Albany to Uluru, flying direct to the heart of Australia

Headshot of Stephen Scourfield
Stephen ScourfieldThe West Australian
Guests at Uluru.
Camera IconGuests at Uluru. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

It was most probably the only time that an aircraft will take off at Albany to fly direct to Uluru.

And it took the Virgin Australia Fokker 100, chartered as a partnered project between West Travel Club and NT Now, just two hours to travel from WA’s south coast to the heart of Australia.

The plane had actually left from Perth with 29 guests and me on board, flying south to pick up 40 more travellers from Albany. Overwhelmingly, the comments from them over the weekend were those of gratitude that they’d been thought of — that such an unusual project had been “pulled off” for a regional town.

Homeward bound. The West Travel Club group with the Virgin Australia plane in Ayers Rock Airport, ready to fly from Uluru direct back to Albany.
Camera IconHomeward bound. The West Travel Club group with the Virgin Australia plane in Ayers Rock Airport, ready to fly from Uluru direct back to Albany. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

And it was as simple as that for us — a desire to work with our trusted friends at NT Now, which is part of Holidays of Australia, to create something new, and open up pathways and experiences.

From the Southern Ocean to the deep inland of central deserts. From grey granite to that definitive lump of red arkose sandstone. From the fringes of the continent to the heart of Australia.

From Albany, there was one traveller who had been to Uluru 60 years ago with her husband, who has died. It was a special return visit for her.

There were four “Granny Grommets” who body-surf together at Middleton Beach.

There were some tuned in to the spiritual nature of the place, others who just wanted to relax and enjoy the perfect weather, of mid-20C, mild evenings and barely a fly in sight.

A view of Uluru from the platform on the central dune at Yulara.
Camera IconA view of Uluru from the platform on the central dune at Yulara. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

We left early on Friday, June 17, and stayed at Desert Garden Hotel, which is part of Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara. I like Desert Garden — to me, it feels more intimate and personal that the better known Sails in the Desert, and the rooms are good.

That evening, most of us went to the Sounds of Silence, to stand on a dune top and watch the sun set on Uluru, before wandering down a red sand path, to the rhythms of a didgeridoo player, and then dining with twists of Indigenous flavours under a sky that cleared in time for a star-gazer’s entertaining and insightful narrative.

Mutitjulu Waterhole, Uluru.
Camera IconMutitjulu Waterhole, Uluru. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

The next day we were taken by AAT Kings to the rock, to walk in to Mutitjulu Waterhole, and hear its stories — once again, in mild, sunny weather.

Most wandered through Yulara Town Square, where local Indigenous people paint and sell their creations, some visited the Gallery of Central Australia, and some walked up to the platform on the township’s central dune, for more good views of Uluru.

Some guests joined me for PhotoWalks with Phones, and we all went to artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light Uluru installation in the evening, to see the remote desert gently come to life as light poured from projectors down fibre-optic cables to 50,000 spheres.

Field of Light Uluru.
Camera IconField of Light Uluru. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

On Sunday, we visited the Uluru Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, for this is the home of the Anangu people.

And throughout it all, hosts Jane Cormack and Andrea Cameron kept things running smoothly.

ROCKING THE ROCK

Uluṟu is slightly weird, its colour ever changing, and omnipresent. It looms red in the sunset. It lurks purple, like a distant 2D cutout, behind the “Cousin Itt” desert oaks; skinny, stretched-up, mop-topped, some here living 1000 years. Its shadows continually change with the arcing sun. Up close, it sometimes seems to me a shape-shifter, like many of the characters in its many Tjukurpa creation stories.

Being told stories at Mutitjulu Waterhole.
Camera IconBeing told stories at Mutitjulu Waterhole. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Ernest Giles, who I wrote about in last week’s edition, first saw the rock from a distance in 1872 . He returned in 1873 to find that William Gosse had already been the first European to experience it up close.

But the Anangu people have been here for tens of thousands of years, of course. This land was handed back to traditional owners in 1985.

There are stories of belief, of course, and there’s a geological point of view too, of course.

The Earth formed 4.53 billion years ago, the Central Australian Superbasin from 800 million to 350 million years ago. During that time, about 500 million years ago, the whole area was covered in sea, mud and sand falling to the seabed to be compressed into sandstone.

Uluru.
Camera IconUluru. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

While, essentially, the process that formed Uluru started about 550 million years ago, it’s 400 million years ago that the sea disappeared, and then rocks folded and tilted as the Earth’s tectonic plates shifted.

It sits benignly behind Uluṟu Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre on our languid Sunday morning, through sheoaks and desert oaks, and under a grey, light diffusing sky.

And then the sun comes out. Blue sky, vibrant red rock and spinifex bursting gold from the rich sand, lush after this year’s good rains.

Uluru is ever-changing. Always alive.

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