Nature’s big things are truly impressive. For instance, when my sister Jenny and I flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, we were struck by its enormous scale: Deep, long and rugged, it was surrounded by beige desert so different from the colours in Australia. It was awe inspiring but somehow remote. We were only able to get up close and personal with the canyon when we landed halfway down on a rocky outcrop. We admired the view, stretched our legs and scoffed a champagne lunch. It was an unforgettable, exciting experience, after all you don’t get to ride in a helicopter or a limousine every day. But, there wasn’t time to immerse ourselves in the colours, textures, scents and spiritual history of the the canyon itself. This is not the case when you visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon in the Red Centre. There your senses are saturated as you trek, stroll or saunter along paths that have that have been part of Aboriginal Dreaming for thousands of years.
All of the walks are around 10 kms in length, vary in difficulty and take a few hours to complete. I undertook these walks with my husband, Kenn and friends, Helen and Phil. Although capable of setting new land speed records and clambering up cliffs like mountain goats, these three intrepid trekkers slowed their pace to accommodate my more slothful saunter. I suspect the thought of having to carry me back to base, a victim of exhaustion or a premature heart attack might have been part of their motivation.
Our first walk was around the base of Uluru, the biggest monolith on Earth. It dominates the flat expanse of the desert for as far as the eye can see.
The path is well marked and the rock is there beside you, revealing different faces as the light moves.
I was surprised by the amount of vegetation and the sense of mystery you feel in the shadows.
We completed this relatively easy walk with enough time to get to the sunset viewing area. Nature puts on the most amazing light show as the rock lights up and the sky is smudged with many of the colours of the rainbow.
Our second walk was far more challenging. We hired a 4WD and drove 300 kms to King’s Canyon. What I didn’t realise, until I reached the starting point of the walk, was that you have to climb 500 steps up a cliff face to begin!
Kenn appointed himself as my personal water boy and with his help I made it. This was definitely the hardest part of the walk. The views from the canyon’s rim were amazing and almost made the memory of the 500 steps melt away. Almost ..
We clambered over rock platforms and negotiated bridges onto sandstone spurs.
And … hidden away deep within the canyon was ‘The Garden of Eden’.
This place is significant for the Aboriginal people and it was easy to see why. In the midst of so much dryness, hidden from the unrelenting sun, the water is cool, sheltered by ferns and palms. It is very quiet there. Like all who went before us, we were refreshed and restored and finished this walk on a high.
Our third walk was also challenging and in my opinion, the most rewarding of all. This was the ‘Valley of the Winds’ at Kata Tjuta or the Olgas. We decided to do the whole walk, which is a loop, but you can do shorter sections if you wish. It’s only about 50 kms from Yulara, the Uluru township. The first part of the walk from the car park to the base of the Olgas is quite long and for a time, you could easily imagine that you were walking on the moon.
But then you turn a corner and find yourself walking in between the beehive domes of sandstone that are the Olgas. The wind whistles around you, an unusual experience as usually it is really quiet out here. In places there is enough water to support vegetation; we walked through a lovely avenue of ghost gums.
Winding in and out of the domes, down and up rock faces, we reached the lookout. Again, like everywhere around Uluru, there was an amazing vista.
We scrambled down a steep incline. It was at this point that I started having a few worries. It was so steep that I negotiated most of it on my bottom. As I was sliding from rock to rock, getting rid of my cellulite, I started thinking about how I was going to climb back up! It would be a tough ask at the end of a long walk. I felt totally knackered just thinking about it. But we had come so far! At the bottom we found ourselves inhaling the scents of the savanna surrounding the Olgas, that unforgettable, eucalyptus smell of the Australian bush. Tramping through mulga, spinifex and assorted grasslands we had wonderful views both of the desert stretching away in one direction and the Olgas standing guard in another.
We didn’t have to retrace our steps. I was saved from the slippery cliff of hell. A relatively gentle climb found us back among the Olgas via a different route and eventually we made our way to the car park.
All the walks were special and were, for me, the most memorable part of my visit to Uluru. It is a very personal way to connect with this ancient landscape and its dreaming.
If you haven’t visited Uluru yet, I hope you are able to soon. It really is a very, very special part of the world.