Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) - Northern Territory, Australia Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) - Northern Territory, Australia

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The red rock known as Ayers Rock or Uluru.

Australia. Shut your eyes and think about it. What comes to mind? There are a handful of images that everyone associates with Australia: kangaroos with joeys in pouches; koalas munching on their eucalyptus leaves; the sailing ship curves of the Sydney Opera House. All very much indicative of the country and all, but perhaps there's an argument to say that they're rather stale images.

A timeless, more enigmatic picture is perhaps one of the countless photographs of Ayers Rock at sunset. The stark loneliness of the image, blood red or burnt orange, against the deep blue sky and flat horizon, stirs up many different feelings in each viewer; awe, spiritual yearning, and perhaps a sense of one's littleness in the world. The jaw-dropping amazement that this gigantic boulder can exist in such an empty, empty place leaves a great impression.

Thought to be the largest monolith (solid lump of rock) in the world, Uluru {the aboriginal name for the Rock} lies half a day's drive to the south west of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. Located in the 1,325 sq km Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia, a country chock-full of natural wonders (the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests in the north, the blue mountains, Kakadu National Park, Sydney harbour, the great expanses of the outback, the beautiful hills south of Adelaide, deserts, massive salt pans, etc).


  • Height: 348 metres
  • Length: 3.6 km long
  • Circumference: 9.4km

Some History

The area around the Rock was first inhabited around 22,000 years by the Anangu, the traditional owners1. Life continued in the same vein for millennia.

The area was first 'discovered' by white travellers in the 1870s. An explorer named William Gosse sighted it while trying to discover a route to Western Australia from Alice Springs. At around the same time, the giant domes of Kata Tjuta (50km to the north of Uluru) were first recorded by Ernest Giles, also competing in the race to the West.

In the 1920s the area became part of the Great Central Aboriginal Reserve, set up by the governments of the surrounding states to try and minimise the conflict between the Anangu and the white settlers.

The national park was founded in 1958, but it was only in the 1970s that the Anangu became involved in its management. On 26 October, 1985, the freehold title of the land was given to them and the Rock returned to the traditional owners. The Land Rights Movement, for whom this was a major victory, was controversial at the time and still remains so with a countless number of sites in the country named as sacred areas. However, one of the conditions of the handover was that the park be leased back to Parks Australia (a government body) for 99 years. The Anangu receive an annual rent from this deal of $150,000 and a quarter of park entrance fees.

In 1987 the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was made a World Heritage site and recognised for both its geological and cultural values.

Religious Significance

Uluru is first and foremost a religious site. To appreciate its significance to the Anangu, the visitor has to have a basic understanding of Tjukurpa. The Cultural Centre (which the visitor to the Park is asked to pop into before they go to Uluru) is a good source of information.

Tjukurpa (Dreaming, Dreamtime, the Creation) is the Aboriginal people's religious heritage, their laws and customs and mythologies. Using the phrase 'dreamtime' to translate Tjukurpa is seen by many as inaccurate. Tjukurpa is real. Indeed, it is all of reality. There are many on-line sites and countless books that give a good account.

The features on Uluru are related to Tjukurita (Ancestors from the Creation Time). The following is taken from the Visitor Guide:

The world was once a featureless place. None of the places we know existed until Anangu ancestors, in the form of people plants and animals, travelled widely across the land. In a process of living and travelling, they formed the world as we know it today. Anangu land is inhabited by dozens of Tjukurita. Their journeys and activities are recorded at sites linked by iwara (paths or tracks). Iwara link places that are sometimes hundreds of kilometres outside the Park. Anangu land, 'mapped' through the events of Tjukurpa, is therefore full of meaning. Tjukurpa is the basis of all Anangu knowledge.

Some of the ancestors associated with Uluru are:

  • Kuniya, the woma python
  • Kurpany, an evil dog
  • Liru, the poisonous snake
  • Lungkarta, the blue tongued lizard
  • Mala, the hare wallaby

What to Do at Uluru

There are areas to watch the sunrise and sunset, though these are always crowded. The Rock does indeed appear to change colour with the changing sunlight and many millions of photographs have been taken capturing this event.

The resort of Yulara contains numerous hotels and a large campsite, but it can seem rather commercialised and crowded. These are the drawbacks of being a tourist in a tourist area.

Climbing Uluru is a popular activity and thousands of people do so every year. But it's a controversial climb. The views of the traditional owners is made clear:

It is requested that you respect the wishes of Anangu by not climbing Uluru.
Printed on the entry ticket to the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park
If you worry about Aboriginal law, then leave it, don't climb it. The chain on the path leading to the top of the rock is still there if you want to climb it. You should think about Tjukurpa and stay on the ground. Please don't climb.
- Copyright Barbara Tjikatu, Traditional Owner

However, if you do climb the rock, well, it is 1.6km from bottom to top, is very strenuous and takes around two hours. The climb is often closed due to poor visibility or high winds.

Walking around the base of the Rock is an astounding experience in itself and a more than adequate alternative to the climb. You can:

  • See aboriginal paintings.

  • Walk through sites of spiritual importance (but be careful with your camera, some areas have signs requesting that you do not take photographs).

  • Take a guided walk with a ranger who will explain the significance of a number of features on the Rock.

But be warned, it can get very hot and, as already noted, it takes over two hours to complete. Take plenty of water and a comfortable pair of shoes.

Kata Tjuta

Also in the park are the 36 domes of rock called Kata Tjuta (the Many Heads). These are smaller than Uluru, but are taller. The largest dome is 200m higher. The many valleys between them offer a worthy days walk. The Valley of the Winds (which lives up to its name by being exceptionally windy) snakes through the middle and is a spectacular, if rocky and steep, climb. The only request made by the owners here is that you respect their wishes by not climbing on the domes themselves.

Getting There

There is an airport at Yulara, so it is possible to fly direct to (and over) Uluru. Alternatively, you could go on the old Ghan Railway from the south. You can drive from Darwin in the north or Adelaide in the south along the Cook Highway. There are many organised tours from Alice Springs.

1The phrase 'traditional owners' is the one preferred by the aboriginal inhabitants. In this entry, 'Anangu' and 'traditional owners' refer to the same people.

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