One month in Oz – 19. Thunderstruck by Uluru

Post 18 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.

Flying into Ayers Rock Airport was an experience I’ll never forget.

Usually when the pilot announces that a plane will be landing shortly, there is a city – or at least some sort of infrastructure – beneath you. Not here. I looked out the window and saw a flat expanse of golden-red dirt, stretching endlessly in every direction. The landscape was surreally empty except for one startling red rock, sat in the middle of the nothingness as if placed there purposefully. I felt a lump in my throat as it struck me that it had to be Uluru.

Landing at Ayers Rock Airport

We landed on a small square of tarmac and stepped out into the hot dust to see a small, shed-like building standing alone in the wilderness. We realised with amusement that this was the airport. It comprises a single room that housed the luggage conveyor and a few service desks. In a matter of minutes we had collected our luggage and loaded it into the bus that was waiting to take us to our accommodation.

The bus driver gave us a brief guide to Ayers Rock Resort: the different lodgings, the shuttle bus times and route, and the activities and tours on offer. We were thrilled to step off at the Desert Gardens Hotel and find ourselves facing a gorgeous reception building. Things only got better from there. Walking to our room took us through a delightful kind of structured garden, packed with indigenous Australian plants and wildlife that included colourful birds and even rabbits (who here are an invasive, although cute, species). The hotel’s rooms are distributed between several separate two-story buildings within this garden. Ours was on the first floor of a building at the end of the garden, its door reached via a communal outdoor landing. We opened the door and were amazed at what we saw.

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Our room was huge and luxurious, yet reflective of the outside landscape with an attractive earthy colour scheme and aboriginal artwork. The bathroom was just as lovely, and held miniature toiletries made with indigenous plants. We ran to the giant window and onto the balcony barely able to believe our eyes – there was Uluru again, bang in the middle of our view. I’d optimistically requested a ‘rock view’ on my online booking form, despite the more expensive ‘rock view’ rooms being sold out, and they’d delivered. I could not have been happier.

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With our luggage unloaded we set out to explore the rest of the resort, which is actually more like a village. First we had a look around the gift shop, which also houses a museum about the local flora and fauna. Adjacent to the gift shop is a theatre and further on from that, past the Emu Walk Apartments, is a large grassy area and a ‘town centre’ comprising several cafes, shops and a supermarket. These are arranged around a central courtyard, where cultural activities and events take place. We were just walking back from the supermarket when, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and rain began torrenting down in volumes like I’d never seen before! We legged it back to our room and arrived soaked from head to toe. With the storm only getting worse, we had no choice but to change our clothes and sit it out in our room.

Thunderstorm at Yulara

The thing is, our amazing room made sitting out the storm an almost religious experience. We were able to sit on our private sheltered balcony, warm and dry in our dressing gowns, and not only watch the storm raging over Uluru but also feel a part of it. I stared awestruck as the forked lightening struck the red earth, followed immediately by deep, rumbling thunder so loud that it reverberated through my bones. The drama was palpable, the atmosphere heavy and fizzing. I can’t explain why, but this spectacle caused a rush of raw emotion to fill my chest, and my eyes to well up with tears. We were both utterly consumed and entranced right up until the end.

Thunderstorm over Uluṟu 3
Thunderstorm over Uluṟu 2
Thunderstorm over Uluṟu

The storm subsided almost as quickly as it had arrived, and with the distraction gone we realised how hungry we were. Remembering what we’d heard on the bus about a barbecue at the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge – the resort’s hostel-like accommodation – we caught a ride there on the free resort bus.

There we found a large barn-like building housing a bar, a stage for live performers, tables and benches, as well as a canteen-like barbecue area. The idea was that you bought raw meat at the counter then barbecued it yourself on one of the many grills, choosing accompaniments from the salad bar. The meat counter had such a wide range of meats to choose from – including crocodile, kangaroo, wallaby and emu – that we couldn’t pick just one, leading to us sharing a variety pack of sausages between us! In retrospect, these unusual meats were probably not best appreciated in sausage form but it did give us an early idea of what they all tasted like. The weirdest of all was crocodile, which to me had a chicken-like texture and appearance but a mildly fishy taste, comparable to scallops!

We stuck around afterwards for some live music, courtesy of a guy with a guitar doing classic rock covers, before catching the bus back to Desert Gardens. Despite us doing very little, it had been an amazing and eye-opening day. And it would only get better tomorrow, when we’d finally get to see the majestic Uluru up-close.

Plane and storm photos (c) Steve McCaul; other photos (c) Juliet Langton.

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