Three hundred or so kilometres south-west of Alice Springs lies Uluru. Perhaps more commonly known to us as Ayer’s Rock, Uluru is profoundly iconic and something I really could not wait to see on this part of the tour. Central Australia is vast, flat and open by nature, its desert plains of the outback stretching as far as the eye can see…and then suddenly, from nowhere, sprouts an unthinkably large red rock 364m above the ground. That is what it is, put simply, a bloody great big red rock in the middle of nowhere. But that’s part of what makes it so great – there’s something quite breathtaking about it and I don’t know if I have yet put my finger on it.
We spent a good three hours walking as a group around the base of Uluru – around 10km in circumference. Interestingly, it had been raining during the previous day and night – a rarity in itself – and consequently, I am able to say I am one of the few tourists that has seen Uluru with stripy dribbles of water decorating its vast cliffs.
As we walked its perimeter, we saw several places where metal chains had been rigged up the side of the rock, offering tourists the chance to climb it. Technically, Uluru is privately owned, but the Anangu people had left signs next to this facility asking visitors to respect Uluru and refrain from doing so. I was moved that all on our tour were in complete agreement that we were not interested. There were also parts of the base walk where we were not allowed to take pictures, and parts that were marked as ‘men’s business’ and ‘women’s business’; aboriginal men and women are restricted from seeing all sides of the rock.
Twenty five kilometres west of Uluru is Kata Tjuta: a second, and arguably more impressive collection of domed monoliths in the national park. Its colloquial name is The Olgas. Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are sacred to the Anangu people, the traditional inhabitants of the area. Here, we were able to walk right through the valley in the centre.
Another little tip: if venturing through central Australia, be careful you don’t mistake what the locals call ‘FOOLuru’ for the real deal. Essentially, there’s another large rock formation on the way to the national park that looks sneakily similar. Apparently it’s not uncommon that many people turn and head back to Alice Springs, never having actually set eyes on the iconic landmark that they sought.
Our accommodation for the two nights we spent in the area was the Ayer’s Rock Resort, which was a great little complex complete with buffet bar, pizzeria and a communal area with an air hockey table. This was a great little social hub for all in the evenings – there was also a small shopping square with a supermarket and several eateries, coffee shops and gift stores a little way down the road.
One huge regret for me was the fact that I was taken ill on one of the nights at the Ayer’s Rock resort, and I had to miss a champagne sunset at Uluru. Needless to say I was a little heartbroken, and definitely NOT BITTER when everyone else returned to their bunk beds in awe of the sunset they had just seen…