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Trip Report - Brisbane - Uluru/Kata Tjuta (Long + Pics)

Trip Report - Brisbane - Uluru/Kata Tjuta (Long + Pics)

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Old Feb 1, 09, 6:39 am
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Join Date: Dec 2004
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Trip Report - Brisbane - Uluru/Kata Tjuta (Long + Pics)

NB: Image quality has been severely reduced

Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock) - Kata Tjuta (pronounced Katter Juuttah – commonly referred to as “The Olgas”) has always fascinated me and been of great interest. The isolation and heat (I was travelling in summer which is traditionally the quiet period) was of no concern to me as it would add value to the experience. I had long wanted to travel to the tourist hot-spot and recently I was afforded the opportunity to do so. I requested leave for Friday 24 January as this would be the day I would commence my travels to Central Australia. A little amount of planning was required and I did the necessary research (with thanks to Flyertalk, Tripadvisor etc). Accommodation and tours were organised and before I knew it, I was using online check-in and packing my bags in preparation for the flights the next day.

I have tried to include as much information about my flights as possible, however I’ll let it be known that the focus of this report is on the destination, not the means of getting there.

Friday 23 January 2009

Brisbane (BNE) – Cairns (CNS)
Qantas - QF798
Scheduled Departure: 07:00L
Scheduled arrival: 09:20L

737-800
VH-VXF - “Sunshine Coast”
Load factor – 80-90%
Seat: 14F (exit row)


(an old image of VH-VXF)

Arrived at the Brisbane Domestic terminal at approximately 06:15L in preparation for what would be a long day travelling (in terms of Australian domestic flying). As per usual, I had used Qantas’ online check-in system 24 hours prior and to my surprise had been allocated an exit row (becoming a regular occurrence I might add). I made my way to the bag drop queue and within 2 minutes was ushered to counter 19 as the flight would soon be closed for check-in. The customer service agent was chatty and was interested in what I intended doing at Uluru and with a chuckle, mentioned how mad I was to be flying to a destination where 40 degree plus heat was the norm. She wished me a pleasant journey and within minutes I was at the gate preparing for departure.

I was welcomed onboard by the friendly, Customer/Cabin Services Manager (easily distinguishable with the suit and platinum-coloured tie) and directed to my seat. 14D was occupied by a sleep deprived young woman and I was pleasantly surprised to find 14E had not been allocated. I settled in and prepared for departure, excitedly thinking that I was a few hours away from landing at Uluru. As per usual, a friendly FA came along and explained the requirements of sitting in an exit row. Next minute we were being pushed back and preparing for departure when the CPT mentioned on the PA that the crew had heard a strange sound towards the rear of the aircraft. We returned to the gate using the aircraft’s power and the engineers/ground staff began investigating. Within minutes they determined that it was a loose object in the rear hold and we were once again on our way. Taxied to RWY 01 and departed into the gloomy, unforgiving sky.

As I had requested a LF meal, I was first to be served. Why would I request a low fat meal you may ask? One, the offering has a reduced amount of fat (I am not big, but I watch what I eat), two, the meals are often tastier and have more variety and three, are well portioned. Today’s offering was a banana, fruit juice, low fat milk and a rice-based cereal. Considering there was next to no sugar, fat and other additives, it was rather good.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, except towards the end of the flight. Turbulence was rather bad between Townsville and Cairns and the service was suspended for a short period. As we began descending towards Cairns we were afforded some stunning views of the reef, flooded rivers and striking green vegetation (rainforest). Landed on RWY 15 and proceeded immediately to the gate.

Cairns Airport is undergoing extensive renovations and expansion and as you’d expect, the place was a noisy work site. It was a short walk to the arrivals terminal and then another few minutes to the departure terminal. Directional signage was extremely poor, so I exited the terminal and walked towards an area where a number of people were waiting for buses. I passed through security and was presented with an overcrowded, noisy and dark departure lounge. Managed to find a seat, where I would wait for approximately 1 hour (seemed like a very long hour unfortunately) for the departure of my flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Cairns (CNS) – Uluru (Ayers Rock)
QantasLink - QF1859
Scheduled Departure: 10:35L
Scheduled arrival: 12:50L

717-200
VH-NXK
Load factor – 80-90%
Seat: 3A

Boarding was called and I proceeded to the gate. Was welcomed by two young, tall FAs wearing the ochre-coloured Qantas uniform (it seems QantasLink crew continue to wear the ochre-coloured uniform that was once worn across the whole network; however Qantas mainline crew now wear the modernised platinum-coloured uniform). It was a short walk to the gate and I was happily boarding one of my favourite aircraft, the 717-200 (the climb performance and onboard comfort of these aircraft is what makes them so attractive). It had been over a year since my last flight on a QantasLink 717-200 which for interest’s sake was from Darwin to Cairns via Gove [Nhulunbuy]. Welcomed onboard by the friendly male CSM, who appeared to be only a few years older than me (was possibly 22/23/24). To my surprise the cabin crew were all relatively young. Found my spacious seat (32” pitch in the first 13 rows of the 717-200) and not long after was joined by the occupant of 3C. The crew finished the safety demonstration and not long after we departed Cairns towards to the South.

Flight was rather uneventful once again; however the crew were continuously walking through the cabin offering drinks and other refreshments. It was a pleasant surprise to see smiling crew who didn’t just retire to the galley after completing the trolley service. Lunch consisted of dried cranberries, salad foccacia and water (once again a low fat meal). Was offered drinks on at least 3 occasions and the service couldn’t have been any better. From my experience, the regional QantasLink crew are always cheery and will go out of their way to assist (much like the ex-Australian Airlines [AO] crew).

We began our decent into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and being seated on the left side of the aircraft, I was afforded with some stunning views. You’re in the middle of Australia and isolated from the rest of the world, the topography is mostly flat and the people are sparse and to see the formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta suddenly come in to view is of great surprise. The scenery is absolutely stunning and breathtaking – from the red earth, to the green vegetation, to the well-planned resort, and of course, Uluru and Kata Tjuta themselves. It dawns on you that you’re hundreds of kilometers from the nearest major town (Alice Springs) and you’re about to touch down on country that is both unforgiving and harsh.

Landed on RWY 13 and consumed most of the runway. Came to the end and experienced the obligatory 180 degree turn (always an interesting yet impressive experience) towards the terminal. The engines were shut down and the air stairs were pressed up against the fuselage. Next came a nasty surprise of plague proportion – the flies! Upon disembarkation it became apparent that there were millions upon millions of flies and they had an undesirable attraction towards us, the visitors. It was mentioned on the Saturday that the unusually high number of flies was a result of recent summer rains. Next it became apparent just how hot the red centre can get during summer. I live a few hours west of Brisbane and am use to warm temperatures and humidity in summer and below freezing nights in winter, so the dry heat at Uluru, while potent, did not bother me the slightest.

I collected my bags and boarded the complimentary AAT Kings shuttle to Ayers Rock Resort.

Accommodation – Lost Camel Hotel
Voyagers Ayers Rock Resort



The resort offers a variety of accommodation ranging from camping facilities, budget hotels to luxury accommodation (Longitude 131). The Lost Camel Hotel is conveniently located near a number of Restaurants, an ANZ Bank branch, IGA (Supermarket) and the visitor centre. Check-in was quick and efficient and I was given the keys to my room (no swipe cards here!). It was a short walk to the room in which would be my home for the next 2 nights/3 days. Entered the room and was surprised at how attractive it was (even though it was on the small side). Upon entry you first notice the bed. Located behind the bed is the hand basin and towel rack and depending upon the layout of your room, the toilet is on the left, shower on the right. All rooms at the Lost Camel Hotel now feature LCD televisions as well as your standard safe, mini-bar, clothes rack, ironing board (iron available for use upon request) and kettle/tea & coffee making facilities. Both the toilet and shower had a view across the pool area and to check-in. Accommodation does not come cheap, even in the quieter summer period and in terms of bang for your buck, well, you don’t get alot!



I settled into the room and rested in preparation for my tour of Kata Tjuta followed by the stunning and must-see Uluru sunset spectacular.

A rather large AAT Kings coach picked me up at 15:30L, just outside reception. Within minutes I was on my way to view Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) for the first time in my life (and boy was I excited!). Surprisingly there was a greater number of people onboard than I was expecting (considering it was low season) who came from all over the world - New Zealand, Germany, US, Scotland to name a few.



It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Kata Tjuta viewing platform where we were provided with breathtaking views toward the amazing natural formation. The flies were out in force and alas, were pestering many of the annoyed visitors. Many decided to purchase a fly net, however I didn’t. Why not, you may ask? Well, I found during my stay that while the flies were abundant, they didn’t harm me or pester me a great deal. They made large formations on our clothing, however I found I became use to having them around fairly quickly. Enough of the flies though and back to those amazing views!

I will spare you a geography and history lesson by not explaining the history of Kata Tjuta (or commonly known in Australia as “The Olgas”) and will leave that up to others. In lieu, I will take you on a picture journey summarising the sheer beauty and mysteriousness of the attraction.















Hours passed and it was time to farewell Kata Tjuta. I happily boarded the coach knowing very well that our next stop would be at the Uluru sunset viewing area. Time flew and as Uluru became closer and closer, I knew we weren’t far off. I was quick off the coach as the amazing view couldn’t be obstructed any longer. I stepped onto the ochre earth and gasped at the sheer beauty of Uluru and the fact that I was standing only kilometers away. The driver and a number of his assistants, efficiently and quickly set up a table with refreshments. On offer today was a dried fruit and nut mix, champagne and lemonade. By now a number of coaches were arriving and the population of the viewing area was swelling to hundreds. Aside from the sheer beauty of my surroundings, I was impressed to see a large number of people from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Everyone and anyone should have the opportunity to see Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park and it was great to see that disability, age and background was not an inhibiting factor in making a visit possible.

It progressively got darker as the sun set towards the horizon and the sheer beauty and mysteriousness of Uluru was exposed. Minute by minute the colour of the monolith changed (see below to see what I mean). The rich red-orangey colour was breathtaking and I can safely say that pictures do not do the sunset spectacular justice. The place was abuzz with chatter and buzzing cameras and the ambience was superb – happy people mixed with amazing views make for a wonderful surrounding.











All good things must come to an end and not long after sunset, we were back on the coach for the short drive back to the Resort. I disembarked at the Town Centre stop and began the short walk back to my room. Along the way I was surprised to see a number of hares bouncing across the plush lawn, although come to think of it, it really shouldn’t be a surprise as Australia is littered with introduced flora and fauna. Had a delicious, fresh Caesar salad for dinner and settled into bed with the Australian Open on TV. Not long after I was asleep, dreaming of my next adventure.

Saturday 24 January 2009

I woke to the painful, screeching sound of my alarm, but I had reason to be rising so early as today I would be touring the base of Uluru. It was 3am and I was abuzz with happiness and a desire to get out and explore. Mornings are always great as you can look forward to the prospect of a nice, warm shower. Well without water, a shower would not be a shower – pretty simple isn’t it? No prizes for guessing what happened when I entered the shower stark naked and turned on the tap. That’s right, my worst nightmare had come true – there was only a trickle of water that lasted at best, 5 seconds! “Hmm, this is strange” I mumbled. I tried turning on the tap on the hand basin, again with no luck. The toilet flushed once, obviously because there is a store of water within the cistern. I won’t embarrass myself and you, the reader with the specifics, but using the tap stored in my water bottles from the previous day (about 5 litres – remember water out here is a necessity and can be the difference between life and death) I had an interesting “shower”. I managed to freshen up and hurried along to reception, where my next adventure would begin.

[Almost all water available to Ayers Rock Resort comes from the Great Artesian Basin which underlies almost 23 percent of the Australian continent. I understand a small percentage of the Resort’s water comes from recycling and water collecting methods (i.e. gutters and tanks). What amazes me the most is that you are in the middle of nowhere and are reliant upon bore water – there is no luxury of dams, desalination plants etc in central Australia, so you use water wisely].

Showed the lovely, young AAT Kings representative my Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park pass and boarded the coach. Driving to Uluru in the dark is both amazing and somewhat creepy. Two attractions of the Uluru- Kata Tjuta region that aren’t promoted include the skies– star gazing is a must and the plane spotting. Yes, you heard right, plane spotting (of a different type though). As I understand, a number of flights from Australia to Asia and vice versa pass over the Uluru region on a daily basis. Below is an image of an aircraft tracking some 35,000 odd feet above me. I concluded that is must have been an A330/777 on its way to Melbourne.



Enjoyed a cuppa and a biscuit as we watched the ever changing colours of Uluru once again (in this instance it was at sunrise). We toured the base of Uluru and the many amazing natural features by foot and in the comfort of our coach. I will once again let the images tell the story.

















Returned to the Hotel a few hours before midday and had lunch. I then retired to my room to rest for a few hours. With the help of my BlackBerry I had my Flyertalk fix, checked my frequent flyer account, the Bureau of Meteorology website (to see how hot it was at the time - 43 degrees) and my work emails (I work for an Airline in Crewing and Operations). A few hours later I explored the resort, had dinner, showered (yes, the lack of water was only a temporary problem) and retired to my bed. By this time I was very tired, however I managed to remain awake for the Saturday night ABC television offering.



Sunday 25 January 2009

Woke at 7am and began packing my belongings as today would be my last day at Uluru. Tidied the room and it was once again presentable (feel for housekeeping with their tight turnaround times). Having prepaid for my stay through Wotif.com, check-out was speedy and pain free and before I knew it the AAT Kings coach had arrived and I was on my way to the Airport.

Ayers Rock (Connellan) Airport is small, but adequate. Check-in was a breeze as there was a separate line for those who had used online check-in. Proceeded through security and was stopped for the explosives swab test. I declined the officer’s request to explain what would happen, as I had heard it many a time before. The officer was friendly and chatty and I discovered that he was from Brisbane and would be returning home in the next couple of days. Sat down in the surprisingly comfortable chair sin the departure lounge and waited for my beloved 717-200 to appear, which would take me to Alice Springs.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Alice Springs
QantasLink - QF1940
Scheduled Departure: 09:35L
Scheduled arrival: 10:20L

717-200
VH-NXO (new livery)
Load factor: 106 pax (overheard crew) resulting in a 92% loading
Seat: 2A



Welcomed onboard once again by a friendly QantasLink crew and settled into my seat. Onboard today were a large number of American tour groups. Upon boarding there was great chatter about the aircraft – they were obviously proud to be boarding a 717-200. I can see why, as it’s a beautiful aircraft with an impressive performance. We pushed back and once again experienced the Qantas safety briefing, this time with no IFE-based overview (QantasLink does not offer an inflight entertainment system on their Dash-8 and 717-200 aircraft). Taxiied on TWY C and D and held for the arriving 737-800, which was QF728, VH-VZD from Sydney. Not long after we were up in the air, farewelling Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the Resort. I was saddened to be leaving, but knew I’d be back in the near future.

Flight time today was a mere 20-25 minutes. The QantasLink crew hurriedly handed out a snack pack with cheese and crackers, a muffin and water. Before we knew it, we were descending into Alice Springs.

The descent into The Alice is breathtaking and beautiful – there was a lot of greenery due to recent rain and then of course there are the spectacular MacDonnell ranges which wraps around the town.

Touched down on RWY 12 and taxied to the terminal to find it abuzz with activity and passengers. We had landed during the period when there are no less than 6 departures all within a small period of time. There were Qantas 737-800s heading to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane (which I would soon board) and Adelaide. After a quick turnaround the 717-200 I flew into Alice Springs on would depart for Darwin and there was a Tiger Airways A320 to Melbourne. Thanked the crew and walked a short distance to the terminal.

It had been at least 2 years since I was last in Alice Springs, however it became apparent to me that the terminal had undergone significant refurbishment. To say the terminal was busy would be an understatement – there were people everywhere. It was amazing to see so many people travelling in the traditionally quiet summer period.

Alice Springs - Brisbane
Qantas - QF982
Scheduled Departure: 11:45L
Scheduled arrival: 14:50L

737-800
VH-VXS – “St Helens”
Load factor: 86 pax (overheard crew) resulting in a 52% loading
Seat: 29F

Passengers began boarding aircraft bound for Adelaide and Melbourne and not long after my flight to Brisbane was called. Unlike Brisbane – Darwin (Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar offer services with 767-300s, 737-800s and A320s respectively) where there is a huge demand for flights (Darwin’s biggest passenger pair/source is Brisbane), there are only 2 weekly Alice Springs – Brisbane flights in summer and 3 in the winter (SYD/MEL/PER/ADL/DRW/CNS all have daily [or greater] services). Boarded the 737-800 via the air stairs and was welcomed onboard by an older crew. Passengers were evenly distributed throughout the cabin yet I was fortunate enough to have the 2 seats next to me free resulting in a comfortable and spacious flight. The crew performed the safety demonstration, which was also available via the drop down IFE screens. Not long after we were departing Alice Springs on our way to Brisbane.



We would be served lunch today and once again I was give a LF meal (see below). On offer today was a sandwich, apple, water and tea/coffee. Not as adequate as other lunch flights, but it was substantial enough. The crews were older and professional but did not represent the true Qantas. They smiled and chuckled when talking to passengers, however the rest of the time they looked gloomy and sad and retired to the Galley after the lunch service. I must admit though that their unhappy faces didn’t interfere with the service as they answered the call bells immediately and nothing was of great hassle to them, whether it be a request for a drink or information. The flight was rather turbulent and you could see that a number of passengers were frightened.







Tracked over Western Queensland and it was apparent that severe storms were forming (the conditions were perfect for such storms). Approached what seemed the Toowoomba/Dalby/Oakey area and tracked north so as to avoid a number of nasty storm cells. I was hoping to track along the Warrego Highway (normal flight path of ASP-BNE) to see if I could see the township in which I reside – no luck. We tracked just north of Somerset Dam and then approached Brisbane from the West (flew over Mt Cootha/The Gap/Kenmore etc). Touched down on RWY 01 it finally hit me that my trip was over. Taxied to the terminal, thanked the crew, collected my baggage and hopped in the car for the long drive home.

Final words

What a trip! Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park is rich in history and natural beauty and is simply amazing. The place is expensive to visit, but given the chance I would go back again. Central Australia is a must on anyone’s itinerary. As much as I love to travel overseas and experience new cultures, you have to admit that there is so much to see and do in our own backyard!

QantasLink and Qantas once again provided me with an enjoyable, safe and comfortable flying experience and I was fortunate enough to receive a number of good seats and meal offerings.

If you have any questions I’ll do my best to assist.

Thanks for taking the time to read this trip report. I hope you get something out of it.

Cheers
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Old May 15, 09, 8:15 am
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Thanks for the trip report: great pictures; I went out to Ayers Rock in 2004(I had to check 5 years ) and Ayers Rock really does change colour depending on the time of the day.
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Old May 15, 09, 11:15 am
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Originally Posted by QF NB View Post
What a trip! Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park is rich in history and natural beauty and is simply amazing. The place is expensive to visit, but given the chance I would go back again. Central Australia is a must on anyone’s itinerary. As much as I love to travel overseas and experience new cultures, you have to admit that there is so much to see and do in our own backyard!
I first went to this part of the world when I was six. It had always been a fascination for me. I didn't get to go back for 38 years. I was glad I did as it is still what I consider to be a must see part of Australia.

Thanks for a great TR.

Originally Posted by Bundy Bear View Post
...Ayers Rock really does change colour depending on the time of the day.
Not only Uluru. Kata Tjuta in blue
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Old May 15, 09, 1:06 pm
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Great report - really well written and superb photos
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Old May 15, 09, 4:23 pm
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A marvellous trip report, which brings back some great memories.

My first visit to Ayers Rock, the Olgas and Mt Connor was 53 years ago as part of a school trip. At that time there was a gravel road to the Rock, and we had to camp out as there were no facilities at all.

The second time was 25 years ago with my then new Korean wife. We went in the middle of summer, and that was her very first experience of Australia, the colours and the mid summer heat.

I am planning to go again later this year and am looking forward to it immensely.
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Old May 25, 09, 7:45 pm
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Excellent report, well-divided between flight details and scenery.. thank you! You brought back superb memories of a family trip to Uluru & environs three years ago... your snaps of the rock and Kata Tjuta showed familiar ground. It's an astonishing, beautiful part of the world and when we visited (flying in / out of ASP) we were surprised at how many touring Australians we met were seeing the Red Centre for the first time.

We'll be back in Oz in a few weeks but only in the Centre for a blinkingly short time -- changing planes at AYQ on a Qantaslink trip PER-AYQ-CNS. Can't wait. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Dec 12, 09, 5:52 pm
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Great Trip Report, I must explore the LF meals, they sound just the ticket.
Nice photos, and well written. You're enthusiasm shone through in the report. Excellent.

Cheers Larry.
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