Thursday – July 9, 2009 –
We thought this morning might be the highlight of our visit to Central Australia. Jeff and I woke up early for a sunrise tour of Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. It was going to be an epic day!
About 90 minutes before sunrise, our AAT Kings Land Rover picked us up for our tour of Uluru, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The AUD$128 tour took us on a dirt road to the base of Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock. The large sandstone rock formation is considered a national symbol of Australia. Uluru is a large sandstone rock formation, and along with Kata Tjuta, they are the two major features of the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The sandstone rock rises 1,142 feet, though almost 1,700 feet rests underground. Overall Uluru has a total circumference of 5.8 miles.
This morning we had the opportunity to witness one of the most beautiful views of Uluru: at sunrise. As the sun rose, the face of the rock appeared and began changing to a bright red glow. We watched it for about an hour and it was amazing how much the color changed between shades of red.
Afterwards, our guide Allison took us on a walking tour around the rock to a plethora of springs, waterholes, rock caves and ancient paintings. She told us about local flora and fauna, bush foods and the Aboriginal dreamtime stories – or walkabouts. As silly as it sounds, I couldn’t help but think about Paul Hogan’s character, Crocodile Dundee, going for his walkabouts in the movie. Allison also showed us the Mutitjulu waterhole, one of the most famous watering holes.
After the walking tour we stopped at the Kata Tjuta Culture Centre. Inside we studied Anangu and Aboriginal history. We also learned about Tjukurpa, the traditional form of Aboriginal law.
Since many of our group decided to climb to the top of Uluru, Jeff and decided to ascend it too. It was a little bit of a difficult decision because some aboriginal call it a holy place and are not happy with some of the irresponsible tourism that has happened on it. In some places, watering holes have been polluted. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that visitors will no longer be able to climb Uluru in 2010 in order to honor Aboriginal wishes to keep it a sacred site. The lease for the national park was being renegotiated with tribal elders and the elders made the decision to not allow anymore hiking on the rock. We decided to make the trek since it would be our only chance. The hike is about 1,142 straight up, pulling yourself up on iron cables. It was hot here, even in the wintertime. The temperature reached into the 90s and the surface on the red sandstone was even hotter. We actually had to stop a few times for breathers because our hearts were about to explode out of our chests.
When we arrived at the top, we couldn’t believe the view. It seemed like in all directions, the red centre of Central Australia stretched below us. We took photos and even saw the geological marker from the Australian government marking the top. In the distance, we saw Kata Tjuta, also called Mount Olga or The Olgas, we were about 16 miles west of Uluru. This is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen anywhere in the world!
We couldn’t stay long because we had to catch our noon bus below us. We hurried down in about 20 minutes and barely made our bus. Upon arrival back near the Desert Gardens Hotel, we had sandwiches for lunch before visiting the Visitor Centre next door.
Around 14:15 p.m., we took another AAT Kings tour for about $175. The first part of the tour took us on a two-and-a-half hour walk through the Kata Tjuta domes as we climbed up to the Valley of the Winds lookout.
Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ in the Anangu language, and is also know as The Olgas. The Olgas are 36 domes made up of sedimentary rock including granite and basalt, cemented by a layer of sandstone. The domes cover an area of almost 8.5 square miles. The highest point, Mount Olga, rises about 1,800 feet above the surrounding plain (about 650 feet higher than Uluru). Geologists believe the domes date back some 500 million years. They are considered a sacred place that transmits spiritual energy that is powerful and can only be adequately for initiated elders. The Anangu believe Kata Tjuta indicates physical evidence of feats performed during creation.
After returning from the Valley of the Winds lookout, we enjoyed a refreshing glass of Aussie sparkling wine while enjoying a magnificent ‘outback’ sunset. It was crazy how the colors changed to different colors of red on the sandstone surfaces of the Olgas. It was a dance of light and shadows among the western-facing peaks and valleys of the Olgas.
Then we enjoyed a traditional Australian barbecue dinner with steak, sausages, salads and bread. The highlight was kangaroo meat, which tasted of course like chicken! To cap a perfect evening, we had phenomenal stargazing while our guides explained the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. We returned to the hotel about three hours after sunset and went to bed early.