• Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the red heart of Australia glows at sunset, with sunbursts keeping it company. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader
  • Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the red heart of Australia. Many walking trails around the rock lead to caves with petroglyphs and hidden waterholes, all surrounded by desert grasses, eucalyptus trees and blooming flowers. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader
  • The Field of Lights art installation lit by a rising full moon. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Uluru, the ‘red heart’ of Australia

Wild Ways

Bucko and I have traveled much of the world together and seen all kinds of sights in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, but one continent was still left unexplored: Australia. So with retirement time on our hands and still healthy enough to travel, we could finally check this off our list.

But us being us, we didn’t plan to do it the normal way. No big cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc., for us. From our viewpoint, all cities look the same with their Starbucks, McDonald’s and shopping malls. And no coral reefs either – we’ve seen many in healthy condition over the years and had no desire to see a now failing Great Barrier Reef. Forget the rainforests, too – we’ve spent lots of time dripping sweat and avoiding land leeches in Southeast Asian rainforests, and enough is enough. No, we had one goal in mind. We wanted to see “the rock.”

Uluru (Ayers Rock) is in the center of Australia, far away from everything and not so easy to get to, but, hey, where there’s a will there’s a way. We boarded a plane in Bangkok, changed planes in Singapore and got our first taste of Australia in the northern town of Darwin, where we spent a couple of days sightseeing with Aussie friends. Then we flew to Alice Springs and rented a car for a five-hour drive into the desert to finally reach the “red heart” of Australia, the famous rock.

We were excited about this solo road trip and had read all about the kangaroos, lizards and giant trucks we expected to see. But, no. Nothing. Few cars were even on the road through seemingly endless miles of red earth and scruffy vegetation. We briefly stopped at roadhouses along the way to look at camel farms and captive emus, but the 105-degree Fahrenheit temperature and the obnoxious flies sucking moisture from our skin, noses and lips quickly drove us back inside our air-conditioned car.

Our first glimpse of Uluru was unimpressive.

“We came all the way here for THIS?”

But up close and personal, its magical charm soon captivated us. The smooth surfaces of the rock towered above us, water sprang from unseen springs, and desert flowers brightened up the landscape. What with the scalding hot air, we could only go out and about in the morning and late afternoon, but there were also indoor interpretive centers to visit and a lot to learn about the aborigines who call this place home.

One night, I convinced Bucko to see an art installation, the Field of Lights – a high-priced excursion but, oh, well, you only live once. But, sadly, this was something that Bucko could have lived without. We stood drinking champagne on a hillside with a host of other tourists just after sunset, and as the sky darkened, thousands of small lights in swaths of red and blue and yellow lit up a field below us. In Bucko’s view, this was sacrilegious, and I had to agree. Nature’s beauty alone surpassed this manmade performance.

So we walked with the others in and among the lights but were more captivated by the stars, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt – more stars than I’ve ever seen before in our normal, light-contaminated world. And then, to top it off, a full moon rose above the horizon, casting its glow upon the lighted field. Awesome. At least I thought so.

On our final night in Uluru, we drove ourselves to a lookout point to watch the sunset. In front of us, the giant rock changed color from dull to glowing red, then fading into purple. Next to the rock, sunbursts in rainbow colors emanated from the ground. Behind us, the sun was setting over the desert landscape, in magical colors of purple and orange. Even I had to agree that this light show, this free gift of nature, far surpassed the previous one created by man.

We were a bit disappointed that we only saw one lizard, a few birds and no kangaroos, despite the many road signs warning of kangaroo crossings. But the scenic splendor and isolation of the place made it well worth the journey. If only there were a few less flies!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. 



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