Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nat'l Park -- Monday, 12/12/16
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is quintessential Australia, like Sydney's Opera House or The Great Barrier Reef, or kangaroos, but The Rock is more than that. As Alice Springs is Australia's geographic center, Uluru might be considered its mystical center. Uluru IS a sacred place, not just for the traditional landowners -- the Aboriginal people -- but to many who feel extraordinary forces of spirituality surrounding them. To see the red sandstone anomaly standing alone is to wonder at its creation. In person, it is really something.
When we were growing up, we knew it as Ayers Rock. Wiki tells us: Surveyor William Gosse sighted the landmark in 1873 and named it Ayers Rock in honor of Sir Henry Ayers (Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time) Since then, both names have been used. In 1993, however, a dual naming policy was adopted and the official name "Uluru/Ayers Rock" was adopted in November 2002.
In 1950 Ayers Rock (Uluru), was declared a national park. In 1958 both Ayers Rock and Mt Olga (Kata Tjuta) were excised from an Aboriginal reserve to form the Ayers Rock-Mt Olga National Park. It took more than 35 years campaigning for the Anangu (local indigenous people) to be recognized as the park's traditional owners and given the deeds back to their land. Geez. Well, the name now is officially Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
As you make your way around Uluru, it will show you its different faces, and as the daylight hours advance, The Rock changes its aspect -- every angle, each hour, every day of the year.
Today, it was our turn to explore this great place. I began taking pictures while we were still en route, but when we arrived, we made straight for the Uluru Cultural Centre for lunch (hungry again!). Following lunch, we spent time in the centre eyeing a very interesting display of the Aboriginal perspective of the area, as well as some fantastic art pieces.
By 2:45pm, or so, we were out to experience both Kuniya and Mala walks in the national park. It was pretty hot by then, and shade was paramount in my book. Above, prior to our walk, we gathered to listen to our guide speak about flora and fauna, geology, and the Aboriginal significance of Uluru.
For me, the glaring sun on the red sandstone was all but overwhelming, but the abundant greenery around Uluru's base eased its intensity, and trees provided welcome shade.
I'm sorry, I don't do heat well.
The glowing red sandstone is pocked and cracked and a-jumble of rocks.
The Rock is BIG. It's close to 6 miles in diameter around the base, about a 10k walk! You'd have to get an early start, because of the heat, and take plenty of water. I believe the entire path is paved and wheelchair accessible. Jimmy and I wished we'd had the time to walk the base path ... I believe it would have really enhanced our appreciation. Like national parks everywhere, we always wish we had more time to spend.
Above and below: The Kuniya walk was so cool -- a living cultural landscape -- including a cave and rock art. We were told that the Anangu use the cave to this day, and consider it a special place. I can see why.
Dead Finish (Acacia tetragonophylla) -- native flora.
Part of our walk included the short track to the Mutitjulu waterhole (home of a wanampi, an ancestral water snake). We didn't see magical waterfalls, but we were thrilled to see an actual waterhole, like an oasis in our southwest desert. Lovely reflections.
Not our group, but this gives you an idea of Uluru's size and color at mid-afternoon.
Isn't it fascinating?
The sign says, closed for the summer season, but a well-worn path to the top begins here, with a chain to help climbers. Makes it tempting to see the views from the top. Our group understood that climbing to the top was either not allowed or unacceptable, because Uluru holds tremendous spiritual significance for the local Anangu people. This experience is something reserved for them, and even they only climb up there on special occasions. I guess some tourists still make the one-kilometer climb each year. We did not.
We finally checked into the Outback Pioneer Hotel, close to 5pm. Jimmy and I immediately donned our bathing suits and eased into their warm outdoor pool, ahh. We had time. Why do so many people want to make the long trek to Uluru ... planted way out in the Outback and with a whole lot of nothing else nearby? Aside from what I've already mentioned, witnessing Uluru glow at sunset is why.
At 6:30 our crew left the hotel, boarded our coach, and made our way to the bus viewing area. Road Scholar had a small picnic planned for our sunset viewing, with champagne (or juice, as above) and snacks, and even folding stools. Everyone was excited. This would be the culmination of our interior Australian adventure, one that we all had been anticipating.
Good friends: Bernice and Ibby (Bernice still has her fly protection net on).
We were not alone! This is a fraction of the buses and vehicles, only the first tier, each filled with people to see the marvel of Uluru at sunset, and most outfits carried picnics.
Look at that vibrant color! I didn't enhance the photo (just cropped it). Our group alternated between gazing awestruck at The Rock, chatting and snacking, and taking photos ... like a beacon, it beckons you to stare. The fiery sun was behind us, closing in, minute by minute on Uluru, turning it a deep, brilliant red.
Perhaps you've seen these images in a million photos, but the reality is a million times better. There is no substitution for the real deal.
And then, the sun was gone. Afterglow is all that's left. The show was over.
We returned to our hotel for dinner, and an early night after our over-the-top day!
I thought you might like to see Uluru from the air. I lifted the pic from the 'net.
Absolutely stellar day.