We checked into the Desert Gardens hotel and got to our room on the second floor of a two-floor building with a view of Uluru. Our room had a wide balcony, but we never really took advantage of it - the room was so spacious and comfortable, it was an oasis from our outdoor adventures. I knew the Aboriginee dance demonstration was happening at the town center, but knew it was going to be tight to get there. We did end up wandering down and caught just the last minute of it.
Nerd Alert: It was here, at Ayer's Rock Resort, where we
Anyways, we had dinner at one of the other hotels that night; it was mediocre, but satisfied our hunger. We called it an early night since the next morning would be another adventure!
The next morning, after a hurried shopping trip in the town center for hats and water (how did we not think of that before?) we were picked up in the lobby for our camel train excursion. The shuttle brought us to the camel farm, where our camels were all lined up and ready to be mounted. First, we had to store all of our bags, and bring only water bottles and cameras in bags they provided to us that would go around our shoulders. Then, we each got a sheep skin to sit on. Finally, they lined us up in front of our respective camels, and helped as each guest mounted the camel and "hung on for dear life" as they put it, as the camel stood up so they could adjust the straps for our feet.
My camel's name was Spinifex, or Spinney for short, and Jaiman rode Khan. As our camels carried us over small ridges through the desert, we were told anecdotes about our camels. For example, all of these camels were wild before being tamed. There are estimates as high as a million for the number of wild camels in Australia, but they're hard to track because they move so much. Also, Khan wouldn't follow any other camel except Spinney. The cameleers learned this when, on a tour one day, Khan had laid down and refused to get up, and they ended up needing to get another camel to bring the guest back to the farm. Since Khan's face was roughly at my rear the whole way, it was easy to get to know his personality. He was chill, and lazy. He didn't want to do anything, and everything he did was begrudgingly. But he did like pets, so I patted his head and told him he was doing good, even if he was veering off course and trying to stop the train. Silly Khan.
We toured through the desert, with great views of Kata Tjuta and Uluru in the background. I was a little disappointed we didn't get closer, so for that reason alone I might not recommend this tour to others planning a trip to Ayer's Rock. But if you think the idea of riding a camel for the sake of riding it, then I would definitely recommend this excursion. The ride itself was slow going and easy, and not nearly as rough as I expected it to be. I was also worried about the wind whipping sand into my face, and bugs, but neither of these were a problem for us. It was a very pleasant ride, with no reason to stress.
When we got back to the farm, the cameleers worked with each camel to get them to lie down, and then help the guests off their rides. My camel, Spinney, was not having it, and started nipping at the cameleers. Another came to assist, and he was still being a big jerk. Once they finally got him down, they said I couldn't take anymore pictures with him since he was being such an ass. But that was fine, once Jaiman was down, we posed behind Khan, who was my buddy anyways. We collected our belongings, and were invited to visit the other animals on the farm - an emu, a kangaroo, a baby camel and a water buffalo. The baby camel was fun to see, but I was most excited about the water buffalo, mostly because of that darn Veggie Tales song that, if you know it, will now get stuck in your head. You're welcome.
I bought some postcards and a shirt that said, "HUMP DAAAY!" with a camel on it, because it was, in fact, Hump Day, and we rode camels. Let's face it, that shirt was made for me on this exact day.
Since the camel train didn't exactly take us to Uluru, we decided that we should take another excursion to actually go to the rock. So after grabbing a bite to eat (I had an Outback Pizza with kangaroo and emu on it!) we headed to the tour area and booked ourselves on a hop on hop off shuttle. Since we didn't really plan this, we had no idea what we were doing, and I think we ended up confusing the tour. But really, if you call yourselves a hop on hop off, then we should be able to do whatever we want, right? Well, what I found was that at Ayer's Rock, they really tried to take care of their guests by making sure they had everyone, which is nice in a way, but challenging when you aren't aware.
So we were somehow scheduled for a pickup at our hotel. It would give us enough time to see the Bush Yarn I wanted to attend at the Town Center, except that I had misread the schedule and realized that it wasn't happening that day. So we decided to hop on the shuttle earlier and at the closest hotel rather than walk all the way back to ours and have to wait. The driver then asked us what drop off points we wanted and when we wanted to be picked up at, and we had no idea, so he gave us a suggestion, but it was, like, 5 hours of hiking. We were done well before that, and waited at the pick up point, hoping they'd still pick us up even though they made it sound like they weren't going to. Just after I had given up on being picked up, the shuttle came. Apparently, he was late because he had been looking for us back at our hotel, not realizing we had caught an earlier shuttle. I was so grateful to be picked up, I didn't even argue my point about it being a hop on hop off tour.
The actual hike around Uluru produced some really interesting views; the rock changes as you go around it. We didn't do the whole circumference - that was over 10 km - but we walked from the drop off point our driver had suggested to the pick up point. There were parts of the rock that were considered sacred by the natives, and therefore were not supposed to be photographed. The signs clearly marked where you could start taking pictures again and where you had to stop. There were also plaques that talked about the different features of the rock, why it was sacred, etc. It was a very hot and sunny day, and there was very little shade. I had completely failed to bring sunscreen somehow, and since I'd already spent a few hours in the morning in the sun riding a camel, I was getting worried about sunburn. I tried covering my shoulders with the shirt I had bought at the camel farm, and kept my hat pulled tightly over my face and neck. The bugs were awful here - flies and little gnats kept getting in our faces. I had bought a cheap fly net the night before, and relented pretty quickly, putting that on. It didn't stop the flies from getting on my net and irritating me that way, but much better than having them on my face.
There wasn't much shade at the pickup point (read: practically none), so when we realized we still had close to an hour before the pick up time I was hoping to catch, we decided to venture on to the gorge which was supposed to be scenic. The gorge was, as promised, pretty neat to see, but we were watching our time and so had to head back shortly after arriving. At this point, we were nearly out of water (again, bad planning on our part), and I wanted to get out of the sun as much as possible, feeling my skin bake.
My learning and suggestion from all this is, hike Uluru early in the day, bring lots of water and sunscreen and hats and a fly net, and be more prepared than us. All in all, we survived and even enjoyed ourselves, but we felt the pain of being so ill-prepared.
Back at the resort, we picked up some food to go, and put our feet up in our hotel room with dinner and drinks, watching the sunset over Uluru. As much as Ayer's Rock Resort was overpriced and felt gimicky, I couldn't get over the feeling that this was a lot like glamping - like, luxury in the middle of the desert. I think people honeymoon here, or at least take fabulous vacations here. As far as hotel stays, this was my favorite of the whole trip.
The next morning, we did some final shopping in the town center, and then boarded the shuttle back to the airport to fly to our next destination - Melbourne!