Q If travellers are to be banned from climbing Australia’s Uluru from 26 October 2019, is it still worth visiting?
James Draven, freelance travel writer: Despite being handed back to them in 1985, the Anangu people have seen visitors trample over their sacred site for another three decades. The fear was that tourists wouldn’t come if they couldn’t climb, but in 2015 only 16% of 250,000 visitors chose to, according to regional statistics.
And there’s really no need. The magic of Uluru lies in its colours and culture, and tons of tour operators offer sunset trips to the rock. You can enjoy sparkling wine and canapes while watching Uluru’s hues transition through day-glow orange, fiery red and burnt umber, to dusky plum.
The classic ‘Sounds of Silence’ experience at Ayers Rock Resort combines the above with a white-tablecloth dinner under the stars, along with accompanying celestial talk and Aboriginal show. For the active, there are outback camel rides and numerous guided cultural hikes to important sites around the rock, while ‘base walk’ trips allow visitors to take a six-mile stroll around its circumference.
Nearby also is the essential trek along the rim of Kings Canyon, whose honeycombed cliffs are crowned by marine fossils etched into 330 million-year-old sandstone. Meanwhile, 16 miles west of Uluru are the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta, an eight-square-mile geological site, overlooked by 3,500ft Mount Olga.
If you absolutely have to see the top — pre- or post-ban — then try skydiving over Uluru. The scenic flight up offers an amazing aerial perspective of the rock, and the way back down is certainly more thrilling than making the disrespectful climb.
Steven Baldwin, Park operations & visitor services, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park: For those of us who live and work within a few hundred feet of Uluru, the recent decision by our board to close the Uluru Climb was nothing short of monumental.
If you look at the statistics, very few visitors solely came for the climb. Indeed, the rangers who provide the daily ‘Mala Walk’ for visitors say that many people who come intending to climb change their mind once they are provided with the reasons that Anangu prefer them not to do so.
One of the key factors in the board’s decision was that there’ll be a range of alternatives to climbing. You can now hire bicycles from the Cultural Centre and cycle or ride a segway around Australia’s best-known icon. We’re always looking for new ways to make the journey a memorable one.
Published in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)