Subject: Sacred Red Rocks (long)
Hello Ziners,

Next stop is Uluru and even I must admit that the going was pretty flat. But it is still pretty. When all else fails there is always the play of light on the colours of the outback the rusts and reds, pale yellows, sage to emerald greens and the ever-changing clouds on the inevitable bright blue sky.

We set off in the dark and watched as the rising sun brought the outback to life for us. I was relieved to see more dead tyres than wildlife on the edge of the road but soon the evidence of the previous nights carnage began to appear, usually preceded by the sight of immense birds of prey hovering just above the road surface. Unfortunately the greenest vegetation is along the side of the highway where the run off from any passing rain clouds bring forth sweet new shoots to attract the wildlife. The livestock is less of a problem, the cows’ just look up as you swish by, sheep will bolt but always (so far) back the way they came. Roos’ invariably seem to dash into the path of the approaching vehicle.

The road sped beneath our wheels and we covered the 720km along with breaks in 8.5 hours, gaining an hour in the process by crossing the state boundary. An hour less on the clock, but sadly, not an hour of extra daylight.

The campground at Yulara, the only option for visitors to Uluru is particularly nice. We have a good grass site with shade trees, all the usual amenities plus a pool and of course location, location, location. The temperature is in the low 30’s, a bit low for the time of year and an ever present breeze making for very comfortable walking weather and pleasantly warm nights for sleeping outdoors.

On our first morning we took the free Mala walking tour with a park ranger. We were planning to take an Anangu Tour with a local Aboriginal guide but our ranger was Aboriginal and gave us a great feel for Uluru and what it means to his people. I had a hard time resisting the challenge of climbing but having decided before we got here to respect the wishes of the 'traditional owners' we set off to walk around the base instead. It really is the most incredible magical place to be and what new is there to say about it? We went back that evening to a sunset viewing area and were up at 5.30 the following morning for sunrise. To see the first rays of the sun strike the rock and quickly transform it from a brownish purplish blob into the vibrant orange monolith we have all seen in pictures and film so many times, is a real privilege. Even when there are 30 Japanese tourists sitting down to breakfast right beside you, their tour bus and mobile kitchen across the road waiting to whisk them away the second the sun is up.

>From Uluru we drove the 50 km to Kata Tjuta; formerly know as The Olgas, to walk amongst but not over the 36 steep and sacred domes. Within minutes we had left the crowds behind and were climbing between the towering domes of the Walpa gorge in the lovely early morning light. Although the same colour as Uluru, Kata Tjuta is not composed of the same arkose sandstone. Its sedimentary rock is "conglomerate", a mixture of gravel, pebbles and boulders cemented together with sand and mud. Is looks exactly like what it is, one of the worlds very first concrete jobs.

Once between the domes a beautiful lush valley opens up, similar to an alpine meadow. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been as surprised as we were. Any falling rain would quickly descend to the base of the domes and there are a few small pools. There are some who prefer the Kata Tjuta experience to walking around the base of Uluru and I must admit it is great to walk into Kata Tjuta and be surrounded by the ancient domes. We were back by lunchtime and spent the afternoon lazing by the pool and reading.

That evening we had booked a "Sound Of Silence" dinner through the Sails of the Desert Hotel. We were picked up in the largest most luxurious coach we have ever travelled in and transported to the hotels private dining dunes about 15 minutes down a very bumpy unsealed road. At a distance to our left was Uluru at a greater distance to our right, Kata Tjuta. As the sun began to set we were plied with champagne and canapés. I can’t explain it, it may have been the champagne or it could have been the rather too good looking young waiter urging me to "go on, try some Skippy" but I did eat just the tiniest morsel of kangaroo meat. I also tried crocodile and macadamia nut filo tarts; I have the recipe if anyone wants a copy! Much more to my liking was the smoked salmon rolls and I left the vegetarian sushi to the vegetarians. As the reds and oranges of sunset suffused the sky we made our way down to the dining area and met our dinner companions, a very nice young couple from Montreal.

The all you can eat (and drink) buffet followed, a variety of "bush salads", bush only I think in their fabulous location and a variety of meats, kangaroo featured again, along with lamb, beef and barramundi, a delicious estuary fish.

After dinner our hostess turned off all the lights, recited a short poem then invited us to listen to the sound of silence. The voice of an astronomer brought us out of our private trances as she began, with the aid of a laser light, to take us on a tour of the southern sky. First of course was the Southern Cross. Pity I won’t be able to show off my newfound knowledge to ‘the grands’ when we return to the northern hemisphere.

A fabulous evening with good food, good company in the most amazing surroundings imaginable and the bonus of an excuse to dress up and crack open my cosmetic bag which has been languishing at the bottom of my suitcase since November.

Our last day at The Rock and we are taking it easy. I am typing this on the laptop for transmission as soon as we return to civilization, probably Tennant Creek. Yes, I know that barely counts as civilization as we know it but it will surely provide a motel room with a phone line.

Tomorrow Kings Canyon and more ups and downs

Regard Sue Waterloo ON (currently in the Red Center of Australia)