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Friday, 16 July 2010

Uluru Part 2

After our tour of Uluru, we were scheduled to undergo the experience known as "Sounds of Silence".
No, this is not the Simon and Garfunkle classic, but a delightful experience of dining under the stars, listening to the absolute silence of the desert.
It didn't quite work out that way, the silence of the desert being replaced (mostly) by very loud Aussies telling everyone how good life is in Australia, and how much money they've been making.
Our friends had done this experience years ago, and we thought we would also enjoy the experience.
We did.
We were warned when I checked the booking, that it could get very cold at night, and to be sure to bring warm clothing (that's why the guy has a backpack, it's to hold some extra jumpers).
I also found out that the dining experience had been cancelled every night for the last 2 weeks, because it had been very cold, and very wet.
We were lucky, in that our day was turning out quite nice, and by 5 pm, the sky had cleared, and we got confirmation that the dinner was on.
(I also discovered that if the weather was bad, you did not get your money back, they simply gave you the same dinner in the hotel restaurant.)
All those in our hotel who had booked this evening gathered outside at about 5pm. I noticed that I was the only guy wearing a tie. My wife and I had decided that we would go a bit more formal tonight. You know, try and make it something special. At these bloody prices, I can't see us coming back anytime soon, so we'd better make an effort. Our dining companions were a mixture of Aussies, Brits, Irish and South African, a pleasant and civilized bunch at the moment.
But no ties.
We were driven by coach to the campsite, about 5 Km from the hotel, picking up other diners from their accommodation on the way.
I noted with interest that we passed a "camel rides" sign on the way. I wondered if naughty camels ended up on tonight's menu.
When we disembarked, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we were directed to a viewing platform up in the dunes. This area was set out as a pre-dinner drinks area. We were given glasses of champagne (actually a mildly pleasant Aussie fizzy white)and canapes circulated. I cannot remember what was in them all, but I remember one was kangaroo.
Uluru was dominant on the skyline behind us, and we spent the next hour talking to our fellow diners and talking photos of each other with Uluru in the background, or just Uluru as it changed colour under the setting sun.

As it began to get dark, we were encouraged to move along to the dining area. This was a a large flat area of dune, one corner was a fire pit, one side had stainless steel serving equipment, with barbecues behind. Large circular tables (for 8 - 10) were scattered around, with portable gas heater beside each table. The only illumination was from a single candle on each table, the wood fire in the fire pit, a dull red glow from the heaters and electric lights on the serving equipment.
We (I really) had had a few drinkies by now, and was feeling more expansive. A subtle kick on the ankle from my beloved reminded me to shut up, and let others talk as well.
Aren't the ladies so good at keeping us civilized?
Wine was supplied (I think it was Penfolds, but it was getting a bit dark by now, and I'm not really sure)in copious amounts. The waitpersons being very good throughout the night in keeping our glasses filled.
There was background music supplied by a musician on a didgeridoo. Actually better than you might think. The musician was using traditional techniques but contemporary composition. It was really good.
We were served with soup and entree by the waiters, but brought up to the barbecues by tables to load up our own plates. There was plenty of choice, 3 or 4 different salads, pasta, sausages, fish(baramundi), chicken, sausages, Kangaroo steaks, emu, and lamb cutlets.

By this time the sun had completely set, and together with the effect of the many glasses of wine, I wasn't really sure what I was eating, but munched contentedly through my plateful (and I think part of my wife's as well. There had to be a reason why she jabbed my wrist with her fork. Maybe she was hungry. Who knows?)
By this time the sounds were mainly of chewing, gulping down drinks, belching (I told you there were many Aussies amongst us), boasting and bragging, plus much discussion of children and grandchildren.
This was the first time I had noticed the age range. These tours were so expensive that it was mostly made up of the middle aged, with a few rich younger types.
As I listened to the conversation circulating around me, I picked up references to "The house in Capetown", "The yacht in Darwin", "The flat in Knightsbridge".
Some of these people were very comfortable financially.
What the hell was I doing in their company?
I was a teacher with one house in Upper Hutt, a 4WD that was 15years old and a bank account that regularly went into the red.
I'm not complaining mind you, but it felt odd being in that sort of company.
I didn't mention the toilets.
There was a modern toilet about 100 metres away, up a slightly illuminated hill path. I say slightly as it used these low-level LED lights. Conversation was occasionally interrupted by screams and oaths as ladies (screams, unless they were Australian)and gentlemen (oaths, unless they were English)stumbled of the track into stony and thorny bush.
Being a gentleman (and also because my beloved swings a mean left hook)I escorted my lady up the hill to the long drop.( To any non-antipodeans reading this, a long drop is a nonflushing toilet. See here for further details on Kiwi vocabulary and usage)
Ah romance!
Back in our seats, drinking (again) from our re-filled glasses, I became aware that the distant thump of the generator had ceased.
All the lights were now off.
The only illumination was the candle and the now dying down fire pit.
There was another scream from the toilet path, as a poor Englishman discovered he could not see in the pitch black.

Then the night talker began. This was an astronomer, who directed our attention to the splendours of the night sky over our heads.
There was another oath, as a slightly inebriated Aussie leaned too far back in his chair and fell off.
The astronomer began by giving a general description of the major celectial objects, and he said that we would be seeing some unusual objects in the night sky.
Just as he said that, a shooting star streaked overhead.
How the hell did he get the timing so exact.
Saw Venus, Mars and Saturn. Many other stars and galaxies. We were then invited to use some astronomical telescopes situated on the periphery of the dining area. Spectacular views of Saturn.

Then desert was served, together with a port-like wine.
The coaches arrived, we all lurched off to them for the lift back to the hotels.
Great night.
Magic expeerience.
Terrible hangover next morning.


  1. "Then desert was served"
    Did you have big plates?

    "There was background music supplied by a musician on a didgeridoo."
    All the local doulbe bass players must have had gigs that night!

    "We (I really) had had a few drinkies by now, and was feeling more expansive. A subtle kick on the ankle from my beloved reminded me to shut up, and let others talk as well."
    Comeinyourpant's better half just hits him with a cricket bat.

    A great post, my friend!

  2. I enjoyed this post. I must visit Australia.

  3. I assume that if they were serving you something as expansive as a desert (they do have several) then the port-like wine was something like Freemantle.

  4. Ooooh, that's bad.
    Actually so was the dessert wine.
    It tasted more like sugar syrup with grape juice and just a dash of meths.
    So it was more like a Port Arthur.
    You know, a comlete massacre

  5. Is "comlete" like an omelette? As in all broken up?

    re Port Arthur, a friend of mine Jason Winter was murdered in front of his family in that cafe by that nutter. He was a NZ winemaker.

  6. Sorry Curmy, I didn't mean to re-awaken any unpleasant memories.


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