Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
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.
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).
- Yulara is the only service town nearby, built to offer supplies and accommodation for visitors to the park.
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. The rock undergoes dramatic colour changes with its normally terracotta hue gradually changing to blue or violet at sunset to flaming red in the mornings as the sunrises behind it.
But the rock also extends some 1.5 miles underground. The Anangu Aborigines believe this space is actually hollow but it contains an energy source and marks the spot where their 'dreamtime' began. They also believe that area around Uluru is the home of their ancestors and is inhabited by many ancestral 'beings'.
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.
- From the north, in Alice Springs take the Stuart Highway (87) South for about 200km to Erldunda Roadhouse. Turn right onto the Lasseter Highway and 245km further on you arrive at Ayers Rock Resort (officially called Yulara). It's a sealed tarmac road - a bit of a sloping surface in places, but you can easily drive along at 120km/hr. 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.
- To the south the nearest town is Coober Pedy. Take the Stuart Highway north to Erldunda, 550km away.
- From the west the Docker River Road ends near Kata Tjuta. As this road is considered part of the Gunbarrel Highway, you will find detailed information in that article.
Greyhound Australia  runs from Alice Springs to the National Park. A one-way ticket costs about $84.
A number of tours operating out of Alice Springs visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Tours range from basic 1 day bus tours (beware, this means at least 1000km of driving in 1 day!) up to 5 days long, also often visting Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell ranges on the way.
- Travelwild Ayers Rock Tours, ☎ 61 8 88434158(email@example.com), . Small Group 4WD tours for backpackers and active people, 3 and 5 day 4WD camping Tours
Flights are available to Yulara. Only Qantas flies there. There are direct flights from Alice Springs, Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. As there are no competition on the routes, flights are often expensive. Many travellers also fly to Alice Springs and drive or take a tour from there, but it is well over 5 hours drive from Alice Springs to Yulara.
The sealed road from the Stuart Hwy makes for a pleasant & relatively easy cycle tour, undertaken each year by dozens of travellers. However, bicycle travellers need to be well prepared in terms of mechanical reliability, water & food, and will need to "bush camp" several nights at least.
A three-day permit to enter the National Park costs $25. A permit to enter the park may or may not be included in a tour you book. Ask your booking agent if your tour fee includes the permit to enter the park.
The big rocks are actually a little distance from Yulara. where the accommodation and facilities are. If you are not with a tour, or didn't bring your car, you will need to decide how best to get to these locations. Hire cars can be expensive, and have limited kilometres; however shuttles to and from the rock are also expensive, so do the math and see what works best for you.
- Cars can be rented nearby at Ayers Rock/Connellan Airport or at Yulara. The roads around Uluru and Kata Tjuta are all sealed, paved and well-maintained. Vehicles drive on the left, but there isn't much in the way of traffic in the area - people accustomed to driving on the right can probably manage it.
- AAT Kings. ph 03 9915 1500. fax 03 9820 4088. email firstname.lastname@example.org. AAT Kings operate bus sightseeing tours of the park, including sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Tours range from $40 to $150.
- Ayers Rock Tours Many of the longer tours of the Ayers Rock Region depart and return to Alice Springs. Some will pick up at Ayers Rock but do not drop back at Ayers Rock. If you are wanting to do a 3 day or 5 day tour and experience the entire region it is best to start and finish in Alice Springs.
- Uluru Express offers unlimited access to the Park from your choice of hotel at Yulara for 2-days or 3-days at a cost of $135 AU or $150 AU, respectively, which includes your admission to the Park. This is a great deal for those who wish to see all the attractions in the park at their own pace. Other trips are available.
- 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. Generally speaking, plan to climb in the cool of the early morning, as the walk will be closed as the weather warms up.
- The Walpa Gorge walk (2.6km) is the shorter - and easier - of the two walks around Kata Tjuta.
- The Mala Walk (2km) This track begins at the Mala Walk car-park and ends at the inspiring Kantju Gorge.
- 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. This walk is best during the early morning hours, before the large crowds arrive, permitting you to see more wildlife.
- 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 - cost is $95pp. You are taken from the resort to the camel farm where you are instructed on what you need to do. The owner is very friendly. The camel trek is through surrounding desert, giving 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 camels are well cared for animals, not at all smelly, and all very well behaved. At the camel farm there is home made beer bread with wattle seed dip, camel meat, bush fruits and a variety of drinks. There is also the opportunity to purchase from the gift shop - all reasonably priced.
Souvenirs are available at the Cultural Center or at several shops in Yulara. They range from standard shirts, caps and knick-knacks to authentic (and, accordingly, expensive) Anangu art. Food, drinks and photographic equipment are available in Yulara.
- The Cultural Center near Uluru offers surprisingly good - and often vegetarian-friendly - fast food for reasonable prices.
- The Sounds Of Silence Dinner is an extremely popular - albeit expensive ($145 per adult) - night under the stars. Advance bookings (e.g. 3-4 days) 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. Reservations can be made at the various tour offices around Yulara. Ostensibly, reservations can be made over the internet as well, but it's a good idea to follow-up by phone, as coordination between the resort offices and the tour company are spotty at best.
- 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.
Water! And lots of it. No alcohol is sold outside of Yulara, and tribal elders have asked visitors not to sell or give alcohol to local Aborigines.
Hotel and hostel accommodation for a range of budgets and a campground are available in Yulara, just outside the park boundary. There is no other accommodation inside the park, and no camping is permitted within the park boundaries. About an hour short of Yulara (coming from Alice Springs) is Curtin Springs Station , which offers a free camp site and other facilities.Note that outside the boundaries of the park, there are virtually unlimited opportunites for discrete and responsible "bush camping" at the side of the road. Because all of the accommodations in Yulara are operated by the same operator, there are mixed reviews and experiences about their services and value for money, make sure you do your homework to avoid disappointment. The Northern Territory Tourist Commission always welcome suggestions and complaints.
- Ayers Rock Campground by Voyages, Voyages Ayers Rock Resort Campground, Yulara Drive, Yulara, ☎ +61 (8) 8957 7001, . Includes tent sites, powered sites, and airconditioned cabins to choose from, Voyages Ayers Rock Campground offers a range of services and facilities to make the great outdoors truly enjoyable. Located within the Ayers Rock Resort complex the campground is an ideal base from which to experience the beauty of the living cultural landscape in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. A well-equipped campground with modern amenities – perfectly suited to families, independent travellers and groups.AUD $15.50 to $150.00.
- Kings Canyon Resort by Voyages, Luritja Road, Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon, ☎ +61 (2) 8296 8010, . The sensitively designed resort is just seven kilometres from Watarrka National Park, the home of the magical sandstone formation of Kings Canyon.AUD $13.50 to $214.00.
- Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge, Kings Creek Station, Luritja Road, Kings Canyon, ☎ +61 (8) 8955 8311, . Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge is located, among the desert oak trees, in a secluded part of Kings Creek Station, a fully operational cattle and camel station. Gourmet outback meals are served in the quaint dining/lounge area or under the southern sky during the warmer months. Experience a three course gourmet dinner and sample such delicacies as camel, kangaroo and barramundi. Enjoy the outback with a glass of wine or coffee around the campfire after dinner. Breakfast is included.AUD $250.00 to $435.00.
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.
Wear comfortable walking / hiking shoes. Some of the terrain you may be traversing will be steep and covered with loose stones. Thongs, flip-flops, boat-shoes, and loafers are not recommended for the Uluru Climb, the Valley of the Winds walk, nor the Gorge walk. Runners (sneakers) are acceptable.
Curtin Springs Station makes a good base for a trip to King's Canyon, a similarly magnificent geological wonder.
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