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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 seven people have died climbing Uluru since 1950, the last as recently as July 2018. 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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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

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. Download timetable and map

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°

Located adjacent to Ayers Rock Resort, Longitude 131° offers an exclusive experience of the Australian Outback, rich in cultural heritage and history.

Emu Walk Apartments

Ayers Rock Resort's 4 star self-contained apartments: Only 20km from Uluru, the newly renovated 1 and 2 bedroom apartments are sheltered behind gardens of native trees. Lowest Price Guarantee.

Ayers Rock Campground

Ayers Rock campground is located only 15km from Uluru and offers cabin accommodation, unpowered and powered sites for caravans, campervans, motor homes and camper trailers. Campground offers modern camping facilities and a playground, pool, supermarket and petrol station.
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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. 

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.

Bush Yarn

Welcome to the Circle of Sand, the Indigenous heart of Ayers Rock Resort. You'll become captivated by the yarns told by an Indigenous storyteller of Aboriginal history, culture and traditional techniques used on the land. Dependant on the season, learn about traditional bushtucker or an Indigenous man’s “survival kit” including weapons such as katjii (hunting spears), tjutinpa (clubs), kali (boomerangs) and miru (spear thrower). Tour duration approx 30 minutes.
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3 Day Best of Uluru Itinerary

Discover the best of Uluru and surrounds with once-in-a-lifetime tours and activities on this 2 night Best of Uluru itinerary. Witness the Field of Light art installation, watch as the sunrises over Uluru and Kata Tjuta and learn about Indigenous culture and traditions in Australia's spiritual heart.

3 Day Culture Itinerary

Discover the magic of Uluru and immerse yourself in this cultural living landscape with this 2 night Uluru Cultural Itinerary.

3 Day Luxury Itinerary

Enjoy this 2 night Luxury Uluru getaway and experience the unforgettable Tali Wiru dinner under the Central Australian desert night sky. Watch the sun rise over Uluru as the desert awakens and join various Indigenous activities at Ayers Rock Resort. This itinerary is suited to couples or two singles wanting an indulgent Outback stay.
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