Uluru, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, Yulara
The world's most famous monolith and the nation's biggest drawcard, Uluru (Ayers Rock) has become one of the quintessential icons of the Australian Outback. A massive 3600 metres long and towering 348 metres over the sandy desert floor, the Rock treats audiences to a daily performance, changing shades from fiery reds to deep maroons as the sun travels across the sky. Most spectacular at dawn or sunset, the visitors which pour into the area to witness this unique and unforgettable natural spectacle are never disappointed.
Adding to the sheer marvel of Uluru, is it's deep cultural significance to the local Anangu Aboriginal people. The base of the Rock is littered with cave paintings and carvings made over many thousands of years, making it easy to appreciate just how sacred this place is for the traditional owners. The ten kilometre walk around the circumference allows you to view the caves and rock-art pretty much to yourselves, although several sites are fenced off and are clearly off-limits. There is also a marked trail to the summit of Uluru, although this experience is becoming increasingly boycotted as more and more visitors are made aware of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs. We recommend you buy the t-shirt "I didn't climb the Rock".
Thirty kilometres west of Uluru, the less famous Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is a collection of slightly smaller, more rounded rocks, also revered for their brilliant and changing colours. This unique and amazing outcrop is best explored via the enchanting Valley of the Winds Walk, the longest of a number of excellent walks which travel through and around this intriguing and bizarre landscape. Additionally, there's a sunset viewing platform out on the dunes, connected by 300 metres of boardwalk to a pleasant picnic area with water and toilet facilities. A guaranteed crowd pleaser, most people agree Kata Tjuta is like nothing they've ever seen before, and equally spectacular to Uluru.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta lie within the aptly named Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, via the Stuart and Lasseter Highways about 450 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. As with Kakadu, the park is leased to the Australian Government by the traditional owners, who still play an active part in local management and conservation. There is a huge variety of tours which base trips into the park from Alice Springs, but if you just want to turn up, the township of Yulara has turned a remote desert outpost into a comfortable place to visit. Incorporating the Ayers Rock Resort, the town provides all accommodation, places to eat, and other major services.
One kilometre before the Rock on the road from Yulara, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre has two main displays featuring artwork and an outline of the history of the area. Definitely worth a look before venturing into the park, it also houses the Aboriginal-owned Maruku Art and Crafts shop, which not only showcases local artists and dancers at work, but contains some of the best and well-priced Aboriginal art in the Northern Territory.
g border="0" align="right" alt="A section of Kings Canyon" src="/images/photos/nt/kings.gif"> No trip to Central Australia is complete without having experienced the spectacular scenery of Kings Canyon. Encompassed by the Watarrka National Park 360 kilometres from the Lasseter Highway via Luritja Road, the gorge is an awesome natural amphitheatre, carved patiently by ancient waterways out of the brilliant sunburnt range of the George Gill Mountains. Waterholes sustaining lush and prehistoric vegetation are sheltered by 100 metre rock walls which rise to a dramatic plateau landscape dominated by eccentric dome-shaped buttresses dubbed the "Lost City".
There are two exhilarating round-trip bushwalking trails which allow visitors to explore and appreciate the grandeur in and around Kings Canyon first hand. Both begin with a particularly steep hike to the plateau before passing through the natural maze of the Lost City and circumnavigating the sheer drop of the canyon walls. The longer of the walks then descends to the densely forested floor of the precipice, where a series of boardwalks follows the creek to a triangular-shaped waterhole appropriately named the "Garden of Eden".
Another oasis in the middle of the desert is the Kings Canyon Resort. At the end of Luritja Road in the bottom corner of Watarrka National Park, the complex provides a full range of services and facilities for travellers including a full range of accommodation. Good budget and camping accommodation is also available thirty kilometres east of the park at the Kings Creek Station.