As you head down Lasseter Highway, before you actually get to Uluru, there is another monolith (bigger than Uluru) called Mt Conner. This is situated on Curtin Springs Station and access to it is restricted (although possible). From a distance, many people initially mistake Mt Conner for Uluru but for us there was no mix up. Right from our very first glimpse of this amazing natural wonder we were captivated!
After having our first teasing glimpse of ‘The Rock’ we headed into Ayers Rock Resort which is made up of a number accommodation types as well as shops, restaurants etc. We had booked three nights at the campground within the resort, for the family price of $50 a night. Some people prefer to free camp further away or perhaps stay at Curtin Springs but as we were determined to get up early and watch sunrise at Uluru we thought a 20 km drive rather than an 80 km one might be a little more child friendly.
The campground itself was pretty basic, but functional and had a pool – which is always a winner for the kids. There was an ok information centre and a number of eateries within the resort but be warned – it is not a cheap place to visit. The costs of the tours were quite surprising as they were basically transporting you to various locations with maybe food and drinks thrown in. Thankfully we had Patricia to get us around. Camel Rides are also available but at the price of $119 per person they didn’t even come into the equation.
Similar to Kakadu, there is an entry price into Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. These are purchased at a ranger station as you enter the park for $25 per adult and are valid for three days, which is plenty of time to have a look around.
The roads around Uluru are excellent and on our first evening there we drove all the way around the perimeter and then headed to the sunset viewing area. There had been a number of bush fires in the area and the sky was a little hazy. The Rock took on a purple kind of colour that day and although still awesome wasn’t nearly as red as I expected. The following day we were up VERY early to go and watch the sunrise and once again it was a similar purplish colour. Watching the shadows cross The Rock was interesting and as it was a bit chilly I am glad I stopped to make a thermos of coffee before we left!
After some breakfast we set off on the 10.6km base walk. We really enjoyed this and to this day Paul and I still cannot believe that there was not one whinge or whine in the THREE hours that we were walking! Even the kids seemed to ‘get’ what a special place this was. At various places along the walk there were information boards explaining how various crevices, cracks etc were formed according to Dreamtime stories. Photos cannot be taken in a few sacred areas and we were surprised to find a couple of permanent water bodies at the base of the rock. It was on this walk that we encountered our second snake of the trip – a Ringed Brown Snake. It slithered across the path right in front of us! After our marathon walk we visited The Cultural Centre which is well worth a look.
On our third day we headed 50 km west from Uluru to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and these massive 36 domes were also an incredible place. We tackled The Valley of the Winds Walk first which certainly got the calves burning! This is a circuit walk which gets closed if the temperature is forecasted to exceed 38 degrees. We walked as far as the Karingana Lookout before heading back the way we came. The second walk was much easier. Here you walk into Walpa Gorge to a grove with a surprising amount of greenery. We were the only ones at the very end of the gorge for a while, so we all lay on our backs at the bottom of the sheer domes, not making a sound, soaking the moment in. It was pretty special.
On our way back to the campground we just HAD to drive around Uluru (again) and were surprised to find that the climb to the top was open. We had heard that the climb was closed more often than open, with a decision made at 8am whether or not to open the climb depending on wind speeds at the top. What we didn’t realise was that conditions were tracked throughout the day meaning the climb could be re-opened or closed accordingly.
To be honest, when I saw the climb was open my heart sank. I knew that climbing Uluru was something that Paul had wanted to do for as long as he had known about it but I also knew that it is quite a controversial issue and was relieved that it had not become an issue up until this point. The traditional owners of Uluru ask that visitors do not climb, not only for cultural reasons but also because, as the owners, they feel some kind of responsibility if anyone gets hurt. I should mention that over 30 people have died climbing The Rock (some have fallen, others have experienced heart attacks due to exertion etc) and that there are actually a number of plaques at the base of The Rock dedicated to people who have lost their lives here.
The idea of climbing did not sit well with me, not only because of the owners wishes but also because it is dangerous. Just looking at the start of the climb made me nervous. The kids had said previously that they didn’t want to climb and I tried really hard at this time to avoid eye contact with Paul. The chances of him being here again are not big, lets face it, this time took 38 years! I just knew it wouldn’t be fair to stop him, although he did offer not to if I really, really had a problem with it. With a very fake smile of encouragement I told him to go for it. We made sure he had plenty of water and went with him to the start of the climb and then drove round to the cultural centre to pass the time and not have to watch him go up. It really is a tricky climb and a number of people were literally on their hands and knees on the way up. Others were shuffling down on their bottoms!
It was at the Cultural Centre that I found the Sorry Book. It is a file full of letters of apology from people all around the world who had climbed the rock, or souvenired pieces of rock or dirt from here in the past. There are hundreds! Some people claimed they did not know about the wishes of the landowners for visitors to not climb and even believed that any bad luck they had experienced since visiting was due to the fact that they removed things from Uluru. There were so many of letters, some which had even been sent anonymously to NT government departments from overseas. I wonder if the two ladies I later saw filling a shopping bag with sand will be sending a letter, or even Paul for that matter!
After 45 minutes of wandering around, my mobile phone rang. Yes people, there is phone reception in the centre of Australia from the top of Uluru! Paul had rung to say that he had made it, was catching his breath and then heading back down. After a quick ice cream we went back to the climb car park and managed to spy Paul making his way down. The kids cheered him on and gave him a big clap and hug when he reached the bottom. When I finally caught his eye and saw the look of triumph and happiness on his face, any doubts or misgivings I had disappeared.
We then had just enough time to race back to the campground and grab a bottle of bubbly before catching our last sunset at Uluru. The haze that had been hanging around had cleared and we were rewarded with those well recorded, amazing red colours we had hoped for. It was brilliant and a wonderful way to cap off the three dream come true days we had spent in this unique and very special location.
From here, with very happy hearts, we set off on a smoky 314km drive to Watarrka National Park where we would check out Kings Canyon, get covered with a layer of ash and indulge in a little public humiliation for the children! Oh the joys of parenting!