Red rocks, red dust and the Red Centre… our journey into the heart of Australia!

It was a bit over 53-kilometres to the Ayers Rock Campground from the turn off to the Great Central Road and a very busy road we followed that afternoon. We were back in civilization and we soon realised this was how it would be while we were visiting ‘The Rock’. Uluru (Ayers Rock) is one of the biggest attractions in Australia and ‘a must see’ on most people’s bucket list.

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There is only one place to stay here, Ayers Rock (Yulara) Resort which is like a small township planned, constructed and purpose-built to cater for the thousands of tourists that flock here every year. It includes accommodation from a camping ground to an exclusive 5-star hotel, a petrol station, a domestic airport and a shopping centre.

This is the closest campground to ‘The Rock’, which was a bit over 25-kilometres away. The next campground is the ‘Dune Camping Area’ 40-kilometres back along the Lasseter Highway or Curtin Springs Roadhouse a further 70-kilometres on!

Ayers Rock Campground was very nice. It is set in a bushland setting among the sand dunes and has lots of shade and lots of grassed sites and although it was very busy we were still able to secure an unpowered site right next to one of the many shelters scattered throughout the park!

Park fees don’t apply when you are travelling from the Great Central Road but they do if you are travelling from Yulara so arriving at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park check point the next morning we paid our park fees for 3-days and headed straight for the ‘Rock’.

It doesn’t matter how many times you visit Uluru (Ayers Rock) that first glimpse of it sitting on the horizon is exciting and even from a distance, looking across the rich red plains, the power of its ancient spirit is overwhelming… it truly is the beating heart of Australia!

The Red Centre is the geographic heart of Australia and dates back 800,000,000-years when Central Australia was covered by an inland sea.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a single red sandstone monolith with steep sides and is among the largest freestanding rocks that towers 348-metres above the flat, sandy desert landscape. At 3600-metres long it covers more than 3-square kilometres, and is approximately 10-kilometres around its base. This ‘natural wonder’ also extends up to 6-kilometres below the desert surface and is believed to be part of a huge buried mountain range.IMG_3566

Nearby Kata Tjuta (Olgas) are said to originate from a similar time and they are thought to have originally been one massive monolith, as opposed to the 36 separate domes they are today.

Both Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta are a part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which was founded in 1950 as ‘Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park’.IMG_3554

Ayers Rock was originally named by William Gosse in 1873 after Sir Henry Ayers.

It changed to its current title of Uluru in 1995 when the land was handed back to the Aboriginals.

The Australian government currently holds a 99-year lease and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park lies within the traditional lands of the Pitjnantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people but the local people call themselves Anangu meaning ‘we people’.

Aboriginal people have lived in this area for more than 20,000-years and their story of how the ‘Rock’ came to being is quite an intriguing story.

They believe Kuniya, the carpet snake people, lived in the area at the time of creation and at that time the rock was just a big, flat sand hill before it was turned to rock.

The poison snake people, the Liru, led by the warrior Kulikudgeri, attacked the Kuniya and in the fighting they made the features of the rock. The potholes in the rock are apparently the marks of the Liru spears.

These tales and stories from the Dreamtime of ancient beings that created this world and then fought over it amazed us and looking at the rock it was easy to understand why the people here have a culture that is so rich with stories. Uluru (Ayers Rock) had a powerful presence that nothing could destroy and we really hadn’t anticipated being as overwhelmed by its spiritual nature as we were!

Our walk around the base of the ‘Rock’ took us from Mala Car Park through acacia woodlands and grassed clay plains on a path that led through sacred grounds as we followed in the footsteps of the ancestral beings who shaped this landscape and our self guided tour certainly giving us an appreciation as to why this great wonder is so precious to the Aboriginal people. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park walks

We couldn’t really get close to the rock and at some sites we were asked not to take photos because of Aboriginal laws and because they believe that photography steals part of the spirit from the people… but there was a lot of signage where we learned about the significance of Uluru and the tribal culture of these people.

We visited Mutitjulu waterhole, once an important water source for its people and home of the Wanampi, an ancestral water snake. We saw intriguing rock art from the past and present and even today rock painting is taught by the elders as a means of passing on their knowledge to the younger generations… knowledge based on Tjukurpa and the social rules and beliefs that govern and guide the Anangu’s survival of their land – their law and their spiritual beliefs.

Visitors have climbed Uluru for many years but after reading the information regarding the traditional owners I was quietly pleased when we passed the climbing chain at the base of the rock to find the climb was closed due to strong winds on the summit.

This climbing route is a sacred path of spiritual significance that is only taken by a few Aboriginal men on special occasions. The traditional owners request that people refrain from climbing out of respect and understanding for Anangu law (Tjukurpa) and culture… although they do not stop those who wish to climb it! Please don’t climb Uluru!

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The chain to the top…

Since 1985 when the park was returned to the Anangu people, awareness of Uluru‘s cultural significance has been promoted influencing the way the park is managed.

We were more than happy to obey the Aboriginals’ wishes. We certainly did not feel as though we needed to climb it to get something out of this amazing place but I did wonder how many people have arrived in the area without the slightest idea about any of the stories surrounding this climb!

Over our 3-day stay in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park we walked the base of the rock several times (both ways), we visited the Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) for a second time and we were lucky enough to watch the magnificent sunset over the Uluru (Ayers Rock) on our last night!

We returned to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park over 2 nights to see the sunset and watch the colours of the rock change. The days here are all about sunrises and sunsets and it seemed dozens of people had the same idea as us…to make their way out to gaze at the monolith.

We had listened to people telling us how spectacular Uluru (Ayers Rock) was with its changing colours through the different stages of the day…from shades of orange, pink and purple to deep red and even a shiny black after rain.P9120039

As the crowd gathered and set up their chairs then settled to sip champagne on the first night we all waited patiently for its colour change and that photo moment…but it was not to be.

Unfortunately there had been a lot of cloud cover all day so there was really no change.

Most of the people probably expected magical things to happen, but Uluru (Ayers Rock) didn’t shine. You could feel the disappointment in the air. Hundreds of cameras were pointing at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and nothing happened. Slowly, people realised the show wouldn’t happen and left and before long we too started on the 25-kilometre drive back to Ayers Rock Campground.P9130108

Each night we sat around our campsite and enjoyed the peaceful evening. On the first night the heavens opened and it rained heavily again… and we were thankful of the shelter nearby.

Howling could be heard in the distance and we half expected a dingo to pass through our camp. Signs were everywhere in the campground warning people not to feed the dingoes but we were yet to see one here.

The next day we returned to the rock to see the colour changes at sunset. Others pulled in to watch the spectacular transformation too. Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a photographer’s dream come true and while some set up tripods and took photos every couple of minutes others unpacked their camping chairs and enjoyed a chilled evening beer or glass of wine.

There was no pushing or shoving on the second night, just a unified sharing of this wonderful experience… and of course we were eventually rewarded with one of the highlights of this part of Australia… the spectacular desert sunset at Uluru.

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With the sun setting behind us, the rock’s colours changed from the yellowish daytime orange to a glowing fire of shades of red, until it finally faded to an almost blood-red then black. Many people travel thousands of kilometres to see this play of colours on the rock’s surface… and let me assure you it is an experience worth experiencing and one you will never forget.

As we returned to camp that evening the sunset over the Kata Tjuta (Olgas) was just as amazing with a beautiful glow surrounding them as the sun disappeared in the night sky.

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With one day left of our pass a walk through Kata Tjuta (Olgas) (meaning ‘many heads’),  was definitely next on our list. We had watched them from a distance and driven past them a few days before and now it was time to visit again!

32-kilometres west of Uluru (Ayers Rock) this group of 36-sandstone rock domes, deep valleys and gorges spread over 3500-hectares. The distance around them is 22-kilometres and the tallest dome, Mount Olga is 152-metres higher than Uluru. As mentioned earlier, some geologists think Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) may have once been one immense rock that eroded to form a group of smaller domes.

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This area is also a sacred site under Anangu men’s law and according to their laws, details of the stories cannot be revealed and access to some areas is restricted.

It was a long hike around these rocks so with walking boots on and our water bladders over our shoulder our first walk took us along a 1-kilometre track to Karu Lookout. We had started on a fairly flat trail negotiating loose rock that rose to a saddle between two ridges and after passing tour groups and other tourist along the way we finally arrived at the breathtaking lookout that provided spectacular views down into the valley. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park walks

A walk with Guy is certainly no walk in the park as he has only one speed (flat-out) so our next challenge was a 6-kilometre hike through Walpa Gorge, also known as ‘Valley of the Winds’ (Walpa, meaning ‘windy gorge walk’).

With the temperature creeping up well above the mid 30s, we walked along rocky tracks, between domes and along creek beds where we were privy to a backdrop of stunning views of the domes and a vastness of the landscape beyond.

Karingana Lookout was an even more challenging but worthwhile trek as we followed a path through another narrow gorge between two parallel monoliths.

After conquering the steep slopes and navigating the loose gravel we finally made it to the top where we paused to have a drink and take in the magnificent views.

In the foreground were the steep rock faces of the gorge walls that framed the distant rounded domes and a red valley floor dotted with green scrub. The weathered rocks of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) looked like giant sleeping animals in the desert heat and it was easy to see why they were so important to the Aboriginal people.

We then continued along the trail that descended through the gorge and across more rocks. There were no other hikers about and it was if we were alone and lost in the outback and as we paused to take in the tranquility and the profound peacefulness of our surrounds we were overcome by a strange sensation, one of exhilaration but also of realisation that to be lost in this wilderness we would not survive for very long by ourselves.

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The second half of the loop took us through an open area of desert scrub where we were far more exposed to the intense sun. Following the trail we headed back towards the huge domes and soon the loop was complete as we walked along the spur to the car park. To finish off we headed for a shorter walk along the Olga Gorge Trail.  A bit over 2-kilometres, this trail took us through a gorge to a sheer cliff face and a refreshing rock pool where we could wash some of the red dust off!

P9120022.jpgLeaving the domes our drive back to camp took us past a dune viewing area where we had magnificent panoramic views of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It was so relaxing to sit for a while absorbed in the ever-changing landscape and the tranquility of what seemed another world as we listened to the peaceful chirping of the birds and the desert oaks as they seemed to whisper as they swayed in the gentle breeze. It wasn’t until other travellers stumbled across our sanctuary that we decided to move on.

Exhausted and hungry we headed back to camp for lunch where we found a shady camp kitchen to boil the billy and charge our batteries (computer and cameras) before relaxing around the camp site reading our books, making notes and swimming in the resort pool. As the evening crowded in around us the sky was blanketed with a million stars and we saw our first dingo sneaking through the park behind our tent, too fast for a photo.

Our trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) was coming to a close but before pushing on for Kings Canyon we had one last visit to cross off our list. A visit to the Cultural Centre located in the shadow of the ‘Rock’  and a ‘must do’!

This big earth building built in the shape of the mythical snake creature was a fascinating place and full of information that took us on another journey through the traditional culture of the Anangu people…their song and dance and their dreaming stories… and of course we couldn’t resist one last walk around the base of the rock where we had our first encounter with a juvenile western brown snake that slid right across the path in front of us.

On our way back to the car we passed the climbing chain… we came, we saw but we had no need to conquer!

As we drove away I felt very honoured to have experienced Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) once again… this place is just so spectacular and its magnificent natural beauty left us with a memory that will last a lifetime. It is something you can only appreciate from the experience of seeing!

From stunning Uluru (Ayers Rock) we headed to Kings Canyon, a mere 3-4 hours drive along bitumen!

Kings Canyon or Watarrka (pronounced what-ARR-kah) as it is also known in the local Aboriginal language, is a little under rated compared to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Kings Canyon is a spectacular destination in its own right and if it’s not on your Outback itinerary, and you’re heading to Uluru (Ayers Rock), add it on RIGHT NOW!

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