Australasia | Australia | Northern Territory | Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park | Uluru – Ayers Rock – Uluru
At sunrise and sunset, it is a warm dusty brown, then brilliant maroon, then muted purple and more as the earth turns and Uluru catches the changing rays of the sun. Doing a walkabout in the outback, flies buzzing around you for weeks on end, you come across the most massive rock on the planet. Its Uluru, the sacred rock to aboriginals and a source of fascination to the world. Rust stained with fossilized caves and holes, ancient Ananga Mala warriors used to arrive for a tribal gathering, then climb Uluru while women conducted their own ceremonies on the ground below.
Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, which otherwise is well known as Ayers Rock, lies almost smack dab in the middle of the very flat continent of Australia. Its difficult to comprehend the terrain of the big island down under without being there, either in the air or on the ground. The Canadian prairies, or the American plains, and a few other places in the world lend some notion of the seemingly monotonous landscape that makes up most of the big island down under. Australia has its Blue and Snowy mountains, a range here and there; a few rolling hills, but mostly, like on the prairies, you can call your dog, and see it coming home for the next three days if the land has been recently rejuvenated by fire.
Uluru is the aboriginal name for the worlds largest single geological formation, measuring 9 kms around its base and rising 387 m into the desert sky. Today, Uluru has been given back to the aboriginal people by the state of Australia, and promptly leased back to the state for a period of 99 years. A single corporation owns all of the resort hotels, supermarkets, internet cafes, bicycles, and restaurants just a few kilometers from the gates of the national park. They charge a nominal levy of $2/room night on top of the up market prices already established for the rooms that are available that is supposed to go the aboriginal community, and provide a nicely sanitized version of Ayers Rock. In three days at Uluru, you will be lucky to see even one or two aboriginal people and that includes the aboriginal cultural center. After the hoards of tourists and tour coaches leave the sunrise viewing area, you can hear dozens of dogs yelping in the nearby slum accommodations of the rocks owners.
But Uluru is still magic. It rises from the desert like a phoenix, touching the sky and beckoning you to approach. Wearing a mesh facemask and a good sun hat, there are numerous walks marked around the base, and chained stanchions to assist those that climb the rock. The Ananga request that non Ananga do not climb the rock, but over 70% of those visiting try to climb at least part of the way up. Ananga people believe that anyone who is injured or dies climbing the rock brings bad energy and sorrow to the spirit of Uluru. Aboriginal law also provides punishment for murder and rape by piercing the skin on the offenders leg by a spear. Many legends have been told, and whitefella guides continue to tell them on behalf of the aboriginal community. Some believe the rock is cursed. Others believe it is a place for coming of age or for meditation. For most it is probably some of the above.
Some make the journey to the second large monolith structure in the region the Olgas (Kata Tjuta), and still fewer make their way to the third big rock, Mount Connor. The Olgas are a series of large rocks with dynamic features. Reasonably priced car rentals are available from the resort and both Uluru and the Olgas can be visited in a day or you can take any number of tours. Visiting Mount Connor is not quite as accessible, as it lies on privately run land. The three generations of family that run the massive cattle station have a small roadside stop and campground at Curtin Springs. From there, they offer some options for visiting Mt Connor, but its in the middle of Kangaroo country and driving between dusk and dawn means you better have some heavy duty bumper guards on your vehicle if you expect to survive a collision with a roo, wild camel, or the wandering cattle.
Eco-Discovery tours run a 4WD outback visit on the land, allowing you to take in the Amadeus Salt Lake System, Mount Connor by 4WD, tour one Australias largest cattle stations, view fossils and possibly some Kangaroo in the wild, before a sunset sip of champagne and a massive steak dinner. Guides take a maximum of five people on a 7 1/2 hour off track afternoon adventure.
Our guide, Steve Blanshard, and his guide in training, Ben Dupuche, left with a couple and myself at 2:30 in the afternoon from Ayers Rock Resort. About an hour down the highway, we pulled into Curtin Springs, making our arrangements for dinner and picking up keys to the cattle station gate. Down a red sand road, we continue through the creaky old white gate into the cattle station lands. Roaring down the road leaving a trail of dust, Steve knew to slow down for a few of the almost invisible dips in the terrain, and with his experience could tell where the track split and a new road began that could take us to one of the Amadeus Salt Lakes. In the gleaming sunshine, the lake surface takes on the appearance of ice. In the dry season, the water evaporates, making it possible to walk on the lakes, feeling the crunching of the salt under your feet. Insects and reptiles unlucky enough to wander onto the lakes surface are quickly consumed by the salt and almost petrified in their tracks. Its an eerie kind of beauty, still and quiet, hot and dry.
From there, the track leads up to Mount Connor. Its a road like the old tracks that still make up many of the passageways in the Northern and Western territories. This is the outback, where water is one of the most valuable commodities to human beings. Off in the distance, Mount Connor is larger than Uluru with a circumference of 37 kms, but distinctly different. There is a round flat top from two sides, and a scrub skirt that surrounds it. Bush and scrub grow up some of the sides and on top. Still, many people driving from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock think its the real Uluru. The Curtin family had a few relatives get married on the top, and some of their ancestors are buried there. From what I have gathered, it does not seem to have much significance to the aboriginal people. Fossils have been found in the area, and some time is spent walking about looking at some. From the ridge of Mount Connor, Kangaroos are spotted in the brush below, just starting to forage for their evening breakfast.
We drive back as sunset approaches, spotting more kangaroos here and there. One has a very full belly, or perhaps there is a Joey in her pouch. She is very near the track and we pause before she hops away to get some distance. Pulling up to one of the waterholes, Steve and Ben serve up some champagne – a nice touch – as the couple on the trip is celebrating their 35th anniversary while the sun sinks below the horizon.
It is almost dark on arrival back at Curtin Springs and there is a sit down steak dinner. At 10 p.m. we have survived the drive back to Ayers Rock Resort without any casualties.