Whether you’re prone to spiritual leanings or not, there’s not much that prepares you for Central Australia. It’s Biblical!
When I started the selection process for this blog post, I realised that the gap between the photos and my memory of what I felt when there was far greater than so many of the places I’d experienced since the beginning of this trip.
Visiting this iconic location was a waking up to some vague understanding of how ancient this land is and how meshed it is with aboriginal identity and culture. As a white Australian in awe and moved by this extraordinary landscape, this deeply embedded connection is something I can only envy.
If you’ve not been, plan to go. It was one of the top highlights of this extraordinary motorcycle journey around Australia that despite feeling the uncertainty and frustration of border closures and our present scattered national response, I feel so grateful I belong to this country.
ULURU [AYERS ROCK]: The first thing that strikes everyone is its size. It’s bigger than you can imagine. 348 metres above the ground and at least another 2 1/2 kilometres below. Uluru is 3.6 kms long and 1.9 kms wide, with a total circumference of 9.4kms, which takes 3 1/2- 4 hours to walk around; stopping to take in the various sights along the way. .
The traditional owners always requested that visitors refrain from climbing the rock out of respect for their ancient culture. The last climbers reached the summit in October 2019 when climbing was officially banned, and the chain guide that was fastened to the rock was permanently removed.
Archaeological evidence has been found suggesting that Aboriginal people have inhabited the area around Uluru for over 30,000 years. The local Anangu people were recognised as the traditional owners in 1985. They now lease the land to the Australian government and work in partnership with Parks Australia to manage the area. Rock art can be seen on the walk around the base including paintings that date back 5,000 years.
Uluru receives around 300mm of rain on average each year, creating waterfalls and bringing new life to the rock and surrounding desert. The surrounding area hosts over 400 plants species, many with traditional uses in Anangu culture as food, medicine and tools. Many animals also call the area home including 21 species of mammals.
KATA TJUTA [THE OLGAS]: Located 25km west of Uluru is Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). As I struggled to remember and pronounce Kata Tjuta while talking with an aboriginal information centre staff member in Yulara, he gave me a helpful tip, ‘Just remember ‘can-of-tuna’. Same same but different’. It worked. The 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuṯa cover an area over 20 km2. The highest point is Mount Olga, which was named in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg by the explorer Ernest Giles.
Taking 3 – 4 hours, the Valley of the Winds is a steep-in-places, rocky 7.4km circuit walk that weaves throughout a section of the Kata Tjuta domes offering unparalleled views of the surrounding Mars-like landscape from two lookout points along the track.
As I neared the end of the circuit I had the fortune of seeing and hearing the chattering and chirping of wild budgies on mass in this above scrub. Good rains a couple of months prior meant a more abundant food source leading to population growth.
A shorter walk of 2.6km is at Walpa Gorge. Walking through the two tallest domes into the gorge feels a little like entering a massive ancient temple. This area is a desert refuge for plants and animals. Inside, the rocky track gently rises to a seasonal stream, passing rare plants and ending at a thatch of spearwood.
FIELD OF LIGHT, ULURU: There are a variety of tours available within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park that includes the Field of Light installation experience. Created by British artist Bruce Munro that opened in April 2016, 50,000 acrylic light stems attached to fibre-optic spindles of solar power generated light cover more than seven football fields and pulse with an ever-changing rhythmic glow of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white colour.
After being led down a long straight dark path towards this visceral light installation, we were given an hour to follow a circuit through the fibre-optic spindles. Watching the spaghetti network of light and changing colour felt like I was inside some kind of exploratory surgery of sorts. Enchanting and haunting in equal measure. A must-see experience.
WATARRKA [KINGS CANYON]: As with Uluru, there’s little that prepares you for Kings Canyon. From a distance it looks like nothing more than a beautiful range however the walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 metres high and the valley below with Kings Creek at the bottom, according to geologists, was formed more than 400 million years ago.
There are three walks at Kings Canyon. The 1 hour, 2 km return Kings Creek Walk traces the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above. The 6 km Kings Canyon Rim Walk traces the top of the canyon and takes around 3 – 4 hours with a steep climb at the beginning, which locals call “Heartbreak Hill” (or “Heart Attack Hill”, due to its steepness).
About half way during the Rim Walk, a detour descends to the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by plant life.
The last half of the walk passes through a maze of weathered sandstone domes. A slow descent brings the visitor back to the starting point.
Again, if you’ve never been, plan to go. It’s absolutely worth the time and distance it takes to travel there.
In the afternoon of my final day camping at the Kings Canyon Resort, I rode 34km south east to take part in the Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Tour. Karrke is owned and operated by Christine Breaden and Peter Abbott who live in a small Aboriginal Community called Wanmarra. Wanmarra is a small community with a population of just 10. They established Karrke to preserve and maintain their Luritja and Pertame (Southern Aranda) language, cultural knowledge and heritage for the future of their younger generations.
Designed for time-poor visitors, the well-thought out, personable and comfortable tour included a short guided walk to various stations where Peter talked about the importance of bush tucker, bush medicines used for spiritual and physical healing, the grinding rock and stone, traditional wood artefacts, including clap sticks, necklaces and weapons made from local woods as used by the Luritja and Pertame (Southern Aranda) people of Central Australia region.
In conclusion, Peter offered a small smoking ceremony which was to pay respect to the land, acknowledge elders past, present and emerging and for cleansing, physical and mental and healing for the tour guests prior to departure.
A poignant farewell before again rolling back out onto the highway, this time headed for Alice Springs.