Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru (Ayers Rock) from a helicopter

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a park in the southern portion of the Northern Territory of Australia, part of the so-called Red Centre of the continent. The National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage area. It is best known for Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), a single massive rock formation, and also for Kata Tjuta (also known as "The Olgas"), a range of rock domes.

Understand

Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are considered sacred places by the Aboriginies. The land is owned by the Anangu, leased by the government and jointly managed by the Anangu and the Australian parks and management services and visitors will notice efforts throughout the area to include and encourage respect for the Anangu perspective on the land. Much of Kata Tjuta is off-limits, for example, and climbing Uluru is strongly discouraged by sign-posts. (A few areas around the base of Uluru are intended to be off-limits for photography, although there is no problem with it throughout most of the park.) In practice, however, the daily management of the parks is handled by members of the Australian parks department.

To climb or not to climb

Uluru is sacred to the Anangu people of the area. They say that the climb follows the track that the ancestoral Mala men took to get to the top for ceremony. They say that when you climb, you are on their tracks.

In addition, there are some safety and environmental concerns - at least 35 people have died while climbing Uluru - albeit most accidents occur when leaving the marked trail. There are no toilet facilities on the track or on top of Uluru. As a result, bacterial levels in the waterholes at the base of the rock are significantly higher than those further away from the rock.

The climb is also closed for various reasons; From 8AM in Summer months (December, January and February), Heat (if the temperature reaches 36°C/98°F), Rain (greater than 20% chance of rain/5% chance of thunderstorms in 3 hours), Wind (Speed at summit reaches 25 knots), Wet (if 20% of surface is wet after rain), Cloud (if there is cloud below the summit), Rescue (if there is a rescue from the rock), or Culture (if the traditional owners request closure, for example during mourning periods).

The decision to climb when it is open is yours - but make sure you are properly informed before you decide. Visit the Cultural Centre first to learn more about the park and what makes Uluru so significant.

History

The Anangu people have connected to the area for thousands of years. Some records suggest they may have been there for more than 10,000 years. On an expedition in 1872, the explorer Ernest Giles saw the rock formation from a considerable distance, although he did not reach the base. Giles described it as "the remarkable pebble". In 1873, the surveyor William Gosse followed his footsteps and reached the rock. He chose to name it in honor of the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Giles himself chose to name the domes nearby for Olga, the Queen of Württemberg.

The names Uluru and Kata Tjuta come from the local Anangu people and respectively mean "Earth Mother" and "Many Heads". In the Anangu language they are written as Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the letters with underscores indicating that they are pronounced with the tongue curled upwards and touching the upper part of the palate instead of the front part or the teeth.

Eventually, the Australian government moved to a dual-naming policy - initially "Ayers Rock / Uluru", and then "Uluru / Ayers Rock". Both names are still in frequent use. Although most official materials use the Anangu names.

Landscape

Close up picture of Uluru's surface

Uluru is one of Australia's best known natural features, the long domed rock having achieved iconic status as one of the symbols of the continent. The rock is a so-called monolith, i.e. a single piece of rock or a giant boulder, extending about 5 km beneath the desert plain and measuring 3.6 by 2.4 km at the surface. It rises 348 metres above the plain (862.5 metres above sea level) and has a circumference of 9.4 km. Some say that Uluru is the biggest of its kind, others say that Mount Augustus in Western Australia is bigger. Whatever the case may be, standing in front of Uluru and seeing its massive bulk rise above the flat plain surrounding it, it is nothing less than impressive. The rock undergoes dramatic colour changes with its normally terracotta hue gradually changing to blue or violet at sunset to flaming red in the mornings as the sunrises behind it.

But the rock also extends some 1.5 miles underground. The Anangu Aborigines believe this space is actually hollow but it contains an energy source and marks the spot where their 'dreamtime' began. They also believe that the area around Uluru is the home of their ancestors and is inhabited by many ancestral 'beings'.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes 36 km to the west of Uluru. Some geologists believe that it once may have been a monolith far surpassing Uluru in size, but that it eroded to several separate bulks of rock.

Flora and fauna

Apart from these two main features the park also protects hundreds of plant species, 24 native mammal species and 72 reptile species. To protect these, off-road access away from Uluru and Kata Tjuta is not allowed.

Climate

In December and January, the temperature can be blistering hot with temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius, and occasionally tipping over 50, and some areas may be closed for travellers' safety. July and August can see minimum overnight temperatures drop to as low as minus 10 Celsius, with day time maximums occasionally only reaching as high as 15 degrees Celsius. April and September offer a more temperate climate, although still warm enough to work up a sweat at mid-day.

Get in

By car

Lasseter highway leading to Uluru

Cars can also be hired in Alice Springs. It is a 450 km drive to the resort from Alice, and should take between 4 and 5 hours. There are petrol stations along the Stuart Highway and the Lasseter Highway. Be sure to top off your tank when you can. In addition, if you have an early flight from Alice Springs and plan to drive back in the morning, be sure to top off the day before, as fuel in Yulara is not open 24 hours - and they won't be open if you leave pre-dawn.

Driving at night can be dangerous because of animals on the road, particularly kangaroos and cows (Lasseter Highway goes through cattle station land and is not fenced in all the way). Rental car agreements often prevent doing this drive outside daylight hours.

By tour

A number of tour companies based in Alice Springs visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Tours range from basic 1 day bus tours (beware, this means at least 1,000 km of driving in 1 day) up to 5 days long, also often visiting Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell ranges on the way.

Tour companies also provide longer tours from many of Australia's capital cities including Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.

By bus

There is no scheduled bus service. Some tour operators may offer travel only if there is room on their buses.

By plane

Ayers Rock (Connellan) airport is around 15 km north of the rock, and services the resort town of Yulara. Both major carriers Qantas and Virgin Australia fly there. There are direct flights from Alice Springs, Cairns, Sydney, and Perth.

Many travellers also fly to Alice Springs and drive or take a tour from there, but it is well over 5 hours drive from Alice Springs to Yulara. Unlimited mileage car hire is not common in Alice Springs if you arrive and hire a car on the spot from the majors. Travel agents and the government tourist office do have access to unlimited mileage rates.

Flights from Alice Springs cost around $120 upwards with Qantas.

By bicycle

The sealed road from the Stuart Highway makes for a pleasant & relatively easy cycle tour, undertaken each year by dozens of travellers. Bicycle travellers need to be well prepared in terms of mechanical reliability, water & food, and will need to "bush camp" several nights at least.

Fees/Permits

A three-day permit to enter the National Park costs $25. A permit to enter the park may or may not be included in a tour you book. Ask your booking agent if your tour fee includes the permit to enter the park.

NOTE: Only buy your park pass from a tour operator or at the entry gate to the National Park. Do not purchase them off other people. Passes are non transferable and must have the name of the person who is using it. Rangers can ask for photo ID when viewing your pass.

Get around

Map of Uluru

The big rocks are actually a little distance from Yulara, where the accommodation and facilities are. If you are not with a tour, or didn't bring your car, you will need to decide how best to get to these locations. Hire cars can be expensive, and have limited kilometres; however shuttles to and from the rock are also expensive, so do the maths and see what works best for you.

See

Do

Uluru

A compass plate on the top of Uluru

Kata Tjuta

General Tours

Buy

Souvenirs are available at the Cultural Centre or at several shops in Yulara. They range from standard shirts, caps and knick-knacks to authentic (and, accordingly, expensive) Anangu art. Food, drinks and photographic equipment are available in Yulara.

Eat

Drink

Water! And lots of it. No alcohol is sold outside of Yulara, and tribal elders have asked visitors not to sell or give alcohol to local Aborigines.

Sleep

There is no accommodation inside the park, and no camping is permitted within the park boundaries. The park closes overnight.

Accommodation from 5-star to camping is available in at the resort village of Yulara, just outside the park boundary. See that article for details.

About an hour short of Yulara (coming from Alice Springs) is Curtin Springs Station, which offers free unpowered camping, and $25 per night for powered sites. They charge $2.50 for a shower. You can "bush camp", but it's not recommended.

If you are interested in Aboriginal culture, consider staying at Mt Ebenezer. It's 200 km away, so you won't see the sunrise at Uluru, but it's good for a night's stop if you are late getting away from Alice or Uluru. Whilst the accommodation is relatively basic, it is one of only a few Aboriginal-owned roadhouses in the Territory. Go out the back and you will see an art room for members of the local Imampa Community, and you can buy art directly from the artists. Don't be put off by not being served by an Aboriginal person, this is due to their culture, but rest assured it is owned by the local community.

Stay safe

NOTE: Do not enter the Mutitjulu Community or any sacred sites without permission. All the information you ever want on culture is available at the cultural centre and it's well worth the visit. Also, don't take photos of sacred sites (they are well signposted), and don't take photographs of people without their permission.

Unless you're well-equipped with an appropriate vehicle, supplies and maps, stay on the sealed roads. Keep an eye on your fuel supply before you set off anywhere.

Keep plenty of water with you at all times while you're hiking. Whether or not you're thirsty, stop for a drink at least once an hour. The temperatures can be extreme during the summer (particularly December to January). Wear a hat and don't be shy with the sunscreen. Expect to be annoyed by flies, particularly on some stretches of the Valley of the Winds walk.

Wear comfortable walking / hiking shoes. Some of the terrain you may be traversing will be steep and covered with loose stones. Thongs, flip-flops, boat-shoes, and loafers are not recommended for the Uluru Climb, the Valley of the Winds walk, nor the Gorge walk. Runners (sneakers) are acceptable.

Go next

Curtin Springs Station makes a good base for a trip to King's Canyon, a similarly magnificent geological wonder. Make sure you fuel up in Yulara until Alice Springs when going that way, as fuel prices on the way are unbearable!

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.