Monday, 10 September 2012


A controversial pilgrimage
in outback Australia
By Colin Espiner
10:30 AM Friday Sep 7, 2012
It's a long and very steep climb up and down Uluru.
the size of the cars at the base.  Photo / Colin Espiner

Uluru: even the name sounds mysterious, grand, remote, awe-inspiring.
A red rock rising nearly 350 meters out of the desert plain, hundreds of kilometers from anything and anywhere - surely the most recognizable natural attraction in all of Australia.
No matter how many postcards you've seen, Uluru is still breathtaking - particularly up close, where the fissures in the rock look like pockmarks on suede and its color deepens as the sun goes down.
It's big, sure - 3.6km long by 2.4km wide and old - around 600 million years they reckon.
But it's not the size that matters, on this occasion anyway. There are plenty of other big pieces of rock in Australia.
Its allure is partly due to the fact that it's such a surprise. There is literally nothing else around it.
The Olgas, a small group of hills that look like something out of a story book by Dr Seuss, stand some 70km away, and there's Mt Connor, an even larger, flatter mountain that many visitors mistake for Uluru as they head towards it.
But in an area that comprises hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, that still adds up to two-thirds of sweet nothing.
Uluru has been of huge significance to Aboriginal people for millennia. The traditional belief is that it was created by two boys playing in the mud.
The journey itself is another part of the attraction. Even Alice Springs, the geographical center of Australia, is some 400km distant.
Perhaps that's why Uluru has attained such mythical status. For if it's still possible to undertake a pilgrimage to the heart of the Australian dream in the 21st century, Uluru is that trip.
It's a rite of passage for young Australians, and a bucket-list opportunity for the Grey Nomads. Tourists flock here, backpackers congregate in their vans alongside the road to gape in awe, 4WDers combine it with a trip through the Simpson and Tanami deserts.
And like any good pilgrimage, it has controversy. To climb, or not to climb? That is the question.
The Aboriginal custodians of Uluru, the Anangu, ask you not to. Signs everywhere plead with you not to climb the rock. To them, it's culturally insensitive.
To non-Aboriginals, it's an opportunity to climb the most famous rock in Australia, with the reward of incredible sweeping views of the desert plain.
In the middle is the Australian Government.
So far, the rock remains open to climb - some days. It's often closed due to a variety of reasons (some say excuses) - wind, temperature, or by Anangu request.
Many believe Uluru won't remain open for climbing much longer. There are no signs showing you where to ascend, and the local park headquarters doesn't even mention it unless you specifically ask.
There is, however, a large sign listing the health risks of climbing, and warning that 35 people have died trying.
We chose to climb. Without wishing to invoke the wrath of whatever Aboriginal spirits hang over the place, it was just too tempting to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It's a bloody tough walk. The route goes virtually straight up for the first 600m. There's a chain you can grab to stop you slipping to your death. Your lungs ache, there's no shade and it's over 30 degrees.
But the elation at the top - 843m above sea level - is worth it. The views are incredible . . . .

Peter’s Comment

Uluru, once known as Ayers Rock, is probably Australia’s best known landmark after the Sydney Opera House.

On a visit to the rock in 2007 the things that impressed me most was first the isolation. At the rock you are in the heart of an almost empty continent. Next were the changing colors of the desert and the rock. Finally, the extreme temperatures can hit hard. During my 24 hour stay the temperature ranged from freezing to 35 degrees (95°F)

Uluru has direct jet flights to most state capitals as well as to some Asian cities. The rock can also be visited on coach tours from Alice Springs and other centers.