On the road: The Great Australian Dreamtime Eclipse, Days 1–4

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, November 09, 2012

The massive rock formation known as Kata Tjuta stands over the landscape, not far from Ayers Rock. // Credit: David J. Eicher
Wow. Lots of travel, a packed schedule of 12+ hour days, and traveling the Outback with little or no Internet has stalled my blog writing until now. Having arrived in the spectacular city of Sydney today, I hope to make up for it now. About 200 Astronomy readers, accompanied by Senior Editor Rich Talcott and me, have traveled Down Under to witness next Wednesday’s, November 14, rare total solar eclipse, the biggest sky event of the year. We are being ushered along a busy schedule by our tour partner, Melita Thorpe of MWT Associates, and are accompanied by some other friends and speakers, including SETI researcher Seth Shostak, comet discoverer David Levy, and astroimager Dennis Mammana.

From the United States, just getting to Australia is a commitment. Rich and I went four hours from Milwaukee, 14 hours to Brisbane, and four more hours to Darwin, not counting layover time. We were rather droopy when we stumbled into the Darwin hotel, in the northern center of the continent, and went along on a harbor dinner cruise the first evening. On Tuesday, November 6, our group traveled southeast of Darwin to the Marrakai Plains to see Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Site. The amazing cruise we had there showed us incredible river basins, plains, desert, uncountable species of birds, and many other critters, including quite a few crocodiles lurking about the waters near our boat. We peered at Aboriginal rock art there, too, hiking for long periods through the park’s extensive areas. Quite amazing.

Ancient Aboriginal art at Ayers Rock is a precious and protected treasure of Australia. // Credit: David J. Eicher
Aside from dining, visiting with friends, and sleeping as the cars rolled along through the Outback, we had no connection to the outside world. Only during the first hours of the journey did any news reach us, when an announcement came on that “it appears in the U.S. election, Obama has now won.”

On Thursday morning, November 8, we arrived at Alice Springs and then commenced a four-hour bus ride through the semidesert to our fine hotel near Ayers Rock. Uluru, as it’s known to the Aborigines, is the largest sandstone outcrop on Earth, and its weathered surface is a mesmerizing sight, particularly as the Sun sets and the rock reddens. Our groups, as well as several others from Europe, were served champagne and nibbles as a huge row of hundreds of people watched the rock at sunset. It was a rather strange party, something reminding you of a Hollywood opening — but this one happening as far in the middle of nowhere as you could possibly imagine.

We hiked around Ayers Rock and explored Aboriginal rock paintings, and then trekked to another enormous rock nearby, the famous Kata Tjuta. There, we hiked into the enormous Walpha Gorge, and our visitors took extraordinary photos. By late morning, we headed for the Uluru Airport, this time going from the completely stark desert Outback to Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, far to the south in New South Wales. Our dinner in Sydney tonight along the harbor was spectacular, and even a few hours here shows it to be an incredible city. We will explore it in detail tomorrow.

More to come. We are closing in on totality once again . . .

And be sure to check out all of the images from this trip at www.Astronomy.com/DreamtimeTotalEclipse.

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