Day 12 (Saturday) was a tale of two contrasting flights from the same airport, the first for Roger & Vee and the second for us all.
The first one was a helicopter trip to Uluru and the Olgas departing from a corner of the local airport. It only lasted 30 minutes and cost a stiff AU$ 275 (£186) each, but it was sensational.
The helicopter was a Robinson R44 which carries four people: Vee sat in the front port seat next to the pilot Morgan, while Roger took the back starboard seat next to a trainee pilot called Tim. We had seen Uluru at sunset, at sunrise, and at the base, but this fourth perspective from the air was just terrific and made for some fabulous photographs. We had seen the Olgas from a distance, at Walpa Gorge and at sunset and again it was simply wonderful to see the domes from the air.
Roger & Vee were back at the hotel coming down from the excitement, when we were contacted by a member of staff who had just received an anguished call from the helicopter company. The pilot had forgotten to ask us for payment and was rushing round to obtain our credit card details. Poor Morgan explained that his boss was furious with him but Roger, in his best Australian, insisted: “No worries, mate”.
All the group chilled at the hotel until we gathered for a briefing from Manuela on what to expect at Cairns (pronounced with the ‘r’ silent) and the Great Barrier Reef. After a great couple of days at Ayers Rock, we were off again so, for Roger & Vee, it was a return to the same airport.
Our flight – in mid afternoon – was the last of the day: there are in fact only four public flights a day from this airport which makes it a bit different from London Heathrow that has approximately one take off or landing every two minutes. Our aircraft was a Boeing 717-200 and the flight was 1,786 km (1,117 miles) north-east which took two and a quarter hours. Since Cairns is half an hour ahead of Ayers Rock, we landed at 6.10 pm local time.
The contrast between the Ayers Rock resort of Yulara and the city of Cairns was enormous: from a population of 2,000 to one of 148,000, from a temperature of 37C to one of 23C, from a dry heat with flies to a humid heat with no insects, from red semi-desert all the way to the horizon to green semi-tropical vegetation around the city, from no visible water to the expanses of the Coral Sea. Our accommodation was the very grand Hilton Hotel but, as soon as we all checked in, most of us went it onto the Esplanade to have dinner at a lively place called “Rattle N Hum”.
Tomorrow we have a day on the Great Barrier Reef …