Pitjantjatjara & Yankunytjatjara Country, Northern Territory, Australia
By Kate Cypcar
One of Australia’s top Aboriginal sites is undoubtedly Uluru (Ayers Rock), located in Pitjantjatjara & Yankunytjatjara Country in Australia’s Northern Territory. The world-famous Uluru is 2.25 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, and towers 1,142 feet above the surrounding sand plain. It is made of a single piece of sandstone that extends 3 miles beneath the desert surface. Uluru is high on the priority list for most visitors to Australia, being that it ranks among the world’s greatest natural attractions.
The entire area surrounding Uluru is of deep cultural significance to the local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people, who refer to themselves as Anangu. While the Anangu officially own the park, they have leased it to Parks Australia until 2084.
Studies presented by non-Aboriginal archaeologists suggest that Aboriginal people have inhabited this part of Australia for at least 22,000 years. However, traditionally the Anangu believe that they have peopled the land since time began. This belief is essential to understanding the way in which the Anangu’s relate to their land. According to the Anangu creation myth (Tjukurpa, pronounced chook-oor-pa), all landscape features were made by ancestral beings. The Anangu, as the descendants of these beings, are charged with the responsibility to look after their ancestral lands. A number of totemic ancestors are associated with Uluru, and their deeds are told in the marks and other natural features on and around the rock. These ancestors include Kuniya (the Woma Python), Kurpany (an evil dog-like creature), Liru (the Brown Snake), Lungkarta (the Blue-Tongued Lizard), and Mala (the Rufous Hare Wallaby). Their Tjukurpa stories are introduced in the park’s cultural center and on Aboriginal-guided walks in the area.
It is against the Anangu spiritual beliefs to climb Uluru, and, out of respect, they ask that visitors not climb it. If you do decide to climb (and there are many who cannot resist the temptation or the challenge), the ascent takes roughly two hours. Physically challenging, it is a steep 1 mile climb in harsh conditions. Several tourists die every year from heart attacks or falls. Take note that climbing the rock is banned for the rest of the day if the temperature reaches 97° F. A dawn climb is most popular. Despite the fact that the number of visitors to Uluru steadily rises with passing years, the number of people climbing it continues to descend. The next time you are touring Uluru, don’t forget to pick up your very own ‘I Didn’t Climb Ayers Rock’ T-shirt. I’m not lying to you! Apparently, this particular T-shirt is a HOT commodity.
The entry station on the Yulara-Uluru road is open daily from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm in winter and 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer. Entry to the national park costs $16.25 AU (free for children under 16), and is valid for three days.
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park’s award-winning cultural center is inside the national park, just 1 kilometer before Uluru on the road from Yulara. Daily hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The cultural center provides a good introduction to the park and is worth spending the time before visiting Uluru itself.
There are a number of clearly marked Aboriginal sacred sites around the base of Uluru. To enter, damage, or photograph these areas is a serious offense to the Anangu. You will also be liable to fork over a hefty fine!
- Base Walk – Allow three or four hours to walk the 6 miles around the base of Uluru, taking time to admire the landmark features and cave paintings. Most visitors are in a rush, thus opt not to circumnavigate the rock. More likely than not, you will find that you have the path to yourself.
- Mala Walk – This walk features the creation story of the Mala men. It is about 1.5 hours (at a leisurely pace) from start to finish. You can do the walk on your own or inquire about daily guided tours. The track is wheelchair accessible.
- Mutitjulu Walk – Mutitjulu, a permanent waterhole on the southern side of Uluru, is the home of Wanampi, a Water-Snake Ancestor. Located just a short walk from the car park, you can either explore solo or go with an Anangu guide on the Kuniya Walk. The walk features the creation story of the clash between Kuniya and Liru. This track is also suitable for wheelchairs.
- Liru Walk – This 3 mile track wanders through mulga scrub from the cultural center to the base of Uluru. Walking time is 45 minutes one-way. Anangu guides are also available to accompany tour groups – ask at the cultural center.
Anangu Tours are owned and operated by the Mutitjulu community. Your will find a tour desk at the park’s cultural center, as well as at the Tour & Information Center in Yulara.
There are several other tour packages ranging in subject matter and price. Reservations are necessary for all tours. Visit www.anangutours.com.au to find out more information about the tours and how to make reservations.
I encourage you to explore the walks and other activities at Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the nearby town of Yulara. A visit of several days may not even provide enough time for the true adventurer to have their fill. Unfortunately, most group tours are very rushed; they squeeze in a quick afternoon tour at Uluru, photos at sunset, a morning at Kata Tjuta the next day, and then are off! My humble suggestion would be to take your sweet time. I mean, really! How many opportunities does one get to explore a place as dynamic in culture, history, and nature as the Uluru?!