|Today we flew from Sydney to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is it's more respectful Aborigional name), in the centre of Australia. It was ~ a 3 hour flight, and involved a 30 min time zone change. Australia is a big, big place! We saw Uluru from the air, and it is much, much bigger than I expected. All the photos you see just don't do it justice, as there's no way you can get a decent sense of scale from them. It's simply huge! ~10km around the base, I'm told. And everything else in the desert is flat for miles around, except for a few other similar outcrops of rock, most notably Kata Tjutu (aka the Olgas), to the west. On stepping out of the plane, we were simply amazed at the heat. Apparently the high today was 39C, and it felt like walking into an oven! In summer we're told it can reach 50C. How anyone stands it here then is beyond me.
We made it to our hotel by way of free bus transfer, during which we were warned about how easily the heat can kill you out here. Apparently you loose ~1 litre of water an hour doing any sort of excercise (walking, etc), so constant drinking is a must, or you'll die of heat exhaustion pretty rappidly. Other essentials are high factor sun screen, sun hats, and stout boots (the bush 'round here is full of poisonous snakes!). We've been here 1/2 a day so far, and I am beginning to wonder how we've survived even this long, given how much stuff is trying to kill us!
Upon arrival we looked into the various tours we could do, and decided to join a camel ride to see the sun set over the desert. We had a lovely guide called Nikki, and a very good-tempered camel called Rangi (a name from a Mawri legend). The camel behind ours, Sid, was slightly less civilised, and kept trying to eat Jon's rucksac, which was ammusing for me, but less so for Jon! The sun setting over the desert was beautiful, and the photos don't do it justice! When we got back to the camel station they fed us snacks, including smoked camel meat, which tasted remarkably like ham....
We got back to the hotel and immediately booked to go on a star tour, which was a chance to see the fabulous southern sky away from the lights of the resort here. They really do have a lot more stars down here than we do (which is because the Earth's south pole points towards the Galactic center, whereas we in the North point away from it), and the Milky Way is very clear. Our guide pointed out many of the constellations, and the Magelanic Clouds, and showed us, through a telescope, some binary star systems (Alpha Centurai and the one that's the head of the Swan, but I can't remember the star's name!), and a globular cluster, which was magnificent.
Now we're back at the hotel, exhausted, but happy, although surrounded by bugs! Apparently they had a little rain here recently and it's brought them all out to swarm. Mostly it's beetles and grasshoppers, with a few moths, and earlier a very large native wasp, which we're assured doesn't sting unless provoke. We shall do our best not to provoke it! We have tomorrow morning to ourselves, but are being picked up by our 4 wheel drive tour at 1pm. That takes us all the way to Alice Springs, via a variety of interesting places, over the course of 3 days. It should be fabulous, and we're really excited!
[NB. Re the "sunset over Kata Tjuta" image, the composite image looks a bit odd because the difference in brightness meant that the camera took different length exposures for each image, so making the foreground and dark sky different brightnesses, but I think you get the idea.]