Australia: Ayer’s Rock, Alice Springs, Cairns, Airlie Beach

After Melbourne, we flew into Ayer’s Rock. We were shuttled to the resort complex, which is the only place to stay. Except, we didn’t yet have a place to stay. We got off by the information centre and found a room at the Desert Gardens Hotel. We booked a sunset tour for that evening and a bus to Alice Springs for the next day.

The tour took us to through the Ulurua – Kata Tjuta National Park (photos). We saw Kata Tjuta and did a bit of a walk up into the rock structure. The guide told us a bit about the Anangu people and the significance of these rocks, but when remarking about Kata Tjuta, he said he wasn’t actually able to tell us anything about the sacred significance of the structure because the Anangu people had decided that the tour guides weren’t privy to that level of information, they were only given a lower level of access of knowledge. “Talk about non-free culture,” I remarked, and Heather actually laughed.

We then made our way to watch the sunset by Uluru (photos). It was a lot of fuss over a giant rock, yet it was actually pretty impressive. The colours in the rock and soil were so vivid. And, I was introduced to Schweppes carbonated lemonade.

We took it easy in Alice Springs, spent the night in and just wandered into the town for the day. Not much to see, as the real attractions are all the tours to Kings Canyon and Uluru – Kata Tjuta, but we had some time to relax before flying to Cairns. The highlight for me was really the bus ride to Alice, where we were treated to a recording of a talk by Len Biddell — Australia’s “last great explorer” — on the way over. Absolutely hilarious.

Cairns was a welcome change of weather. Away from the cold in Melbourne and the dryness of the red centre, it was finally humid. We also scored big on accommodations, by accident really (we booked the morning of). When we showed up, we were greeted with a huge smile. “Alleyne, right? Okay, you’re in 506, you can make your way up to the room. Door’s unlocked, keys are inside, we can worry about the paperwork in the morning. Just call down if you need anything!” We thought we’d booked a single room, but we walked into an apartment – kitchen facilities, a common room, bed room, balconies, etc… and we’d only paid $149/night! We took advantage of the kitchen facilities and did some grocery shopping for the next few days. If you’re staying in Cairns, definitely check out the Inn Cairns Boutique Apartments.

Thursday, we explored the city. Walked down to the beach, walked through the shops. Heather bought some books and I bought a banjo. We saw a music shop which advertised instruments starting from $89. I went in thinking I might buy a cheap travel guitar, like a small nylon string or something, but I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that I’d have no real use for it in a few weeks time. I asked about banjos. There was a $99 second-hand one in the window. We went back to the apartment to get some cash and within the hour I had one more piece of luggage to cart around. I was worried that a banjo would fulfill my folk fix but leave me wanting on the rock side of things, but I forgot how wicked T. Nile is and how intense Sufjan’s banjo riffs can be.

Friday, we went on a half day tour of the Great Barrier Reef (photos). We took a boat to Green Island where we did glass bottom boat and semi-submarine tours. We also did a walk through of a crocodile farm (photos) with some huge freaking crocs. In the evening, we wandered around and had dinner on the esplanade, and we left on a midnight bus to Airlie Beach.

We arrived yesterday morning in Airlie and spent the afternoon exploring the strip and lying on the beach. Today, we went on the Reef Jet day tour (photos). We tried snorkeling (photos) at Hook Island with mixed results. Heather remembered how much she hates fish after she jumped into the water. I was extremely cold. I managed to snorkel for a bit, but I couldn’t control my breathing very well at all. I thought I was out of breath from working too hard in the water, but when I got out of the water I realized it was because of the cold. I spent a good half hour shivering afterwards, but the little bit of snorkeling I was able to do on the reef was a lot of fun. We also visited a few other islands on the tour before heading back to town.

We’re starting to run into more people coming to World Youth Day. We noticed a group from Cologne on the tour and we met someone from Boston at the evening mass tonight in Cannonvale (just next to Airlie). Monday, we fly to Brisbane and by Friday we’ll already be back in Sydney. It feels as if the trip is winding down, but we’re really only halfway through. World Youth Day is certainly approaching quickly and before we know it the trip will be transformed into something completely different. I think we’re both looking forward to settling down in one place for a bit since we’ve been moving so quickly these past few weeks. We have some scheduled down time in Brisbane and in Sydney (before WYD begins).

One week today, we’ll be back in Sydney. Two weeks today, we’ll be at the Papal mass. Three weeks from now, we’ll be back at home in [semi-]normal routines.

But 10 hours from now we need to be on a flight that we’ve yet to book, so that’s enough blogging for now!

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