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  • Di von Essen

The Spiritual Heart of the Red Centre | Palya Uluru



The Spiritual Heart of the Red Centre Uluru
The Spiritual Heart of the Red Centre


 Home to the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa and Watarrka National Parks, this desert region is blessed with World-heritage-listed natural wonders, abundant wildlife, loads of red dirt and rugged beauty. Uluṟu (previously known as Ayers Rock) is considered the spiritual heart and the jewel in the region's crown.

 

With an overseas visitor in tow and a bucket list item (for two of us at least) begging to be ticked off – the fabulously-priced ULUṞU ON SALE NOW” offer was just too tempting to pass up. Only after I had booked the flights did I realise why it was so heap and how hot it might be ten days before Christmas. But hey – I'm Australian, for heaven's sake – and my travel partners are seasoned Africans – so we’ve got this, right?

 

Standing 348 metres above the desert floor, Uluṟu is the largest monolith in the world and possibly our most iconic landmark. But it hasn’t always been known as Uluṟu; most people will probably still know this stunning natural phenomenon as Ayers Rock – named by explorer Ernest Giles after the then South Australian Premier Sir Henry Ayers in 1872.

 

So, why the name change? Of course, the rock’s history dates back thousands and thousands of years and has been part of our indigenous culture (the Aṉangu people) since the beginning of time, with the caves and crevices of the magnificent monolith containing many sacred areas and ancient rock paintings.

 

In 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluṟu to the Aṉangu people to acknowledge their place as the original custodians of the land, but it took a full ten years before the name changed to Uluṟu, which was made official at the time the national park’s name was changed from Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park to Uluṟu -Kata Tjuṯa National Park.


A direct flight from Sydney (sorry folks – no non-stop flights from Newcastle) gets you there in only three and a half hours. And here is my first tip. If you can nab yourself a window seat, it’s well worth it (provided it’s a clear day), as the views from above are truly stunning. Our flight path took us past the Blue Mountains, the deserts of western NSW and the extensive Lake Eyre (Kati Thanda) Salt Lake – which I can confirm was spectacularly empty, the brilliance of the whiter-than-white salt pan against the surrounding red earth made for some naturally abstract photos.

 

A window seat also means you get to see Uluṟu (and the Olgas) from above before embarking on your journey below, giving you a sense of the enormity of both structures and providing an instant understanding of the term ‘red centre’.

 

The airport is a short 15-minute drive to Ayers Rock Resort – a complex that is home to all of the accommodations in the area – from camping facilities to the luxurious Sails in the Desert and everything in between depending upon your taste – and, of course, budget. A luxury coach will pick you up from the airport and transport you to the resort, but if you want to do your own exploring, you can also hire a car from the airport.

 

Our hotel of choice is Desert Gardens Hotel, boasting nicely appointed rooms with views of Uluṟu, a couple of restaurants and, most importantly, excellent air-conditioning – which came in handy on our 45-degree days! The coach that dropped us there also circles the resort every 40 minutes, dropping and picking up guests along the way and including a stop at the nearby Camel Farm – which is definitely worth a look.

 

Another feature of the resort is the viewing area in the centre of the resort, accessible from each of the accommodations, which provides guests with a lovely view of Uluṟu at all times of the day.


A couple of tips at this point. Firstly – flies. We went fully armed with netting, forewarned by Google that Summer was the worst time of the year for flies. We heeded the warning and went fully prepared not to let such pesky distractions ruin our trip. I don’t know if we were just lucky – but there was no need for netting as the flies were few and far between. In hindsight, I would have waited to see what it was like and then purchased a net (available throughout the resort for about $10) if needed.


Second tip – book your experiences before you go. We went at a relatively quiet time of year, yet many of the experiences were fully booked. Also, be aware that some of the free activities (like the Bush Food experience) are held outdoors, and if the temperature goes above 35 degrees, they are cancelled – so consider this when you are planning when to take your trip, as summer temperatures rarely dip below this mark.

 

 

We chose two experiences that we felt were good value. The Field of Lights (Star Pass) experience is held just after sunset and lasts for about 2.5 hours. Starting with coach transport to a dune top, where we enjoyed a selection of delicious outback canapes with drinks while the skies darkened over the rock, our guide provided numerous interesting facts about the history and building of the installation to set the mood. Gradually, 50,000 solar-powered glass spheres came to life, and we were permitted to walk one of two paths through the installation. It is a beautiful experience but could have been improved if fewer (and quieter) people were there.



The following morning, we set off before sunrise (4.30am to be exact!) on the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa tour. Time for another tip – purchasing a tour does not include entry to the national park, and the minimum entry period is a three-day pass at $35pp. The coach driver allowed those without a pass to stop at the gate and buy one, but honestly, they should have offered it as part of the tour. That said – it was gorgeous to watch the changing colours of Uluṟu as the sun rose. We arrived at the perfect time and had more than enough time to take a bucket-load of photos. Then, off to Kata Tjuṯa (Olgas) for a talk and hike to Waḻpa Gorge. The walk is further than we thought it would be and a little hard going/rocky in parts – but the view on arrival – back through the gorge and across the desert was worth it.

 

Other tips – don’t wear white shoes (or clothes) in the desert as the red dirt will stain both, and make sure you budget on the high side for meals. We had one self-BBQ at the Outback Hotel, and the rest of the time, we ate at the hotel restaurant or the café in Town Square. No matter where we dined, it was expensive (even when you cooked it yourself!). Understandably, this is because of the high costs involved with transporting perishable ingredients into the middle of Australia.

 

If Uluṟu isn’t on your bucket list – why not? As far as we were concerned, it ticked all the boxes for an exceptional short break (even in summer)!

 

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