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Closing the Uluru Climb

Why the closure of the Uluru climb is reason to celebrate...

Closing the Uluru Climb

Friday, 13 April 2018

Why the closure of the Uluru climb is reason to celebrate

Expect one heck of a celebration on October 26, 2019. On that date, the Uluru climb will close for good. It will be a joyous day for the Anangu people, who have long asked visitors not to climb this sacred site, but that is not the only reason to celebrate.

The closure of the Uluru climb tells us a lot about how tourism in the Red Centre has changed. A visit to Uluru is about more than sightseeing; it is now considered one of Australia’s most significant cultural destinations, a fact recognised by UNESCO way back in 1994. That was the year that the park received a World Heritage listing for its cultural landscape, having already been inscribed for its natural values back in 1987.

These days, visitors can enjoy a whole host of experiences from sunrise to sunset and Indigenous-focused activities allowing for a deeper connection with the ancient culture and landscape. (recommended read: How to experience Indigenous culture in Uluru). As the range of activities has grown, interest in climbing the rock has fallen. Around 300,000 people visit Uluru annually; in 2015, only 16 per cent of them climbed Uluru. That is a big change from the 1990s, when 75 per cent of visitors tackled the climb.

Souvenir pin 'I climbed Uluru' of days gone by

Image: relic souvenir pin 'I climbed Ayers Rock'

There have long been plenty of reasons not to climb Uluru. There is the erosion caused by the passage of thousands of feet, which has left permanent scars. Climbers leave behind other impacts, too. With no toilet facilities on top of Uluru and no soil to dig a hole, tourists caught short while climbing have only one option. When it rains, the evaporated waste is washed off the rock and pollutes surrounding waterholes, which the area’s birds and native animals depend upon for survival.

Climbers also endanger one of the area’s rarest species, shield or tadpole shrimp which – incredibly – live on Uluru itself. Their eggs are adapted to survive long periods of drought and are hatched by rainfall. The fast-growing shrimp quickly lay more eggs; when the water dries up, these lie dormant until the next rain. However, with climbers unwittingly crushing the tiny eggs underfoot, the shrimp are now on the verge of extinction.

Australian Museum specimen of the Shield or Tadpole Shrimp, Triops sp

Image: Australian Museum specimen of the Shield or Tadpole Shrimp © Australian Museum

The most important reason not to climb Uluru, however, is that it is a sacred site for the Anangu, its significance dating back to the creation time. Anangu believe that during the time when the world was being formed, the Uluru climb was the traditional route taken by Mala men when they arrived at Uluru.

Climbing the rock is also dangerous – which is why the chain was installed in 1966, after two deaths two years earlier. Even with additional safety measures – in recent years, authorities closed the climb when conditions were particularly hot, windy, wet or cloudy – deaths and injuries have continued.

Thirty six people have died climbing Uluru since 1950, the last as recently as April 2010. Between 2002 and 2009, no fewer than 74 rescues involved medical attention. The most common issues included heart attacks, head injuries from falls, panic attacks or fainting.

Uluru Climb Close

Image: the warning signs at Mala Parking at Uluru | Maulemon | Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2010, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Plan of Management confirmed that the Board would look at closing the climb when one of three goals was met: that fewer than 20 per cent of visitors were climbing the rock; that an adequate number of new visitor experiences was established; and that cultural and natural experiences were the key reason why travellers were visiting the park. With all three conditions now being fulfilled – visitors can now choose from more than 101 different tours and experiences, for instance – the time to close the climb has come.

The fate of the chain itself has not yet been decided. Investigations are underway to decide how it might be removed, and whether the process might damage the rock. One thing, however will not change. A number of memorial plaques on Uluru itself commemorate climbers who died there; these will stay, out of respect for the families of the deceased.

The dramatic decrease in the number of visitors climbing Uluru shows that Indigenous Australians are not the only ones who see Uluru and its surrounds as a special place. There have always been those, Australian and International visitors alike, who felt the power of this landscape. As far back as 1942, author and art dealer Frank Clune suggested, “As Fujiyama is to Japan, so should Ayers Rock be to Australia, a sacred mountain and place of pilgrimage in the heart of our continent.”

The closure of the climb suggests we are closer than ever before to fulfilling that vision. The date chosen for the event, October 26, is a significant one for the Anangu: it is the anniversary of the day in in 1985 when, during a ceremony at the base of Uluru, the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, handed the title deeds to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Traditional Owners. Truly a day worth celebrating.

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1 Day Hop On Hop Off Pass

This 1-day Hop On Hop Off pass gives you the freedom to explore Uluru at your own pace for one day. From sunrise to sunset, hop on and hop off as much as you like throughout the day. Additionally, this pass also entitles you to one bonus transfer to and from Kata Tjuta within the same day.

Uluru Bicycle Hire (Departure 1)

Take a morning ride around the base of Uluru by bicycle. The 15 kilometre self-guided journey is easily made within 3 hours and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Stop and explore the pure beauty of this spiritual and unique wonder of the world at your own pace. Once you have finished your ride, you are free to explore the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre. Includes return hotel transfers operated by Uluru Hop On & Hop Off. Children toddler seats and tag-a-longs available on request, subject to availability. Departure times: Return transfer from your accommodation by Uluru Hop ON Hop Off 7:15am December 7:45am February 8:30am March 9:30am October and November 10:00am September 10:15am 16-30 April and May 10:30am 1-15 April and June to August Duration approx. 4 hours

15min Uluru and Resort Postcard Flight (daytime)

Limited on time? Take to the skies on a 15 minute scenic helicopter flight that takes you past Ayers Rock Resort and onto breathtaking views of the desert landscape and the majestic Uluru, as well as Kata Tjuta in the distance. Enjoy this tour anytime throughout the day, excluding sunrise and sunset. Tour duration is approx. 1 hour
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Longitude 131°

Longitude 131° offers an exclusive experience of Australia’s spirited heartland.

Emu Walk Apartments

Ayers Rock Resort’s Emu Walk Apartments offer the luxury of newly renovated, fully serviced apartments with all the practicalities of home.

Ayers Rock Campground

Located within the Ayers Rock Resort, the well-equipped campground is an ideal base from which to experience the beauty of the living cultural landscape in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
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Bush Food Experience

Learn about Australian and local native bush foods with a tasting of seasonal seeds, fruits and spices. Your knowledgeable guide will describe how for centuries the Indigenous people used the bush for food.  You'll find out about the uses of certain plants, fruits, grains and spices and about traditional food preparation methods. Enjoy a cooking demonstration of a recipe using some of the ancient native bush ingredients. Tour duration approx. 45 minutes. 

Mani Mani Indigenous Cultural Theatre

Mani-Mani Theatre Company’s unique sound, lighting, 3D effects and performance take you on a visually captivating experience transporting you to the ancient lands of Central Australia where the story of Walawuru, Kakalyalya & Kaanka unravels. The symbolic story of Walawuru, Kakalyalya & Kaanka is a tale of love, jealousy and greed. Expressed through ‘Mani-Mani’, the local art form of storytelling, this contemporary Indigenous performance brings to life the ancient ancestral beings Walawuru the Wedge-Tailed Eagle and his two wives; Kaanka the black crow and Kakalyalya the white cockatoo. Walawuru is happy with his two wives but little does he know Kaanka is evil and very jealous of the kind and caring Kakalyalya. The word ‘Mani-Mani’ comes from the Yankunytjatjara & Pitjantjatjara language of the Anangu people of Central Australia. Anangu people would often tell stories by drawing symbols in the sand using a stick taken from a branch of the Mani-Mani tree. The stories were often about ancestors, real events in history and the Tjukurpa creation time. Please note: this tour will recommence 5 February 2018

Ecology & Museum Tour

Wintjiri museum provides an educational display highlighting local history, Aboriginal culture, geology, flora and fauna. On this interpretative tour of the museum your Aboriginal guide will introduce you to the region's unique ecology and classes of mammals and fauna types not found anywhere else in the world.  Gain insights into the Anangu land conservation and management practices as well as a brief historical overview; starting 30,000 years ago with the Aboriginal habitation to the early European explorers, and the development of tourism at Uluru. Tour duration approx. 45 minutes.
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3 Day Best of Uluru Itinerary

Experience everything Uluru and the surrounds has to offer with the top once-in-a-lifetime tours and activities on this 2 night Best of Uluru stay including: A Night at Field of Light Desert Awakenings sunrise tour Kata Tjuta Sunset Various guest activities

3 Day Culture Itinerary

Immerse yourself in the magic of this cultural living landscape with this all-encompassing 2 night cultural itinerary including: Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars Dot painting Desert Awakenings sunrise tour Various guest activities

3 Day Luxury Itinerary

Your 2 night Luxury and Indulgence stay is overflowing with experiences that will leave you with a lifetime of lasting memories. Includes Mayu Wiru intimate fine dining experience, an intimate Desert Awakenings tour, a helicopter ride and various guest activities to experience at Ayers Rock Resort. This itinerary is suited to couples or 2 singles wanting that indulgent Outback break. Includes: Tali Wiru fine dining under the outback sky Desert Awakenings tour Helicopter ride (requires a min. 2 passengers) Variety of guest activities
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