Ayers Rock/Uluru


After our few days in Sydney, we took a flight to central Australia to get a taste of what the real outback is like (minus the Aussie Cheese Fries and Shrimp on the Barbie, which, by the way, Australians don’t say “shrimp” and they don’t cook them on the barbie).  Ayers Rock is located about 3 hours flying time from Sydney and it was then that I realized just how big Australia actually is.

Ayers Rock is home to one of the signature natural highlights of Australia — Uluru.  From this point on in the blog post, I’ll call it Uluru as it is the indigenous name, whereas Ayers Rock was the given name by the Englishman who discovered it.  How do I describe the Uluru?  If you’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, image Uluru as a much larger version of that mountain that Richard Dreyfus is trying to reach and located in a New Mexico-like looking desert.

Uluru is sacred to the indigenous aboriginal people and its place in their history is significant; it’s a place that is the site of ancient fables and there are certain parts of the rock that are prohibited from photographing.  You can climb the rock, but you’d essentially be a massive douchebag if you did as they request that you don’t to respect the wishes of the aborigines.

Aside from the legends that come from Uluru, the rock formation itself is an interesting geological formation.  What you see of the rock is only like 10% of the rock; most of it is underneath the surface.  So it’s like a massive land based iceberg of sorts.

The best times to view Uluru are at sunrise and sunset.  The sunset is the easy part obviously.  Sunrise though — ouch.  The Uluru tour picks you up at 4:30 am from the resort (there’s only one resort, I’ll get to that later), and drives you about 30 minutes to the rock.  Now, despite the early hour, there are significantly better views as the suns comes up.  It’s almost spiritual in a way as you’re driving towards the rock and it goes from a massive shadowy figure into the different colors as the sun comes up.  Here’s a tip, when the tour parks for you to take pictures – stay at the higher point.  That way you can look at the rock and see all the colors change, while at the same time see the sunrise behind you.  We did not do this and missed out on the sunrise part.

In addition to Uluru rock itself, you should go see Kata Tjuta which is another rock formation close by. Although Kata Tjuta isn’t as impressively unique looking from a geological sense as Uluru, we did see some wild kangaroos running around the crevice that the rock formations created.

Here’s another tip.  Actually it’s more of a warning.  The flies.  My god, the goddamn flies.  They’re everywhere and pretty relentless.  So, pack some bug spray, and if you desire, get a fly net to cover your head/face.  This applies actually when you’re in any part of the Uluru area (airport, hotel, wherever).

And here’s yet another tip.  The shuttle bus ticket into Uluru park is $70 (on top of the $25 admission you’re already paying).  If you’re in a group, just go ahead and rent a car.  Even if you’re not use to driving on the left side of the road, you’ll figure it out, and its the desert so you’re really not gonna crash into anything (probably).  Anyways, if you rent a car you’ll probably save money and you can come and go as you please into the park versus being stuck waiting on shuttle buses.

At night, I would highly recommend doing the BBQ the tours offer.  While the food wasn’t the greatest in the world (though it was perfectly good backyard BBQ), the real value of the BBQ was getting to sit with some Australians and getting to know the locals, which is something we didn’t get to do that much on the trip with all the moving around.

Secondly — the stargazing.  The stargazing is AMAZING in the outback.  It also helped that we had a guide giving us a talk about the night sky with a legit (and I cannot stress this enough) lightsaber of a laser pointer.  The laser literally made it look like the tour guide was Captain Kirk firing a phaser into the sky; that’s how intense the beam was.  But with it, she was able to easily point out constellations and visible galaxies (yes, other galaxies) that we could see on the ground.  Seriously, this was one of my highlights of the whole trip.

And now my final point may surprise some of you.  While I really enjoyed being at Uluru (especially the stargazing), I wouldn’t say that it’s a must-do.  If you’re into geology or knowing about aboriginal history, then yes you should definitely go.  But other than that, I wouldn’t sacrifice other parts of your trip to make your way out there.  It’s not the cheapest excursion and I feel like you should make sure you way all your other options around the country before committing.  Again, it’s a great experience, but in my opinion not a priority.

Where we stayed

Ayers Rock Resort

There literally is only one place you can stay and it’s here.  This resort is actually 4 different lodges for every socioeconomic tourist there is.  The hotels range from a 4 star/high class hotel to a pitch your own tent campsite.  There’s also a town center in the resort complex with a few restaurants, grocery store, and retail and a complimentary shuttle bus that drops/picks up hotel guests at each hotel.  It runs throughout the day and evening.  Because its the only place to stay, the resort is actually a pretty well oiled machine.

We stayed at the Outback Pioneer Hotel which would best described as the motel of the resort complex (just one step above the campsite).  The accommodations were perfectly decent; comfortable rooms and friendly staff.  This hotel is actually the only one with activities that are geared for the younger crowd (outdoor bar, pool tables, arcade, etc) and the only hotel that offers take-away booze for sale, so that’s a plus.  They also have a giant BBQ area with about 10 grills and they offer raw meat of all kinds (including kangaroo and crocodile) for you to grill up on your own.

Franklin Barbecue

I’ll be back soon with the rest of my Israel postings, but I had to interrupt with this quick post.  For some reason, I’ve been to Austin, TX quite a few times in the past couple of years, so I’ve had a chance to give a lot of the barbecue in the city a try.

Easily the best brisket I’ve had not just in Austin but, well, in life was at Franklin Barbecue.  Located just outside the main downtown of Austin, you’ll be able to spot it with no trouble by the crowd standing in line to get in.  Doors open at 11 am (only for lunch), and when we got there around noon there was already a one hour wait.  I know it sounds like a long time, but it’s worth the wait.

Because of the limited supply of meat they have each day, they don’t guarantee that they’ll have what you want once you get up to the register.  Waiters walk down the line every few minutes to give people an update on what supply is left.  Unfortunately for us, they had run out of ribs by the time we were able to order, but the brisket they let us sample (and that we eventually ordered) more than made up for it.  Moist, flavorful, fatty, meaty – it was done perfectly.

And they do not cheat you; for $13 you can get two meats and two sides with bread.  I opted with the brisket and sausage.  I could have taken the slabs of meat they flopped down on the plate and the two sides and made three meals out of it.  In hindsight – I wish I just gotten the $10 one meat plate, skipped the sausage since it was “eh”, but just had the brisket to die for.

Days: Tuesday–Sunday, CLOSED all Mondays
Hrs: 11am–sold out (just open for lunch)

900 E. 11th, Austin, TX 78702

Hill Country BBQ

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

410 7th Street NW
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown, Archives/Navy Memorial

Sunday – Tuesday: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Wednesday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.

It takes a lot for me to be blown away by a restaurant, but I think for the first time in D.C. this new establishment has done just that.  Hill Country BBQ just opened up last Saturday, and I took to opportunity to check it out tonight along with a buddy of mine.  I had heard earlier in the day from a couple of co-workers that the original location (which is located in New York City) was pretty damn good, so my expectations going in were high.  Not only were my expectations met, but Hill Country was everything I imagined and much, much more.

Having had BBQ down in Austin, TX, I can say that I can make this comparison with a certain degree of reliability.  Hill Country is the closest thing to a BBQ joint in Austin that’s not in Texas that I’ve seen so far.  The setup and feel reminded me a lot of Rudy’s BBQ.  When we first walked in, you could already tell the the place was going to be lively.  Looking like a typical country bar/restaurant, the venue was mainly wood with black and white photos of blue collar workers on the walls, Texas flags hanging from the ceiling, and chalkboard menus all around.  We waited at the bar (45 minute wait – but perfectly reasonable since it’s a new place in the heart of Penn Quarter) and had a beer.  The beers I’d like to quickly point out are served in honey jars, which warmed us up to the atmosphere right away.

Once our name was called, we were escorted to our table (by one of several gorgeous hostesses – that tidbit is for the guys) and were instructed on how to proceed.  Much like Vapiano’s, you’re given a “passport” and get whatever items in the cafeteria style line you’d like and then pay as you leave the restaurant after you’re done eating.  The first stop in the line is for the meat.   The brisket, chicken, pork ribs (and shoulder) are all priced by weight, and you pay for individual sausages.  Trying to figure out what to get was a daunting task, but there is an employee in line ready to answer questions and give advice on what to mix and match.  Once you get up to order (there were 6 stations to order meat), they measure out your requested order and then wrap it up in brown paper with a generous helping of white bread.  I ordered 1/4 lbs. of moist brisket (you can get lean as well which isn’t as fatty, but has less flavor in my opinion), 1/4 lbs. pork ribs (which ends up being one giant effing rib, Flintstones style) and one Kreuz sausage (I got the plain, but my friend ordered the Jalepeno style).

Moving on after that, you get to the Sides Station where you can order any number of sides from collared greens, to beans, to Mac and Cheese.   I went for the 8 oz. Mac and Cheese, and an order of cornbread (comes in 2 large pieces and Ancho Honey Butter).

We brought our food back to our table and our server, who looked like Ludacris (seriously, I’m not being racist – the guy looked like Luda), was super on top of getting us our drinks and checking in often to make sure everything was okay.  As for the food, I don’t even know where to begin.  IT. WAS. AMAZING.   The brisket was moist, flavorful, melted in your mouth, and was that perfect amount of juicy meat with bits of fat.  The rib didn’t fall off the bone, but the tenderness of the meat was there and was perfectly seasoned.  The sausage had a nice little spice, and when you bit into it it had a little crunch as you broke through the outer skin, and a deliciously soft and juicy interior.  There was a tasty Hill Country BBQ sauce on the table as well.

The Mac and Cheese; oh man, the Mac and Cheese could have been a meal itself.   The pasta was a penne style, and the cheese practically oozed everywhere (in a good way).   I think I tasted a bit of Worcestershire sauce and pepper in the cheese mix as well – it was heavenly.  The cornbread and honey butter were good, and probably better than normal because it was literally fresh out of the oven when I got my pieces.  Although the cornbread and honey butter were just okay on their own (it’s kinda hard to make cornbread really good or really bad), they complimented the meats and Mac and Cheese quite well.

The food already made the place worth going to, but then a woman came up to us and told us about the karaoke.  So I went downstairs to scout it out.  Downstairs is a whole other hall, with tables, a bar, and a stage.  I’m assuming that they normally have live music on some nights, but on karaoke night the patrons can go up and do their best Dolly Parton, Britney Spears, or Bruce Springsteen impression.  One great little thing is that the restaurant will give the singer a complimentary whiskey shot before or after they go up on stage.  And the karaoke isn’t just some video machine with the words and bouncing little ball on it; there’s a live band playing along with you (far cooler).  Now I’m not sure how many songs the musicians know, but when I went down there the woman was singing a song from “Mamma Mia” so I imagine they probably know quite a bit.

Bottom line: This is hands down the most fun place you could go to eat in D.C. right now.  It’s laid-back, the workers are super-friendly, the food is phenomenal (since it’s by weight, you don’t have to pay for any more than you have to) and the price is actually pretty good.  I got a total of probably around 3/4 lbs. of meat (w/ white bread), 2 pieces of corn bread, a cup of Mac and Cheese and a Miller Lite for a grand total of $19 (and I took most of the sausage home with me because I was so full after the brisket and the rest).  Bring a group of friends and you’ll have a great time.  Grade: A-