Uluru and the Olgas, Too

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September 30th 2014
Published: November 12th 2014
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Itjaritjariku YuuItjaritjariku YuuItjaritjariku Yuu

The Ranger is telling us that in the creation time story the ancestral Minyma Itjarijari (Marsupial Mole Woman) built this shelter and yuu (the large wedge-shaped stone that acts as a windbreak to the cave behind). The holes above are her tunnelling out of the cave.
The weather forecast for today was 37 C so we set the alarm for 7am to give us an earlier start and get more of the walking around Uluru done before it got too hot. That was the plan, anyway. As it turned out, we should have been up even earlier.

We were on the road by 8am, with 84km to go before we got to Yulara, the small township nearest to Uluru. We had hoped to find some information about Uluru at the Information Centre, but it was only a roomful of your operators hoping to get your money. We did manage to get a small map of the site and the news that you had to pay the entry fee of $25 each at the entrance to the National Park.
We followed the signs to the entrance and paid the fees then made our way to the Mala Walk Car Park, where we knew there was to be a Ranger guided walk beginning at 10am for two hours. We had some time in hand so we stopped at the Cultural Centre on the way through. That was a mistake as there was no parking space left when we
Kulpi Nyiinkaku, UluruKulpi Nyiinkaku, UluruKulpi Nyiinkaku, Uluru

This is a teaching cave where young nyiinka (bush boys) were taught by their elders how to track and hunt kuka (food animals). They used it like a school blackboard. Then the boys would be taken out into the bush to learn about where to find them and waterholes etc.
got to Mala, until someone left and we jumped into the spot. A lot of people were waiting for the Ranger, standing in the shade to avoid the rapidly rising temperature and hot sun. The group was so big it was split into two and we each followed one of the Rangers.

Our group was the second one so we had to wait for the first one to finish listening to their talk before we could move to the next presentation. Our guide, Steve, introduced us to some of the culture and customs of the indigenous people who have come been living in the area for more than 25,000 years. He is married to an Aboriginal woman from another area and has two kids that are learning the culture, going out with the clan when they go looking for food. He was very enthusiastic and had a lot of good information, unfortunately, though, he wasn’t a very good speaker and he waffled on a lot, losing the thread sometimes and constantly repeating himself. We kept hearing the same things over and over again, as well as lots of apologies for explaining things he thought some people wouldn’t like. It
Kantju Gorge, UluruKantju Gorge, UluruKantju Gorge, Uluru

This waterhole, barely a puddle when we saw it, was an important source of water during ceremonies. It also attracted animals so the Mala people would always approach quietly so as not to scare them away. They would spear the last animal to leave so the others weren't afraid to return. "They would just wonder where the emu went". The black is algae that forms where the water usually flows.
became very frustrating for me as most of it we’d heard in talks before and he was still standing and talking at the first exhibit some 20 minutes later. The children in the group were getting restless and my back was starting to ache from standing still so long.

He did explain that the traditional owners in the area were the Anangu and that they had been given back the title deeds to both Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) on 26th October 1985, with the condition that they would lease the sites back to the Federal Government for 99 years, during which time they would all work together to manage, protect and preserve the land. Since then the National Park has been listed as World Heritage Site twice, as a natural wonder and for its cultural significance.

We finally moved off and went to look at a large shelter which had been carved out of the rock by the wind and sand swirling around in it, leaving interesting patterns in the curvy walls. It had been used as a kitchen. Steve told us some of the Creation stories (this clan doesn’t like the term Dreamtime
Large Goanna, UluruLarge Goanna, UluruLarge Goanna, Uluru

This lovely goanna was sunning itself on a rock just near the teaching caves on the Mala Walk at Uluru. He's about a metre long, allowing for the hidden tail. Check out those claws!
as it smacks of unreality in dreams and for them the stories are fact) associated with the features. We came to one area of the rock face, Mala Puta, with signs asking people not to take photos there. It seems that it is an area of “Women’s Business” and is used for teaching young girls about life. They don’t like the feature, a strangely shaped cave opening which they say is the womb of a Mala, being seen out of its context, which is a vital part of the story. There are several other spots marked on the map like this around the base but we didn’t go to them.

We also saw an area near the Kantju Gorge which is “Men’s Business” and had some simple rock art that had been used to teach the young boys about hunting and rituals. This area was allowed to be photographed. The visible art was fairly recent, around 50 years old but it had been laid over older art, which could no longer be seen or dated. The areas around the rock were good teaching sites for hunting as the waterholes attracted animals and birds and were easy to catch or
Walpa Gorge, Kata JutaWalpa Gorge, Kata JutaWalpa Gorge, Kata Juta

We were suffering from the heat by the time we got to this point of the Gorge Walk. We'd already scrambled up nearly a kilometre of rocky path and were only just at the entrance to the actual gorge. We sat quietly and watched a bus load of people struggle into it while having a drink - then returned.
kill. This waterhole appeared dry, but Steve said that the water was just below the surface and could be found by scraping a hole and waiting for it to fill up, which the animals knew, too. (To make sure the animals didn’t become afraid of drinking at the hole the hunters would wait until the animals left and spear the last one, especially emu, so the others were unaware of what had happened.) It was the main source of water during the Mala ceremonies held here and was tucked into a fold in the rock and had high sheer walls. There was even a seat on the viewing platform so you could sit quietly and soak in the atmosphere.

The guided walk now over, having gone over by almost half an hour, we were getting hot and had drunk all our water so we got back to the car and went to the Cultural Centre for a cold drink. It was lovely and cool in the Centre so we bought some lunch, too, so we could eat inside. While there we looked at the Cultural displays with more information on foods and medicines and a few more of their
The Olgas at SunsetThe Olgas at SunsetThe Olgas at Sunset

The Aboriginal name for the Olgas is Kata Tjuta. This was taken from the Sunset Viewing area looking into Walpa Gorge (the big V-shaped gap).
Creation Stories (the child’s version, of course). We also watched two women painting dots onto canvasses with brightly coloured acrylic paints from small plastic pots while sitting cross-legged on the covered walkway outside the shop. The younger one was favouring a strong mauve colour, very different from their traditional earthy colours.

Inside the shop there were a lot more paintings for sale, of varying degrees of skill. There was also a nice range of wooden pieces including food collecting bowls, tapping sticks and various models of animals, with the long, twisty snakes being my favourites. All the wooden pieces had been decorated by burning the pattern onto them and then being polished. It was very effective.

As we left the centre we noticed a large water tank with a notice saying to make sure you drink enough. We could hear a couple of Rangers nearby talking about the helicopter being called to take someone who was suffering dehydration and heat exhaustion to hospital. It seems this was the second one today. We checked with them that the tank did have drinking water and then refilled all our bottles. The map you are given of the site has

One of our early glimpses of Uluru (Ayers Rock). Unfortunately I had the camera on dusk mode so the colours had to be lightened and have lost some of the brightness and strength.
toilets marked and also the places where you can refill bottles. There are also constant warnings at the start of every walk warning of the need to drink plenty of water.

Whilst in the centre we had also seen a register for people to sign, who had chosen NOT to climb up the rock to the top (in contrast to the one that was previously on top of the rock for those who HAD climbed). Ranger Steve had also stressed this in his talk. The traditional owners do not ban it and the chain to aid walkers get up there is still in place but they strongly urge people not to climb. For them it is a spiritual place for listening and learning from but not for climbing. They also feel very uncomfortable when people are hurt whilst climbing on their land. Climbers are often injured or suffer from heat exhaustion while doing the climb and more than 35 people have died doing it. The gate to the climb was locked today because the temperature was over 360C and was not safe for anyone.

Having fortified ourselves and armed with plenty of water again, we continued
Kata Tjuta Water TankKata Tjuta Water TankKata Tjuta Water Tank

These water tanks were at both Uluru and the Olgas. They carried the red notices reminding people to drink plenty. Barry is refilling our water bottles after the Walpa Gorge Walk.
to the next place – the Sunrise Viewing Area, which had a good view across the desert floor to Uluru from a platform at the top of a sand dune. The dunes here are red, of course, and have plant life all over them, especially spinifex. Boards also gave information about Uluru and the plants around it. The rock rises 348 metres from the desert floor and is 9.4km around its base and this is only one third of the rock, as two thirds are buried beneath the surface. It is the world’s largest above ground monolith (there’s a bigger one overall somewhere in Western Australia but most of it is under the soil).

Next we went on the Kuniya Walk which led to another waterhole, this time with water in it, although it looked a bit brackish to me. Along the walk we passed two more rock shelters with teaching art in them and, on a rock outside the first, we also saw a large black-headed lizard sitting in full view in the shade on top. It watched us but as we were quiet and didn’t get too close, it stayed still and I managed to get a good photo of it. We also heard and then spotted several types of birds in the trees approaching the waterhole. One was a White-throated Honeyeater but I don’t know what the other was, even though we had a good look at him. Like the last hole, this one was peaceful and pretty, but with no shade at this time of day, so we moved on.

We continued on the road around Uluru, which was about 500 metres away in most places, and finished at the Sunset viewing car park. We got out to admire the view, which was a bit different on this face but still good. We’ll have to decide if we watch the sunset from here or the Olgas, where we were headed next, 50 kms down the road.

The Anangu people call the Olgas, Kata Tjuta meaning Many Heads. You can certainly see quite a few rounded domes as you approach them, in fact there are 36 separate domes with the tallest being 200 metres higher than Uluru.

We started by going to the Sunrise Dune Viewing area, which had another boardwalk to the top of the dune, from where you could see Kata Tjuta across four different types of habitat ( including the sand plain, with Desert Oaks and Spinifex Grass; Scrubland near the foothills and dominated by Mulga Trees; Rocky areas where the hill kangaroo can be found; and Creek Beds, where large Eucalypts can grow) in one direction and Uluru in another. Both looked equally wonderful, although Uluru had a slight mistiness from this distance.

Then we went to Walpa Gorge, where we encountered four large AAT-Kings coaches in the car park. We could see large groups of people standing and walking in the gorge. We set off, water in hand, across the rocky conglomerate path. It had very large stones and boulders of all types embedded together in compressed mud to form what looked like badly made concrete. It was quite a climb up towards the Gorge over these rocks and you had to watch every step. There were several boardwalks over splits in the rock, and a couple of spots with seats to catch your breath or admire the view, which was very good. We made it up to the crest of the main path and sat down to rest and drink some more. We could see that we were barely halfway and only partway into the wide entrance area. Beyond us was a lot more of the rocky path taking you right into the narrow part of the gorge to where they meet. We were both getting very tired from all the walking in the heat and just couldn’t face another 40 minutes or so in and back out. We rested a while longer and watched the comings and goings then made our way back to the car. At the edge of the car park was another drinking water tap so we topped up our bottles again and got back into the air-conditioned ute, which was bliss.

We had heard that the Valley of the Winds was closed because of the temperature but we thought we’d have a look at that end of the range from the car park. It certainly looked different from there, as we were almost at the end of the short side. By this time the sun was getting lower so we had to choose whether to watch the Uluru sunset or the Olgas, as recommended by the Caravan Park host last night. We drove round to the Sunset Viewing Area to have a look and encountered one of the AAT buses parked there, with its passengers sitting in the viewing area on little fold-up canvas stools they’d been supplied drinking champagne or whatever tipple they preferred while eating a few canapes. We found a wooden bench and settled for another slug of water. Barry decided he couldn’t be bothered to move and drive the 50kms to Uluru, especially as the other three big bus loads must have gone there, so we settled down to wait.

About twenty minutes later, around 6.40ish, the sky started to colour up glowed a lovely pinky red across the sky and on the clouds just above it. Unfortunately, this didn’t change much on the dunes. They were a little redder but not as much as we’d expected. Barry thinks it’s because of the low cloud cutting out the light. He thinks Uluru would have been the same.

As soon as the sun dropped below the horizon we returned to the ute and quickly headed for the National park entrance, as they lock the doors at 7:30pm during September, which doesn’t allow much time to get there from the viewing at Kata Tjuta! We made sure the big bus was behind us as we figured, even if we were a few minutes late, they wouldn’t lock the bus full of people in and we were in front of them. We made it with ten minutes to spare so all was well.

We stopped briefly in Yulara to give Brent a call as we didn’t have reception at Curtin Springs, then back for a much needed shower and a warmed up dinner.

As we approached the van we could just make out Mt Connor in the distance. We’ve certainly seen some big, colourful rocks today. I would have liked to go to Kings Canyon tomorrow but it’s just too hot and tomorrow is forecast to be worse. We’ll have to add that to next year’s list of to-dos. It’s getting bigger!


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