The next day, which was my last full day in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, I was scheduled to go on full day Cave Hill tour. The tour was going to be an Indigenous cultural experience in which we would travel into the desert of the Pitjantjatjara Lands of Central Australia and meet with an Anangu host. The Anangu are the traditional owners of Cave Hill, which is the site of the Seven Sisters Tjukurpa.
I was awake and getting ready for the tour when I got the call that it was cancelled. They didn’t give a reason but I figured it had to do with the weather from the previous night. Since it was still really early (6am), I went back to bed for a while before heading out to breakfast and then checking in with the folks at the lobby to see what options I had for the day. Most tours are full day so I had limited options. In the end, I decided to join a tour doing a hike of Kata Tjuta. I say “decided” but it was the only option unless I wanted to hang out at the resort all day, which I didn’t.
Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, is a group of large, domed rock formations or bornhardts located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. 36 domes make up Kata Tjuṯa and cover an area of more than eight square miles. The highest dome, Mount Olga, is approximately 3,500 feet above sea level, or approximately 1,800 ft above the surrounding plain. It is 650 feet taller than Uluru. In summary, it is tall and can be seen from many miles away.
After spending a few hours hiking around Kata Tjuta, we headed back to the hotel where I quickly showered and got ready for the evening’s activity, the Field of Lights. The Field of Lights is an art installation inside the national park. I was excited to experience the installation and also watch the last sun rays hit Uluru as the sun set behind it.
When I got to the hotel lobby after getting ready, I knew I was not going to be greeted with good news. There were a lot of people in the lobby and none of them looked pleased. All of the evening’s events had been cancelled due to potential storms. Again. Ugh! I knew that meant my chance to see a sunset over Uluru was over. It was really frustrating. I know it was the weather and that no one can control it but at this point, it was sunny outside. Why couldn’t we go and then come back if it rained?!? They didn’t have a good answer to people who were asking that so I eventually walked outside to get away from all the people and figure out a plan for the rest of the evening.
When I travel solo (and even when I travel with people), I always do a lot of research and usually have an Option B, C and even D so I can quickly adjust and make decisions when things don’t go according to plan. In this case, I had no other real options. I did not have a car and we were in the middle of no where so there was no place I could walk to without leaving the resort, which I knew was not a good idea to do by myself in the dark (mostly because I was afraid of wildlife, not other humans). A taxi or Uber were also out of the question.
As I was standing outside consoling myself, I looked over and a guy who I was on the hike around Kata Tjuta earlier in the day was standing there. I walked over and said “hi.” We started talking and I found out he and his friend were also supposed to go to the Field of Lights that evening. Like me, they were trying to figure out a plan for the night. There were from Germany so the language barrier was a bit of an issue but one of them could speak just enough English for us to get by.
There was a lookout point within walking distance of the resort so we decided to head up there to check it out and find out what we could see. There were a lot of people at the lookout point when we got up there although it was still pretty calm and we could walk around and view it from all sides. We ended up spending a lot of time up there because the views were pretty spectacular that night. There was a storm off in the distance and the cloud formations it caused (see below) were something I had never seen before. None of the colors in the photos below were altered. Amazing, right?
When it finally started to get too dark to see the crazy clouds, the two Germans guys and I headed down the hill and decided to stop at one of the casual cafes at our resort to get some dinner. I had pizza, they had burgers. It was nothing special but it was food and I did not have to eat alone. I always consider that a win when I am traveling solo.
On the walk back to the lobby from dinner, it finally started to storm over our resort. There was a lot of thunder and lightning. As my family can attest, I have a crazy irrational fear of lightning that comes from when I was younger and lived on the farm in Iowa. Our dairy barn was struck by lightning one evening while my dad was milking cows and we were all in the barn. No one was hurt but the cracking sound of the lightning hitting the barn is a sound I will never forget. It still gives me the chills. Ever since then, I freak out when I am outside and it is lightning anywhere near my location. I have “fond” memories of trying to chop hay with my brother in the summers after the lightning incident where we were rushing to get it done before a storm hit. It would be lightning and I would screech, cover my head and duck every time it would lightning. My brother used to get so mad at me. Inevitably, we would be trying to unplug a plugged chopper and I would be ducking instead of helping. How many times did he yell “do you really think that is going to help?!?” at me back in those days? (I am hysterically laughing as I type this, those were the days!).
Anyway, I totally digressed back to the screech, cover and duck behavior as we were walking back from the restaurant to the hotel lobby. I am pretty sure the Germans thought I was insane by the time we got there, even though I explained the cause to them. They were totally laughing at me. Ha! Oh well! It was still a fun night and we all needed the laugh by then anyway.
Once back at the lobby, we parted ways and I headed back to my room, disappointed that I missed my last chance at an Uluru sunset but also excited that I was leaving the next day to head to Alice Springs and hopefully, escape all the rain cancellations.
Looking back, if I had to remake the decision, I think I would have gone to Melbourne for a few days instead of Uluru. Uluru is amazing to see but I wouldn’t go again without a car. If you are comfortable driving in Australia, I would highly recommend renting a car and using it to get around this area of the county. It will increase the amount of flexibility you have when things like rain cancellations happen. Yes, it rained that night we were supposed to go to the Field of Lights but not until much later in the evening. I know we could have seen the installation and still had time to get back before the rain started. BUT…hindsight is always 20/20 and the people managing the tour could not have known for sure that it would work out. So I also understand why they cancelled it. In the end, it was still a good night spent with new friends from a different part of the world.
One last thing – just for kicks before I published this post, I looked up how much rain the Uluru area of Australia gets annually. The answer made me laugh and curse my luck:
“Uluru-Kata Tjuta averages 12 inches of rain each year. It typically has 5 days a month all year round when it is cloudy (not necessarily raining) so you would have to be lucky to actually be there when it rains.”