Uluru Base Walk,
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Distance: 6.6 miles Time: 3 hours Type: Round trip
Uluru is a sandstone inselberg, an 'island mountain' which juts out of the ground abruptly, the surrounding landscape flat as far as the eye can see in every direction. Australia's most iconic natural feature, known as 'Ayer's Rock' by white Australians in former times, lies almost at its geographical centre and is surrounded by miles and miles and miles of endless earth.
Most people fly into Alice Springs, the nearest city, but I was hitching a ride with a French couple in their creaking and rusty campervan from Darwin. The drive took us over two days: the road is long, hot, dusty and red. We would stop and break for around two/three hours over lunchtime to avoid travelling during the midday heat. We arrived in the region near Uluru around sunset and at one point actually thought we could see the rock from the road. We later found out that what we had seen was actually Mount Connor, a Uluru 'look-a-like' that cons quite a few visitors. That night at the campsite was a restless one: some flash rainfall earlier in the season had caused a huge boom in mice numbers and they descended in their hundreds on the site. They were determined to get into the van, and my tent, to nibble on whatever they could find and I spent much of the night vainly beating my tent from the inside as they scrambled all over its top and sides.
The next morning I got my first actual sight of Uluru with a 'classic' sunrise viewing. We awoke and packed up camp early, speedily covering the final hour's drive to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing area in a determined effort to arrive before daybreak. Personally, I have never quite understood the fuss about sunrises at famous sites - one moment you don't see it, then you do - slowly. A sunrise usually doesn't have the same intensity of colour or softness of light you get with a sunset, and I've generally been too distracted by the discomfort of the early start and the grumble of my stomach to appreciate any 'zen' of the daybreak (sunrise at the Grand Canyon, I will admit, was an exception to this and well worth the early start). But my Gallic companions were keen to do the tourist thing, and the whole affair turned into quite a memorable experience for a different reason.
In our desparate bid to make sunrise, we had continued to drive despite the fact our tank was running low and we had passed the final petrol station en route. After the viewing, we hit empty shortly after leaving the car park and ground to a halt at the side of the road. Our driver volunteered to hitch-hike all the way to the nearest station with a canister; not a single car stopped to pick him up on the return and he ended up walking the entire length back to the van (in the late morning sun). Luckily he was one of those personalities who seemed to remain unphased in most situations, and he shrugged off the whole thing as just another story in his adventure across Australia.
It is possible to climb Uluru but this is discouraged by the park and generally frowned upon: the rock is sacred to the local Anangu, being an important intersection of a Dreamtime track. Instead, we did the Uluru Base Walk, which completes a circular loop at the base of the rock (as its name would suggest).
We tackled the hike in an anti-clockwise direction, but it's possible to walk either way. It was actually on the base walk where I was able to get up close to the rock that I began to appreciate its beauty, especially at the Mutitjula waterhole (pictured above) where you can appreciate Uluru's size and grandeur amid somewhat more lush surroundings. Being central Australia, it's very important to take enough water with you on the walk, even though there is one tap stationed at around the half-way point.
That evening we watched the sunset from a different viewpoint west of the rock, which burnt a deep red as the sun lowered beneath the horizon.
A map of the park together with a list of hiking trails can be found here: