Skip to navigation

Australia: Uluru-Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock)

The classic view of Uluru

On Monday my itchy feet got me rolling to the Rock. Ayers Rock, or Uluru to give it its proper title, is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, so called because it contains Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the latter being more commonly called the Olgas. I'd approached this final blast on my journey with some trepidation, mainly because of what I'd heard from fellow travellers. Comments such as 'It's incredibly expensive' and 'It's just a big rock' didn't paint the prettiest picture, and after Kakadu, I wasn't going to let myself get all excited only to come away disappointed.

People climbing Uluru
The steep climb up the Rock

Exploring Uluru

Mark on top of Uluru
On top of the Rock, with Kata Tjuta visible behind me on the horizon

Champing at the bit, I drove off to Uluru itself. It's pretty difficult to explain just how impressive it is – you have to see it yourself to understand – but everyone has seen pictures of it, so try to imagine a towering monolith that's 348m above the ground at its highest point, and you start to get the picture. Although it's against Aboriginal wishes – the park is owned by the Aborigines now, after some serious legal wrangling in the 1970s and 1980s – you can climb the Rock, so climb it I did.

Textures on the side of Uluru
Uluru is a lot more textured than most photos suggest
Undulating shapes of Uluru
Uluru turns out to be a more intricate and fascinating shape than you expect

Exploring Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta
Kata Tjuta is a completely different beast to neighbouring Uluru

The next day I set off to explore Kata Tjuta (or the Olgas as Europeans call them). This collection of beautifully shaped mounds and hills is like a very eroded Uluru, with winding gorges and a couple of lovely walking tracks that pick their way through the same red rock as Uluru, all twisted into these amazing shapes. Kata Tjuta means 'many heads' in the local Aboriginal dialect, and it's a good name; it's easy to see why a lot of people prefer it to Uluru itself.

Watching Kata Tjuta

A close-up of Kata Tjuta
The contrast of colours at Kata Tjuta has to be seen to be believed

By now I'd explored all the walks and thoroughly enjoyed them, so it was time to take the advice of Annette, the painter I'd met in the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges, and just sit around watching for the next day and a half. So the following morning I drove off to the sunset-viewing site for Kata Tjuta, had lunch, settled down in the shade and started to write, all in full view of the spectacular curves of Mt Olga. And Annette was right: if you settle down, relax and just take in the atmosphere, that's when you really begin to understand. If I'd been living here before the white man came, I'd have made up stories about the place too.

Sunset Storm

A valley in Kata Tjuta
The wind whistles down the valleys of Kata Tjuta, rather than swarms of chattering tourists

The sunset over Kata Tjuta was beautiful, though cut short by low clouds on the horizon, and before long I'd started the 50km drive back to Yulara. On the far eastern horizon there were some serious clouds lurking, and as I drove towards them they started to flash with electrical activity, even though the skies above me were as clear as a bell. As I continued driving, the sight took on a strangely mystical air; on my right-hand side a nearly full moon was lighting up Uluru, while on my left was the reddish-purple glow of the sunset, and straight ahead the sky flashed with tremendous force. It must rate as one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen; I'm not ashamed to say I was nearly moved to tears.

Watching Uluru

Sunset over Uluru
The stunning sunset colours of Uluru

The following day I decided to give Uluru the same treatment as I'd afforded Mt Olga; Annette's advice was so good that I couldn't just save it for Kata Tjuta. The night before, the storm I'd been watching had passed overhead, bringing serious lightning and massive thunderclaps but mercifully little rain, so I got up really early on Wednesday morning to catch the sunrise over Uluru. The skies had totally cleared, and I parked and walked some distance from the crowded sunrise-viewing area, to avoid all the amateur Spielbergs who were clogging up the view1. Sunrise over Uluru is an amazing sight, and it's pretty pointless trying to capture its immensity on film, so I just settled back and watched the rock change from black to purple to deep red to lighter and lighter shades as the sun broke the horizon. It was a cold but beautiful experience.

1 You have never seen so many video cameras in your life. It seems that people film entire sunrises and sunsets, but do they actually watch them at home? A good point was made by a fellow traveller I met in WA, who said, 'I'm sure some of these people have to go home and watch their videos to know what they've seen.' I can see his point; it's a shame to think that lots of people's view of the Uluru sunrise is as a small black-and-white TV image in the eyepiece of a video camera.

Indeed, I sometimes wish I didn't have a camera (though, of course, the desire to record what I see outweighs the inconvenience). If you have no camera, then you don't get obsessed with getting the right shot, capturing the moment or having enough film, and you don't get annoyed if you miss that amazing shot of a croc or a sunrise. You just look, and I sometimes really wish I could be like that, though I know I'd regret it later if I had no photos on my return. Perhaps people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, though I'm still not convinced by videos of sunsets...