Ayers Rock and the Olgas – Northern Territory, Australia
Spiritual Shrines of the Aborigines
Never mind how many times it’s appeared in movies or on postcards, the great red monolith of Ayers Rock, the world’s largest, still stirs the spirits of those who visit it. Revered as a spiritual center of power by the Aborigines, whose ancestors are believed to have lived here as much as 20,000 years ago, Ayers Rock constantly changes color, and at sunrise and sunset becomes such an amazing visual experience that you’ll soon understand why a world of mythology has been woven around it.
Otherwise known by its Aboriginal name Uluru, “Giant Pebble,” the rock rises 1,142 feet above the featureless plain and has a circumference of about 5 miles. Rich deposits of iron are the source of its orange-red color—Ayers Rock actually rusts when it rains.
Climbing it is not prohibited, although because of its religious significance it is quietly discouraged by the Aborigines, who have managed the surrounding 511-square-mile national park since 1985. The strenuous one-hour trek up a single path is not for the faint of heart nor weak of knee. Many prefer the walk around it, at the base.
About 30 miles west of Ayers Rock are the Olgas, thirty-six gigantic rock domes, some reaching 1,800 feet, separated by chasms and valleys and spread out over an area of 15 square miles. Even more significant to today’s Aborigines than Uluru, the area’s name in their language is Kata Tjuta, or Many Heads. Public access is limited to the “Valley of the Winds” walk, a 4-mile loop best experienced in the absence of afternoon tour-bus caravans.