We arrived back in Brisbane at around 5 AM, cleared Customs and hit the car rental desk as they opened at 6:30. We were happy to have a car for a little while because back in Manly, there was no real transportation other than the train, and the station was a mile walk for us uphill from the marina. Incidentally, there isn't much in Manly other than some resort style cafes and restaurants and a small grocery outlet. We spent the next week happily driving to the grocery store, out to the Spencer's house and just driving in general. By the 29th, as we were strolling the local shopping center, we realized we faced a challenge returning the rental car to the airport by 6 AM on Sept. 1. We happened to pass a travel agency shop that displayed a large poster of Ayers Rock. Lightbulb in brain lit brightly...lets just make a trip out of it and jump on a plane to Uluru when we return the car! This is the perfect time of year for a trip to the Red Center. We walked out of there much poorer but with tickets in hand.
Flying to Uluru is an amazing journey by air (this country gets bigger all the time!). I had the window seat and darn near cramped my neck and back craning to look down. Leaving Brisbane, we passed over stunning mountain ranges, forests and farming areas, and then some of the most beautifully colored landscapes I've seen. There is a massive salt flat that for some 20 years has been dry as a desert as of course it is in the desert. Because of the recent monsoon-like rains, what was once a large lake has filled again. Surprisingly, thousands of pelicans have flocked to its shores. How in God's creation did they know to go there? Apparently, also there are fish in there. What? How does that happen? Nature never ceases to astound us. I kept grabbing Frank, saying, "Oh my gosh, look at that!" Poor Frank, all he wanted to do was nap - not gonna happen with my face to the window. Eventually the brilliant white of the salt flats turned to intermittent greens and reds, and then suddenly out of nowhere rose the RED monolith that is called Ayers Rock. Even from the sky it is breathtaking. Other than a few scattered tent-like structures not far from the rock, there was nothing else about to suggest human habitation. Several miles away, however, we spied a donut-shaped formation that appeared to be some sort of habitat, albeit quite small, that we assumed to be Yulara, the resort town of Ayers Rock.
Disembarking from the plane we noted that Qantas and Virgin Australia occupy the only two gates of the tiny terminal building, which explains the price of our tickets. It is all very organized to near military standards. You pick up your bags, you board a bus and are taken to your hotel. The resort owns all of the hotels, so depending on how much you want to spend, you can choose between camp style to 5-Star accommodations. We had selected The Lost Camel, a midrange hotel at a mere $450/night...nothing included. Very, very basic, with a double bed, shower and toilet; not dissimilar to an outside stateroom on a cruise ship. It was comfortable and clean, and besides we were not here for the hotel room.
Our first excursion was a sunset viewing of Ayers Rock. We were carted off in a bus to the viewing area, which was still some miles away from the actual Rock, and was completely fenced off. There were several pocket groups of tourists pouring out of their respective busses, chattering away full of excitement. We were each given a camp stool on which to sit and told to help ourselves to the snacks and drinks that were set out on a folding table. Champagne, wine, Sprite, nuts and chips were available in unlimited quantities. We were given instructions by our guide that, although it was daylight, we should just watch the rock as the sun begins to shift and then eventually fade into darkness. The Rock seems to take on a life of its own, casting vibrant colors and eerie shadows that appear to make it come alive in some spiritual sense. All I can say is everything I've heard is true. Although we snapped dozens of photos, it is impossible to capture the sensation that we felt during this phenomenon. Frank and I were both mesmerized as we witnessed the transformation that I cannot come close to describing. This is most definitely an encounter one must personally experience. It was so lovely that the bus ride back to the resort was spent in complete silence as each of us reflected on his or her impressions.
Disgorging from the bus back at the resort, we immediately set off to dinner. Side note here. The resort owns everything, including restaurants, shops, etc. The food is OK, everything is expensive, so for us it was a matter of sustenance, not a culinary journey.
We hit the bed early. Next morning we had a 4:30 AM departure for Kings Canyon.