Of all the places to see in Australia—and there are many to choose from—the one to avoid is the Outback. It’s a vast desert, uninterrupted by signs of life like swimming pools or cocktail bars. Only dingos, kangaroos, and Aboriginal natives roam the Outback, and they won’t likely mix you a martini.
The Australian coast, on the other hand, is dotted with big cities and bigger resorts. That’s where the action is. When you can choose Melbourne with its harbor, or Sydney with its opera house, or Perth with its yacht races, there’s no reason to venture into the Outback (or as we like to call it, the middle 80 percent of the country).
Yet the Outback is home to the busiest tourist destination in Australia: Ayers Rock Resort. It sits smack in the middle of the country, about 275 miles from the nearest town: Alice Springs, which is about half a dusty day away by car, although you can fly now, cutting the trip to just a couple miserable hours.
We went there because it was far away from home, but we found that some people go there because they like desolation. These are the same people who visit the Egyptian pyramids in August and the German concentration camps in January. These are the same people who weigh 80 pounds and could outrun you in a footrace. These are the same people who pride themselves on their ability to survive for a week with just a teaspoon of water. These are the same people who desperately need psychiatric treatment.
Of course, the real reason to visit the Outback is to see Uluru/Ayers Rock. The rock—Australians use both names—is a natural formation, the second-largest monolith in the world (after Mount Augustus, also in Australia). It’s more than 986 feet high and about five miles around. It’s said to extend 3 1/2 miles into the earth.
As rocks go, this one is unique. Depending on the time of day and atmospheric conditions, Uluru/Ayers Rock can actually appear to change color, from blue to violet to glowing red. Photography is popular, but scaling the rock is what draws most people, even though the climb is both a strenuous and dangerous undertaking. Many climbers never make it to the top. Several die every year, mainly from heart failure.
We decided to stay in the bar. Instead of climbing, we contented ourselves with Fosters and photography.
If you go to Uluru/Ayers Rock, there’s only one place to stay: a resort about eleven miles away called Yulara. (The name Yulara comes from the Aboriginal word for howling dingos.) A town of about 1,800—most of whom are foreigners—Yulara was created by the Australian government to support tourism in the area. Originally, it allowed a number of competing hotels, but that arrangement proved unmanageable, so in its infinite wisdom, the government leased the land to one corporation: Voyages.
It’s not the only place to stay because it’s garnered the most recommendations. It’s the only place to stay because it’s the only place there is. All Yularan residents lease their housing from Voyages. All residents are kept under 24-hour surveillance. And if you violate company policy, you’re given 48 hours to leave town. Permanently. That kind of thing might make you mad, but on August 18, 1983, it made one Australian truck driver crazy. After being refused service, he rammed his 25-ton truck into a hotel, killing five patrons. So the story goes.
Apparently, the extreme conditions aren’t the only danger in the Outback.
Lessons Learned: Visit Uluru/Ayers Rock if you must, but be prepared—you’ll be living under someone else’s rules, seeing the same faces in the same bars while the same people watch over you. As for us, we’ll stick to the coast from now on, where native Aussies may be a bit odd, but they’re far from homicidal.
How We Saw It:
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 2
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 4
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 2/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Ayers Rock Resort Airport
Native Population: 1,800
Normal Attractions: Uluru/Ayers Rock, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, resorts, and camping.
Final Point of Interest: The local Aboriginals don’t climb the rock, but reluctantly tolerate others to. It’s said that anyone who takes rocks from the formation will be cursed and suffer misfortune.