Booked the first two tours to the main attractions of the national park earlier today: to view Uluru itself (at sunrise) and Kata Tjuta (at sunset).
The afternoon and evening were spent hiking in and looking at the latter. The tour provided by Discovery Eco-Tours, and consisting of a driver/guide (an amicable hippie with many amusing and pointful stories) and about fifteen attendees.
Kata Tjuta, meaning Many Heads in the local aboriginal language, is part of the same huge sedimentary monolith as Uluru. But where Uluru has a smooth surface, Kata Tjuta is of clearly conglomerate nature, as the second image of the entry clearly demonstrates. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 individual domes (heads), all of which are off limits to visitors – there’s just two hiking paths among them to choose from.
After a brief look-see from the official vantage point (where the top image is taken), the tour got semi-physical. A 2.5 kilometer walk into the Walpa Gorge between the two middle domes turned out to be more strenuous than expected. Not due to the distance or the heat – both of which were very much within my comfort zone. No, due to footing, the gorge is very uneven ground. But stable, it’s not like the loose collections of rocks in Lapland, just very uneven – both due to rocks embedded within the stone and different rates of erosion.
The tour finished watching the sunset alter the colors of the rocks. Today the process was very subtle due to partial cloud cover, and thus the color changes were not as dramatic as under clear skies. Took several dozen photos just in case – not just of the rock formation, but of the surrounding area, and of the skies, which were lit by a gloriously colorful dusk. The photo op was accompanied by a few glasses of the local sparkling wine and “nibblies” (bread dipped into oil/balsamico mixture and sprinkled with spices and nuts) courtesy of the touring company. Considering that I’d had a very light lunch, the bread totally hit the spot.
The evening never got chilly in the desert, temperature remaining easily above 20C. But darkness was pretty much total. Australians are not very firm believers of streetlights even in the cities, and in the outback such are pretty much extinct. Even the Yulara resort is very dimly lit, and the poles few and far inbetween. The trip from the national park to the resort was in utter darkness, pierced only by the headlights – the driver’s music of choice was australian folk, including the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a song that still, after more than fifteen years since hearing in the first time gives me the creeps. (And no, this is not Waltzing Matilda itself, though the creepiness index of it was raised considerably by David Lynch’s use of it in Twin Peaks).
The national park was (again) much greener than I expected. It’s not a total desert with occasional weathered trees, rather than an arid steppe, with most of the ground covered with spinifex grass.
Got the first good glimpse of Uluru on the trip. The rock was unearthly radiant in the afternoon sun. But that stone formation is the topic of tomorrow morning’s tour.
The late evening programs – dining in the desert and stargazing were cancelled due to bad weather. The former was sold out days before, having an outback-gourmet dinner on a dune sounded exciting to other people as well, clearly. Today actually brought rain for half an hour – the first in about three months in the park.