Uluru (Ayers Rock) is apparent even before the plane hits the tarmac. Clearly visible from the air, the airport and the surrounding roads, one of Australia’s most iconic sights is strangely mesmerising. Roughly triangular in shape (most expect an oval), the giant rock stand an impressive 348 metresabove the flat arid landscape and is almost ten kilometres around. To give a sense of scale, remember that Uluru is a bit like the proverbial iceberg with most of Uluru sitting below the surface.
While sunrise and sunset are the highlight times as the rock paints itself in ever changing seductive hues or reds and mauves, a walk around the rock is a great introduction to the monolith. Taking around 3.5 hours (go early if it is hot and carry plenty of water and sunscreen with you) the circuit walk encompasses a potpourri of Anangu (local traditional owners) trails – base walk, Kuniya (woman python) walk, Lungkata (blue tongue lizard) walk and Mara (wallaby) walk. The walk is flat and straightforward and support wheelchair access the entire way. (Recommendation: I suggest starting at either the Mara or Kuniya car parks).
Up close, the rock’s detail is striking and the various angles show sides of Uluru not often seen in photos. Erosion has caused gaping fissures, valleys, overhangs and heavy pockmarks. The flow of rare rainwaters have some areas dry with sparse tufted grasses while other section are quite heavily vegetated with clumps of eucalypts and native shrubs. Delicate colourful wildflowers bravely poke their head through the golden grasses adding colour to the surrounding grounds.
The shadows and light change as the sun rises and sinks, changing the colours from sandy yellows and bronzes to russet reds and subtle purples.
The Mara Walk includes sacred rock artand ancient faces in a haunting rock overhang while interpretive signs share traditional owner’s stories (though not as well as they could) of the rock’s origins and cultural meanings. There is a deep sense of serenity around Kantju Gorge and Mutitjulu Waterhole. The walk steers away from the rock on the north-east side to guard some of the site’s most sacred Anangu areas. The nearby Cultural Centre details more of the bond between Uluru and the local Aboriginal owners and includes an introduction to the complex and sustaining Aboriginal culture.
Crowds of people gather at the designated sunset point, settled into foldout chairs with a refreshing glass of wine and savouries to enjoy the light show. Tripods compete for space as cameras click furiously, autodrives taking photos every few seconds of changing light while people pose in front of the Rock in various styles and groupings. Meanwhile the vibrant earthy red of Uluru slowly soaks into the sunset the colour calming through a more mellow reddish brown and a dull purplish tinge to a darkened silhouette.
On any measure, Uluru is a staggeringly beautiful sight in such a stark sparse environment with many ways of enjoying the monolith from outdoor dinners to camel rides. All journeys to Australia’s Red Ecntre should include a walk around Uluru for a chance to hear a little of the 40,000 years of historic Aboriginal culture and to enjoy the multiple facets and views of this iconic natural wonder.
In respect of the Anangu people, photos of sacred areas of Uluru (including aerial shots) are not included with the article.
The author travelled as a guest of Tourism NT and Plus7.