When travelling in the UK you expect to change course due to the weather. You pack umbrellas, waterproof trousers, endless coats. You plan for having to retreat indoors at short notice. And you simply assume that at some point it will rain.
Not so in Australia. Travelling here generally requires just a few casual outfits, a decent line in swimwear and lashings of sun cream. You expect to be warm, if not mind-bendingly hot, for the entirety of your trip, and my god, do you expect sunshine.
Yesterday at Uluru it was (at best) 20 degrees and raining. I left Sydney first thing on a flight that should have taken a little under three hours. Six and a half hours later, and after an aborted landing at Uluru and a brief diversion to Alice Springs where we sat on the tarmac and gazed glumly out of the windows, we finally landed at Ayers Rock airport.
I had missed my afternoon’s tour to Mount Connor, a place I will in all likelihood now never see. I had been basically in transit for three days. And I had a hangover. It is fair to say that my mood was not a sunny one.
But then I realised something. I was going to see Uluru in a light that people rarely do. Every picture I’ve ever seen of the sandstone monolith has shown it bathed in sunlight, and emanating the beautiful red glow we all think is a constant feature of the outback. But every so often – and just for a day or two – the rock is clad in swirling grey clouds. Yesterday Uluru appeared and disappeared on the horizon like a mysterious spaceship. I would look out of my hotel room window to see it brooding under a blanket of swirling mist, turn my attention away for a minute or two, and turn back to see just a corner of the rock peering out moodily from behind a darkening fug. I also saw rain like I’ve never experienced anywhere else, pouring out of the sky like marbles and thundering onto every surface with a noise I kept thinking must surely be thunder. I felt marooned in my hotel room and went to bed so early it was practically still light.
But I am lucky – I can come back. My itinerary has been changed and today I fly up to Darwin. Yes, it means I’ll take 12 flights in as many days and yes, I’m exhausted and just a little fed up. But so many of the people who will share my flight out of here today have missed what they thought they came to see. They may appreciate having seen an iconic place in a different light, but they are more likely desperately disappointed that the sunset was obscured by apocalyptic rain, the usually dazzling night sky blotted out by endless cloud cover.
We have seen, yet again, that mother nature is always and unfailingly in control. Travel plans will shift thanks to unexpected rain, an ill wind or sudden changes in temperature, the weather will unpick the very best laid plans – and even in Australia you might just need an umbrella.