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May 24, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                     Uluru / Ayers Rock

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Gíday from Australiaís Red Center! Last week when we left off from Melbourne (hereís a link to the archives), I promised weíd head to a very special, remote place. Now I make good as we pay a visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park!

Uluru/Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta are two huge sandstone formations in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (over 311,000 acres). Fifteen miles apart, they are located almost smack in the center of Australia (hereís a map), in the Northern Territory. (Australia is made up of six states -- New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia -- and two territories: Australia Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.) Australia is only slightly smaller than the continental United States, but has way fewer people: only 20 million, compared to our 300 million. Thatís one attribute that makes Australia so amazing. Keep in mind, there are so few people not only because itís so far from the rest of the world, but also because most of Australiaís interior is uninhabitable.

Why do I keep writing Uluru/Ayers Rock? Uluru is the rockís original name. It has no real meaning; itís just a family name. It comes from the local aboriginal people (who refer to themselves as Anangu), who are natives Australians Ė similar to American Indians. Archaeological work suggests that Aboriginal people have lived in this area for at least 22,000 years. Just like Native Americans, aboriginal communities from each region have different names. The aboriginals of the central Australian desert are traditionally called the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people (say that three times fast!). When surveyor William Gosse first visited the rock in 1873, he named it after Sir Henry Ayers, the chief secretary of nearby South Australia (he had a mad crush on Ayersí daughter). In the early 1900s the Australian government declared ownership of the land. In 1985 they returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara, on the condition that they would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife service for 99 years, and that it would be managed jointly. In 1993 the name "Uluru" began to make a comeback. Uluru was officially reinstated, and the area had the dual name of Ayers Rock/Uluru. In 2002 Australia officially reversed the order, so now Uluru is listed first.

The distance from Melbourne to Uluru/Ayers Rock is 1170 miles -- about the same as New York City to New Orleans. Over half a million people visit each year. Besides making a long drive from one of Australiaís major cities, thereís only one other way to get there: Qantas. The only commercial airline that flies to Ayers Rock Airport, Australiaís flagship carrier offers daily service from Perth, Sydney, Cairns and Alice Springs. They fly four times a week from Melbourne. The flight took just under three hours, and the packed plane was a 737-400. The flight was really smooth, and at the very end -- when we flew over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Ė was very scenic. If you fly Qantas be sure to pack light, because they have strict baggage weight limits. Domestic economy class passengers are allowed to check only one bag, up to 70 pounds, which is pretty good -- but carryon bags canít weigh more than 15 pounds. Thatís not a lot, especially if you bring as much crap as I do on a plane. My computer bag weighed only a pound over the limit. Still, they made me put some of those belongings into my checked bag, and separate other stuff into another bag (I bought a cheap sack for $3 from the gift shop). Qantas: tel.: 1-800-227-4500.

Just after we landed, the flight attendant said the time change for the Northern Territory is 30 minutes behind Melbourne. She said it so nonchalantly, like it was no big deal. Australians might not think a 30-minute time change is much, but to me (and probably the rest of the world) itís huge. Iíd never heard of such a thing -- a 30-minute time change?! (South Australia has the same time difference.)

I had heard many mixed opinions on Uluru/Ayers Rock. Those who hadnít visited said itís just a rock, while those who had seen it said itís so much more. They even went so far as to say that if you havenít been to the "Red Center," you havenít really been to Australia. I donít agree with the last statement, because thatís like saying if you havenít seen the Grand Canyon, you havenít been to America. But now that I have been to Uluru, I agree it is a very special place.

Itís a desert climate. The average high temperatures range from 66į F in July to 97 in January. Especially during winter, nights and mornings can get quite cool, so pack appropriate warm clothing. But donít forget sunscreen, a hat and solid walking shoes.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Headed To Ayers Rock Airport


Gate At MEL Airport


Uluru From Air


Qantas at AYQ




The Australian Outback


Drive To Hotel






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