Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Olgas - Kata Tjuta, Australia, NT

Kata Tjuta, formerly calld "the Olgas", is the second major feature and attraction of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. (The main one is of course Uluru.)

Kata Tjuta consists of 36 steep sided monoliths, which, just like Uluru, look most impressive at sunrise and sunset.

And just like Ayers Rock, the Olgas also have an official sunset viewing area that you have to use if you want to see the spectacle.

There used to be twelve different walks here, winding through the valleys and gorges between the rocky domes. Today only two remain. The others have been closed, in part to protect the fragile environment, but mostly to allow the Aboriginal owners of the land to conduct their ancient ceremonies.

The area is not only closed for white people, it is also off limits for Aboriginal people who have no business there. Only those who are inducted to the necessary level are allowed to access certain places and only for the required ceremonies or as otherwise specified by the cultural law, Tjukurpa.

As you can probably imagine, no more traditional ceremonies are held amidst the carnival at Uluru... The Anangu have shifted everything over to Kata Tjuta.

Uluru is impressive to look at, but I have to say, in my experience Kata Tjuta has more power.

I felt that way long before I found out about the ceremonies, and I had similar experiences in other parts of Australia: a certain place would touch me and make a big impression for a reason I could not explain. Just that it had "something".

And invariably I found out afterwards that it is an area where the Aboriginal owners still have a strong connection with their land and still look after it.

Call it the dreamtime spirits or nature spirits, call it what you like, there is something that disappears when too many people trample through a place that they neither understand nor truly appreciate for all its values.

By the way, I regularly receive email from readers who report similar feelings: that somehow the Olgas were the stronger experience for them....

Ok, after that little interlude, lets get to some more practical information.

(If you want some background information about Kata Tjuta, say how old it is or how it was formed, that is explained in the geology section of the Uluru facts page.)

The Olgas are part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, about 460 km south west of Alice Springs by road.

If you come from the main highway or from the Ayers Rock Resort, as you enter the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, turn right/west shortly after the gate. There is a big sign and intersection. You can't miss it.

If you are coming from Uluru, just head back towards the park exit and turn left at the intersection before the gate.

The Olgas are a 53 km drive from Ayers Rock and about 51 km from the Ayers Rock Resort.

And don't worry, those roads are all wide and well maintained bitumen highways...

Beyond Kata Tjuta the road continues as the unsealed "Great Central Road". If you have a 4WD you can leave the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in this direction and drive through the desert to Western Australia and Perth... (permits required, more info here).

And of course, if you come from that direction, Kata Tjuta will be the first thing you see as you enter the national park.

Walpa Gorge Walk

2.6 km return/1 hour

This short, easy stroll leads up a rocky, gentle slope and then into a shady, moist gully.

It ends on a viewing platform between the towering domes.

Valley of the Winds Walk - 7.4km circuit/3 hours

To me this is by far the best walk in all of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It retains a sense of wilderness and the scenery is just spectacular.

Kata Tjuta is nowhere near as busy as Uluru. If you pick a good time (like very early or late in the day) you could be alone for most of the walk, even during the busier times of the year.

The Valley of the Winds Walk is a little more demanding than all other walks in the park.

Rather than being a wide, well maintained gravel path as you find around the Uluru base, this one quickly turns into a narrow trail.

It involves a fair bit of up and down, there are some steeper sections as well, one even requires a little bit of scrambling (for three seconds or so).

If you are running short of time you can also do just a part of the walk.

The first section is not part of the circuit. The first lookout, Karu, is only 1.1 km from the car park.

To get to the second lookout, Karingana, follow the southern part of the loop walk.

This is the more difficult section (difficult for unfit people or people who never walked anywhere but a formed path...) but the effort is worth it.

This second lookout is a narrow gap in the rocks, high above the valley that stretches beyond it...

You can see in the photo where the path continues at the bottom of the valley.

At this point you have done less than half of the circuit, but the second part is a lot easier, so you may as well continue...

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To climb or not to climb, what was the question?

by Christopher Burns

Tis funny how cultural significance changes over the years. The current guardians of Ayers Rock (Uluru) have brought forward opinions in the past 15 years about not climbing due to cultural significance and a purported fact that only male elders were permitted to climb the Rock.

If this is the case why were tribal elders quoted in many journals and papers 20 years ago and more as not caring whether or not the rock was climbed? There are several culturally significant areas around the Rock that have been off limits to white people, women and non local tribes people for generations and these have been clearly marked, documented, researched and closed off.

Why the change in attitude since the hand back in 1985?
Could this be a case of, "We have the stick" so show us the respect?
Climb away I say...........

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Travelling from Perth up the west coast to Darwin via Broome

by Derek

I am planning on leaving Perth in the next 2 weeks and would like to get to Darwin then over to Cairns. I want to go to all of the places in have seen in the outback guide from the Pinnacles Desert up to Broome then on to Darwin.

I am driving a small Ford car and I am wondering would you recommend doing this trip in such a small car or would I need something bigger. I have about 6-8 weeks to get to the east coast so I don't think I am really pushed for time.

We are planning on camping most off the time weather permitting, so would this be a good time of the year to do such a trip?

I have seen pictures of Alice Springs and all the different places in the Red Centre, but I don't think I would be to pushed on going there

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Uluru frequently unanswered questions

by Roy Broff


Swim between the flags!

Beauty, bans, fines, nonsense & superstition... National or Aboriginal park? Aboriginal culture ? the invisible side.... Is it really worth a visit?

After nearly 2 decades of listening to other people's contradicting stories I finally decided to hop on the car (alternative options such as fly + car hire + .... seemed well outside of my budget) and find out what it really is.

Like many others I happened to live on the east coast and had to allow for 1 week driving (return, driving alone), 3 drums of petrol and topped-up credit card. The roads are OK and the drive was fun. The desert is boring and monotonous but at least easy to steer ... Please remember ? stay safe! Just hundred meters from the road, hidden behind the bushes we found several stolen & torched cars! The Wolf Creek film is a grim warning to those who forget about the dark side of our convict origins...

If you can, time your arrival for the sunset (if you're lucky to get a good one) ? the rock is really impressive in red!

$25 gets you 3 days access to the park, and you follow the crowds into the stylish cultural centre (I didn't forget about the information centre ? there is none...) Besides some astronomically priced souvenirs/aboriginal art, boomerangs & the likes, the rest of the building is devoted to stories. Unless you are expert stone-age historian it is very unlikely that you'll get any sense or wisdom out, nor you'll be able to read, memorize or pronounce any of the names...

The best thing about the centre is that it has TOILETS (please note - they are of non-aboriginal origin)! You may laugh at me, but they are the only ones in the park (except for the Olga's ones which are about 40 km away). If you think that you can do it in the bush (after several hours walking or climbing) ? think twice! The walks are heavily patrolled by an army of rangers, not to mention the crowds of other tourists desperately looking for the same thing! Before you decide to hop over the fence and disobey the hundreds of warning signs at least make sure that the site is not sacred (most of them are) and not already an excrement minefield...

True to his explorer genes my son happily ignored the signs and climbed on one of the so called sacred sites ? a rock feature about 200 m above the track. After a while he came back laughing... He discovered some mysterious artifacts: a broken beer bottle, used condom & bikini... No carbon dating was necessary.

If you are serious law-obeying tourist ? please leave your CAMERA in the car (never leave any valuables anywhere else in Aus.). Huge areas of the rock are declared sacred and penalties for photographing such areas ($5000 or 6000) can make you broke in no time.

The same rule shall apply to your climbing BOOTS ? the climb to the top is seriously discouraged and frequently banned for a range of often ridiculous excuses/conditions (e.g. high winds or temperatures at the summit where there is obviously no anemometer or even a simple thermometer). Failure to comply with the ban shall get you another $5500 fine... SAFETY is very convenient excuse, although the climb to the top is not a big deal for any fit person (I'm 53 and did it "hands-free" ? this is no use of hands or chain). Please note ? this is only so during the (southern) winter months ? I wouldn't advice anyone to go there any other time!

If you're lucky to win the obstacle race and make it to the top ? the Olga's views aren't too bad and there is a lot to explore off the marked path. We spent a whole day discovering heaps of interesting plants, herbs, animals, birds, bugs, holes, mini-caves, views, waterholes, crevices, rocks, etc. Believe it or not my son swam into some of the waterholes ? depths can be more than 2 m. but the water is quite cold!

If you take your binoculars/zoom lenses and go to the far end you may see some real/contemporary aboriginal culture not mentioned in the cultural centre or even marked on the tourist map. This is Mutitjulu ? the aboriginal settlement right next to the rock. Do not waste your time trying to see it any closer ? tourists are not allowed (another $1000 fine). If you think you may get a permit ? prepare yourself for a fair bit of writing, 4-6 weeks waiting and 99+% chance of SORRY answer... This seems to be the modern Australian version of apartheid...
The glamorized aboriginal culture described in the cultural centre and so many other places around this country doesn't seem to fit the reality we are not allowed to see just a few kilometers away...

So, what are our options?

Have a 3 hour walk around the base (it is not bad but there isn't much else to do now) and then get back home trying to work out why the aboriginal culture or this park never stepped out of the stone age? (think of superstition and isolation)

Or make a real National (as opposed to the current aboriginal) park & attraction where millions of people from all over the world can worship &/or enjoy whatever they like - nature, Australian (aboriginal & other) culture, lifestyle and have serious fun.
How about removing all ridiculous signs & bans, allowing free access, camping, hiking, photography and so much else. Building tourist facilities such as chair lift or tube (so everyone can get on the top), toilets, shades & shelters, climbing, abseiling, hang & paragliding sites, mountain/BMX bike tracks, water slide, roller coaster / toboggan rides, kid's playground, mini/desert open range zoo, etc. None of these shall spoil the natural beauty or endanger the rock in any way (well, not more than most other national parks) Would such option bring much more visitors & joy, and much less disappointment? How good such modern park would be for our struggling tourist industry?

What you think?

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Uluru: Climb or not

by Ross
(Anchorage, Alaska USA)

No, I would't "march into a Buddhist temple in shorts and hiking boots because the monks hadn't pressured "me" not to". But I certainly would do so dressed appropriately while conducting myself in a respectful manner!

No I wouldn't "walk up to the altar rail in an English cathedral to take a flash photo of the communicants", but, again, I would visit the cathedral.

The analogies are inappropriate. With Uluru it's all or nothing in a sense. Isn't there a way in which visitors could visibly demonstrate their respect yet still make the climb? Should there be? What might it be?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Working in Australia without visa

by Richie Knight
(Liverpool, UK)

I'm planning on going to Oz with a friend who will have a working holiday visa but I won't as I've already done that during 1999 / 2000. How easy / difficult is it to pick fruit (and get paid) without a working holiday visa? If it's do'able, what is best way to go about it?

Many thanks'

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Travelling from East Coast to Darwin

by Amal

We are looking to travel from Sydney to Cairns, down to Mt. Isa via Atherton over a period of approx 2 months, leaving Sydney in early March.

We are in a Toyota Rav4 (not a real 4wd) and my main concern is that along the highway from Ranken to Waramangu (375km) there seems to be no petrol station in between.

Do you know if there is a guide with roadhouses etc (Barkly Hwy & Flinders Hwy)?

Thank you for all the wonderful information on your site and for the free Outback book, I feel much better about our trip after reading it and a whole lot braver.

Thank you

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Uluru: a controversial place

by Florent

We only spent one day and half in Uluru area, and even if it was a bit short we really enjoyed it.

We didn't climb it, we was hesitating with all the issues, and finally we didn't take the time to do it. We walked half the way around, and it was really beautiful, the colors, plants, and the high of the rock itself! I don't regret the climb: you don't need to be at the top of everything to discover its beauty. If you choose to do it, please be respectful, as you would be in a religious place.

The other day we made the walk around the Olgas, and it really worths it! The place is really beautiful, it is perfect to enjoy nature. I think this is more exciting than climbing the Rock ;) The walk is a bit long, and sometimes it's hot so bring some water.

I reckon, if you don't climb Uluru and don't go anywhere else, you may be disappointed, especially if you like big attractions and bitumen everywhere. But if you can enjoy the colors changing on the Rock during sunset (it's really impressive), walking with the feeling you almost alone in this park and the few animals you meet (we find a camel herd beside the road), then you will enjoy this experience :)

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The Uluru summit is fantastic

by Peter

Climbing to the top of Ayers Rock was one of the most amazing and profound experiences of my life. It ranks with being on glaciers and active volcanoes.

It is the feeling of immense age and geologic power. God's power. (I am not religious zealot. I attend no formal Church. Only nature.)

Ayers Rock "talks" to you. Talks to your soul. The silence. The breeze. The age. The colours (Ayers Rock is actually grey, only the thinnest outside layer is red).The variety of sounds the different rock layers make when you walk on them. The pattens in the rock. The layers of age we cannot comprehend. The plants and the waterholes. The shrimp that occur only on Ayers Rock. The birds.

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