1 June 1999

Riding Camels in the Outback

We woke up bright and early (5 am) and got our duffle bags packed for the three-day camping trip that lay ahead.  Once at the hotel desk, we waited for the tour bus.  The driver, Marty, seemed too awake for our current frame of mind - he apparently got up at 3.  We stashed our bags, got on board and picked up the rest of the crew.  Quite a variety of people: one from Adelaide and Sydney, one from North Carolina ,one from New Zealand, four from Holland, a couple from Ireland, one from Sweden, two from New Caledonia, and four from Germany.


  • Both of us riding a camel
  • Daria petting Mercury
  • Our first stop was a camel farm.  The proprietor, a bearded guy named Noel, owned the place and was in many photos posted on the walls, but was not there.  We rode a dromedary camel named Mercury.  Once we were in the dual saddle, the camel stood up quickly on all fours.  The reins went through a hole in its nose because bits are illegal.  Camels raised here were sold to places around the world for several thousand dollars.  Once we got back to the bus, Marty played a tape narrated by Noel that listed many camel facts, gave a history of camel riders that were also mass murderers of Aborigines, and described the problems that face Aborigines today - along with some proposed "solutions."  A very disturbing tape.


  • Mount Connor
  • Uluru and Kata Tjuta
  • We drove on to a scenic overlook of Atila (Mt. Connor), which even from 30 km away looked impressive.  It is 300m tall and is much wider than Uluru, but is currently only accessable via helicopter.  We also stopped at a roadhouse that featured an Aboriginal art gallery.  All the paintings depicted how women gathered food.

    The bus pulled up to our campsite.  The previous busful of campers were clearing out quickly - they were running late.  The campsite consisted of several square-based tents gathered around a firepit, with a covered area for eating.  We chose a tent and went inside.  It had two cots, each with a sleeping bag.  After dumping our stuff, we prepared a lunch of sandwiches and salads.  Then we took off.


    Walking Around Uluru

  • Climbers making their way up Uluru
  • We arrived at Uluru (Ayer's Rock).  This area, originally taken away from the Aboriginees, was returned to them in 1985.  They now run the place; the profits are shared among all local tribes.  Uluru is a large red chunk of sandstone that is millions of years old and has various parts of it worn away or broken off, resulting in interesting holes and shapes.  The Aboriginees have stories associated with each of these features.  Hence, this is a holy place.  Some tourists climb up the rock, but it is discouraged.


  • Tobin walks around Uluru
  • Many watermarks on Uluru's surface
  • Closeup of watermarks
  • A large crack in Uluru
  • Its rugged surface
  • A cave containing paintings
  • Marty took us to a small pond against the rock and told us some of the stories.  Then we split up into two groups: walkers and climbers.  We went with the walkers, who hiked around the base of Uluru and studied the markings and texture of the rock.  Some areas were off-limits to tourists and weren't to be photographed due to their religious significance.  Many flies kept us company as we walked around Uluru; we often stopped to brush several of them off each other's backs.


  • Uluru at sunset
  • Kata Tjuta at sunset
  • After everyone met up, we were taken to a lookout point just before sunset.  We took a path beyond other tourists until we reached a point where we could see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).  The setting sun turned the red rock into gold, with its many crevaces filled with light from below.  Clouds diminished the effect somewhat, but the result was still breathtaking.

    Finally, we returned to the campsite.  Marty prepared our supper of grilled meat and sausages.  At an earlier stop, everone had picked up beer and other drinks.  Everyone spent the evening socializing.

    Random thoughts:

    • The Irish couple had worked here for about a year and spent the last month travelling around.  They spent time driving along the southern coast and visiting the Whitsundays by yacht.
    • A woman from Sydney serves as a nurse for the Royal Flying Doctors, a group that gives emergency care to people in remote places.  She had been in this area before, but only on cases.  She said it takes 1000 hours in order to get a pilot's license in Australia.
    • A couple from Holland actually had come from Australia but lived in the states for a while.  They had just finished a visit with friends in Maura (W. Australia) which was recovering from a flood but was just flooded again last week.
    • The sand here is brick red - it almost seems fake.  But it is due to oxidation in the soil's minerals.

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