The 450-km road trip from Alice Springs is a perfect warm-up to the main act of Uluru – Kata Tjuta. Barrelling along the strip of bitumen through spinifex, mulga, mallee and desert oaks, with the occasional wedge tail eagle and kite floating overhead on the currents, you come to appreciate the toughness of this landscape and its isolation. You absolutely get the meaning of “a sunburned country, a land of sweeping plains”. Then on the horizon across a salt-lake scattered vista looms a vast ochre rock. Uluru? No, just the curtain raiser, Mt Conner, the area’s third, but rather unsung, monolith. Formed around 700 million years ago – about 100-150 million years earlier than Uluru – the flat-topped mesa is on private land on Curtain Station and closed to the public. Maybe this accounts for its lack of profile. At 300m it’s just short of Uluru in height, but over three times in circumference.
A further 100kms down the road and there it is! Uluru rises up from the ochre expanse. In the words of Bill Bryson “Uluru is, no matter how you approach it, totally arresting….It’s an awesome thing”. Scanning further around the horizon to the west, about 30km from the Rock, the 36 mystical domes of Kata Tjuta, meaning many heads, materialise. Once known as The Olgas this area is sacred under the local traditional owners, the Anangu, men’s law and as such, detailed knowledge of it is restricted. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in two stages, initially for its outstanding universal natural values in 1987 and then for its outstanding universal cultural values in 1994.
Luckily, as it’s the only place to stay, Yulara Resort is an excellent base from which to explore the area. No matter your desired level of comfort, from camping to five-star hotels and apartments, this leafy resort set in abundant native gardens will satisfy. It’s tended by a veritable United Nations of workers – Indigenous, Asian, Indian Sub-Continental, Kiwis and European. As befits its remote location the resort shopping centre offers virtually everything you need: bank, post office, supermarket, restaurants, hairdresser, quality gift shops, art galleries and a coffee shop which acts as a training restaurant for young Indigenous people. The award-winning Cultural Centre introduces visitors to Tjukurpa, the traditional law that guides the daily life of the Anangu, through dynamic and imaginative displays and lectures. This basic introduction to Tjukurpa, which explains the creation period when ancestral beings created the world, is the perfect mood-setter to explore Kata Tjuta’s mysterious nooks and crannies and the many facets of Uluru, its sunrises and sunsets, its canyons, waterholes and crevices. As Bryson says: “Somehow you feel certain that this large, brooding, hypnotic presence has an importance to you at the species level.”