Kata Tjuta & Uluru

Day 3

15th March 2017

Day 1 of the ‘Alice Springs to Adelaide’ Tour

So the two words I would use to describe this day as I experienced it are ‘deeply uncomfortable’. These encompass both the sense of humiliation and defeat as well as the horrible feeling of being rather unwell. What follows is a mixture of reflection on a lack of self awareness on my part, a massive moan, and me generally feeling sorry for myself. Please feel free, therefore, to completely skip this post and simply read the tour itinerary (accessible via the link above) only!

 

Our chosen tour, picked out my my friend, and for which you can find the link above, was marked a physical grade 3 (out of 5) which would usually give me (self described as a grade 1 although my husband insists I am higher) some cause for concern. However, the longest walking period was defined as 2.5 hours, and also it stated that the minimum age of people accepted was 8. Also the highest ascent was less than 200m.

Extremely naively, as I later learnt, I thought that I would therefore be fine. I have done higher ascents (not mountains, but still) in the hills of the UK, and gone on 6+ hour hikes with my husband on such hills. So I thought, well, even if it is extremely hot – if the longest walk is only 2.5 hours and the longest ascent is less than 200m I should be fine.

Ha. Haha.

Alrighty (yes this may be something I’m picking up) so the morning was straightforward enough. Woke up around 7am and got to the airport via train by 8.05am for our 0955 flight to Uluru (Ayres Rock). We then waited in what seemed like the world’s longest queue (it wasn’t, the world’s longest queue was when I was either seven or nine, for an old school international Air India flight from Heathrow) to bag drop. There were convenient counters that, if we had self checked in, we could print our boarding passes and luggage tags but for some reason this, bag drop and check in were all part of the same queue increasing confusion. Basically if you’re travelling with Virgin Australia from Sydney leave plenty of time.

The flight was fine. When we arrived at Ayres Rock airport we realised it was absolutely minute. There were no shops at all, not even a little one, and only a drinks vending machine. Our lunch was to be included as part of the tour but don’t plan to eat at the airport if making your own plans.

We had picked one of the flights that the tour peeps can pick you up from the airport from. So we waited a while and then a bus marked ‘Adventure Tours’ and therefore clearly ours appeared outside and sure enough our tour guide.

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I’ve since learned he is from New Zealand but he seemed to my ignorant mind the MOST Australian (like, clichéd outback-y adventure-y Australian) I had ever seen, including on television. Tall, athletic, khaki shorts and button down top, hat, weather-beaten brown skin (miscellaneous age!), nonchalant but no nonsense attitude.

So anyway we boarded the bus, meeting six others who all looked a bit weary (having been on the bus a while from a much earlier pick up point), and then drove on a bit to the Desert Gardens hotel to pick up our final two passengers.

Everyone was a bit silent on the bus ride to the first camp. We then got to the first camp and set about making sandwiches (as instructed by nonchalant, no nonsense tour guides) during which one the other passengers, a Brit with an excellent London accent broke the ice and started introducing himself and generally engaging us in banter. Thank God, as it was all a bit serious and severe before!

I did notice the intense heat at this point but with a fan on in the dining/kitchen area it wasn’t so bad.

Ah yes might as well say how the camp was laid out. So we had a lockable canteen/kitchen area, airy with a fan. The bus pulled up near that. Then just behind it were several permanent two man tents, each with two beds, a table lamp and a fan (discovered this later, as the tents weren’t unlocked until the evening).

Anyway we were brought back to Earth sharply by a terrifying (necessary) lecture on dehydration involving the analogy of a severely dehydrated, collapsed body being like a dry tea bag, which the tour guide then hung in the bus so we could all see it. He also advised that a minimum 1.5l water container was needed, and 3l total water containers on day 3 for the toughest walk.

Yeah. That should have been my first clue but I was all, yeah, got my 1l flask, I’ll just buy a top up bottle, also I got my brain, I will just keep drinking!

Also I had on sandals at this point because I thought the tents would be opened and we could change into walking shoes before our first excursion but nooooooope no tent opening and a mad scramble to get my shoes, stuff my surface into my main bag, all in the boot of the bus in a not very long space of time.

I like nonchalance and a no nonsense attitude, except when the former result in nearly missed instruction giving but the latter implies trouble if said instructions not followed. Note – I actually did like our tour guide by the end but I mention all this as it’s good to be aware should you decide to book this tour, like be ready with your daypack as though you’re heading on a walk soon as you get to camp.

By the way, none of this is an actual issue. The true horror is yet to follow.

Sooo after lunch, we stopped off at a service station where we all topped up on water and my friend purchased some salted peanuts as well (and bug spray). Then we drove on to our first destination: Kata Tjuta.

We had a toilet stop about five minutes before we reached and as we had all been diligently downing water after the lecture this was needed.

Then, we went on and disembarked at the walk. I read the sign here, just to make sure it was within my limits. The sign for our walk said ‘no experience needed, one hour’. Brilliant!

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Ha. Haha.

So, after briefly passing through a sheltered bit where another guide was giving a talk (ours said he’d do our official talk bit later), we started. The sun was scorching, most of the sky cloudless (there were some low lying clouds that weren’t helpful in any way), the surrounding rocks’ redness impressive and imposing in equal measure.

Within the first few steps I felt utterly spent, but I pushed on, as did my friend. The guide had warned us it was 40 degree heat, which I have experienced in the past, but what I didn’t really account for in my head was the absolute lack of any shade, ANYWHERE. Yeah, yeah, Australian outback desertness, it was unbelievably stupid of me not to expect such unsheltered heat but anyway…

Also, I have often spent completely spent at the start of intense walks in the UK but pushing on has left me with a great feeling of achievement and satisfaction at the end. It’s the kind of ‘spent’ that is a burning in the legs and a hammering of the heart that accompanies good exercise. You feel really exhausted but good and content afterwards.

I kept drinking water, but by the time we reached the end of the first half of the walk, to an unshaded sitting / viewing area, I had a pounding headache, nausea and felt giddy, despite it only being half an hour. I took few photos and then sat down. To my utter dismay, our guide chose to deliver the talking bit now, rather than wait until we reached the shade.

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These clouds did focaccia all useful in the heat

I willed myself to listen properly and not pass out and kept drinking, though lack of strength made it hard. We then made the half hour walk back, and it took all my energy. When we got back to the start, the guide used a water fan spray in the faces of a few of us, which whilst welcome, did nothing to alleviate the combination of lightheadedness, nausea and headache I had.

On the bus ride back, I just had to sit with my eyes closed and try to gather myself. When we had a toilet stop, I stood and had to sit back down again for fear of fainting. Eventually did make it to the loo without passing out and when it was just my friend and I sitting on the bus, we asked the tour guide about alternate options to hikes over the next couple of days.

I’ll be honest, at this point I was having thoughts of throwing the whole thing in and asking him to book me a taxi back to Ayres Rock Airport where I would attempt to board the first flight to Melbourne (our next stop after the tour) that would have me…

Anyway, he explained that the walk the next day was circular so we could simply wait it out, and the one the day after that had a much shorter unguided alternative route we could take. I was glad of these safety nets and so did not demand that taxi, but still felt awful.

So in addition to the nausea, headache and lightheaded there was a deep sense of shame for me at this point. All the other travellers were fine, and though my friend also said she was finding things difficult, she was doing better than me.

I felt ashamed to be so weak, that I had not kept up my fitness levels (I generally abhor exercise though I CAN do UK hill walks, which is why I thought treks would be okay…), and really annoyed with myself that I had come on this tour – how had I not realised it would be too much for me?

Before actually getting back to camp we stopped off at a lookout point from where we could see the sunset and sunrise. I was still feeling very ill and spent much of this glorious sunset time sitting down on my backpack (much red sand everywhere!).

Sparkling wine was served in steel cups (!) but I stuck with orange juice, knowing the wine would make me feel worse. I did manage some of the crackers and dip…But for the most part I was useless. My friend took most of the photos.

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Surreal experience…
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Absolutely gorgeous…
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…and totally wasted on me.

When we finally reached the camp and others, including my friend, got stuck in with cooking and helping (as we were prepared to in the tour notes), I just could not. I felt too sick and unwell and, frankly, upset with myself and the situation.

I did not manage to eat very much that evening. As I went to sleep that evening, in Dave’s borrowed sleeping bag (that felt like a small piece of home, which was nice), I hoped that I would feel a little better come morning…

So yeah, that was the first day. Luckily I did feel better the next day, but because I was desperate to not fall truly, really ill in an area where medical cover is very difficult to come by, my mind was made up – I would not be doing the full hikes henceforth.

I am still unsure what I was ill with, whether it was dehydration or whether it was the beginnings of heat exhaustion. I just knew that this was not the same as an ache in the body because a hike was tougher to what I’m used to, as I’ve experienced in the past. That sort of exhausted ache is weirdly satisfying, and certainly doesn’t render one faint and nauseous – I’m usually ravenous after!

Indeed the walking wasn’t hard at all. It was the hot sunny climate, even the wind felt hot!

Very grateful to my friend for looking out for and after me, you know who you are if you’re reading – she absolved me of all cooking / cleaning duties and leant me a towel when I could not find one in my disoriented state before bed, amongst other things!

Anyway. Well done you if you made it to the end of my rant!

Day 4

16th March 2017

Day 2 of the ‘Alice Springs to Adelaide’ Tour

So I fell asleep the previous night very hot and uncomfortable, though we had the fan on full blast. Overnight, though my sleep was broken, through this broken sleep, I realised a wonderful thing was happening…It was raining and the wind was picking up. At one point I woke up shivering with the cold and not feeling sick and, as I zipped the sleeping bag fully up, I felt so happy and relieved to be cold and nausea-free, it was incredible.

So we had a really early start and immediately I realised I felt much, much better. However, chances I was unwilling to take, and my friend decided the same…despite my telling her she did not have to stay with me if not required…I truly hope she was being truthful when she said she, too, was trying to avoid becoming unwell and not just catering to me. That the latter might be the case has also been a source of embarrassment and shame.

Anyway so when we got dropped off at Uluru (or Ayres Rock) in time for sunrise, we decided to commence the circular walk the rest of the group were doing but then backtrack early to go and wait by the pick up point at the carpark.

So bit of info…climbing Ayres Rock is not encouraged, as it is a sacred, spiritual site for the indiginous Anangu people.

However, doing the (well marked) base walks is encouraged and permitted. There are a couple of carpark drop off points along the main rim walk with toilets, emergency radio points, seating (some sheltered) and drinking water. The rim walk, which is circular, is the walk the group was doing. There are several smaller walks too. There are maps at regular points to illustrate these.

So, we followed the group for about twenty minutes or so, got some photos then backtracked to our pick up car park.

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Apparently lots of people who visit (the highly sacred) Uluru at sunrise feel ‘something’, a sort of spiritual experience I guess. So when we were there, we did notice the wind picked right up as the sun started to visibly appear over the horizon, and as everything was so quiet and hushed save for the sound of it rushing through the grass and trees, it did feel pretty special – like a meditative experience with nature. Spiritual? Not sure, but was a unique experience nonetheless.

The scenery around Uluru was nothing like anything I’d ever seen before – the sand, the ground, it was all red, like the Rock itself. I was thinking about this, the colour, and it’s not quite red – it’s basically between a burnt orange and red – ‘ochre’ which is essentially the name of the stuff in the rock. Bit like the word orange, I guess. All around there is greenery popping out of the ground around the base, desert shrubs and trees that I do not know the name of, in amongst pale yellowy grass. And at sunrise, as alluded to earlier, there is a lot of rustling of the winds. With the temperature being perfect at about this time, it’s a highly recommendable experience. If you do do the full hike (which we did not), you get to see the full glory of the side of the Rock facing the sun slowly turn from a grey to the full, beautiful ochre. The birds all slowly start to begin the dawn chorus too, and obviously, it’s a completely different melody of twittering to what I am used to, kind of like a fascinating new language.

Actually, it’s no wonder tourists feel ‘something’ the first time they come to Uluru at sunrise!

Our tour guide, by the way, when this was all ongoing, did a morning run (I sugar you not) by lapping the base of Uluru, i.e. the HIKE the group were doing.

On his return, he laid out some apples and some really excellent fruit cake for the group, who returned around 10am (they started at 6.30am and we’re all fit twenty and thirty something year olds).

After eating, the guide led us on a cultural walk, which actually covered some of what my friend and I had already seen on our shorter wall when we backtracked to the carpark. This was quite interesting, especially because the Anangu (indeed all Aussie indiginous culture I think!) passed on things orally and never wrote them down for thousands of years and still closely guard their secrets, meaning that part of what we know or are told is speculation.

Note I forgot to say earlier but around the Rock, there are specific sacred sites, which are marked by a sign saying so, and you can’t take photos up to 30 steps either side of the sign as it is believed photography will sap the soul of the place. Be aware because it’s really disrespectful and improper to ignore these signs.

After the culture walk we headed back to base camp for lunch, which was burgers (and veggie sausages!), which this time I was able to help out with.

And then we were away on the bus for a few hours, towards our designated campsite at Kings Canyon.

About ten minutes to our final destination, we stopped off at Kings Canyon resort, where we were allowed a welcome dip in the pool and then a drink in the Thirsty Dingo (!) bar.

Drinks in Australia are expensive. I knew this before and was reminded at the bar so thought would throw it in!

This was a nice relaxed time where we could get to know each other (in the tour group) a bit better, which was good. During this time, our tour guide prepped our dinner back at camp before coming to pick us up.

When we reached camp, it was a slightly more basic camp than the one we had stayed in before. There were still permanent tents, but this time with camping mats not beds and no light or fan. I cut into the cheap head torch bought in Sydney with a pair of nail scissors ready for the night…

Whilst we waited for dinner I was re introduced to the all inclusive game of Uno, which we needed torches to play by even in the canteen as the yellow overhead light did not differentiate between blue and green.

Our guide had prepared a really decent Thai green curry with rice and after tucking in he got a proper, circular, traditional campfire in a pit going – the sort I’ve (rather embarrassingly) only seen in films. And then, to top off this perfect scene, he produced some fat yummy marshmallows and really long toasting sticks perfect for such fired. With the absolutely cloudless sky above showcasing a night sky crowded with millions of stars I could never even hope to see in the UK and the temperature perfect, I really loved this evening.

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Mmmmmm marshmallows

It was very quiet save for our group hanging out and our guide did tell as a couple of scary (some maybe true) stories, adding to the atmosphere. When he finished them, we noticed one of our group was missing, and he had clearly just retired to his tent to sleep but the group was so spooked two people banged on his locked tent door and shouted his name until he gave a reassuringly irritated yell of a reply.

It was very sandy at this campground. After battling it to reach the bathroom, I then discovered what looked like a giant cockroach just chilling in one of the toilet bowls…did not use it, we managed to get ready for bed regardless, and then we slept.

I had by now started following my friends advice of thoroughly wetting my scarf and keeping it draped over my shoulders to keep cool and in preparation for bed I draped it over my head as I snuggled into my sleeping bag.

Many of the group chose to sleep outside under the brilliant stars, by firelight, but I did not as I knew I would not be able to relax.

Though obviously warmer inside the tent, the wet scarf did help and I drifted off.

A far more successful second tour day. Even if I was not managing to keep pace with the others, at least I was enjoying myself…finally!

Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Ro x

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