Australia’s Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as the indigenous people call it, rises 1,200 feet above the desert floor, one of the world’s largest monoliths. The nearly 6-mile walk around the rim provides ecotourists glimpses of sacred water springs, rock cave art and a plethora of flora and fauna not seen in these parts.
It’s such an amazing Northern Territory landmark that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate and William, visited Uluru last month to meet with students at the National Indigenous Training Academy. Body-painted Wakagetti dancers greeted the young couple.
“The royal couple enjoyed a beautiful sunset over Uluru, and their visit has shone a spotlight on the destination,” stated a release from Voyages (voyages.com.au), an indigenous tourism company.
UNESCO designated Uluru a World Heritage Site in 1987 for both cultural and geographical reasons – the surrounding area is home to the Anangu aboriginal people. Nearby, the Olgas, a group of 36 red-dome rocks called Kata Tjuta by the Aborigines, soar as high as 546 meters.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park spreads across 311,000 acres filled with outback flora and fauna. Historical aboriginal rock art decorates the area and represents early humanity. Using minerals, the Aborigines made mainly red, yellow, white, orange or black colors, according to the national park website (parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru).
A bevy of tours take visitors close to a number of natural wonders. Voyages runs the “Camels to Sounds of Silence” tour for $295 per adult, which invites guests to dine al fresco on delicacies such as kangaroo and crocodile as they watch the colorful sunset melt over Ayers Rock. After dinner, visitors listen to a “startalker” describe constellations in the sky.
AAT Kings (aatkings.com) operators offer a different tour, “The Rising Sun,” to witness the Uluru sunrise. At dawn, the formation turns a stunning red. After watching a legendary sunrise, guests eat breakfast at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center. Indigenous guides tell tales of ancient legends and bush skills around a campfire. Members of the Anangu tribe lead the walking tours, explaining aboriginal mythology.
Milli Ogden, spokeswoman for AAT Kings, said the tour provides travelers with a “rare opportunity to spend time with members of the local aboriginal community.” “The Rising Sun” tours depart daily an hour before sunrise.
Perchance to sleep
Ayers Rock Resort (ayersrockresort.com.au) offers four hotels and several free daily activities, including performances by indigenous Wakagetti dancers who demonstrate the “Emu” and the “Kangaroo,” among other steps. There’s also a daily didgeridoo fest in the lawn square, where guests can learn to play the traditional wind instrument. The more intrepid can sign up for spear and boomerang throwing. An indigenous man’s “survival kit” includes hunting spears, spear throwers, boomerangs and clubs.
From camping and apartments to four-star hotels, Ayers Rock Resort caters to most budgets.
Superior rooms at the top-drawer Sails in the Desert portion of the resort can run $545 for two nights, including breakfast and a shuttle to Connellan Airport. Jetstar runs direct flights from Melbourne four times a week, following a recent increase in scheduled flights from Sydney to Ayers Rock. Qantas and Virgin also offer daily flights.
Upcoming events at the resort include the Australian Outback Marathon in July and an astronomy weekend Aug. 22-24, according to Voyages indigenous tourism spokeswoman Kerena Noble.