Darwin Accommodation

Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, has been called the world's largest monolith, but in fact it's part of a bigger underground connection of rocks. [For the record, the world's largest monolith is Mt Augustus in Western Australia.] What makes Uluru special is its lack of vegetation so that the shape and colour of the rock is to its best advantage. It has a famous ability to change colour, chameleon-like, according to the time of day and the weather, and any number of awe-inspiring photos attest to this.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta world heritage-listed park is in the south-west corner of the Northern Territory, about 400km from Alice Springs. The park is both environmentally and culturally listed and is a success story of joint Aboriginal and government management. Parks Australia and the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people (locally known as Anangu) manage the park for tourism, conservation and culture. Ownership of the inalienable freehold of Uluru was handed back to the Pitjantjatjara people in 1985.

The Anangu request visitors not to climb the rock, but do not prevent anyone doing so. Uluru is extremely significant in indigenous culture, and unwary visitors risk disturbing the spirits and ancestral beings who inhabit the rock, as well as exposing themselves to danger. Sometimes the rock may be closed to climbers due to adverse weather conditions. Always be aware that you are a guest in Anangu country.

Visitors stand in sheer awe at the huge, red sandstone rock rising 348m above the plain. The circumference of the rock is 9.4km, from parts of which you can admire the Aboriginal rock art in the caves round its base. The gullies at the base of the rock, which encourage water holes and soaks, are home to some rare plants, while the concentrated water source is appreciated by large bloodwoods and acacias. The surrounding plain is relatively flat, and spotted with clumps of waist-high spinifex and the occasional desert oak growing in the red, sandy soil. Mulga, the quintessential tree of the Australian desert, grows in substantial woodlands in the surrounding country.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta park is teeming with small marsupials and reptiles. Aboriginal people developed a singular culture here of water conservation and resource sharing, of which the wildlife was obviously a part. Over millennia, they practised resource and land management, particularly cool-season burning, which set up a delicate balance enduring until the time of European settlement. Now, under joint management, some traditional land management practices have been reestablished and are accepted as major ecological management tools.

The desert animals of central Australia have adapted over millions of years to the arid conditions of the interior. A number of lizard species, including Australia's largest, the perentie (Varanus giganteus), and the rare giant desert skink (Egernia kintorei), make up the ranks of more reptile species than anywhere else on earth, all superbly adapted to the desert. Over 150 species of birds and numerous amphibians happily feed on the innumerable insects. Invertebrates also provide much of the food source for small marsupials, such as the hairy-footed dunnart (Sminthopsis hirtipes), the sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophilaz) and the mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda).

Some 30km west of Uluru are the strange domes of Kata Tjuta, formerly known as The Olgas. The highest dome, Mt Olga, is 500m high, and was named after the Queen of Spain. The Aboriginal names for the rocks represent various creation beings, whose stories form the basis of local folklore and culture. Kata Tjuta is protected by sacred men's law, which means no detailed knowledge of the rocks is allowed to be disseminated.

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