We knew we’d be somewhere in Australia when Blakey turned 30 but we didn’t know where exactly we’d be as we’ve been taking things a day at a time and trying not to plan ahead. It was just luck really that we found ourselves travelling through the outback and on our way to a very special destination for his 30th – Uluru.
Ayer’s Rock Resort
We booked three nights at the Ayer’s Rock Campground, and were lucky to get in at such short notice as it’s always so busy. The Rock is a big enough tourist attraction to merit having it’s very own airport out here in the back of beyond, so it keeps the resort full.
Ayer’s Rock Resort is a funny old place where the whole resort and all the tours are owned by one company, keeping the prices high and allowing zero competition – it reminded me a lot of holiday villages like CenterParcs, where there’s a little town square with your overpriced shops and restaurants, and the accommodation surrounding it. There are 5 hotels ranging in price from Emu Walk Apartments to the swanky Sails in the Desert with it’s very nice spa treatments (we may have indulged ourselves), and all of them have nice swimming pools. Then there’s the cheap and cheerful option… the buy-two-nights-get-the-third-free campground. That’s the one for us!
Ayer’s Rock Campground was very lovely to be honest. It might not be 5-star luxury but it was clean and the showers weren’t manky. It even had a pool. I felt like the campground was home to the adventurers – the red and dusty caravans and trailer/tent contraptions were for those of us willing to drive the ridiculous hours to the Rock just to say we’d done it. No quick flights home for the campers, only more miles through endless desert to the next dusty outback town.
I’m just trying to make myself feel better when really I’d have loved to have a real room with an actual bed, if only for one night. It was not to be – all the hotels were fully booked.
We got into the resort the day before Blakey’s birthday and settled in, chilling out by the pool until the flies and screaming children grew unbearable, then retreated back to the van for an early night. We were up bright and early before dawn, and I managed to coax the birthday boy out of bed in time to walk to the viewing platform to see Uluru at sunrise. I had to bribe him with coffee to get him up that early. It was very beautiful, and it’s definitely rare for us to see any kind of sunrise, let alone one in such a cool location.
We drove over to Uluru to check it out close up. It loomed up in our windscreen for ages, slowly getting bigger and clearer. There’s a lot of debate whether you should actually climb Uluru or not, as it’s a sacred place to the aboriginal people who own the land, and they find it very disrespectful. It’s a tough one… while you don’t want to offend, can something that’s 500 million years old really belong to any one group of people? Isn’t it a symbol of Australia and therefore everyone’s? People of all races and religions climb to the top of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, don’t they?
I decided that it’s best to respect the request of the aboriginal people and not climb. Blakey decided he definitely wanted to climb. In the end it was settled for us, as the climb to the top was closed because of high winds. We did the 12km Uluru base walk instead, which took us on a loop the whole way around.
To be honest, after three hours of walking and looking at the different faces of the rock, we were about done with Uluru. Don’t get me wrong… It’s pretty cool, as far as rocks go. You get this feeling of awe as you approach it. It’s got lots of interesting formations and marks, and it’s a nice colour. But really, there’s only so long you can stare at a giant rock for before you conclude that yep, it’s definitely a rock.
There was a bit of drama after we left because I realised I’d lost my engagement ring. I’d taken it off before the hike to put on sunscreen, then forgot and left it in the van. We drove round a roundabout and everything in the back of the van slid about and it dawned on me with horror that my ring had probably just zoomed into some crack in the van, never to be seen again. We pulled over and searched the van and the road but no luck… With a pretty hopeless feeling we drove back to the carpark and searched the ground, hoping that maybe we’d knocked it out the van there. I was just about panicking when Blakey said casually “There it is” and picked it up. It was covered in red dust but otherwise fine. I had a few tears but managed to avoid turning into a complete mess, and promised to look after it much better from now on. Phew.
Sounds of Silence
That evening, as an unbelievable 30th birthday treat, Blakey’s parents had bought us a once in a lifetime experience – the Sounds of Silence. The night started with canapes and sparkling wine on a viewing platform on the dunes overlooking Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We watched the sun go down and chatted to some of the other guests – a lovely couple called Christine and Bob, who, within the first five minutes, offered to have us stay with them when we’re back round Brisbane way and insisted on exchanging contact details to stay in touch. I tell you; Australians are the most wonderful people.
After generous helpings of sparkling wine and kangaroo canapes, the sun had finally set and we were escorted down the dune to our outdoor dining area to the sound of a didgeridoo. We took our seats under the stars and the waiters were quick to bring round a selection of wines and beers, keeping our glasses topped up all night. We got to know our fellow guests at our table, all Australians, all lovely people. The didgeridoo man came over and played on the table for us, and we all sang happy birthday to Blakey. Soon we were laughing away and exchanged contact details with more new friends with promises to visit when we’re up their way in June. The meal zoomed by while we were all talking and before we knew it the waiters were putting out the lights and quieting everyone down for the last bit of the night.
In the darkness, the voice of their resident star-guide floated out to us and we stared up at the milky way as he explained various constellations and legends surrounding different stars. A few shooting stars flew casually by.
An extra surprise
We all got dropped back at our various hotels and campsite, the bus notably louder than on the way there. Then there was one last treat for Blakey – I video called his mum, who was throwing a long-distance surprise party for him! The whole family were shouting and waving down the phone, there were banners and birthday cake and heaps of food. They all sang down the phone and he virtually blew out his candles. It was so lovely, and he had no idea. The downside being that we only got to look at the amazing food, whilst everyone else got to eat it. Post us some cake??