July 12th:

I got up and finished packing, and checked out by 6:25 am. The bus came a little late (what's new?), but I did end up with a second row window seat. We stopped five or six more times, and loaded on a lot more people (there were already people on the bus when it stopped at my hotel).

Because we had some extra pickups at some odd places, we got underway a little late (what's new?). This was less of a tour and more of just a "get there" kind of thing, but there were three stops along the way - probably at least as much to rest the driver as to let the passengers stretch their legs.

The first stop, about an hour into the trip, was at a Camel Farm. The place had all kinds of animals - camels (some for riding (I didn't)), alpacas, llamas, cattle, wallabees, a young dingo, and birds. There was also food and souveniers, and toilets of course. Our next stop was a food shop and aboriginal art gallery called Mt Ebenezer Station (once part of the Mt Ebenezer Cattle Station but now separated from it and owned by aboriginees). Between the first and second stops, we saw a video of the impact of La Nino cyclones on the north-eastern coast, as well as the central desert of Australia.

The last stop was a quickie at a viewpoint for Mt Conner, which was partially obscured by cloud. It was cloudy all day - it had rained over night in Alice Springs - and it even started raining while we were driving the last leg. After the Mt Conner stop, we saw a video about Mr Lassiter and his lost gold reef, which helped time pass. In between the videos and such, our driver/guide Gordon regaled us with information about the land we were crossing - he knew a lot.

We finally arrrived at Yulara, a resort area built about 20 years ago and containing 4 hotel/resorts and two campgrounds as well as a shopping center, a hospital, a police station, and a fire house. My hotel, Sails in the Desert, is a 5-star resort - I suppose that it has more ambience in the summer, 'cause it isn't all that much better than either the Alice Springs Resort or the Mercure Sydney (neither of which is as many stars, or as expensive). The thing is so spread out that the valet service for your luggage is nearly mandatory. We arrived at about 1pm, and after checking in I still had to wait a bit for my room key (some 5-star service, unless they always double-check rooms like that - even so, it was annoying). I used the time to book two more tours, since there is quite literally *nothing* else to do here - no town to walk around, no sights to see except for the ones the tours go to. For this evening, I booked a helicoper flight (if it doesn't rain), and for tomorrow afternoon (the morning is already booked with a base tour of Uluru) a tour of the Olgas.

I got my key and went to my room, which was also nice (but not fantastic). They've got one of those systems where the key goes into a device beside the door to activate the lights and power outlets. I went back out to lunch in the bar, and then to reception to reserve dinner at the buffet at 7:45 pm. Next, I spent some time on email, which was in a tiny kiosk that actually took coins to activate. Last, I went out for a walk around, and found the Imalung Outlook, right in the center of the scrub inside the ringroad of Yulara, and got some fantastic shots of Uluru and a less fantastic shot of the Olgas. Then I returned to my room to type this and wait for my evening tour. Sometime between returning and now (4:53pm), the sun seems to have come out!

I'm back in the room after dinner now. The helicopter tour was great - my first time in a helicopter, in the co-pilot's seat (which got me some good views right out the nose, both up and down), and it wasn't even a little scary. The views were great - Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) are just as cool as Uluru (Ayre's Rock), and there are more of them.

I went over to the shops after being dropped off and got some Pepsi, chips, and Ritz crackers. Returning to the room, I saw a rabbit on the path. I think I'd be happier with my room if wasn't so far in the back (or, rather, the front - the window that opens onto the little patio faces onto the ring road and the utility spaces of the resort). I watched TV until it was time to go to dinner, and then had a fine meal at the buffet (and for $57 per person, it damn well better have been fine!). I spent most of my time at the salad bar-type thing, eating olives, fresh mozzarella, proscuttio and melon, and some salad. They had mushroom soup with balsamic and cream, which was good (if over-peppered). They had a lot of main courses, most of which I didn't really want. I had a mini citrus cheesecake for dessert.

Returning to my room, I noticed that the cloud cover had opened up a bit, so I turned out the room lights and went onto the patio and looked up. Fantastic! Tomorrow, I think I'll take a little stroll after dark up to Imalung Lookout if it stays clear!!

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