To Climb or Not To Climb?

The Eternal Question at Australia's Ayers Rock
By Dagmar Busshoff
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We came, we saw, we didn't conquer. At least not if conquer is a euphemism for reaching the summit, which is what we planned on doing when me made the 10,000-mile journey to the Australian interior. We wanted to climb Ayers Rock, the spectacular monolith in Uluru National Park, and when we arrived that was our intention.

It wasn't for lack of preparation that we didn't climb. In the months prior to our visit we had spent weeks trekking the Himalayas and an exhausting day summiting Kinabalu, in Borneo, the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia. Now the Rock stood before us, massive and indisputably red in the mid-day sun. It dominated the landscape for miles around, filling the viewfinder of my automatic camera. Not until we moved to our lodging could I gain perspective on the monument.

All visitors to Ayers Rock (now bearing its aboriginal name Uluru), stay at Yulara, the service village 12 miles from the national park. The only way to visit the park is via private transportation or through a tour. A number of tour companies offer package deals— the alternative for international visitors is renting a car.

Our particular tour begins with an afternoon walk through the Gorge in Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). With time to burn before our departure, we wander through red sand dunes to the village center at Yulara.

Yulara is an environmental and architectural marvel. Even in the midday heat it's a comfortable walk through the village complex of hotels, apartments, galleries and shops nestled low and painted in desert hues. Above, solar sails create an artificial breeze and deflect the burning sun. Elsewhere solar panels provide shade, and heat most of the town's water.

We meet up with our tour group and wander through the Kata Tjuta Gorge. Sculpted by eons of wind and erosion, the spectacular landscape is as sacred to the Anangu (Aboriginal people) as nearby Uluru. Escaping, for a while, the ubiquitous flies of this region, we have several hours to explore the steep-walled canyons.

As we emerge from the Gorge, late-afternoon clouds obscure the sun. We proceed to a sunset viewing area for Uluru, where minute by minute the vast face of Uluru changes color in the fading light. Too soon darkness obscures the monolith and sends us back to the lodge in search of dinner.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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