My dream to see Uluru at sunset was almost dashed as we had a late start; breakfast drug on a little longer than it should have and we were late packing up camp. By the time we arrived at Uluru we could already see the blue sky of sunrise. Unfortunately, our tour guide Reg decided that we should experience Uluru as the Aboriginals did – up close and at the base. The problem with this is that you can’t take a photo of a 1 kilometer wide rock when you are standing 10 meters from it. Reg had been preaching at us this morning and the previous day that the most appropriate way to experience Uluru is to look at it up close and to take a mental photograph of it. Easy for him to say, he’s seen it a few hundred times. I can understand his enthusiasm for Aboriginal culture and wanting us to experience the land as they did, but heck, I didn’t pay eleven hundred dollars to stand at the base of Uluru at sunrise.
After Reg gave a brief on the west side of Uluru I watched impatiently as the sun began to fill the sky with light. Reg explained that the circuit around the base of Uluru was 10 kilometers (6 miles); I made the calculation and realized that I would have less than a half hour to get to the other side of Uluru, a 5 kilometer run and would then have to run another kilometer away from it in order to fit it into the width of my camera lens. Ugh.
As soon as Reg finished blathering about his view of Aboriginal culture I began running along the path. I ran and ran made it the 5 kilometers to the east side of Uluru just as the sun was rising – but I was still at the base and couldn’t fit the rock into my camera’s lens. I found the main road and began jogging away from Uluru and before the sun was too high in the sky I was finally far enough to watch the sun’s changing colors as they lit Uluru up.
I was exhausted, I ran flat-out for 6 kilometers (about 3 ½ miles) and I was drenched in sweat. I looked back to the west and took my first photos of Uluru as the sun continued to rise (top photo). There were a few clouds and I was only able to get a few photos before the colors became subdued and muted. I felt satisfied that I was able to watch Uluru as the sun rose against its face; I was able to get a photo despite my tour guide’s idiosyncrasies and I began to walk back towards the big red rock. When I reached its base the clouds parted and the sun streamed through lighting its face. Uluru’s colors continued to change as the sun grew higher in the sky and the sun’s rays pierced between moving clouds.
Up until this point I had been fairly dissatisfied with my Alice Springs and Uluru experience. It had been a long drive on a crowded bus, a sunset with overcast skies and the stress that I’d come all the way to central Australia and wouldn’t see the sunrise that I’d always envisioned. And now I was watching some beautiful and vivid colors with the warm sun on my back. I was the only one around and had the place to myself. I began to understand the obsession of this place with travelers worldwide. As I stared at this massive rock mountain in the middle of this vast plain I marveled at its beauty.
I began walking around the path at the base of Uluru and as I walked and looked I began to see how massive Uluru is. The photos from the east side at sunset only show the short side of it; Uluru is more of a long oval than a circle and looks much wider when viewed from the north or south. Along the base of Uluru there are crevices, valleys, trees, meadows and all sorts of caves and chasms that are formed as parts of the rock break away and tumble below. Along the path at some of the most interesting looking rock formations and breaks I would find photos imploring the tourists to NOT take photos as these were considered holy areas. I respected the signs and tried tour guide Reg’s “mental pictures,” but it seemed that the best looking parts of Uluru were no photo areas.
The base of Uluru extended out from its base along spines that formed saddles and small valleys that were full of trees and some had small ponds and watering holes. As I walked the 5 kilometers back along the south side of Uluru I was quite impressed with the beauty and serenity of this place; I can see why the Aboriginals considered it to be an important place with special religious significance.
I could see where waterfalls flowed during times of rain and in one area it appeared as though multiple pools were formed as the water flowed to each successive crevice. The walls of Uluru dropped from a smooth curve near the peak and then fell precipitously towards the ground dropping some places almost a thousand feet. Looking up the side of the mountain it looked so much larger than I imagined in the hundreds of photos I’ve seen over the years.
I spent the next hour walking around the last quarter of the 10 kilometer route along the base of Uluru. I kept thinking about how beautiful this area is and how it had exceeded all of my expectations and for the first time since I arrived in Australia I was really happy that I had come. I stopped at many places to marvel at the view and to shoot photos; I took hundreds of photos of Uluru and selecting just a few for this post was a difficult and time-consuming process.
By the time I returned to our drop off point I came across the rest of my tour group and our guide Reg. Some of the travelers decided to climb to the summit of Uluru despite the signs urging tourists to respect the religious nature of the rock. Additionally, Reg brow-beat everyone into not making the climb and most didn’t. Out of our 24 travelers only 9 made the climb to the top. I decided not to make the climb out of respect for the local culture and I actually took Reg’s advice to observe Uluru from the vantage point of the Aboriginal people. He explained that it was vital for the Aboriginals to preserve every bit of strength possible because this land has such meager resources. During summer time there is little water and to survive the Aboriginals and indigenous animals had to capitalize on every advantage. For example, the kangaroo’s lungs are cycled with each jump without additional energy expenditures; an animal that runs on 4 legs instead of bouncing has to use additional muscle energy to breathe. As I sat and listened to Reg’s presentation about the Aboriginals I looked up at Uluru and watched as some tourists climbed the long metal cable towards the top. Zoe’s wide angle shot of this view really captures Uluru well from this angle:
Reg took us around the last stretch of the trail that we hadn’t covered yet. He took us to some caves where Aboriginals had left some cave paintings (below). In this location the cave was used as a sort of sign-board where one family could leave a message for other Aboriginal families. Reg explained that Aboriginal songs were actually recorded messages that explained to future generations how to find food, water, shelter and other resources. A song explained the directions how to walk to a water hole and how to identify it. He said that it was vital for the younger members of the tribe to remember the song exactly as the grandfather sung it saying, “The price for making an error when repeating the song was profound; it could lead to the death of the tribe.”
After we all met up at the bus we began our drive towards King’s Canyon and when we were far enough away from Uluru Reg pulled over for a photo opportunity. Fortunately, the skies were clear and we had bright sunlight right on target. With a polarized lens the colors of Uluru really popped against the bright blue sky. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot it in such light.
I was not only happy to have checked Uluru off of my “too see” list but I was having a wonderful time and I was looking forward to my next adventure.
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