Take the path less travelled when exploring central Australia’s enigmatic icons.

Story By Belinda Jackson

When you first see Uluru, the legendary red rock at the centre of Australia, it comes as a bit of a shock. Is it really that big? Is it all one rock? Driving in from Ayers Rock airport, it’s like someone’s stuck a postcard on the window – those perfect blue skies and the bright orange rock really do look the same in true life as they do in photographs.
From a distance, Uluru which reverted from Ayers Rock back to its indigenous name in 1993, is as it appears on thousands of billboards and millions of cards the world over: ancient, brooding and a deep rich spectrum of colours. But up close, you can begin to appreciate the sheer size of the stone and its many different faces and features, from cool, secretive caves to the Mutitjulu Waterhole, Mala man or Kantju Gorge, all sites of legend for the local Aboriginal people, the Anangu.
The rock is literally rusting, explains a guide from Discovery Eco Tours – its red colour is oxidised iron, while the black streaks are the path the eroding water takes in the celebrated occasions when the skies open and flood the desert, the rock turning a muted grey as it streams with waterfalls.
While Uluru is the world-renowned feature of central Australia, equally worthy is another staggering formation 50 kilometres along a smooth highway, the much less-visited Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), with its 36 rounded domes. Together, they are protected by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, 132,550 hectares of flat desert country, its low red sand dunes the perfectly understated backdrop for two of the most dramatic geological features in the natural world.
Destinations in their own right, the mystery of these two revered formations whets the appetite to explore further, to understand how they came to be here, and how a land that at first appears so completely inhospitable for humans has such a great lure for us – Anangu and non-Anangu alike. At first glance, there is no water and no shelter in what appears a barren land. But stand still, listen as the secrets of the country are whispered to you: where the animals gather, where food and water are found, the signs of human lives painted in cool, dark caves that have sheltered and nurtured for millennia.

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2010