The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage area in Australia's Red Centre

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage area in Australia's Red Centre

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a park in the southern portion of the Northern Territory of Australia, part of the so-called Red Centre of the continent. The National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage area. It is best known for Uluru (formerly known as "Ayers Rock"), a single massive rock formation, and also for Kata Tjuta (formerly known as "The Olgas"), a range of rock domes.

Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are considered sacred places by the Anangu people, the Aboriginal tribes that have lived there for thousands of years. The Australian government formally returned control of the area to the Anangu in 1985 under the condition that the land be jointly managed by the Anangu and the Australian parks and management services. Visitors will notice efforts throughout the area to include and encourage respect for the Anangu perspective on the land. Much of Kata Tjuta is off-limits, for example, and climbing Uluru is strongly discouraged by sign-posts. (A few areas around the base of Uluru are intended to be off-limits for photography, although there is no problem with it throughout most of the park.) In practice, however, the daily management of the parks is handled by members of the Australian parks department.

Yulara is the only service village nearby, built to offer supplies and accommodation for visitors to the park.

Uluru is one of Australia's best known natural features, the long domed rock having achieved iconic status as one of the symbols of the continent. The rock is a so-called monolith, i.e. a single piece of rock or a giant boulder, extending about 5km beneath the desert plain and measuring 3.6 by 2.4 km at the surface. It rises 348 meters above the plain (862.5 meters above sea level) and has a circumference of 9.4 km. Some say that Uluru is the biggest of its kind, others say that Mount Augustus in Western Australia is bigger. Whatever the case may be, standing in front of Uluru and seeing its massive bulk rise above the flat plain surrounding it, it is nothing less than impressive. The rock undergoes dramatic colour changes with its normally terracotta hue gradually changing to blue or violet at sunset to flaming red in the mornings as the sunrises behind it.

But the rock also extends some 1.5 miles underground. The Anangu Aborigines believe this space is actually hollow but it contains an energy source and marks the spot where their 'dreamtime' began. They also believe that area around Uluru is the home of their ancestors and is inhabited by many ancestral 'beings'.

Kata Tjuta is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes 36 km to the west of Uluru. Some geologists believe that once it may have been a monolith far surpassing Uluru in size, but that it eroded to several separate bulks of rock. Many visitors even like the Kata Tjuta more after visiting both. I can highly recommend the 4 hour walk at the Kata Tjuta. The Kata Tjutas are also of a higher spiritual importance by the Anangu, as the rocks are the heads of a giant snake for them and the Uluru would be the end of the tail.

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