, well, diners who’d had too much sun and were in holiday mode didn’t stand a chance!

Once dinner had come to an end Wayne gave us some insight into what to expect from the following day.

“Any questions?” he said, having told us amongst other things that we would be woken at 4am in order to start the base walk around Uluru in time for sunrise.

We had two hearing impaired guests on board. They were husband and wife, he could hear a little and talk but his wife could hear nothing. Her husband was constantly translating with sign language so when Wayne asked if there were any questions her husband said they would like to clarify wake up time.

“4am,” said Wayne.

The husband explained this and his wife tapped the side of her head in disbelief. In sign language this translates to “are you kidding me!” Or similar. She laughed and we all laughed along with her.

“Any more questions?” asked Wayne.

“Where do you sleep tomorrow?” asked one of the Italian girls. We all roared laughing knowing she meant to say “we.” She said she’d had too much sun and asked if she could stop to buy a hat the next day, Domi needed one too but had plans to manufacture one out of a t-shirt.

Haivng all heard the “rise and shine” time we took of for showers and bed. They were great tents and I slept like a log when I eventually popped my laptop away in time to get at least four hours sleep.

Tip: Water, water, more water.

Track: Raining on the Rock - John Williamson.

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