Central Australia is somewhere that gets under your skin and makes you want to return again and again. With awe-inspiring red rock canyons, vast horizons and clear starry night skies, there's no place quite like it. If there's one place that is synonymous with Central Australia, it's the iconic and world renowned Uluru.
No matter how many times you've seen Uluru gracing the pages of magazines, nothing compares to experiencing its grandeur first hand. Getting your first glimpse is something you'll never forget.
I worked as a ranger at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park for three years from the late 90s to the millennium. Despite the fact that Anangu, the Traditional Owners of Uluru have long requested that visitors don't climb Uluru for cultural and safety reasons, the climb has been a "bucket list" experience.
After decades of controversy the climb finally closed on the 26th October 2019. It's an exciting new chapter. There's so much to see and experience at the Uluru that doesn't involve climbing.
Here are my personal tips!
By Libby Larsen
Walk don't climb - a new and exciting chapter!
To truly appreciate Uluru, you need to get up close.. take your time, walk around it.. that's when Uluru's real beauty strikes you. The unusual shapes from different angles are truly mesmerising. There are caves to explore, tranquil shady green gorges bursting with life, beautiful waterholes, and rock art that tells the stories of people who live there, and so..so much more.
To climb or not to climb Uluru has long been a controversial issue. For me, I guess it’s so simple.
Anangu have an immense sense of responsibility for visitors to the National Park. Tragically, 36 people have died climbing the rock since the 1950s. Senior Anangu women I spent lots of time with were truly saddened and distressed when people died or were injured climbing.
Anangu also ask people not to climb for cultural reasons because the climb is associated with Mala Tjukurpa - a really significant creation story of the Mala or Rufous Hare Wallaby ancestors that spans thousands of kilometres across the country. The climb has immense spiritual significance as the traditional route of the ancestral Mala men on their arrival at Uluru.
Credit: Tourism NT/Emilie Ristevski (left), Flickr Creative Commons Dianne F (right)
Hand back to climb closure..101
The hand back of Uluru to the Anangu Traditional Owners in 1985 marks a groundbreaking and symbolic point in Australia's history, which was bitterly contested by sectors of the broader community. Since then it's been jointly managed as a national park. In 2017 the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of Management voted to ban tourists from the climbing Uluru on the 26 October 2019 which marks a new chapter for the national park.
Attesting to the importance of Uluru as a symbolic place for Indigenous people the "Uluru Statement of the Heart" - a way forward for the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution was signed by Indigenous leaders from all over Australia at Uluru in 2017.
Credit: abc.net,au (left), Tourism NT/Matthew Vandeputte (right)
10 ways to experience the Uluru - a Ranger's top tips
1. First Stop - Uluru Cultural Centre
Hands down, the best place to start your Uluru adventure is the award-winning Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre. I'm totally in love with the earthy red mud-bricks and the free flowing organic design of the Cultural Centre.
You'll find Walkatjara Arts - the local Mutitjulu Aboriginal Community Art Centre, Maruku Arts which showcases gorgeous wooden carvings and funky jewellery by artists in the Central Western Desert region and Ininti Cafe and Souvenir Store there. Importantly, these businesses are 100% Aboriginal-owned.
Make sure you check out the presentations at the Cultural Centre by park staff and Anangu.
Open - 8am-5pm everyday. Put aside 2 hours to take it all in. Don't get confused - the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre is located in the National Park (not at Ayers Rock Resort).
Credit: Tourism NT/Felix Baker (left), Parks Australia (right)
2. Stroll, cycle or segway around Uluru
The base walk around Uluru is mind boggling no matter what time of day. My top tip is to set off at sunrise. The base walk is a 10.6km loop. These days you have heaps of options - walk, cycle or segway - pretty cool right?
Credit: Tourism NT/Akari Hatakeyama (left), Tourism NT/Laura Bell (right)
3. Experience Uluru with Anangu Traditional Owners
Absolutely nothing beats learning about Uluru from Anangu. Maruku Arts and SEIT Outback are awesome. SEIT runs a cultural tour of Uluru with an Anangu guide. Totally recommended. For something a bit different, consider their day trip to Cave Hill which is outside the National Park and a long drive, but I reckon it's totally worth it, and you won't see any tour buses!
Credit: Cultural experience with Maruku Arts - Tourism NT/Archie Sartracom, Tourism NT/Archie Sartracom (right)
4. Ride a camel
Have you ridden a camel? It's something you have to experience at Uluru. Uluru Camel Tours have a range of tours from sunrise to sunset!
Credit: Tourism NT/Henry Brydon (left), Tourism NT/Mitchell Cox (right)
5. Dot painting with a local Anangu artist
Join a dot-painting workshop run by Maruku Arts, a not-for-profit art collective owned and operated by the Aboriginal people, and learn how to tell your own stories in the style of local artists. A truly memorable and fabulous experience.
Workshops are held at Ayers Rock Resort, near the Town Square Lawn Area. They are understandably popular so you'll need to book.
Credit: Tourism NT/Felix Baker (left), Tourism NT (right)
6. Experience the "equally spectacular" Kata Tjuta
Less well known, but equally spectacular as Uluru is neighbouring Kata Tjuta. It's about a 30-45 minute drive from Uluru, but still part of the National Park.
Walpa Gorge is magnificent. I was always fixated walking between the towering domes of Walpa Gorge - it's mind boggling. There are also some great picnic shelters near the carparks which many people don't realise.
The Valley of the Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta would have to be one of the best day walks anywhere in Australia! It'll take around 3-4 hours, but its absolutely worth the effort, trust me.
Credit: Libby Larsen (left & right)
7. Learn about the constellations
Central Australia is one of the best places for star gazing in the world. I can't remember how many shooting stars I saw in three years I lived at Uluru. Learn about the night sky with an astronomer at Ayers Rock Resort who can give you the lowdown and point out different constellations, stars and planets.
Credit: Tourism NT/Jason Van Miert (left), Tourism NT/Sean Scott (right)
8. Hang out with a park ranger on the Mala Walk
The free Ranger Guided Mala Walk held every day is not to be missed. Learn about the Mala people who travelled to Uluru in the Creation Period. This is your chance to talk with a Ranger one-on-one and get their insights.
An easy 1.5 hour stroll - 8am or 10am depending on the time of year @ the Mala Walk carpark. No need to book.
Credit: Ayers Rock Resort (left), Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught (right)
9. A magical light spectacular
Bruce Munro's internationally acclaimed Field of Light at Uluru is extraordinary. It's magical and like nothing you've ever seen before with an installation that consists of more than 50,000 solar-powered lights.
Credit: Tourism NT/Mitchell Cox
10. Experience a different Uluru sunset - sans crowds
If you have already experienced the classic Uluru sunset, which is absolutely a "must-do" experience, then I'd highly recommend heading to one of my all time favourite places anywhere, Kantju Gorge. With its vertical rock walls and waterhole, sunset here for me has always been low key, peaceful and totally awe inspiring.
Libby Larsen - Growing up Troppo
Growing up Troppo provides honest travel advice tips and inspiration. Libby is a Darwin based mum who loves the Northern Territory and all the amazing experiences her kids have growing up there.
Travel is, and has always been Libby's passion, and she believes travel shouldn't stop when you have kids. Libby knows that places to stay, play and eat that totally rock for adults and are also kid friendly do exist. She loves to seeks them out and share them with other parents.
Libby is passionate about promoting local ecotourism and ethical tourism projects and initiatives, and Aboriginal tourism.