It’s not easy being serene
Solo correspondent Louise Goldsbury travels to the red centre in search of solitude.
H, THE serenity. Just me, Uluru and the dazzling, distant sun rising over the rusty, dusty desert, accompanied by the soundtrack of 100 chattering, selfie-snapping tourists and the rumble of coach engines. It’s not easy being serene in the spiritual centre of Australia.
When I visited many years ago on a self-driving crisscross of the country, I found hidden places with no tour groups in sight. The best opportunity was almost closing time at UluruKata Tjuta National Park, after passengers had been herded back to their buses before dark.
This time, though, I am one of the flock, unable to be alone in the moment. I look around at other people who clearly revel in sharing every detail, without seeming to notice many details at all. I’d imagine they would never think of going somewhere special without someone special. Or lots of special someones – most of this young crowd is gangs of friends.
Assuming it might live up to its name, I look forward to the Sounds of Silence dinner, but this is a noisy night under the stars. My table of 10 comprises six Italians, say no more. The communal seating is ideal for solos to socialise but is far from the romantic image I had in my mind.
To reach this outdoor dining site with a view of Uluru, I take a camel ride and this almost delivers the quiet contemplation that I seek. Led by a guide, we plod along the sand dunes in a meditative procession. With nobody on either side, it’s a chance to focus on the brilliant surroundings, if only the guide would stop talking for a minute.
The next day, at the Desert Gardens Hotel’s Arguli Grill, I have a good lunch served by a shy waiter who spills my drink. Turns out he’s the guy who will be taking me on a Harley tour tomorrow. “Don’t worry,” he says, reading my mind. “I’m better at riding motorbikes than pouring wine.”
Finally, it happens. I find my solitary fantasy on the back of his rip-roaring Harley. Its guttural growl is so loud that Maxim, my biker-waiter, doesn’t utter a word from the moment he picks me up from the hotel. We spend an exquisite speechless hour together, rumbling around The Rock. I see Uluru uninterrupted from every angle – every curve, crevice and cave.
There’s something soulstirring about this circumnavigation, circling the red heart of Australia. After doing it by campervan, walking and flying, I can say Uluru Motorcycle Tours is the way to go (from $99 a person; ulurucycles.com).
I have another magical morning on the Desert Awakenings small-group tour, which starts at 5am to reach a dune-top in time for sunrise. The quiet setting is a classic slice of Australia – campfire, billy tea, damper and a smoky view of Uluru. Our guide then takes us to the Mutitjulu waterhole to see ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. Later in the day, we spot him dancing to entertain guests at Voyages