I’ve fallen a little behind in my occasional series of reflections on the round the world trip I did in 1997, which is entirely in harmony with the journal I wrote at the time. Many of the entries begin with an apology to myself for not having kept right up to date, or for having been too tired/too busy to write my daily observations.
After some time touring the area south of Perth in Western Australia, as well as spending some time with family there, I arrived at Ayres Rock at the beginning of August.
Earlier than I am up most mornings, I have just returned from an exhilarating ride on a Harley Davison motorbike to view sunrise over the Rock (or Uluru as I’ve been told to call it.) I thoroughly enjoyed myself with Glenn, proprietor, driver, guide and beverage attendant.
That early morning ride is one of the vivid memories I have of the trip and it’s good to read that I enjoyed it as much at the time as I now do in the recollection of it. The obligatory trip to see sunrise could be taken in a big bus, a little bus, a car, or, as I discovered at the tourist centre, on the back of a bike, which immediately sounded much more fun, bearing in mind that whichever mode of transport I chose, I ‘d have to get up in the chilly, dark early morning. I spent most of the trip chatting with Glenn (I wouldn’t remember his name but for the journal) over the coffee and doughnuts he’d brought with him, and nearly missed the moment of sunrise.
The Rock does change colour as the sun rises; because there was cloud this morning the transition was sudden and dramatic – dark red and then bright orange, as if someone had simply turned the lights on.
I had a packed programme for my two and a half day stay, each element of which I’d booked within a couple of hours of arrival, as, where I’d been the only tourist in Western Australia, at Uluru I was but one in a multitude, belying its isolation in the middle of nowhere. The speed of booking meant my itinerary was a matter of chance and the advice of the woman in the travel office.
My early morning on the Harley was followed by an even earlier morning in a 6-seater, prop plane on my way to Kings Canyon. There was a bus option, but if there’s a plane to take, why not?
I had the co-pilot seat, and with that came the responsibility of keeping an eye out for other aircraft, as I discovered that Ayres Rock airport had no air traffic control; instead there was a sort of open outcry in which every pilot announced his location and direction over the airways and everyone else looked out for them. It created the occasional frisson of excitement when the pilot said ‘we should be able to see a helicopter/Quantas plane/Cessna….can you see anything?’ I shared the trip with an Australian Chinese family from Sydney who adopted me for the day, making sure I had a seat at lunch and taking lots of shots for me on my camera.
Landed at Kings Creek camel and cattle station, on an unpaved runway, from where we were driven in an open backed truck to the station for breakfast. A huge helping of bacon and eggs, cooked in large quantities on a griddle, by just the sort of Aussie bloke you’d expect to meet on a cattle station. (!)
The walk around Kings’s Canyon was punctuated with pauses to identify locations used in the movie of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but my memories are of the redness of the earth and the layers and layers of stratification in the rock.
And of the bumpiness of the flight back, which I spent with my eyes closed, except when called upon to perform my observer duties, although I did remark that Uluru and the Olgas, the other collection of rocks looked like pebbles on the flat red desert below.
Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t climb up Ayres Rock. One of the first stops on my itinerary had been the local cultural centre where I learnt that the local people neither understood nor liked the visitors’ obsession with climbing onto it, so that, and my general inability to climb down steep slopes, dissuaded me from attempting it.
And anyway, I had the perfect bird’s eye view from the plane.