Quote of the Day - As I gaze upon the sea! All the old romantic legends, all my dreams, come back to me.
Souvenir stores near Ayer's Rock sell Australian bush (slouch) hats, complete with strings and wine corks dangling from the brims. It admittedly looks odd, until you've been outside and understand the purpose. Blow-flies (we call them horseflies) swarm around your face, landing wherever they can find moisture.
The strings and wine corks are meant as a distraction, and apparently work fairly well.
But not as well as mosquito netting, which I found as an amenity in my hotel room and promptly took with me, having been outside long enough to get off the plane and to the hotel. The purpose of the green netting was immediately apparent, even though the odd-looking bush hat was not.
The flies are a distraction at most, but for someone who's lived in Southern California for long enough to appreciate the lack of virtually all bugs, it's very noticeable. Beyond silly-looking hats, there's another way to avoid bugs: wind.
When it's hot, there's not much wind available where the land is flat, as it mostly is around Ayer's Rock. Thankfully, however, there are some nearby mountains that offer some respite. For sunrise, our guide takes us on the Walpa Gorge Walk, a stunning walk into the Olgas, also known as Kata Tjuta in the aboriginal language.
The mountain range is actually some 36 domed rocks; mystical heads to the aborigines. There are many Pitjantjatjara Dreamtime aborigine legends associated with this range, including one about a great snake named Wanambi, who lives on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. Thankfully, it was still wet when I was there.
The gorge is mostly flat, and a thin, mostly stone path leads toward the crevasse point along the two-kilometer path at the base of the gorge, looking up to sandy red sedimentary mountains towering overhead and in between the two tallest domes in the formation. Quite different than Ayer's Rock where the layers are at 90 degrees to the ground, the sedimentary layers at the Olgas are parallel. Interestingly, the two mountains are less than half an hour drive apart.
Only a geologist knows why they're so different.
The Olgas are not as bright red as Ayer's Rock, but they're certainly stunning. The gorge walk features running water across the rock path, steep cliffs that rise straight out of the ground and deep, circular pock-marked walls overhead. It's a bit unnerving to realize that the pock marks are actually car- and bus-size boulders that have eroded out of the conglomerate sediment, and ended up on and near the path where you're walking. When you have a moment to look down, it's immediately obvious where the round boulders came from, and that you're in the way.
Another feature of the gorge is the differential in the temperature, which provides relief from the flies. The gorge is shaded in the early morning and stays that way well into mid-morning, so it's much cooler than the surrounding area. As a consequence, the wind blows, and blows hard. So hard, in fact, that the flies can't. The relief is almost instantly obvious, and allows you to enjoy the scenery without the distracting of buzzing around your ears or near your eyes.
As the morning progresses from sunrise, long, diagonal shadows crawl centimeter by centimeter toward the ground and back toward the crevasse point. Now we can see lizards and goannas sunning themselves, waiting to feast on an errant fly. By the end of the walk, the sun highlights the red rock, and the warmth greets us as we walk back to the starting point at the edge of the gorge.
If it's not windy in the gorge when you arrive, you can always try the other (and much longer seven kilometer walk) in the Olgas, the Valley of the Winds. There are no flies there, for the most part. Otherwise, your best alternative is the Great Barrier Reef.