Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and is often overlooked when considering a visit to the big red rock in Central Australia known as Ayers Rock or Uluru.
It was way back in 1969 that I first set eyes on the 36 conglomerate domes that make up Kata Tjuta. All I said in my diary was that after climbing Ayers Rock we travelled to the Olgas, ate lunch and wandered around for a bit. I can still recall wanting to explore the paths winding in amongst the domes but instead, we all piled into the bus and travelled the 25 kilometres back to the base of Ayers Rock which we then circumnavigated on foot.
In 2001 we were back, this time with the A-Van. Our son was on a university vacation so he flew into Alice Springs, where we met him and travelled the 360 kilometres to the Ayers Rock Campground. It had changed considerably in the intervening years. In 1969 we pitched our tents at the base of the rock and had no qualms about climbing to the top. Now, in 2001, the campground had been moved 15 kilometres from its former location and was part of a larger resort featuring some very expensive accommodation. Climbing the rock was a hotly debated issue as the wishes of the local Aboriginal people were being taken into consideration for the first time.
Although I had no desire to climb the rock again my son ran to the top and back like a young gazelle and begged us to join him. At 50 years of age, I found this a lot more difficult than when I was 18. There are some chains attached to the rock for the first part of the steep climb but when they abruptly stop it as if the rock is saying, “go back”. There are broken white lines to follow so one doesn’t get hopelessly lost and some steep sections where I required some pushing from behind.
Getting down again was tricky as it would be easy to go rolling down the side of the rock. I slid on my bottom in a rather undignified way and was very pleased to be on flat land. Back in ’69, we signed a visitor’s book at the top of the rock, kept in a covered box. There was no sign of that 32 years later as the number of visitors climbing the rock had increased exponentially. Although no thought was given to the Aboriginal significance of the area we were given a lesson in geology by our Teachers College lecturers. As I wrote in my diary:
Once upon a time, there was a large mountain range in Central Australia which was weathered away completely. These pieces were deposited as sediment when there was a great inland sea. The subsequent rock formed was again weathered away over time, leaving Ayers Rock and the Olgas, the latter being composed of much coarser particles.
In 2001 I hoped to explore the Olgas more thoroughly but wildfires totally blocked the road to Kata Tjuta. We returned to Alice Springs and explored the West McDonnell Ranges before our son flew back home.
It was 2013 when we arrived with our second Toyota Prado and Lotus Caravan. We were travelling with friends and had spent considerable time on the east coast of Australia. Last stop was King’s Canyon and we were hoping to finally make it to Kata Tjuta this time. The diary tells the rest.
The journey from Kings Canyon to Yulara was just over 300 kilometres but seemed longer because we were keen to get to our new destination. The first stop was Curtin Springs where we bought 50 litres of fuel at the incredible price of $2.26 a litre. An eye-catching purple mountain came into view. It was Mount Connor and is often confused with Uluru by those who first see it. It is a Mesa and the sides flare out about halfway down so it is quite different to The Rock.
The first glimpse of Uluru still brought a lump to my throat. The fact that we were playing “I am Australian” on the CD player added to the fervour of the moment.
“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian”
Songwriters: Bruce Woodley / Dobe Newton
Soon we were passing the various types of accommodation in the Ayers Rock Resort Complex. At the bottom end of the pecking order is the campsite but it quite a pleasant caravan park. There is no grass as it is surrounded by red sandhills but we are parked by a small cement slab which is a bonus.
After food shopping at the reasonably priced supermarket, we prepared for Happy Hour at the sunset viewing area. We paid our $25 a head park entry fee arriving at four in the afternoon only to find we were almost the only ones there. Eventually, the area filled up and we took photos, drank bubbly and made lots of new friends. Back to the camp for sausages and mashed potato we retired early in preparation for the day ahead.
It was still hovering around zero at dawn although the forecast was for 23 degrees. We dressed appropriately in shorts and t-shirts with some warm layers over the top. Today was the culmination of a desire at the age of 18 to walk through The Olgas as they were called in 1969. This time I was determined to do the full 7.6 kilometre walk through The Valley of the Winds. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a Grade 4 walk and rated difficult so we were not sure what to expect.
It wasn’t much more difficult than the Kings Canyon Rim Walk but the rocky terrain made walking and climbing harder. The wonderful thing about it was that it was just so different from all the other walks we have done. The variety at every turn made the walk interesting so my advice to all who go to Kata Tjuta is to do the whole walk. Don’t turn back at the second lookout because by then you have done all the hard work.
The last half of the walk is the easy part and is also the best because you are alone, away from the crowds, surrounded by the towering “heads” of conglomerate rock and walking through a green valley full of wildflowers.
On the way back we stopped at a viewing platform where we had good views of both Kata Tjuta and Uluru. The most interesting thing I saw was an upside-down plant where the red flowers were under the plant instead of on top, I suppose for protection from the sun. I also learnt that the desert cedar, a funny little tree shaped like a feather duster, is able to channel every drop of water into its root system. When its roots reach the water table below it branches out and becomes a more regular shaped tree
Our last day at Uluru was restful. We drove around the Rock, taking a side trip out to the new 4.5 million dollar sunrise and sunset viewing platform. It is huge, with parking for hundreds of vehicles. We were the only ones there but it must get busier at dawn and dusk. There is a pleasant walk through the dunes with information signs along the way. The views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta are interesting because they can both be viewed together.
I have heard this year that the climb to the top of Uluru is to be closed permanently in November, 2019. This is for many reasons. One is recognising the cultural traditions of the Aboriginal people of the area and respecting their wishes. Another is safety, as 35 people have died on the rock since climbing records began.
There is still much to see and do in the area without climbing the rock but secretly I still am glad I have done it (twice).