19.03.2016 - 24.03.2016 40 °C
Our longest drive of this trip was from Airlie Beach to Cairns, a 620km meander through field after field of sugar cane, where as we had just stepped foot onto dry land after 40 odd hours on a yacht the world around was quite swaying. Rob refused to let me take the wheel as he wanted to complete the whole east coast drive himself, this rather risky strategy paid off and we arrived in Cairns at 7pm and immediately headed for local Mexican restaurant that also brews its own beer. Avoiding the beer I sampled the mojitos and found them to be chair falling off strength after 2!
We had 4 nights in Cairns, partly as on my last Oz trip it was my favourite place and hostel (Tropic Days, were we stayed again this trip) and partly so we could unpack the bags properly and put our feet up for a few days. Our only real plans were to get out on an outer Great Barrier Reef boat trip and have a dive and a snorkel. Aboard a fine vessel called Reef Experience we did this on our 2nd full day in Cairns. All the photos for this are on the underwater camera that is sat in Rob's bag waiting to be developed. This was another early start to the day and we were collected from Tropic Days at just gone 7am and sailing away from the marina by 8am. Luckily they eased this early start with a BBQ'd bacon and egg butty, followed by a marine biology talk, then it was time to suit up and get under the water. Having dived on a part of the inner reef at the Whitsunday's just a week earlier we were both still amazed by the sheer variety of fish and coral visible, and the amount of colour and noise around this underwater world. After a big buffet lunch whilst the boat moved to our afternoon site, we took up the offer of a guided marine biologist snorkel to learn more about the reef and it's inhabitants. Can not recommend this enough, and an hour has never passed so quickly! (thank you to Stef, Pam, Jo & Dominic)
That evening after a day at sea we were pretty hungry and luckily this coincided with Tropic Days infamous outback BBQ night. A $12 all you can eat fiesta of all the local edible fauna e.g. crocodile, kangaroo, emu and barracuda. My personal favourite was crocodile, as I take great pleasure in eating an animal that would not hesitate to eat me in return with great enthusiasm. There are a lot of crocodiles around Cairns, but they mostly like to hang around on the main beach. This obviously means the beach is off limits to humans, or at least humans with any sense, so the city has built a beach on the esplanade instead. This is called the Lagoon and is free to anyone, and also has free use BBQs and picnic areas surrounding it, so is a pretty grand interpretation of a day at the beach (but even better as not as much sand!). We spent a full day here, paddling and picnicking on our last full day in Cairns. The rest of our time was spent chilling in the hostel's hammocks, wandering around the city and checking out the night market.
We had another shockingly early start to get to the airport for our flight to Ayers Rock on Wednesday, where we were expecting a day of hanging around waiting for our room to be ready as check in was not until 3pm. However another honeymoon perk was our room was ready and waiting on our arrival at 11am!!! This meant we could find our swimming stuff and suncream and make use of the pool, after a wander around the resort centre/town square to buy a lot of water as Ayers Rock being in the middle of the desert is pretty hot and rather short on shade. A 2nd honeymoon perk was the rock view room upgrade, a view that was missed by Rob for some time as he was more interested in planning his dinner. A 3rd perk was yet more champagne, after the amount we have had on this trip, I am not sure I can ever drink non fizz again.
Our fridge post water purchase - guess what is Rob's
View from our balcony
We were staying in the Desert Gardens hotel but took a walk across a well marked patch of bush to the Outback Pioneer hotel for dinner and a visit to the astro lab, where we found out that again we had arrived at a perfect stargazing site at full moon so would miss the full Milky Way effect. We also found an old tour vehicle for Rob to pose in.
Ayers Rock or Uluru consists purely of the resort and the national park, with nothing but the red dirt and some scrub for many miles. It makes you feel pretty small in the scheme of things. We were booked in on the sunrise base walk on our only full day at the rock, which meant another blooming early start, but one that was well worth it. We were driven to the sunrise viewing area to watch the light hit the rock face and change colour, then driven on to the base to meet a local guide to discuss the history and significance to the Aboriginal people and take us around the base. (thanks to Pam, Stef, Zoe & James). I think having an Aboriginal guide was a massive bonus on this tour, we didn't just learn about the geology of the rock, and a dry telling of it's cultural significance to the local communities but an understanding of the difficulties this community faces trying to hold onto their traditions and past, whilst facing a modern world. This historically has not gone easily, however the Ayers Rock Resort has recently been pushing to raise their aboriginal workforce to majority, and find local apprenticeships for the Aboriginal children. The original owners of Uluru, the Aboriginal people, do not allow people to climb the rock, as to them it is a sacred place, however although they currently are involved in running the national park, so are the government who approve of the climbing as they feel in brings in more tourists therefore more money. Our guide (James) was a perfect mix of local and park ranger on this point, he doesn't like people disrespecting the local culture and climbing, but also it is an awful looking climb and most set out on it woefully unprepared and many then get themselves in trouble and need rescuing which annoys him. Like many he believes the climb should have a ban. We did not climb Ayers Rock as we thought it would be rude to ignore the pleas on the signposts from the local people (plus there was no way with my fear of heights I'd ever get down even if I got up!).
Please excuse the jumble of the photos, Rob's phone gets them in a muddled order and the thumbnails here are too small to get them ordered correctly. If it is darker it is pre sunrise etc. Also from the viewing spot we got to see a distant sunrise over the Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), visible in some of the photos with the moon.
One negative of visiting Uluru at this time of year is the number of flies, and I guess in a vast landscape of dirt humans are very interesting.
That evening we had an activity which we had both been looking forward to since seeing it advertised all those months ago when I first started putting this trip together, the Sounds of Silence dinner. This involves being picked up from our hotel at 6pm and driven out to a secluded sand dune to watch the sunset on Uluru and Kata Tjata to the sound of didgeridoo whilst being plied with some fizzy pop. After this a buffet bush dinner with some more free booze, then to end the night a stargazing talk and play with some telescopes. We were a bit apprehensive about the trip having seen the queue of folks just from Desert Gardens waiting for the bus the night before, but I think they may run several sits as the dinner didn't feel crowded at all. Sadly this also deprived me of watching the 3 Chinese girls in full ballgowns and stiletto heels tackle the sand dune. For the dinner we were seated on a table with 4 other couples - an Ozzie and a long lost Scotsman, 2 of the nicest people (even for Canadians) I have ever met, who spend their retirement in Kenya helping orphans through school and into jobs or university as they never had children of their own, 2 fellow Brits and a Frenchman with a lovely Kiwi girlfriend. Probably because of all the free wine the talk turned to politics and a friendly debate ensued, after which I am still no clearer if I want the UK to stay in the EU or not..... The stargazing as predicted by the lack of city lights for miles was again amazing, and Rob even remembered how to find due south using the stars. This was one of the best nights if not the best night of the trip! (thank you to Sandra and Malcolm, we put your gift to good use).
Before we went to Ayers Rock, I wasn't that enthusiastic. I felt like it was something I should do as a visitor to Australia, even when looking at the shocking cost of getting there and onto somewhere else, and the cost of the accommodation (which admittedly was a lot swisher than most on this trip), even during the initial moments of sunrise I thought it was pretty but not wow. However not to get too cheesy or whimsical, watching the first rays of sunlight hitting the face of Uluru and watching the colours dance over the rock, changing minute to minute was awe inspiring and magical. Then to learn of the unique geological processes that have brought the rock from the beginnings of the Himalayas to the middle of the Australian outback, turning it a full 90 degrees vertical in the process, it was something really special and not something I will forget for sometime.
Next up...... will I kill Rob during our week on the Great Southern Touring Route in a campervan?