Monday, July 10, 2006

Visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock)

A generation ago, Australians learned about Ayers Rock, the massive sandstone monolith in the dessert that has become the symbol of their country. In the years since this land was returned to its original owners, the Anangu people, it has become known as Uluru.

For the Anangu, this is a sacred place. For tourists, its a magnate ... something to be viewed at sunrise and sunset, photographed, circumnavigated -- even climbed.

The Anangu request that people not climb it, but weather permitting, the walk is still open, and about 200,000 per year still make the vertical walk.

I passed. Seems like there's plenty else to do here without insulting the spiritual guardians of the place. Some top picks:

- Catch sunrise and sunset. The rock seems to glow from within. Colors change from beige to red to purple to brown.

- Take an aboriginal tour or art class. On my walk, we learned how to throw a spear to kill at kangaroo or emu. (This group would have starved; lousy aim.)

- Visit Kata Tjuta ... otherwise known as the Olgas. These sandstone formations aren't much known by Americans, but in some ways, they're more stellar than Uluru.

- Catch a free ranger talk. Looking through the Ayers Rock website, you'd think everything here costs a fortune. It almost does...but there are a few good freebies.

- The Sounds of Silence dinner isn't one of them, but it is a great gourmet evening in the desert, and while it's pricy (about $120 U.S. per person), it's worth it. Word to the wise: Book WAY in advance, and be sure you get a confirmation for your e-mail reservation. (Four e-mails over a two-week period, and I never did get a confirmation.)

- Barbecue at the Pioneer Outback Resort. This is a cool Aussie thing: You buy your meat -- kangaroo, emu, beef, chicken or fish -- and then cook it yourself on a huge public barbie. It's one of the most reasonable deals here...about half the price of the buffet breakfast.

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