I expected a few people would be in the parking lot at Uluru to watch the sun go down. I didn’t expect a Lambeau Field/Green Bay Packers NFL tailgate party.
But that’s what I got. I’m staying at a wonderful resort called Longitude 131, which overlooks Uluru or Ayers Rock from a few miles away. They said they’d take us to Uluru for the sunset, including champagne and cheese and crackers, so I was naturally all over that. I expected a few buses, but instead it was a madhouse, with dozens of tables set up with wine and beer and veggies and crackers and shrimp and stew and all sorts of food and drink, with a couple dozen buses in the parking lot spewing out hundreds of visitors intent on seeing the legendry sunset.
It was slightly disapponting today, with a little too much cloud cover for a really great sunset. But it still was pretty cool to see all the zanineess surrounding the nightly ritual. Not to mention the rock itself, which is hugely impressive and all I expected it to be.
I started the day with a nice walk around the rim of Kings Canyon, also known as Watarrka, about 300 clicks from here. It was fun, but not quite as overpowering as my first visit to Uluru.
I had a quick walk near one of the waterholes at the base of the rock, then had to return my rental car. I checked into Longitude 131, which features remarkable, one-on-one service and an open bar, plus units that look like tents scattered along a hill with great view of Uluru. I grabbed a five-minute swim, then had a 15-minute helicopter tour (see photo), followed by the sunset viewing and then dinner on the sands of the outback, complete with a didgeridoo player and a fellow who explained the night stars to Longitude 131 guests on a warm, beautiful night in the bush near the hotel.
Great food, fascinating insights and wonderful guests, one of whom gave me a couple Benadryl-like pills to combat the worst itch/hives I’ve had in my life. Maybe it was a plant at Kings Canyon, I don’t know, but I’m a mess of hives and it’s horribly, horribly itchy. Someone at dinner suggested I rub toothpaste on my skin, which I just tried. It doesn’t seem to help but I smell pretty minty, anyway.
More to come when I get the chance, but I have a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call for some touring of the Olgas, another wonderful geographic feature of the Northern Territories.
A SHORT VISIT TO SYDNEY
This city is far, far better than I remembered it.
My only time in Sydney, prior to Star Travel’s Grand Tour series, was to cover the Olympics in 2000. I stayed at a hotel in King’s Cross and got to see a bit of the city on my way to and from work, but most of my days and nights were spent in the main media centre at the Olympic Park in Homebush Bay. We had one night on the rocks and a night in Bondi, but other than that it was all work.
This time I was there to cover Sydney for our Grand Tour (see story in Star Travel), so it was a much more enjoyable visit that allowed me to see the sights. I spent a couple nights madly snapping photos of the Opera House from my room at the Park Hyatt Hotel, a terrific spot perched at the bottom of the Harbour Bridge. I ate some terrific Thai food and Japanese food in the Rocks, took the Manly ferry to remarkable Manly Beach, wandered around the neighborhoods of Paddington, Darlinghurst and King’s Cross, and took in the surf at Bondi Beach.
I also had a night at the Shangri-la hotel in the Rocks, which has great views from every room, as well as a terrific cocktail bar. And I got a night at the beach-side Swiss Grand Hotel in Bondi, where I had stayed a night back in 2000.
Bondi was better than I remembered, and that’s saying a lot. I caught some waves, thanks to Leo, an excellent surf trainer from Brazil, and wandered along the cliff walk that goes from Bondi to Tamarama Beach. They had a sculpture exhibit on, and there were wonderful sculptures and artworks of all kinds and thousands of people checking out the action.
I spent time in 2000 at Watson’s Bay, but this time I wandered over to Manly on the ferry. I got rained out the first two tries, but the third attempt was a glorious Sunday morning in full sun and I got some fun pictures of a surf rescue competition and other good stuff.
It’s a remarkable city, and easily one of the top three or four in the world. You can’t beat New York’s energy, and it’s tough to beat the culture and pace of Hong Kong, or the beauty of Vancouver or San Francisco. Let alone Paris, the final stop on our Grand Tour. But Sydney is right up there with all of them; a confident, beautiful and multi-faceted city that truly has something for everyone.