- Candace Ahlfinger
Wine, Wilderness, and Camels
We enjoyed our brief, but fun, stay in Adelaide, Australia. Our hotel, the Pullman Adelaide Hotel, was within walking distance of many sites including Rundle Mall, a pedestrian area with shopping and unusual art. We wandered down the main street while enjoying A Day Out, a statue of four pigs created by Marguerite Derricourt, Mall’s Balls, and Salvador Dalí’s Triumphant Elephant, on loan from the d’Arenberg Cube. Beautiful arcades also invited us to wander through them to discover many Australian brand stores and more. (Aussie hats are great for travel.)
We had a tasty Mediterranean snack at Eros Kafe on our way to the Adelaide Botanical Gardens before meeting our group at the Belgian Beer Café for drinks followed by Italian food for dinner. The food options reflect the fact that Adelaide has been a melting pot since it was settled—first by Prussians (now Polish) Lutherans, Germans, Welsh (who were the copper miners), Irish, Scottish, Jesuits, Italians, British, and Afghans (who came as camel drivers). Of course, even before these people came, the Aboriginal Kaurna people had lived in the area for thousands of years.
None of the original settlers of the area had it easy. Adelaide is in the driest inhabited state, South Australia, on the driest inhabited continent, Australia. The temperatures can be miserable. One year the high was 117 degrees. On the other hand, those from Adelaide make visitors know that they were settled as a colony of free people—not convicts.
The next day we headed to Barossa Valley for visits to a lavender farm and a winery. Our first stop was at Lyndoch Lavender Farm where the owner, Matt, provided an interesting and educational tour. (It would have been much more interesting and beautiful if the lavender had been in bloom.) We did get to sample English lavender in every dish at our lunch in the restaurant. By the way, of the 30 types of lavender, only English lavender is good to eat. Unfortunately, we couldn’t buy any edible lavender for fear that New Zealand would confiscate it as we entered their country.
Chateau Tanunda, a 133-year-old winery, was our next stop. When built, it included the largest commercial building in Australia. A tour of the facility, a tasting of some famous wines, and interesting information made the stop a great way to spend the afternoon. One fact our guide shared is that climate change is forcing wineries in the Barossa Valley to make significant changes in the type of grapes they grow; they are moving away from Shiraz and introducing more heat and drought tolerant grapes from Spain and Portugal.
The day ended with dinner in Adelaide just in time to get ready for the next day’s stop… Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, formerly known as Ayers Rock. (We had to fly from Uluru to Sydney to get a connecting flight because the direct flight was not available.)
When we stepped off the plane the next day, we found Uluru waiting directly in front of us. The small, but friendly, airport was easy to navigate, and we were quickly on our way to the Desert Gardens Hotel to drop off luggage and then drive to the famous rock that is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people. As we drove through the Outback, the red rock and red sand landscape stretched as far as the eyes could see, broken only by bright green shrubs. The Aborigines in Uluru are members of one of the oldest continual living groups of people in the world. I’m not certain how long the other inhabitants of the area, the flies, have been in the area, but they are everywhere and on everyone while the sun is up. We had been forewarned and had face netting, but the resort stores also carried them—thank goodness! At one time I counted 8 of the huge nuisances on my face net.
Perhaps you haven’t heard of Uluru, but you’ve heard of Ayers Rock? In 1985, ownership of the area returned to the Anangu who have lived in the area for thousands of years. In 1995, the name was officially changed to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It is a world heritage site for both natural and cultural values.
A few notes: The water that provides sustenance to the area is all mined, desalinized, and then filtered to provide excellent drinking water. Everything, including the much-appreciated air conditioning, is run by solar power. No construction can be taller than the Kata-Tjuta sand dunes. Climbers can no longer climb Uluru due to its sacredness. In fact, some parts of the rock are reserved only for members of the Anangu.
Our first stop was the Culture Center which explains many of the Anunga’s beliefs as shown through their stories and art. After visiting parts of this towering rock that are open to the public, we stopped for champagne and snacks to watch the sunset lights reflected on Uluru. The colors changed constantly as the sun careened toward the horizon. After darkness fell, we returned to our hotel, which is part of a large resort, for a delicious dinner at Maganta Restaurant and then to rest before our sunrise camel ride.
At the camel corral the next morning, we were introduced to our transportation for the morning. My dromedary, one hump not two, was a friendly soul, but the one behind me became my best friend since the camels are tied closely together and he was in petting reach. The camels rose smoothly--an act that is very important since riders are holding on for dear life. And, then, we were off to see the sunrise.
The ride was fun. The camels gave much smoother rides than those we had ridden on before, perhaps because the red ground was hard packed instead of soft sand. We left the camel yard at night, so we could watch as the sun slowly made its way up, resulting in beautiful colors across the desert sky. We were disappointed that the sun wasn’t directly behind Uluru but, instead, from our perspective the sun rose to the side of it. Kara-Tjuta actually gave us the better views of the sun’s rays reflecting from it. Unfortunately, as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon, the flies came back out in droves. Thankfully, we had been warned and brought our face netting.
The guides were excellent as they kept us entertained, sharing interesting and fun facts about the area and camels. For example, Australia has about 3 million disease-free camels, with around 1 million of them classified as wild. Some of them are exported to the United Arab Emirates for camel beauty pageants which are held in Saudi Arabia. The top winners can be worth millions of dollars. Camels may undergo Botox and steroid injections, as well as carefully placed nips and tucks by specialized plastic surgeons, to be named the most beautiful camel. (FYI: Enhancements such as plastic surgery and Botox are grounds for disqualification.)
We were back in the camel yard early for a light breakfast, but we passed up the opportunity to eat because breakfast was included at the hotel. Instead, back at the hotel, we got the camel smell off us and had a leisurely breakfast in Mangata Restaurant. Seeing Uluru was educational and beautiful, and we were glad we went, but it is a long trip with limited things to do, most of which are contained within the large Ayer’s Rock Resort. The town square has some shopping and a grocery and the GOCA Gallery features beautiful works by Aboriginal peoples. (The area would be good for hiking, but temperatures were close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we were there so the pool was the activity that truly appealed.)
We were quickly off to Melbourne, our overnight stop on the way to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. (Our direct flight to Cairns was cancelled so we had to fly back to Melbourne and then, the next day, to Cairns which made two long flying days. If we had been on direct flights to and from Uluru, the visit would have been more enjoyable and definitely worthwhile to see this magnificent monument to a culture that has existed for thousands of years.)
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