Trip Report - Uluru/Ayers Rock

Old Apr 25th, 2004, 01:05 PM
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Trip Report - Uluru/Ayers Rock


This is a continuation of my trip reports previously posted on Sydney and Port Douglas.
The whole time we were in Ayers Rock/Uluru/Kata Djuta/The Olgas, I was having a debate in my head. Part of me was thinking ?This is pretty cool, I?ve never seen anything like this before, It is interesting hearing about aboriginal culture, the legends surrounding these places, seeing ?The Outback?. The other half of me thought ?this place is an overpriced commercial monopoly that exploits this place that is so sacred to the aborigines. There?s not that much to do, and you have to spend a ton of money to do anything? In retrospect, yeah it was cool, but if I had it to do again I would have chosen to go to a cattle ranch, or to Alice Springs, or something a little more authentic/less commercial. Yes, I know it has to be more expensive to offset the price of shipping everything there and paying the employees enough so they will actually want to work in the middle of nowhere, but of course they know people are going to go there and spend so why not charge a bundle?? We paid $170 Aus/per night to stay in a room with cement block walls and two bunk beds, at the Outback Pioneer. It was crazy. Our first night we ate at the grill/BBQ at the Outback Pioneer, where you cook your own food, which made me a bit nervous and salad bar looked picked over. The second night we splurged and ate at the $55/per person buffet at the Sails inthe Desert - this food was terrific. The lunch at the Gecko?s café was more resonable and very good.
We took the Kata Djuta and Dunes (formerly Olgas and dunes) tour with Discovery Ecotours which I would highly recommend. They only take small groups which is very nice. We departed at 3:30, drove about 45 minutes to a viewing platform, then another 15 to the Olgas themselves. If you go in the summer (April Included) BUY THE DORKY FLY NET. There were a ton a flies constantly swarming around our faces and we hadn?t bought the fly nets yet, as we thought they looked silly. The next day we bought them first thing and were very glad of it. Our tour guide on the trip was Lindsey, a fellow who had been a park ranger at the Uluru park for 2.5 years then had just recently become a guide for Discovery Ecotours. He was excellent, explaining to us all about he flora and fauna of the area, demonstrating the different tools that the aboriginal tribes traditionally used, and was generally very knowledgeable. The tour leads you on a hike through the valley, then we drove to a spot from which to watch the sunset. That night, we arranged with the front desk at the Outback Pioneer to get the Uluru Express (the shuttle van) to pick us up at 6am to be transported to Uluru for sunrise. This service is $40 per person round trip. So we watched the sunrise, then at 8am there is a free walk led by a park ranger, called the Mala walk which lasts 2 hours and goes over a lot of the legends and beliefs of the aboriginal people who lived in the area. We opted not to climb Uluru, as we actually cared about not offending the people who think the area is sacred, despite seeing one tourist after another scamper up. Maybe that?s another thing about the area that rubbed me the wrong way about our Ayers Rock experience, the fact that despite these huge signs in 8 languages ?Please don?t climb! It is sacred to us and very dangerous? that so many people do anyway, just to ?say they?ve done it.? After the Mala walk we walked to the aboriginal culture center (a grueling 45 minute walk with heat and flies) and were picked up at 11:30 by the shuttle. The rest of the afternoon we spent at the pool by the Desert Gardens, a lovely oasis. I?d recommend if you want to go and not spend a bundle on 2 or 3 tours, rent a car so you have some freedom. We didn?t do that and I think I wish we had, as the shuttle was $80 between the 2 of us anyway. Julie
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 03:37 PM
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Wow, Julie, another great report! You really should write a book, "An Unbiased Report on Australia"! I read your stuff and I realise that these are things you never read in the standard travel books. I hope everyone reads your evaluation and takes it to heart.

Uluru/Ayer's Rock seems to be made of solid gold, as far as the entrepreneurs who market it and the surrounding services are concerned -- those prices really are outrageous, even allowing for the remoteness of the area. The debate about whether to climb or not is quite a complex one, however, and some of us who have lived here a bit longer than you -- LizF's comments will be welcome here -- will tell you that there have been many cases in the last twenty years when a site has "SUDDENLY" been pronounced "sacred" to the indigenous people, but only AFTER it has become what you might call "clearly marketable". There are lots of other sites where you can see carvings or cave decorations from "the dreamtime", including one quite close to where I live, but since this is not an easily-exploited tourist attraction, somehow its sacredness has never come up. So the people you saw climbing the Rock may not have been infidels so much as sceptics. I guess my scepticism is showing right now, so I'd better shut up before I get jumped on.

Anyway, your report has taught me something important -- I will, in future, suggest that people who have their hearts set on visiting Uluru think about car hire rather than pay $40 each for a shuttle bus (!!!!) You must have found that hard to swallow. And you were concerned, God bless you, that it was the aborigines who were being exploited!!! Maybe I'll do some exploiting myself and market some personalised T-shirts: "I went to Uluru and got exploited".

Thanks for an enlightening report.
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Old Apr 25th, 2004, 04:41 PM
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And I thank YOU Alan, ten times over, as from reading your hundreds of comments on this board I was able to plan my once in a lifetime vacation. I am jealous you live there!! Enjoy, Julie
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 07:40 AM
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I climbed Uluru. Twice in fact - 1984 and 1999. In 1984, before the park was given back to the Aboriginies, there were several sites, such as the Fertility Cave at the base of the rock, that are now off limits to visitors because they are of sacred significance to the Anangu tribe. That is fine with me and I respect that. So I remain confused why, in view of the new expressed wishes of the tribe, they don't just close the climb as well. For someone who loves to hike and climb and to get a spectacular view, the temptation was just too great. But I feel a little less guilty from the fact I spent 3 nights at Uluru, more than the average visitor I would say. Another expressed pet peeve of the Anangu are visitors who jet in and out for a quick sunset and climb without taking anytime to learn about the Aboriginal way of life.

We went to Ayers Rock the first time on a coach tour from Alice Springs. They had only just finished paving the road out to the Rock and it had not yet become quite the international attraction it now is. The tour was fun, but too brief and restricting. So 15 years and 3 kids later, we decided spend more time and do it on our own. We rented a campervan in Alice and drove out to the Rock - 3 nights there, 2 at Kings Canyon and 5 nights east and west of Alice in the MacDonnell Ranges. We had an amazing time out there!!! It is so beautiful and there is so much to see.

Based on my experience, my recommendation for the Red Center is to do it on your own if you can, allow as much time as you can, and definitely go in the winter months (Jun-Aug) when the days are warm, nights are cool and the flies won't drive you berserk.

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Old May 2nd, 2004, 01:30 PM
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Hi Julie, and thank you for a great, unbiased report. One of these days I am going to write a travel guide on Australia and then go into hiding so that people who think I should not "tell it as it is" can throw brickbats at me.
I still claim, and will do so for eternity, that the costs related to places like Kakadu, Ayers Rock, Kathrine Gorge and all those other areas that are now run by people under the guise of "lets exploit the tourist because they are gullible" banner should take a long, close look at themselves and the harm that they do in terms of rip-offs. This is not to say that people should not go to these places but I would be one of those who would prefer not to be exploited and go in and out and not stay the night OR go to the many, many other equally wonderful places which have yet to be over-priced instead.
It may be timely to say here that the Governing Aboriginal Council has been forceably closed by the Government and in a very rare occurance indeed the Opposition has agreed that it would have done the same. This has occured because the rorts ( an Australian made up word meaning rip-offs) by that Council was one of Aboriginal Australia's worst nightmares because despite a budget of $1.3 Billion for 400,000 people the very ones that needed that money did not see one cent nor have their circumstances changed. Of course the top of the tree got quite rich out of the free hand outs. But we digress here so back to Ayers Rock and surrounds.
Unfortunately it is the same with Aboriginal areas and sites as it is with GBR resorts and Islands that the monied ones or the ones owned by big companies get the best advertising and the others don't therefore they are not advertised and the tourists miss out on perhaps the best that could be seen.
For my money and in terms of interest Carnarvon Gorge has a lot to offer, Lawn Hill is one of the best areas to see a diverse and very interesting aspect of Aboriginal Australia. Even a few days at Lightning Ridge will give anyone a great taste of the outback, opals, interesting mining and aboriginal lifestyle. Perhaps even a combination of interesting outback areas and a stop at a cattle ranch ( Station we call it ) where you could meet some Aboriginal stockmen and talk to them yourself would be an idea, OR just go out to Mt Isa en route to Lawn Hill National Park. For me though the north west of Western Australia has more to offer those interested in things outback and things Aboriginal and most certainly things which are unique and it is there that there is a monolith that is 7 times the size of Ayers Rock but of course we never hear of that one because it has not been surrounded by bureaucracy or sacred site issues.
For Americans, if you can find some of the writings of your fellow countryman, Art Linkletter, you may read some interesting snippets of information about Australia that the guide books don't tell you because he owned a large cattle station in Australia and he was known for being a down to earth person. Otherwise before embarking on an expensive side trip to Ayers Rock, ask if there are any areas of interest near where you are going to be and perhaps get to see something that is not enveloped in high costs and b......t
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 01:36 PM
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PS.
For those Canadians and Australians who suggest that I should never say what I think and who wish now to make snide and rude remarks to Ockers like myself I would just like to tell you that it will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes as I am off to South America for the next couple of months and I have no intention of spending time on this forum. I will leave the "info line" to the less Ocker types like Pat, Alan, Neil and Marg who have tons more class/diplomacy than I and who can probably do a better job of it anyway.
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 04:47 PM
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Hi jck4

Thanks so much for your more than interesting and "spot on" report.

Liz - we once drove from Sydney to Lawn Hill via Mt Isa - incredible spot. Have a wonderful time in South America - we'll miss your wealth of information and candid comments!
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 08:34 PM
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Pat, the next time I am in N. Qld I am going to stay at your B&B because I know just how important it is to get local up to date information.
Tra
Liz
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