It was raining as we crossed the border into the Northern Territory. We were in the desert, and it was absolutely pouring with rain. So much for the dry interior and fine red dust; all we could see a lot of red mud and puddles. We’d been looking for a suitable spot to stop for what seemed like ages, but there just hadn’t been one. Suddenly it felt like a tyre had blown on the campervan.
We pulled over as quickly as was safe onto the side of the road to check the tyres. It hadn’t, we had only hit a large puddle of water on the road. Now the problem was that the ground was so soft that the campervan sank — way up so we could only see a tiny bit of the tyres. It was nearly dark, and Dad had to get down the shovel and dig the mud away from the campervan while the rain still poured down, and cars hurtled past every now and again. Finally he felt we were ready to try and drive out, and with some small luck we actually moved and got back on to the road.
Luckily we managed to get out because the next day we saw one of the huge road trains that had jack-knifed off the road in a similar state. We pulled in at the next roadhouse, even though we knew they charged for overnight accomodation. We’d just had enough of driving for the night. Mum suggested we filled up with fuel first, and Dad reversed a few meters to be able to drive forwards to get the fuel. The rear view camera was useless as it was covered with rain, and the road was slippery from the rain. In keeping with our luck of the night, Dad clipped the back of the campervan on the mirror of a truck.
We booked a site for the night, and found the truck driver to tell him the bad news. The damage to both was only cosmetic, but it was an expensive error. The truckie was nice about it, but he was a young guy who was clearly very upset and that made us feel worse. We finally got to pull in to our site and found that we were parked in what looked like a pool.
We took a break at Erldunda for Mum to download an mp3 called ‘DIY Tourguide’ that we could play as we drove down the Lasseter Highway to Yulara. We saw Mt Connor first which looks like Uluru. We heard that this rock is actually older than Uluru, formed by sandstone from a melting glacier. From the lookout for Mt Connor we crossed the road and walked up the muddy sand dune embankment to look at the salt Lake Amadeus glistening white with its salt crust and small water supply. The kids got more red mud on themselves.
It was busy and crowded at the campervan park at the Yulara Resort. There were about 1000 semi-permanent residents at Yulara as well as all the tourists. It wasn’t anything like being camped alone at Cobungra and it felt odd to be surrounded by so many other campers.
The drive to Uluru was spectacular with the famed rock looming large to our left. It was drizzling with rain as we approached. We stood and marvelled at the textures on the rock, and read the sign that the rock climb was closed. It closed if there was a 5% chance of lightning, wind gusts over 20km/hour, 20% chance of rain, cloud covering the summit or if the Traditional Owners wanted to for any cultural reason.
We had expected to be disappointed in some way by Uluru as we felt that something we had heard so much about and seen so many photos of could not possibly live up to expectations. It exceeded our expectations! We marvelled at the caves and crevices in the rock that normally appears so smooth in the photos. We admired the lines that appeared to run along the rock. The rock stood 300m above the ground, with an estimated 6km hidden under the ground. Uluru was created by sediment and hardened into a rock over a 50 million year period. A process called folding caused the rock to rotate 90○ so that one end of the rock is now actually 50 million years older than the other end.
We had a buffet dinner that night where kids ate free. Mum and Dad checked that four kids would be still be free, and they were. We had all hoped for traditional fare, even though no one wanted to try witchetty grubs. It wasn’t though, but the food was lovely and fresh, and the waiters were great with the kids.
The Mala Walk by a park ranger was the highlight of the next day. We walked along slowly hearing the Aboriginal history of the rock. The ranger felt the need to use European analogies for everything, describing the place for secret men’s business as “The Pub” and another place where the higher ranked women gave birth the “Private Hospital”. Some of the myths associated with various aspects of the rock were explained. Plants that could be used for food or adapted for tools were pointed out.
We loved the tadpoles in the waterholes that had started breeding. This frog species was one of the fastest growing in the world, taking just three weeks from hatching till fully grown adult. The process had started now because they had so much water this year. The ranger told us that only 2% of visitors to Uluru saw it while it rained. That made us feel so grateful to have seen it in the rain, and so much rain that there were waterfalls coming off it.
We went to Kata Tjuta the next day, and after that walk we were all tired, but happy, and stopped at Uluru to marvel at it once more. The rain was reasonably heavy as we walked a short distance marvelling at the waterfalls splashing dramatically down the rock, filling puddles and waterholes.
The base walk was not as wonderful. It was supposedly a 10km, easy walk but seemed to stretch on forever. We really enjoyed the first few hours, but then as the path took us out away from the rock to prevent the viewing of particularly sacred sites and onto the bitumen road it seemed to drag. We all whinged and whined, moaned and groaned. We got tired, and our legs didn’t like it when we were on the bitumen. It just seemed to go on and on and on. The interest just wasn’t there when you were so far away from the rock for so long as to not be able to see the rich texture properly.
We came to the decision that the signs estimating the distances and times of walks were severely flawed in the Northern Territory, and resolved to assume they were indicative only.