Exploring Australia's Red Center

Ayers Rock and The Olgas
By Melissa Sperl
  |  Gorp.com
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I want to watch the sun change Uluru's colors at sunset—I've seen the postcards and know the rock will turn a bright, glowing red. Luckily, our first stop in Yulara, the town built around Ayers Rock for tourists in 1984, comes just in time.

We choose one of the best spots for viewing; unfortunately, so does everybody else. The most impressive spot in Central Australia, Ayers Rock is also the most crowded with tourists. Of course, it's for the visitors that the best rock-viewing sites have been developed, paved parking lots plopped into the middle of the barren plains that surround the rock. Seeing such a dramatic landform in the middle of a great expanse of otherwise nothingness is a moving experience, however crowded.

The sunrise viewing, also in a paved parking lot, feels the same. It's only my close-up of Uluru, later in the day, that redeems the rock for me. I don't climb: The region's Anangu people consider the rock sacred and don't climb it themselves, so they request—but don't demand—that visitors take the five-mile walk around the base instead. Many people climb the 1,050-foot rock anyway, marching up the side like ants.

Instead, I walk around the base of Uluru, with a guide who explains where the Aborigine dreamings (their stories of creation) are on the rock, and what they mean. The rock face changes, with the dreamings and with the sun, from flat and unforgiving to craggy and shaded. I'm allowed to see one of the Aborigine women's sites, Pulari, where the women came to give birth, but am asked, as are all visitors, to walk past the site that men used for initiations. It's too sacred, I'm told.

My final stop is at an overhang next to a crisp, cool watering hole, a place the guides call the "art site." The fading drawings on the rock tell the stories of dreamtime; my group and I learn that the symbols that look like arrows symbolize emu tracks, and the u-shaped drawings, a woman's seat. Aborigines used this space as a sort of classroom, teaching the children about the dreamings and taking advantage of the cave's protection in times of heat and cold. In the warm sun, I feel a welcome and rare breeze meet me from the waterhole.

A day at Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) is welcome after Uluru; my group and I see only a handful of other travelers on our walk into the Olga Gorge. The red mounds of this range, which reach 900 feet above the plain, look like a smooth, scooping fist on approach. But get a little closer, and the rough red rock, eroded by water, looks more like piles of bread pudding. Like at Uluru, I can see why the Aborigines of the area considered the Olgas sacred—the gorges and valleys bring safety from sun, for people and for hunted animals like kangaroos and emu.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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