Climbing Uluru Debate: Why You Really Shouldn’t Do It
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Once you’ve explored Australia’s great beaches, seen the Sydney Opera House and the laneways of Melbourne, and maybe done a west coast road trip, your sights will most probably move to the middle of the country. Uluru is synonymous with the outback, and once you’ve been in the country for a few months you’ll have seen the image of Uluru nearly all over every Australian travel agent store and tourism website.
But nothing compares to seeing Uluru for the first time. Although there are lots of things to see in the outback – way more than many people think – the landscape before Uluru is pretty flat for miles. The sight of Uluru, standing 863 meters high and stretching 3.6 kilometres wide, before you is an awe inspiring experience. You might have seen thousands of photos of Uluru, but witnessing it in person is something pretty spectacular.
It’s not just Uluru’s size that leaves people captivated. It’s considered to be a magical place with a certain draw that leaves visitors enthralled. There’s a certain sense of spirituality that is strongly felt at Uluru, and it’s easy to understand why it has been such a sacred place for local Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
Uluru and neighbouring Kata Tutja provide a physical aid of the dreaming creation stories, and it has been a significant place for the local Anangu people for around 60,000 years – Indigenous Australians are part of the oldest culture on earth. For these tens of thousands of years, Uluru has provided protection and has been a landmark to the Anangu people. Only in the last 200 years have Europeans even known of Uluru’s existence.
Imagine if, 59,000 years down the line, invaders decided to start climbing to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, even if the owners asked them not to. It wouldn’t go down well, and it shouldn’t be any different for climbing Uluru. The fact that people do still climb up the monolith is exactly why we need to have the climbing Uluru debate.
As of the October 2019, the Uluru climb will be banned. This is great news, and a huge step for Indigenous rights. But I am writing this post to plea that people to not climb before then – you really don’t need to climb Uluru at all. It’s not what it’s there for.
Climbing Uluru Debate – Reasons to not Climb
I touched on this with the St Paul’s Cathedral analogy, but for me, this is the main reason to not climb Uluru. The Aboriginal people of Australia have used the rock for shelter and protection for millenniums: why should they now be forced to watch tourists climbing it, which the traditional owners only ever did in spiritual rituals, because they want to tick something off their bucket list?
Mass tourism ruining local cultures is a hot topic in the travel industry, and climbing Uluru is a big example. There are ways that we can travel sustainably and respectfully, intertwining tradition with respectful tourism – and they involve appreciating sacred sites such as Uluru in the way that they are supposed to and doing what the traditional owners request. This is an essential sustainable travel tip, and honestly the only way tourism is going to work in the long run.
So to think sustainably, respect the Anangu culture and their traditions, don’t climb Uluru.
“That’s a really important, sacred thing that you are climbing, you shouldn’t climb”
2) It’s really tough
I’ve heard that the climb is actually not that pleasant. It’s strenuous, steep and for most of the year, incredibly hot. Temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in this desert, and a combination of these factors have caused 35 people to die in the last 60 years.This is the only reason why the chain that goes up the rock was installed – to make sure those who ignore the signs, the cultural issues and the danger surrounding the climb and still do it don’t fall to their deaths.
The traditional owners take responsibility for any deaths or injuries that occur on or around the rock; which is another reason to not climb Uluru. Not only is making the climb abusing the sacredness of the Indigenous site, but it adds a sense of duty onto the locals too.
Guess what – there are no toilets on the top of Uluru. There are also no bins. And, after climbing 863 meters up a steep rock face, a lot of people feel the need to vehemently empty their stomachs. Others seem to forget that they have the ability to take their rubbish with them, and leave it on top of the monolith.
Not only is this an eyesore, but it’s severely affecting the ecology of the surroundings. It is starting to contaminate the watering holes – and trust me, Central Australia is not somewhere that can afford to have contaminated watering holes – making animals sick and even killing them off. And let’s go back to my St Paul’s Cathedral analogy – it would be pretty disrespectful for someone to use the roof as a toilet. Why should Uluru be any different?
4) Climbing Uluru doesn’t help you connect with the rock
The point of visiting Aboriginal sites in Australia is to connect with them, to understand the world’s oldest culture, and to really appreciate their synchronisation with nature. Uluru is a place to connect with, not conquer. There’s plenty of opportunities within the national park to feel Indigenous culture and learn all about it – from walking around the base and admiring the rock art to learning about how Uluru was handed back to its original owners in 1985. These cultural experiences will help you get a sense of how spectacular this place is – climbing to the top of it will not.
5) There are plenty of other things in Australia to climb up
Australia is the land of the epic view point; even King’s Canyon in the Watarrka National Park, three hours (which is down the road in Australian terms!) away has some spectacular views across the desert landscape. Just west of Alice Springs are the West McDonnell Ranges, with plenty of climbs offering fantastic vistas over the red centre. Further afield, you can hike to the top of mountains, hike through gorges and find birds-eye views in pretty much every state – which is often the best way to appreciate that particular natural phenomenon. You can even climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. But Uluru’s just not for climbing.
Things to do in Uluru Kata Tutja National Park that aren’t climbing Uluru
There are so many things to do in Uluru Kata Tutja National Park that don’t involve ascending the rock and going against Aboriginal customs and traditions. Here’s just some of them, which could easily take you two to three days:
1) Do some of the many walking trails in the park
The Uluru Base Walk is a 10 kilometre stroll that will really help you capture the spirit of the monolith. Stroll around and look for Aboriginal art, read the placards that detail how the traditional owners have used the rock to survive in desert conditions for millenniums, and be wowed at how Uluru appears from up close.
If you don’t have time to do the entire base walk, there are lots of shorter walks in the national park as well. The park rangers guide a 2 kilometre return Mala Walk every day at 8:00am from October to April and 10:00 am May to September from the Mala Walk car park, which takes one and a half hours. Other options are Mala Walk to Kantju Gorge – where you can experience the varied scenery of Uluru, the Kuniya Walk to the Mutitjulu Waterhole, and the Liru Walk which spans between the Cultural Centre and Uluru’s base, where there are sometimes beautiful colourful flowers.
2) Catch sunrise or sunset over the rock
Even if you don’t partake in a Uluru sunrise tour, there are plenty of viewing spots to admire the spectacle of Uluru from. The Car Sunset viewing area is probably the most famous, where the colours of the rock change as the sun says goodbye for the day. If you want to take in both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, catch a sunrise or sillohetted sunset of Uluru from Talinguru Nyakunytjaku – or for a peaceful view of sun on Kata Tjuta at sunrise, check out Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing.
3) Learn about local Aboriginal culture at the centre
Uluru’s Cultural Centre will start to explain the story of the monolith; both its geographical status and how its traditional owners have looked after the rock for centuries. There’s a huge amount of information into Anangu Culture here, and it’s a must-visit to start to fathom the sacredness and power of Uluru and the national park. There’s also chances to browse and buy local artist’s work – most of which is in the dot painting style that Central Australia is famous for.
4) Take in Kata Tutja from the dune walk
Kata Tutja Dune Walk is a short climb up an easy boarded slope, and from the top there is a fantastic view of this equally complex and inspiring natural phenomenon. Information boards at the top explain the plants and animals that call this dramatic climate home, as well as offer some information about Kata Tutja itself; and if you turn around, Uluru is visible in the distance.
The Valley of the Winds Walk is a four hour odyssey around the rocks of Kata Tutja. It’s widely regarded to be one of the must-dos of the national park, and offers breathtaking views of the rock formations. There are also lots of wildlife spotting opportunities; kangaroos and other animals that call Kata Tutja their home are often around the rocks in the morning, when it’s highly recommended to do the walk. It’s when the temperatures are cooler, and if the thermometer reaches over 36 degrees, the walk is closed after 11am.
Uluru Visiting Information
Uluru is located in the Northern Territory of Australia, 1943 kilometers from Darwin and 1577 kilometres from Adelaide. Its largest big town is Alice Springs, 447 kilometers away. Uluru is a must-stop on a Darwin to Adelaide drive through the red centre.
If you don’t have a car, you can either fly into Yulara (although it will cost $$$!) or land in Alice Springs. I’d definitely recommend flying into Alice Springs, as there’s lots to see and do there, and either hiring a car to drive to Uluru or jumping on a tour – there’s heaps going from Alice.
Entry to Uluru National Park is $25, but the tickets last for three days.
You’ll want to stay a few days in Yulara to really appreciate all that the national park has to offer. The Ayres Rock Resort pretty much has a monopoly on accommodation options in the area. There’s lots of options, including a campsite, a backpackers hostel and hotels within the resort – which is complete with a police station, petrol services and plenty of restaurants and bars. You certainly won’t feel like you’re in the middle of the desert here!
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