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.

Australia

Hello all, I’ve returned.  I know there was a bit of a hiatus there; 2014 was full of new things in my life (new condo, weddings, etc.), so I’ve been slacking a little on the posts.  But it’s 2015 now, and I’m back to tell you about my past trip to sunny Australia!

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Sydney Opera House

I don’t know many people who travel who don’t have the land down under on their bucket list, and it certainly was on mine.  My time in Australia was wonderful, and compact – we did A LOT in the few days that we had and we hit up so many different types of landscapes that it almost feels like it was several different trips (city, beach, desert, ocean, rainforest).  So it’s hard to sum up in one word everything we did.

Before I get into each segment of the trip, I’m going to touch upon some overall things about Australia:

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Kata Tjuta

I will say that at every place on the trip there were a few constants about the people in Australia, the first being that I felt like Australians are kind of like the Bostonians of England.  They’re very blue collar, down to earth folks who also don’t pronounce their “R”s (Car is pronounced “cah” for example).  Everyone was also friendly (which is where the Boston metaphor kinda goes away).  Regardless of how cheesy Paul Hogan is in Crocodile Dundee, his demeanor is a spot on representation (at least in the people I encountered).

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Scuba diving and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef

I also noticed this about Australia that I’ve never seen anywhere else — there are A LOT of Asians in Sydney.  Now, I don’t mean that I’ve never seen a lot of Asians in a city.  What I haven’t seen really is a Caucasian nation/city with such an integrated Asian society.  Sure, there are a lot of Asian Americans in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but even there it feels like they kind of live in their own world.  In Sydney, I didn’t sense any sort of separation at all – it felt like one really fused culture in one city.  Again, I only really saw this in Sydney, and I’m not sure if Melbourne and the other parts of the country are similar or not because we didn’t make it there.  But at least in Sydney, it was a very apparent blend and a new experience.  I legitimately felt right at home in a weird way.

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Koalas at Kuranda

Here’s a not so good observation about Australia.  Everything is expensive.  Getting there is expensive and being there is expensive.  This is not a scenario like going to Southeast Asia where you pay an arm and a leg and then everything is cheap once you arrive.  Food, drinks, lodging, tours — everything is pricey.  The Australians get by because they get paid higher on average, but you don’t get the salaries they do, so be prepared to shell out.

Now, the trip to Australia is a long one.  When you’re traveling from the US east coast to Australia, the whole trip will take around 20 hours (About 6 from New York to L.A. and then another 14 from L.A. to Sydney).  Here are a few things that’ll help that length of travel be a bit more comfortable that I learned.

Tip #1:  DO NOT wear dry fit underwear.  My initial thought process was that it would be a long flight, so maybe it’d be more comfortable to wear that Under Armor underwear for the travel.  I was wrong.  Yes it was dry and cool down there, but it was relatively uncomfortable after awhile because the elasticness would ride up constantly when you’re sitting.  So stick with the cotton underwear with Gold Bond.

Tip #2: Bring a small bottle of face wash soap in your carry-on.  I had prepped for the teeth by packing the toothbrush and toothpaste in my carry-on, but didn’t account for my face.  After like the 12th hour of not washing my face, it just felt really greasy and gross and all I wanted to do was rinse off.  I was wary of using the airplane soap because I have sensitive skin and didn’t want to breakout.  If you don’t have that problem, maybe that’ll be okay for you but for the rest of us, don’t forget the face wash.

Tip #3: Don’t go with Qantas Travel to put together your itinerary as your first choice (Qantas Airlines on the other hand was decent).  Now look, if  you do, they weren’t “horrible”.  But they did screw up a couple things, like not giving us a code to a lockbox that had our hotel keys for our stay in Cairns (I’ll get to that later when I talk about Cairns), leaving us out on the sidewalk with our suitcases late at night.  So based on our experience, I’d look at other options if you’re going to book your travel to Australia through a travel company.

I’ll get into Sydney, Uluru/Ayers Rock, and Cairns/Kuranda in my next few posts.  Happy reading and happy new year!