At the heart of Australia lies perhaps its most famous landmark. Magestic and sacred, Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was named by the first white visitors, is a reason in itself to visit Australia.
Uluru (the name ‘Ayers Rock’ was imposed by white settlers and is considered offensive by some Aborigines) sits slap-bang in the middle of Australia. To get there from Sydney it takes a three and a half hour flight to Alice Springs, a small – and rather strange – outback town, followed by a four hour drive through the semi-arid landscape of shrubs and red sand that makes up much of Australia’s inland area.
There’s a reason why around 90 percent of Australia’s 22 million people live within 120kms of the coast. The interior of the country is barren, hot, and harsh. Northern Territory, an area six times the size of the UK, and where Uluru is situated, has a population of only 233,000. Besides a few small towns that were founded when explorers found minerals to mine, there are only the farmhouses that pop up every few hundred kilometres to break up the endless expanse of dirt and shrubbery.
Yet, every year around 400,000 people visit the iconic rock. Around two-thirds of them are from overseas. It is a huge attraction. Perhaps only Sydney’s Opera House rivals Uluru as the monument that most defines Australia to its visitors. And the Opera House sits in the middle of Australia’s largest city, a mere walk away from the comfortable hotels where most tourists will stay. That so many make the long journey to Uluru (and often sleep out in the open air in the bush, as I did) is a testament to its draw as an attraction.
Visitors are not disappointed. Seeing the large, red monolith for the first time is a breath-taking experience. In the featureless desert there is suddenly this vast, rounded red square rising up out of the ground. It is a surreal experience. Having seen so many images of Uluru, it is hard to believe that one is actually at its feet, near enough to touch it.
On our trip, we were lucky enough to see Uluru against a range of backdrops. We walked around its base in heat and blue skies. We watched as the sun began to set around it. And then rain arrived, the first for eight months our guide informed us, and with it thunder and lightning which forked around the rock.
You can climb it if you wish, but the Aborigines to whom Uluru is sacred would rather you didn’t, and it is they who are responsible for the protection of this land. Climb or not, visiting Uluru is a wonderful experience.
The first white men to see it were right, Ayers Rock is just that, a rock. But its majesty, scale, and beauty rival any man-made monument that I have ever seen. Uluru is sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people, but it is also certainly more than just a rock to those who visit.
Sam Daviesbookmark me