Sydney – Friday 14th November – So today, someone had turned the heater up a bit with temperatures higher than any day in the week we’d been in Sydney. As this was our last full day in the city, we decided to take it easy and chill out in the same way the Aussies do and take the day as it came with nothing planned. We agreed to take the short boat ride around to Darling Harbour but pretty much as soon as we got there realised that it would be too hot to walk around so we bought some drinks and found a shady spot to people watch.
The area was Tumbalonga Park, just off the harbour and was a great place to sit and relax and watch the world go by. As it was a Friday we suspected there were many people doing the same thing, skipping off work early for the weekend and just enjoying the sunshine. In the park there were snazzy deck chairs and mats to use, free of charge and we soon found a spot under a brolly and remained there until lunchtime. Surrounding the park were cafe’s, restaurants and takeaway outlets, ideal for visitors and workers to use; the place was really set up for a relaxing time. I grabbed a couple of Greek salad takeaways and we ate in the shade before strolling back to the market we’d visited yesterday. A few more prezzies later and we decided to have an earlier dinner, returning to the Nando’s we’d missed out on last night.
We ordered our food, as we normally would in the UK, but to our amazement the portions were huge and we both struggled to finish the meal. A slow walk back to the hotel to start to pack for the next part of our Australian trip.
Sydney/Alice Springs/Ayres Rock (Ulura) – Saturday 15th November – In order to get to Yulara, the town that has been purpose built for the Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park, we firstly had to fly to Alice Springs, smack bang in the middle of Australia, although actually in the Northern Territories. We ordered a taxi to get us to the airport, which did so with plenty of time to spare as traffic was light on an early Saturday morning. The Qantas check in was so easy; everything was done self service, including printing the tickets, weighing the cases and printing and attaching the baggage labels on the conveyor belt. A short queue through security and we were in the departure lounge (after having my bag sniffed for explosives… none found btw). The flight departure was on time and we were soon flying north west towards Alice Springs, some three hours away.
Our arrival at the transit town was weird; the place seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, which I guess should be expected as it was. We disembarked from the plane and left the arrivals lounge to collect our cases for the flight to Ayres Rock. We waited, and waited but when we were the last at the collection belt with no cases left to collect we guessed Qantas were doing the donkey work for us and sure enough after a quick confirmation from the check in desk, we were assured the cases would be on the next plane.
We grabbed a coffee and then waited a short period before boarding the next flight, not before checking out the gift shop, which was the only one at the airport. The aircraft was only a third full of passengers and so were able to take off early (we were the last flight of the day and it was only 2 pm!)
Three quarters of an hour later and we were landing at Ayres Rock, seeing for the first time the iconic landmark on the horizon. After collecting the cases we boarded the complimentary coach to the hotel (there are no taxis in Yulara) and were soon checking in and unpacking.
The town of Yulara is a purpose built place, dedicated solely for the visitor to the national park, with only three hotels and one bar. Any organised excursions had to be booked through two agents, AATKings being the one we’d used. We had booked a sunset viewing of the rock followed by a BBQ under the stars and at the agreed time we were picked up from the hotel, along with a number of other guests.
We arrived at the viewing area and were offered a drink, some nibbles followed by more drink until the sun started to drop. By this time there were quite a few other coaches that had arrived, the guests all waiting patiently for the main spectacle. As the sun started to drop, the rock was a sight to behold, colours changing every minute that passed and the cameras started in earnest. Also the sunset behind us was spectacular, adding to the beauty, it really was worth experiencing.
We then departed for the BBQ; a number of tables set out in the middle of nowhere and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, which included steak, kangaroo meat, chicken skewers and lamb sausages. And plenty of wine. After the meal the tour guide led us to a spot near the coach, switched off the lights and talked about the stars in the sky. This night was the first time we actually managed to see any stars, as most nights had been cloudy. The dark surroundings, devoid of street lights allowed for a magnificent view of the night sky and we saw, for the first time, the southern hemisphere stars. Once the lights came back up we reboarded the coach and returned to the hotel, falling into our bed after a long but enjoyable day.