When Len Tuit approached the Australian Government in the early 1950s with plans to develop tourism around Ayer’s Rock, they looked at him and said ‘why would anyone want to visit a big rock in the middle of the desert?’ (more or less). It’s a good question. What is so special about this big red rock in the middle of the desert? Discovering the answer to that requires a personal visit to this amazing place, known as both Uluru and Ayer’s Rock, depending on the generation you’re a part of.
What makes Uluru unique is both geological and cultural in nature. There is a reason that this gigantic natural structure is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world. Both Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) are ancient – approximately 350 million years old, exposed via uplifting and the erosion of the surrounding rock over millions of years. The flat plains around them only serve to emphasize their enormous size. From photos, I had always imagined Uluru to be rather uniform in shape, but that’s so far from the truth it’s ridiculous. The sides of this monolith are riddled with caves, gorges, honeycomb-like erosion scars and indentations from seasonal waterfalls. The three hour walk around the base (if you walk quickly) continually exposes more amazing geological features.
But to the indigenous aboriginal tribe – the Anangu – these features are not the result of millenia of natural forces at work. They are tjukuritja, physical evidence of ancestral beings that shaped the world during the creation period – tjukurpa. To the Anangu, Uluru and Kata Tjuta are spiritual and sacred places that contain their stories – like a giant bible and history book rolled into one, if you will. What to us looks like a curious shape in the rock, to them it is part of a story that defines who they are, teaching them life lessons and their past.
And this is why I ask you, dear people, not to do The Climb. I hadn’t heard much about this before I got there, but apparently the chance to climb Uluru is a major draw for many of the tourists that come to the National Park. Uluru is sacred, and climbing the rock is forbidden in the Anangu culture. However, this didn’t matter to the original European explorers. As part of a decades-old lease agreement, the climb must remain open (in safe conditions), but the Anangu, the park rangers and many signs around the park all ask you to kindly respect the wishes of the Anangu people and not make the climb. Do people listen? Not as many as you would think. One of the rangers explained that they are hoping to decrease the number of people who climb to less than 20% of the total visitors to the park. I couldn’t believe this. That means that currently a lot more than one in five people willfully choose to show disrespect to the local culture in order to get a good photo. Uluru is a sacred site – it’s no different to covering your knees and shoulders in an Italian church, or taking your shoes off when entering a mosque. So please, don’t be one of those people. Show some respect and don’t do the climb. Please. If you want magnificent views from a height, take the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta, or even book a helicopter tour!
As non-indigenous visitors, we are allowed to share in the most basic elements of the Anangu stories – the child’s version. Aboriginals believe that knowledge must be earned, and only when you have shown yourself responsible can you be taught the deeper parts of the tjukurpa. As such, there are certain parts of Uluru you are asked not to photograph. These are significant sites that Anangu can only learn about when they are deemed worthy. The Anangu believe that knowledge can only be given at the site it concerns, so photographs impart this knowledge to those who have not been to the area, and thus should not learn it. It might seem strange to us of other cultures, but it’s a simple thing to not press that shutter button, so why not do the right thing? All this and more is explained (much more expertly than me) by park rangers on the daily (free!) guided Mala Walk. I highly recommend doing this two hour walk before continuing on around the full base walk; they give you such a good insight into the significance of this wonderful place.
Anyway, both sunset and sunrise are an absolute must when at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. And since the entrance fee ($25) gives you access for three days, there’s no excuse! I did sunset at Kata Tjuta and both sunrise and sunset at Uluru. Head round to the southern lookout while it’s still dark to see the complete colour change – it’s magical. It’s no wonder this is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park lies 450km south west from Alice Springs, the closest major town. Petrol in the area is much more expensive than on the Stuart Highway, so make sure you’ve got a full tank when you head there!
If you don’t have your own transport, there are many tours available to you departing from Alice Springs, from day trips to overnights and more.
Camping, as well as hotel rooms, is available at the nearby Yulara Ayers Rock Resort, but there are also a few free bush camps (i.e. patches of dirt with no facilities) just a little further out the road. Make sure to stop in at the Cultural Centre when you first enter the park to get a deeper understanding of what you’re looking at.
Have you ever been to Uluru? It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that cannot be missed. What are your views on the spiritual significance of the area – should the climb continue? Tell me below!
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.