Uluru/Ayers Rock is a massive sandstone rock formation almost smack-dab in the middle of the country. It is on Pitjatjanjara Indigenous land and within a national park created to protect it.
Uluru is absolutley enormous, 348 m high, but the part above ground is only a tiny bit of an even larger sandstone mass that continues for kilometres under ground. The tip that sticks above ground has been turned on its side, as you can tell from the vertical layers of rock (instead of horizontal, as they were formed).
Uluru is simply a place of natural beauty and it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Once inside the national park, there are only a couple roads to take. The main activity available is hiking.
We chose to do the base walk at Uluru, which follows the circumference of the rock and is 11 km long.
The walk starts in the northwestern corner of the rock on a section of the trail called the Mala Walk. In the first few minutes of walking, we saw bush plums, Aboriginal cave paintings, and read the myth of the marsupial mole who lives in one of Uluru’s caves. The wave-like rock structure was naturally formed by erosion, but was used by the Indigenous people as a cover from the heat of day or strong storms.
About half an hour in we reached our first sensitive spot. These are areas that are sacred to the Pitjatjanjara people. Normally it involves some type of ceremony or initiation that is passed down from grandparent to grandchild. The signs posted on either side of the area ask people to not take pictures or video here. The Indigenous people want to continue to pass information down as a rite of passage and not have it readily viewed all over the world through photographs and video. We were trying to be as respectful as possible and refrained from taking pictures of these areas, though, unfortunately, not everyone was as courteous as we were. To see it, you’ll have to go to Uluru yourself!
As we were trekking along around Uluru, we were lapped various times by Segway tours–definitely a quicker way to tour the base, though I didn’t see any reason to rush all the way around.
I had another moment like the one involving the Sydney Opera House. I’d seen pictures of Uluru and it looks like a huge, smooth red rock. But up close, there are all kinds of caves, crevices, nooks, and crannies, as well as various shades of colour in the rock.
The first picture in the second row depicts the ‘old people’s cave’ and the black marks on the rock is from fires they burnt–amazing!
Kantju Gorge is an area where there is usually water at Uluru. These areas are important because during the hot, dry summer, the Indigenous people needed to know where they could find water. The black line running down the rock is where the water trickles down; the black colour itself comes from algae that grows on the moist rock.
Here, we are rounding the first corner to be on the northeastern side of the rock. This side is the longest, straightest side and exposed us in the sun in the middle of the day. The path also winds a bit away from Uluru here, which affords for some great pictures.
It’s amazing all the plants and animals that can survive in such a drastic climate–intense heat in summer days, frost during winter nights, and always a lack of water.
Uluru has a mini Uluru next to it on this side. A small cluster of rocks that are all sacred to the Pitjatjanjara people, so only glimpses can be seen in some of the pictures below.
Now on the southeastern side of Uluru, we are heading back into the shade of the rock (thankfully!).
We encounter another Segway tour and a small wood that has been recently burned, on purpose or by accident, we don’t really know.
Looking up at the sides of Uluru, you can see where water has slowly been slicing through the rock. There is another area on this side that is a pretty permanent waterhole. Plants are much more common and abundant near these waterholes, for obvious reasons.
The southwestern side is still shaded, which is glorious at the tail end of an almost 4 hour hike.
Most of the large crevices or other geological features have myths behind them in how they were created. Here, where there are many holes from where bits of rock fell out, it’s said they are bits of emu meat that a man stole. And where there are black streaks are the char marks of him being burned into the rock as punishment.
Finally, the last little stretch to come back around to where we began.
Just in front of the carpark, is the area where people can climb Uluru. The Indigenous people strongly ask tourists not to climb, so I didn’t (even though I wanted to). The Indigenous people call the tourists that do climb pinga which means ants. They really do look like a tiny trail of ants traipsing up the side of the rock…
Something I haven’t mentioned yet (how?) are the flies. Flies were everywhere and landing on everything. We had heard of them before (and encountered them to a lesser degree in Melbourne summer), so we came prepared with flynets. They don’t stop the flies from landing on your face/head, just stop them from touching your skin as they do so. A fashion choice they are not, but goodness were they life saving.
I love the contrast between the brilliant blue sky and the red rock (and hints of greenery at the base). Uluru is spectacular.