Is Ayers Rock worth it? Many people have asked me this question during the years. I still remember the day I discovered Uluru’s existence. I was eight or nine years old and I was watching a documentary on TV. I remember being puzzled at the idea of a huge rock placed in the middle of the desert. I also remember the disappointment in finding out that Ayers Rock, as it was generally called at the time, was far, far away from Italy. From the European point of view, Australia is a far and expensive continent to reach, let alone a rock placed right in the middle of the Country’s desert, thousands of kilometers from any major city. I concluded that I would probably never see it. So imagine my astonishment when I finally reached it.
Some say they have seen it so many times on postcards, photos, calendars and tv shows that once on the spot they did not seem to find anything new. Others are disappointed because they find it less red than the photographs on the advertising leaflets. Some are moved by its complexity, by the water flowing along its walls and the cool shaded puddles beneath the eucalyptus. I personally belong to those people who when they are in front of an world famous tourist attraction (see Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, Big Ben, Sultanahmeth etc.) are caught up in the Japanese syndrome. I am referring to those people who unplug the optic nerve from the brain to connect it directly camera. But this time I tried to make an exception. I didn’t take too many pictures, as they could never compare to those on books and advertising. I tried to enjoy the place. We saw the rock at sunrise and then engaged in the 10km ring walk around it. Uluru left me speechless. The rock is much, much more than the beautiful pictures on leaflets.
All around it there’s creeks, irregularities, strange shapes on the surface, ponds, groves and caves with rock paintings. Uluru haven’t been the house and the “church” of the Anangu people for tens of thousands of years for nothing! What could have been more sacred ten a ginormous monolith which provides water, food, shelter and refrigeration in the middle of a murderous desert.
This was until that William C. Gosse did “discover” the rock in 1891. Open to tourism since 1936, Ayers Rock (Gosse had the brilliant idea of appointing such a geologic rarity with the name of the late South Australia Governor) now hosts up to 1,000 daily visitors. At least since 1985 the rock has been formally given back to the traditional landowners, who renamed it Uluru and are now an active part of the park management. Nonetheless, the Australian government still holds a lease on tourism for the next 70 years.
Even more surprising than Uluru are the treks to Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Even if it’s usually framed as “in the middle of nowhere”, Uluru is actually very close (in Outback terms, obviously) to other unique rock formations. Kata Tjuta, where we walked on sunset, right after being regurgitated off the Great Central Road, is a Bornhardt like Uluru.
These are rocks that resisted weather erosion while the world around them collapsed under the force of the elements. If Uluru looks like a lonely mountain, Kata Tjuta (“many heads” in Anangu) looks more like a mountain range. In the midst of its rounded peaks, you’ll find falls and gardens, leaping kangaroos and colorful parrots.
Kings Canyon, three hundred kilometers north of Uluru, also looks like an oasis on Mars. Its steep vertical walls and rocky peaks conceal a verdant gorge and a natural freshwater pool.
I think that what makes Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon unique and inevitably magnetic, is the incredible life that they shelter in such a prohibitive territory as the Australian desert. It is not difficult to figure out why Aborigines consider them sacred since the beginning of time. The presence of water alone, in such dry places, makes them magical. Even nowadays, the journey to reach these rocks, be it by plane, on a bus tour or crossing dirt desert roads, is so hot and tiring to look like a spiritual pilgrimage. Surely the brave nomads that come from the desert score the highest points! And don’t have to pay the entrance fee. So is Ayers Rock worth it? Definitely yes. It’s actually quintessentially Australian.
And what better way to get out of the mystical heart of Australia than taking another dirt road with our Mitsubishi Delica? We came from the desert and we left from the desert. This time we drove off the short but impetuous Giles Road, a shortcut to Alice Springs very far from tourist buses and the giant caravans of the locals. That night we camped in the bush, alone under a blanket of stars, and for once we felt in the center of the world, and above all, thousands of miles from Japanese tourists.
Browse my Great Central Road gallery:
GREAT CENTRAL ROAD