It’s not easy be­ing serene

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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