07.05.2008 - 13.05.2008 26 °C
Travelling to Ayers Rock, or Uluru to use its Aboriginal name, I stayed in the only town in Central Australia of any real size - Alice Springs.
Arriving into Alice, I was suprised by the relatively low temperature (about 26 °C). Despite now being in 'autumn', I had expected the arid outback to be hotter than tropical Cairns. Moreover, I expected the desert to be red, barren and dusty. However, whilst it was certainly red, the area, even around Ayers Rock, remains comparatively green.
On my 3 day tour to Ayers Rock I was able to take in some of the lesser known highlights of central Australia. First up was 'King's Canyon' where small lizards basked in the sun and I tried not to get too close to the sheer canyon walls.
That evening my group spent the night sleeping under the stars in a swag. A swag is little more than a sleeping bag cover which leaves your head open to count the shooting stars until you fall asleep. Due to the lack of major urban areas in the outback, the region is regarded as one of the best in the world to stargaze.
Up early the next morning, we visited the Olgas (called Kata Tjuta by Aboriginals). These were created from sediment deposits, in the same way as Ayers Rock, but are actually higher than the more famous monolith. The Olgas differ in that they form several separate rocks that look like huge mole hills.
We then headed to Ayers Rock. I had the opportunity to climb the rock, and was very tempted by the challenge, but the Aboriginals have made it clear that climbing the rock, which is so sacred to them, is very disrespectful. Recognising that as a tourist I am not always a force for good, I decided that I would do a good deed by instead walking around the base of the rock and admire the Aboriginal art.
Personally, I found Ayers Rock far more impressive from a distance and enjoyed watching the rock change various shades of orange as the sun set. Experts claim the rock changes colour 17 times - though I think they must have been smoking something... The next morning I watched sunrise at the rock, before heading 500km back to Alice Springs.
Knowing I had 2 days in Alice Springs, I spent my first day sunbathing by the hostel pool. Alice, to be brutally honest, is not an interesting town - unless you meet one of the many aboriginals. One woman saw a frozen chicken in a shop and immediately started a conversation with me about the relative merits of pre seasoned chicken. This was one of several slightly strange interactions with Aboriginals...
In the evening I went with some Irish friends to the only place showing the season ending Premiership football matches - the casino. Whilst I enjoyed watching Manchester United seal the title, it is my experience at the blackjack tables that will live longest in the memory. Starting with 10 dollars (£4), I had soon reached a dizzying peak of 50 dollars (£20). Knowing to quit while your ahead, I went to watch some football. After the match though, tempted by the ease of my previous winnings, I played again - and lost it all having been dealt some awful cards. Luckily, I made a small recovering before the casino closed at 3am, and nearly managed to break even. I think losing the money was important though, because otherwise I would be eager to return to a casino to get another taste of the gambling buzz. Ironically, I found out later that this week is 'Gambling Addiction Week'. Maybe I should attend one of the meetings!
On my last day in Alice, I visited the reptile centre and tried to look relaxed as a huge python curled his body around mine.
Tolday I leave Alice and travel back to Sydney where I will spend the night with my cousins before getting on the plane to Cape Town.