The road headed north out of Coober Pedy was fairly uneventful, bitumen in perfect condition with little deviation, it’s the kind that you can engage cruise control and try and take in the landscape, watching for wildlife. Not long and we had escaped the white anthills.
We actually begun to encounter more traffic, nothing by our weekday standards but certainly a lot of caravans and their under speed we needed to accommodate.
Despite the glorious v8 engine, the LandCruiser is more comfortable at 105km/hr or less, and us too in the cabin and with the fuel consumption. This is down to the gearing, with fifth gear a perfect ratio for meandering between 50km/hr town and 100km/hr highways. But not much faster for longer periods of time, less tinnitus and the fuel bill may keep you from sleep that night.
This trip however, we had the new Recaro seats and had tweaked the exhaust again since our last long distance jaunt. Combined with the caravan riddled highways I was able to flex the v8 engine out reasonably often, a sound that neither of us minded, and the consumption barely noticeable.
It wasn’t long before we rolled into Marla, shaded by a growth of large trees, we pulled in for a rest and snack. The sprinklers were on in the grassed area confining the locals to one end but there was room enough to stretch our legs and enjoy our coffee. We didn’t hang around for long though, keen to push on.
As we were leaving a couple of caravanners nearly wiped me out coming in to park right in front and behind our vehicle. Staring now at the dust in my coffee that they had kicked up I was about ready to throw it at them.
If it hadn’t cost $6 I might have, its lack of milk would have lessened the impact too so I just grit my teeth like a cowboy and kept it to myself.
I did a double check but no, we hadn’t parked in a caravan carpark as far as I could see, and going by their parking finesse, they were just plain old rude folks, I suspect we had been lucky until now, and I reminded myself we were headed into proper tourist country now.
I managed to manoeuvrer the LandCruiser out from between their ridiculous caravans and we were on the open road, headed for the border. Notably, wrecked vehicles a common feature on the side of the road now
After an age, we made it to the border, where we stopped and had a look around, an ideal overnight area with large enough Mallee for shade and shelter and toilets. We thought we would push on a little further.
We didn’t make it much further despite the 130km/hr speed limit now available.
At a much slower pace, we eventually found Erldunda and exhausted at the boredom of the drive we decided to stay the night and would drive to Uluru the next day.
Now very much in the tourist farm, we decided to pay the comparatively small additional fee for a powered site and avoid the visible rocks of the unpowered area for a scrap of lawn.
The camping area was quite pretty with large gums providing shade and birdlife over three strips of lawn sites, an oasis of palms cloaking a pool. We snagged the last site (excluding those neighbouring the amenities) at the end of the strip and were able to drink in the colours delivered by the setting sun.
The roadhouse pub offered a variety of meals, anything other than a burger was on my radar. And they delivered, my comfort food, pork sausages with mash potatoes and gravy. Beside the roaring fire, I was practically eating in my sleep.
Unfortunately I was too tired to talk much to our neighbouring patron, an ancient man with the strength of a teenager lifting his beer so we abdicated back to the swag, but not before a hot shower.
The amenities was huge, an open shed that would be cold in the winter morning. The cat circling my feet as I showered was reminiscent of home but other than that I had the block to myself, evidently our caravanning neighbours already showered and in bed or still at the pub.
It was plainly put, bloody cold that night and the lack of sun in our position in the morning we were reluctant to be up and packed. Not as early as our neighbours though, I was learning that caravanners know how to roll out, the dawn march of vans would be comical… if I were up to witness.
It turned out their march may have begun at a snail’s pace, the line of vehicles at the fuel station up and out onto the road with plenty parked and waiting to join.
We opted for a slow breakfast at the roadhouse and by the time we were done, the line had subsided and we fuelled up. Next stop Yulara.
I was surprised to find the road sealed, having done absolutely no recon on this destination but with red dunes and oaks hugging the road, the drive was nicer than the highway headed north. Albeit there were more wrecked cars and rubbish along the way.
Having lost the caravans we had very little traffic heading west which was nice. After an age, our anticipation to see Uluru now elevated to kid level we spotted the monstrosity. Or rather, thought we did.
Pulling up laughing at ourselves we had been watching Mount Conner growing for some kilometres before the signage set us straight. (I was later to read it is indeed considered “Fooluru”)
Despite learning it was not Uluru, its outlook was impressive, and with the larger dunes surrounding the road we were starting to appreciate our unexpected part of this journey. Its commanding yet isolated presence on the flat plain.
The warm red sand was wonderful in my shoes despite staining my feet and took the chill off of the air. The flies appreciated the warmth too, and the fodder of tourists.
We both laughed all over again when we finally caught glimpse at Uluru proper. How silly we were to confuse the two, this was a proper monolith, true to its name. And its regal authority oozed for kilometres as we approached. We were now at toddler level excitement.
The resort itself could have been on the Queensland coast, I recall that same from childhood; the palms and cycads threatening to throttle the reception office. Smooth roads with excessive speed humps to keep traffic slow. We parked and took a peak around before opting to at least see if they had a vacancy but we weren’t worried, the tent areas were practically empty.
We paid our tourist-level camping fees and took our alcohol permits off to our designated zones to scope out a good spot. We found bollards restricted our car based camping habit but we found a shade-free spot far enough away from the amenities. Rolling out the swag to stake our claim we had peanut butter sandwiches before heading out to Uluru. Trying not to miss the roundabouts, or collide with pedestrians on our way out. Uluru drawing my gaze, it was apparent I had underestimated its power.
I think we stopped at every permitted vantage point on the road to Uluru, each variance in angle defining new features, or the same features under a different light, now late in the day; the power emanating could only be described as warm, and getting warmer.
The carpark wasn’t particularly crowded, although there was a cluster at the climbing gates. We both agreed against climbing before even reading the sign asking the same, and walked off, camera and drink bottle in hand to follow the path.
Attempts at photos to catch and release its beauty and power was nigh on impossible. I doubted even the GoPro’s wide angle was going to be able to represent its true wonder. We eventually resigned to breathe it in ourselves, the pulsing quiet taking over now anyway. After a while we came across a sign saying it was a 90 minute walk and we should be prepared with shoes, water etc. It had taken us some time to get to this point and despite my ballet flats, we continued on. By our calculations we would be able to complete the walk and be back in time for the sunset. A designated parking area promised plenty of photo opportunity.
Writing this particular trip report has me feeling more than little stupid about it all, and despite the outcome of the trip, our stupidity could have played out differently and less advantageous. So, whilst I am not looking to excuse our choices, my research and planning was extensively to the south and west of our current locale. It may have been the assumed tourist drawcard that prescribed my latency of preparation. The comfort of being in such a tightly managed tourist area, we did no such reading about what Uluru had to offer outside of laying our own eyes on the monolith.
And so, after another almost four unexpectedly serene hours; we eventually found the carpark, ours the only resident. And the sunset viewing carpark down the road also empty. Peaceful in the growing dark.
We had completed the base walk, taking in all the detail and demur, seemingly alone. We walked passed no one, overtook no one. And the three of us; I am counting our eminent monolith, enjoyed the sunset in a far more intimate setting; up close, moody and personal. The shifting colours and the transition to its nocturnal conjuring, mesmorising.
Despite its serenity it was to be our first and last unprepared walk in the Northern Territory. I later ascertained the 90minute walking sign was for the one section of the available walks, it seems we enjoyed the Mala, Base, Kuniya and Lungkata walks. Probably should have dropped into the Cultural Centre prior to, instead of the next day.