Monthly Archives: January 2015

They Like It Best When We’re Both at Home…

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Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

When I used to conduct wine tastings, Rob would often tell me that Sophie would whine the whole time I was away.

But at night, when I went to bed, often before Rob, uber-cuddly Sophie would not snuggle. Instead, she’d choose a spot at the end of the bed, lying with her nose pointed to the corner, which was also toward the door. I don’t think she even slept until Daddy came to bed!

Now I understand what he means.

This is Shamrock and Sophie when I am home alone and they are waiting for Daddy:

Noses pointed toward the front door!

Noses pointed toward the front door!

They bark at every sound that could possibly be him turning into the driveway, opening the garage door, pulling into the garage or walking through the door.

Attentive pooches!

Attentive pooches!

Reading a book in silence is nearly impossible. It helps to have some sort of background noise to distract them.

But once Daddy gets home, all is right with the world.

Happy Saturday!

Cheers~
Carrie

 

 

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Go Around, Not Up, Uluru

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Australia – Uluru… Continued…

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When I was first planning our trip to The Rock, there were three things I knew I wanted to do:

  1. Sunset Viewing
  2. Sunrise Viewing
  3. Walking the approximately 10k perimeter of the base of Uluru

But then I found the perfect tour for us that included more than that and also more bang for our buck.

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This tour included an “interpretive walk around the base of Uluru with an indigenous guide.” This wasn’t a walk around the entire perimeter, but it sounded like it would be far more meaningful.

It started with breakfast and visit to the Cultural Centre. Entry is free and definitely worth your time. The Centre itself has won numerous awards for architecture. Photography of the Centre is strictly prohibited, but you will still find some photos online because people, you know, are defiant.

The Centre is wonderfully set up to guide you through what Aboriginal life was like in this area. There are displays introducing plants and wildlife, as well as describing how Uluru was formed. {Like, did you know that the bulk of this sandstone “monolith” lies underground?!}

After our time wandering on our own, we gathered around a fire for a demonstration of Aboriginal tools.

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There were two guides, one who was Aboriginal. At first, I thought this was because the Aboriginal guide didn’t speak much English. The other guide did most of the talking, translating what the soft-spoken indigeonous guide had to say.

The Aboriginal people ask that you do not take photos of them. This has to do with their culture and is very dependent on the customs of traditions of each group. I noticed in the Cultural Centre that some of the faces of the Aborigines in photos were covered. I believe this goes hand and hand with some Aboriginal groups’ practices of no longer speaking the name of a deceased person.

Our guide was young. He wore shorts, work boots and a Chicago Bulls hat! But he was very knowledgeable of how to use the resources in the area.

Right before our eyes he turned this spinifex…

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into a powder!

It took several minutes and was meticulous work.

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The powder could be used as a glue of sorts, when heated. He showed us how to create the end of a club, like the one you with the black nub in the picture of tools below.

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While the guys had the opportunity to attempt to throw wooden spears, the ladies tried to balance this on their heads.

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This vessel, made from the truck of a tree, is used to carry food and other materials.

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I detest these photos, but you get the gist. Shout out to Fulton Brewery in Minneapolis!

At least I was able to balance it for a few seconds. Walking? That was another story.

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Afterward, we boarded our coach to head to Uluru for our base walk. That’s when we saw the climbers. Ugh. I find it so disrespectful when you are asked not to climb!

Seeing the surface color and texture of the Rock up close was fascinating.

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I just finished reading In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson and his description of The Rock on his visit was spot on:

Quite apart from that initial shock of indefinable recognition, there is also the fact that Uluru is, no matter how you approach it, totally arresting. You cannot stop looking at it; you don’t want to stop looking at it. As you draw closer, it becomes even more interesting. It is more pitted than you had imagined, less regular in shape. There are more curves and divots and wavelike ribs, more irregularities of every type, than are evident from even a couple of hundred yards away.

You realize that you could spend quite a lot of time – possibly a worryingly large amount of time; possibly a sell-your-house-and-move-here-to-live-in-a-tent amount of time – just looking at the rock, gazing at it from many angles, never tiring of it. You can see yourself in a silvery ponytail, barefoot, and in something jangly and loose-fitting, hanging out with much younger visitors and telling them, “And the amazing thing is that every day it’s different, you know what I’m saying? It’s never the same rock twice. That’s right, my friend – you put your finger on it there. It’s awesome. It’s an awesome thing. Say, do you by any chance have any dope or some spare change?”

 

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Sometimes the rock is so red and smooth:

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Then there are other parts of the rock….

 

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The indigenous guide pointed out resources from the land that have been used for thousands of years:

It didn’t feel like a planned tour, so much. It was more that he pointed out anything that he spotted along the way that had significance. He was quiet, but, at this point, he began speaking directly to us, in English. He identified the type of tree used to shape the container that I attempted to balance on my head earlier.  He pointed out bush foods. We tried some sort of berry, which I would not have had the courage to do if we’d have walked the base on our own!

We even found lizard tracks in the sand!

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You can see the footprints, along with where the tail slid through the sand:

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The more our guide spoke, the more confident he seemed to become. Maybe it was our obvious interest in what he had to say. But what I loved most were the stories! He told Dreamtime stories just as I imagine they were told from generation to generation.

The story that related to the vicinity where we were standing was of the Blue-Tongued Lizard Man.

 

 

There are many lessons from the story, one of which is not to steal. The other: Don’t Climb Uluru. There is nothing up there: no food, no shade, no water. You can die falling. Every week someone has to be rescued. Not joking. While it is unsafe, it is also discourteous.

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No matter what, I’ve always found that it’s better to learn about a place from the locals. It’s often more enjoyable, too.

Have you ever had a local guide tell stories?

What was your experience?

Other posts on the on Uluru:

Other posts about our trip to Australia:

Cheers~
Carrie

Uluru at Sunrise

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Australia – Uluru… Continued…

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While the sunset over Uluru was beautiful, I preferred the sunrise. 

The funny thing is… I’m not a morning person. It is a difficult thing to get me out of a bed. I’m a wake-up-slowly kind of gal. But knowing that this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, I set the alarm for something insane like 4:30 in the morning to meet up with our tour group for the sunrise.

We arrived in those nearly pitch-black conditions I spoke about when the sun sets.

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As the sun began to rise, the entire landscape was lovely.

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Can you spot Kata-Tjuta in the distance?

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Upon arrival to our designated viewing area, Rob and I decided to take the path less traveled. Most of the people went toward a small hill for, perhaps, a better vantage point. But that was appeared crowded and loud. The area we chose had fewer people. In the morning, especially an early morning where I haven’t had my coffee yet, that was a better option.

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What a beautiful sight…

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Except for a few people talking, everything was relatively quiet and still. Serenity.

And there you are…

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The sun had risen and it was time to start the day! We were off to breakfast at the Cultural Center followed by a guided tour of the base of Uluru.

Are you a morning person or an evening person?

Cheers~
Carrie

 

Other posts on the on Uluru:

Other posts about our trip to Australia:

 

 

Uluru at Sunset

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Australia – Uluru… Continued…

After our afternoon walk through the Walpa Gorge our group was driven to one of the Uluru sunset viewing areas.

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Upon arrival, locals were selling some art, which I had intended to take a look at, but totally missed.

I will be kicking myself for that later…

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There were also tables set up with wine, bubbly, juice and snacks.

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I grabbed a glass of bubbly and found a spot where I could snap as many photos as possible of Uluru.

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Sock Monkey may have also made an appearance.

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Wait, I may not have explained #SockMonkeyTour on the blog yet. That’ll have to be for another post.

Then, we waited… Did I mention that the wine was flowing freely?

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I will warn you that I took these photos with my old iPhone 4, so no way do these pictures do our views and experience any justice. {The iPhone 6 was released upon our return from Australia, when we promptly made the upgrade!}

I did bring my old digital camera with me to Australia. It actually used to take stellar photos. {That is, until I got an iPhone, became lazy and stopped carrying around the digital camera.} However, I didn’t get it to work properly, despite the new battery I put in it before we left. Sigh… So iPhone 4 photos it is…

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Our guide recommended that we take several photos, every couple of minutes because the changes are subtle as the sun slowly sets. Once you go back and take a look at the photos, you are more apt to notice the beautiful changes in the sky and the color of the rock!

 

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Once the sun goes down completely, it becomes pitch black. It’s like someone turned out the lights! Our group left before that was about to happen to make our way toward dinner, which was also part of our tour.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos at dinner, but behold our experience:

{You may find it funny.}

We arrived quite near The Rock where tables were set up. As we walked to our seats, I saw the chefs grilling some steaks on the barbie and then eyed the buffet feast laid out before us. There was Uluru, in all its glory just as the sun finished setting. There were a few different tour groups and we were instructed to sit with our own.

Let’s remind you that we each had a few glasses of wine at sunset. And do you think I can even remember what we did for lunch that day? So when I ate last, I can’t even remember.

Lights were positioned so that our dining and buffet area was lit. But that was it. It truly was pitch black, otherwise. There were some basic announcements before dinner, like where to find the toilets. We were warned to follow the {very} dim lights on the not-so-even path because there have been people became lost coming back before…

We sat down and our wine glasses were filled. And throughout dinner, the wine kept flowing. Before I’d finish a glass, it would somehow get filled right up again. It was decent wine, too… not anything sweet or generic like you’d find with every House Cab you’ll order in the U.S.

One reason why I have no photos is that we began to get very chatty with all of the people at our table. Wine will help with that! The couples next to us were Brits. I loved hearing all of their travel stories. We started talking about how Australians seemed to so well-traveled. Most of us agreed that it is really just apart of their culture. Australia is set apart from so much else that if they want to travel anywhere {other than New Zealand}, they’d have to take a long haul flight.

The buffet included all kinds of salads and sides as well as steak and kangaroo meat. You guys, I just couldn’t do it. I usually will try anything once. But, hey, I was just wowed by these animals a few days prior! Kangaroo isn’t eaten all that often in Australia. I mean, people do it. You’ll find it in grocery stores and restaurants; but we are told that most Australians don’t really eat it.

After dinner, and all of that wine, I excused myself to the restroom. I finally found my way back. {I really did have a bit of a difficult time! Those lights were so dim and the pathway wasn’t very clear!} At this point, people were getting up from the table, but my husband was no where to be seen. Maybe he went to the restroom himself?

It was announced that it was a beautifully clear night and that we would do some stargazing with our guide pointing out constellations and telling stories with a laser pointer.

Where was my husband?!

This was one of the things I knew he was going to love and one of the reasons I booked this specific tour. I knew that stargazing in such a remote and beautiful place would make another reason why he would be grateful we didn’t skip Uluru.

Then the presentation started. I stood around the periphery. But I couldn’t concentrate on her presentation. I was too worried.

Why isn’t he back?!

{Remind you, I couldn’t call/text because we didn’t have service in Australia. Our phones were in Airplane mode, so we could use wi-fi only.}

So I started my way back to the restrooms and didn’t find him there either. Then, I asked the first worker I saw for help. {It was the chef!}

“I can’t find my husband!” I exclaimed.

I apologized about a gazillion times and began to tell him (and now others) how stupid I felt. They were going to try to look in the vicinity for him, while they were cleaning up.

At this point, the stargazing presentation was almost over and I missed most of it.

All of a sudden, someone came up behind me.

“Hey! Wasn’t that awesome!?”

It. Was. Rob.

“What? I thought you missed it!!! I was worried about you! I couldn’t find you!”

“Oh. I was lying on the concrete over there, looking up at the stars. I was next to some Asian group. He was using a laser pointer, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. It was so beautiful though!”

Huh.

“I found him!” I yelled to the staff.

Then I felt stupid all over again. I was the half-drunken tourist who couldn’t find her husband who was there the whole time.

At least he enjoyed the stars… 

We brought back a souvenir:

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I have no idea what time it was that we got back to our hotel room. All I knew is that the alarm clock had to be set early for tomorrow’s sunrise viewing of Uluru…

~

Other posts on the Red Centre:

Other posts about our trip to Australia:

Have you ever been worried about someone because they hadn’t returned and later felt silly? What happened?

Cheers~
Carrie

The Abominable Snowman!

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Happy Sophie & Shamrock Saturday!

Remember back when I said I canceled all of my subscription boxes? Yes, that’s right, my subscription boxes. The one box that I didn’t cancel, though, belonged to them. 

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Sophie & Shamrock

How could I say, “no” to those a-dog-able faces? They get so excited every time a BarkBox arrives… Maybe next month, I’ll have to take a video. {Okay, so I tried that once and they ended up fighting. Ooops.}

January’s BarkBox theme was..

“Ice Age!”

~

Here’s the loot from the Small Dog Box:

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Clockwise from Top Left:

  • Delca Corp Adorable Snowman {BarkBox Exclusive} Wait what? The tag says Abominable Snowman, but the insert card calls it the Adorable Snowman. I think “abominable” is more appropriate!
  • Complete Natural Nutrition Off-Leash Twigs – Grain-free chew made with turkey and pumpkin
  • BarkMade Wooly Mammoth – {BarkBox Exclusive}
  • Heartland Premium Rib – I’m a little nervous to give this USDA approved rib chew to my dogs. Must supervise. Or wait until one is at the vet so they aren’t fighting over it.
  • Aussie Naturals Salmon Skin Training Treat Nibbles – Rob is going to use these to teach one of the pooches a new trick? What would you like to see Sophie or Shamrock do?

Confession:

We name all of our dogs’ toys.

Maybe that should be the trick we teach them – to retrieve a toy by name. Shamrock loves new toys and usually becomes obsessed with them right after he gets them. However, he will continuously go back to this one. Sometimes they are obvious names like Blue Kitty or Monkey Stick

Other times, we have to be creative when we have two of something. For example, somehow, over the past couple of years, we’ve received two different whales. The first one became the Whale of Fortune! and the second one became Beluga.

And still other times, we like to be all Australian-like and just make the name cute by adding an “ie,” like with Chef Hedgie{A hedgehog wearing a chef’s hat.}

Well, it’s probably obvious that, from this box, we called the Wooly Mammoth toy, WoolySometimes we even call him Wooly Bully. But what to call the Abominable Snowman? Since abominable is a word that never rolls off my tongue, I finally came up with it – AbbieThat may not sound creative name to you, but it truly does have a dual meaning.

Because this abominable snowman has abs!

Abbie - the Abominable Snowman with Abs

Abbie – the Abominable Snowman with Abs

Click this link if you’d like to join BarkBox and get 10% off your first subscription.

Do you name your pet’s or kid’s toys and/or stuffed animals?

What’s the most creative name you’ve had?

Happy Saturday!

Cheers~
Carrie

Kata-Tjuta – Walpa Gorge Walk

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Yesterday, I gave you a little bit of an idea of all of your options when visiting the Red Centre of Australia, particularly Uluru.

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Some advised us to do-it-ourselves, renting a car and visiting the area as we pleased. We aren’t ones to rent cars while we are abroad, if only because we want to come back to The States together. 😉

We also decided we wanted a guided tour and skipped the Uluru Express, the shuttle that can take you from the resort to Uluru for viewing, which is $70AUS anyway. Yes, that’s $70 to take a bus one time and do it all on your own.

In order to get the most out of our short stay, we decided on a combination of tours, which we found through Viator.com. We also got a better deal by booking through them. This is the same site where I booked our Penguin Parade Experience.

Our AAT Kings tour package included:

  • Afternoon Walpa Gorge Trail walk at Kata Tjuta
  • Sunset Viewing of Uluru with wine/champagne and nibbles
  • BBQ Dinner with Uluru as the backdrop, followed by stargazing
  • Sunrise Viewing of Uluru with coffee/tea
  • Breakfast and Visit at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center
  • Campfire Stories from an Indigenous Guide
  • Interpretive Walk around the Base of Uluru with an Indigenous Guide
  • 3-Day Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park pass

Yeah, all that. To give you an idea, we paid $300US per person for all of those tours when we bought them as a package through Viator. My thought was that this included meals that would be (as we were told) outrageously expensive at the resort anyway. When booking on Viator, you don’t know what the name of the tour company is until after your purchase. Looking at the AAT Kings website now, the combination of these tours would have cost us well over $425pp.

I loved these tours and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

~

The first leg of our tour was our afternoon walk through the Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta:

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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) through our coach bus window

Kata Tjuta means “many heads” in the Pitjantjatjara language. There are a total of 36 domes that spread over 20 kilometers. As you can see, we had an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk!

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Our walk was through the Walpa Gorge, per the blue line on the map below. It is about 2.6 kilometers out and back. If you want something longer (7.4km) and more challenging in terms of terrain, you can also try the Valley of the Winds walk. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site for men in the Anangu culture. You must respect it.

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It iss important to stay on the path.

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And just like in the Blue Mountains, we were told that this was a “gentle stroll.” Upon arrival, we had about 45 minutes to walk at our own pace before returning to the coach.

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Only it wasn’t exactly gentle. I found myself looking at the ground all the while I was walking so I wouldn’t trip!

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Instead, while Rob went full speed ahead, I took my time and stopped now and again to get a closer look at the rock formations.

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Although the skies were clear, it was still a hot. Not as hot as it gets in the summer, but hot enough that the guide requires everyone to have a water bottle, which they are happy to refill at the bus at any time.

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One of the best tips {although probably the silliest and most obvious ever} was not to wait until you are thirsty and guzzle a bunch of water because that would make you need to go to the bathroom in a hurry! We were warned that there would be no toilets for a while. Instead, we were advised to take a couple of sips of water about every few minutes.

This worked like a charm and is now something I use to this day.

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I love the color and texture of the rock. You can read about the geology on the National Park website.

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While water is scarce, you can see where rain has marked the rocks in the past.

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As the gorge narrowed, our trail ended.

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After one last look, we turned around and headed back.

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It was time to make our way to the viewing area to see Uluru at sunset… Although, some say that Kata Tjuta is even more beautiful at sunset.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve hiked?

Other posts on our trip to Australia:

Cheers~
Carrie

 

 

Australia: Visiting Uluru

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When I was planning our trip to Australia, everyone told me that I would need to go to the Red Centre and to discover, first hand, the beauty of Uluru, the world’s largest monolith that sits in the Outback.

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I also learned that to visit, it could be very, very expensive. My husband suggested that we skip it; but I didn’t want to do that. We were going to be in Australia. I wasn’t going to do something that was highly recommended by everyone I talked with, including a friend who went to Australia and the only thing she regretted was that she didn’t go to see it.

And while in all the research I did about how expensive it was to get to Uluru, how expensive it is to visit it and how expensive it can be to stay there…

Not once did I read anywhere that Uluru should be skipped due to the expense.

Absolutely no one said, “Don’t do it! It’s not worth it!” Instead, most people just chalked up the expense to being, after all, in The Middle of No Where.

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First, a Few Definitions:

Red Centre

This part of Australia:

Red Centre Map

It’s is called such for the beautiful red rock and sand that covers the landscape. There is more to the Red Centre than Uluru; but with our limited time, we decided to fly straight in to Ayers Rock airport (AYQ) from Melbourne (about a 3-hour flight) and make the most of it. The nearest city is Alice Springs, which is about 6 hours away by car or about a 1.5-hour flight. {Although I’ve read stories about flights to AYQ often being unreliable or canceled from Alice Springs, making it difficult to catch any booked tours.} Alternatively, the tour company AAT Kings makes a daily trek to and from Alice Springs, making stops along the way to feel more like a tour than just a ride on a coach bus.

Ayers Rock

Ayers Rock = Uluru. Ayers Rock is just the English name for the monolith. It was named after Chief Secretary Sir Henry Ayers, when it was “discovered” by explorers around 1872.

Uluru

Uluru = Ayers Rock. This is the more appropriate, Aboriginal name, given to the monolith by the Anangu people. The monolith is listed as both Uluru and Ayers Rock throughout the region.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta is another rock formation not far from Uluru. It is also known as Mt. Olga or The Olgas in English.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

The park is the land that encompasses Uluru & Kata Tjuta, for both cultural and conservation efforts. A standard 3-day pass to visit the park is $25. You must have a pass whether you visit on your own or are on a tour. This is the minimum and least expensive pass. You can read more about the National Park here.

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Yulara

Yulara is the service village just 18 km from Uluru. There are 800 people who live in the service village to serve you and make your stay welcoming. This is where all of the accommodation is located.

Ayer’s Rock Resort

Unless you are camping or on a Glamping Tour, Ayers Rock Resort is the only place you can stay if you are visiting Uluru. The Resort owns pretty much everything in the village. From my understanding this includes all hotels and restaurants. For that reason, you can dine in any of the hotels’ restaurants and put it on your room.

If you are on the cheap, there is a youth hostel at the resort, which (at the time of this writing) runs $38 for a Dorm Bed or $203 for a Budget Room (without bathroom) per night. You can also camp for as little as $36 per night for two people for a non-powered site, provided you have brought your own camping equipment.

The hotels run (at the very least!) of $250 – $400 per night {with a two night minimum} for a basic room. There are also luxury options (about $2200 per night with a two night minimum.) All accommodation requires complimentary shuttle to and from the airport.

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Ayers Rock Resort – Yulara – The Red Centre

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Visiting:

There are so many ways to visit Uluru & Kata Tjuta.

  • From Alice Springs – Fly, drive (approx 5 hours to Uluru) or take a bus (approx 6 hours)
  • Fly directly into the Ayers Rock (AYQ) airport.
  • DIY – This was the number one way I was recommended by Trip Advisor. We did not follow this advice, however. We didn’t want to do deal with renting a vehicle. We also wanted guided explanations of what we were seeing, including culture and history, rather than reading out of a book.
  • Multiple Day Tour throughout the Red Centre. Most of these are Glamping Tours, which I’ve heard great things!
  • Guided Tours – There are so many options. There are walking tours, sunrise and sunset tours, camel tours, etc. With our limited time, we decided on a package deal of tours through Viator. I knew that I wanted to see Uluru at sunrise and sunset, walk around the base of Uluru, gaze at the stars sans light pollution and visit Kata Tjuta while we were there. You’ll hear more about the tours we took in subsequent posts.

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Other Important/Interesting Facts:

  • Time Difference – There is a half hour time difference in the Northern Territory from the East Coast of Australia. Strange to me, but true. You’ll hear more about this in a future post.
  • Size – You may think of Uluru as “just a rock;” but the sheer size of it, especially with the contrast of the flat surrounding landscape, is astounding! This will give you an idea:

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  • Circumference – It is approximately a 10k around the base of Uluru.
  • Temperature – It gets very hot in the Red Centre! It can get up to 114 degrees, but is also chilly in the evening. We went at, what I believe, was the perfect time of year! It was Spring – September 10th through 12th, to be exact. I believe we topped out in the eighties. We had a few annoying flies while we walked the base of Uluru, but not enough to need a net; although they are highly recommended in summer.
  • Climbing – Uluru should NOT be climbed. It is discouraged by the Anangu people.  But people still do:

I find it maddening that while it is posted everywhere that the Anangu people ask you not to climb something sacred to them, that people do not have respect for that message. The part that’s even sadder? That it’s still allowed for tourism purposes. It may be banned in the future, but complicated criteria must be met first.

A guide told us that in Japan, climbing Uluru is actually advertised. “Come climb the largest monolith in the world!” I guess if you come to the Red Centre not knowing in advance of the Anangu’s wishes and you pay for the climb, I can somewhat understand. But watching people climb still made me angry.

Furthermore, it can be very dangerous.

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More on Uluru to come!

Other posts on our trip to Australia:

Where have you been where local traditions or wishes have been ignored or disrespected?

Cheers~
Carrie