Reading Time: 5 minutesExperience the history and natural wonder of the red centre and Uluru
By virtue of having lived in Australia for more than three decades, I have seen the mammoth Uluru on television, in movies, on wallpapers and calendars. But only recently, when I actually saw it in front of me, I found myself completely mesmerised by the magnificence of the sandstone marvel. Struck by its enormity, I couldn’t have agreed more with American author Patricia Schultz when she identified Uluru as one of the thousand places to see before you die.
One of Australia’s most recognisable natural landmarks, Uluru is of unimaginable scale, taller than the iconic Eiffel Tower, rising 348m high from its barren surrounds. It has a circumference of 9.4km covering a total area of 3.3 square kilometres. Most interestingly, this monolith rock extends even further below ground level to an unknown depth.
With the waning sun, the colours reflected on the rock keep changing making it extraordinarily spectacular – especially at dawn and dusk.
It’s not the only jewel in the crown of the Northern Territory’s ‘Red Centre’, (which gets its name and reputation from the vast plains of red soil characterising the landscape.) Around 50 kilometres west of Uluru, the gathering of 36 conglomerate rock domes called Kata Tjuta, one of them rising to a height of 546m above plain, is equally impressive.
Both of these icons and the surrounding land are part of the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park which belongs to the traditional owners, the indigenous Anangu people. Their ancestors are believed to have lived here for thousands of years. Today’s generation considers it to be their responsibility to pass on the rich cultural values of the place to their descendants. Deeply sacred to them, these outcrops, which were earlier called by their European given names, Ayers Rock and the Olgas, are now referred by their native titles only.
Today the desert domain, dominated by miles of red-earth, stands as the ultimate destination for adventure travellers keen to see unusual geographical marvels and experience indigenous culture and a lifestyle that has been well-preserved since its inception.
Though there are many intriguing things to do when exploring the Red Centre, here are the top five experiences you should not miss.
Meandering around the rocks
When looked at closely, Uluru is weather-bitten; pitted with holes and gashes. Valleys, crevices and caves mystically unfold and by self or ranger-guided walks, it’s rewarding to explore them. Leisurely meandering through the acacia woodlands and grassed clay pans, you discover diverse species of plants, animals and geological features of the Park. See indigenous art in some of the caves, encounter blood woods, native grasses and many waterways. Hear stories about the Anangupeople, learn about their lifestyle and the practices of humans who lived here millenniums ago.
The Kuniya Walk, which was recently taken by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, is also one of the most popular short walks to try. It’s a relatively short stretch along a red-soil path that leads to the Mutitjulu waterhole, home to a wanampi, an ancestral water snake. There are similar trails around Kata Tjuta as well, the most commonly stepped being the Walpa Gorge Walk that leads to a groove of spearhead.
Circle the entire rock on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle for an incredibly thrilling experience.
Watching a riot of colours
The major tourist draw card of Uluru and Kata Tjuta that pleases visitors most is the change of colours at different hours of the day, most spectacular being at the crack of dawn and then when the sun finally dips into the horizon. At these moments, Uluru and Kata Tjuta glow like a giant prism with the colours of the light spectrum, displaying beautiful reflections from the red-oxide stained exterior of the rocks. Undoubtedly, it’s a divine experience to watch this natural light show, so sunrise and sunset tours are big ticket items in the Red Centre. The ‘Desert Awakening’, a tour that starts early in the morning when it’s still dark, has you sitting around a campfire, sipping hot tea and watching the surrounding desert slowly awaken into life.
Dining under the stars
‘Sounds of Silence’ or ‘Tali Wiru’ are not just world-class gastronomic adventures, they’re nights to remember for the rest of your life. This is dining in style at an open-air venue where the ceiling is the South Desert sky, and there’s nothing but stunning views of the Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the red desert.
Like us, you may arrive on site on a camel, like the 19th century cameleers trundled through the desert, and then relax with champagne and canapés while the sun vanishes below the horizon, Finally comes the elaborate meal, complemented by cultural enactments from Indigenous performers.
Getting a feel for Indigenous culture
Uluru and Kata Tjuta may be just geological wonders to many, but they have significant meaning for Australia’s Indigenous people; they both form an important focus of their spiritual life. A Red Centre odyssey provides many opportunities to learn about the legend and myths, and most importantly about Australia’s indigenous culture, tradition and lifestyle. The Cultural Centre at the base of Uluru Rock is the best starting point. Here the assembly of interactive displays, video presentations and artwork provides an interesting introduction into how the original native people lived and survived in this harsh environment. This initial knowledge is furthered through various activities at the Ayers Rock Resort, one of their accommodation facilities. Indigenous storytellers narrate their history and practices, perform traditional dances, provide the enchanting sounds of the didgeridoo and explain the use of local plants in daily life.
Visiting the Kings Canyon
Explore the Kings Canyon, a three hour drive from Uluru, a majestic destination featuring a 100m high sandstone chasm, palm-filled crevices around tranquil waterholes called ‘Lost City’ and the ‘Garden of Eden’, and spectacular views that stretch miles across the barren desert plain. The six kilometre Rim Walk is challenging, but absolutely worth it.
Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com/au) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com/au) have daily flights from Sydney to Uluru.
Operated by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, Ayers Rock Resort (www.ayersrockresort.com.au) offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every possible taste and budget – from the award winning 5-star Sails in the Desert, and modern Desert Gardens Hotel, to the self-contained Emu Walk Apartments, the authentic Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge, and the Ayers Rock Campground, offering powered campsites and air-conditioned cabins.
There are several eating options available within the resort complex which includes Arnguli Grill for fine dining, Ilkari Restaurant for a tantalising menu of international flavours, and Geckos Café offering delicious steaks, pizzas, burgers and salads in a relaxed family atmosphere.