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 (formerly known as "Ayers Rock"), a single massive rock formation, and also for Kata Tjuta (formerly known as "The Olgas"), a range of rock domes.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are considered sacred places by the Anangu people, the Aboriginal tribes that have lived there for thousands of years. The Australian government formally returned control of the area to the Anangu in 1985, under the condition that the land be jointly managed by the Anangu and the Australian parks and management services. 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.
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 5km beneath the desert plain and measuring 3.6 by 2.4km at the surface. It rises 348 meters above the plain (862.5 meters above sea level) and has a circumference of 9.4km. 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.
Kata Tjuta is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes 36 km to the west of Uluru. Some geologists believe that once it 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.
In December and January, the temperature can be blistering hot, and some areas may be closed for travellers' safety. July, August and September offer a more temperate climate, although still warm enough to work up a sweat at mid-day.
The Anangu people have lived in 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 (Aboriginal) 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, the European names may be more familiar to outsiders (and some Australians).
A three-day permit to enter the National Park costs $25.
- Uluru - there is a sunrise viewing point on the road around Uluru (northeast from the rock), and a sunset viewing point between the Kata Tjuta turn-off and the cultural center.
- Kata Tjuta - also has a well-marked sunrise / sunset viewing point on the road leading to the domes.
- The Cultural Centre - built in 1995 to mark the 10th anniversary of Handover (the process by which land was given back to the traditional owners, and Ayers Rock became Uluru). It hosts a multitude of aboriginal creation stories and extensive articles about the history of the Pitjantjara. There are shops where you can buy local art and souvenirs. It's also a good place for a rest after trekking around Uluru.
- The Uluru base walk (9km) can be done in 2 hours in a rush, or 4 hours at a more leisurely pace, with time included for side walks and sign-posts. Please note that certain areas are intended by the Aboriginal community to be off-limits for photography.
- Climbing Uluru is heavily frowned upon by the local Aboriginal community, but it remains very popular with visitors. The climb is not for the faint hearted and can take between 1-4 hours, depending on fitness. Timing is crucial as poor weather occasionally forces the closure of the Uluru climb by National park staff. A sign at the park entrance will advise visitors whether the climb is open.
- The Walpa Gorge walk (2.6km) is the shorter - and easier - of the two walks around Kata Tjuta.
- The Valley of the Winds walk (7.4km) at Kata Tjuta is truly magnificent and should not be missed. It takes about 3 hours, and carrying bottled water is advised, although there are two water stations along the route. The walk may also be closed during extreme weather. As with the Uluru climb, a sign at the park entrance will advise visitors whether the walk is open.
- Anangu tours are also available. These can be arranged at Yulara or at the Cultural Center.
- Helicopter tours can be arranged at Yulara. They range from short buzzes over Uluru and / or Kata Tjuta to longer trips taking in more of the landscape, and possibly King's Canyon as well.
- Camel to sunrise or sunset - another wonderful experience. You are taken from the resort to the camel farm where you are instructed on what you need to do. The camel trek goes through the surrounding desert, providing good views all around, with a talk on camel history and the area, before reaching a viewing point to watch the sun setting on Uluru.
- The Sounds Of Silence Dinner is an extremely popular night under the stars. Advance bookings are essential, even in low seasons. Coaches take diners from Yulara to one of a few dining areas out in the desert. Champagne (or beer, upon request) are served while the sun goes down over Uluru and the inevitable didgeridoo plays. The clean, elegant dining area is lit by torches and table lamps. The food is served buffet-style, but it's cooked with the attention of a gourmet chef (considering the circumstances). Between the main course and dessert, an astronomer talks about the stars that are out that night, and telescopes are available afterward. There is also a bonfire.
- Desert Awakenings, occasionaly available, is a breakfast version of the aforementioned Sounds of Silence. It includes a guided tour around the base of Uluru and ends at the Cultural Center.
Far more cars on the road than you would imagine, and every driver waves hello to you (that's what you get in these far off places!) Plenty of places to stop and picnic and get water, although no toilets unless you stop at an official roadhouse (few and far between). There's lots of wildlife to see too: camels, cows, dingos and birds.
Greyhound Australia runs from Alice Springs to the National Park.
- Qantas operates flights to Yulara's Connellan Airport (AYQ) from Sydney, Melbourne, and Cairns. (Yulara is essentially a service city for Uluru, acting as an accommodation base for visitors to the park. It was constructed in the 1980s and its location is just outside the park boundaries.)
- Many travellers also fly to Alice Springs and drive from there.
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.
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