australia ayers rock uluru - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 18 - March 2001

The Red Centre - Ayers Rock (Uluru)

Instantly recognizable around the world, this rather famous slap of rock would make it onto most peoples list of lifetime 'must sees' and as a symbol of a nation, Ayers Rock can hardly be beaten. For those visiting Australia, it would almost certainly be considered as a must and the obligatory, 'me and Ayers Rock' snap was one we could not return home without. We departed on a 3-day tour from the 'nearby' town of Alice Springs - a six-hour drive in Oz terms- and set off into the outback to see the controversial rock and other attractions for ourselves. We also hoped to learn something about Aboriginal culture, which our few days in Alice had shown us, might be a thing of the past.

After driving for most of the first day and having spent the night in swags - a sort of a cross between a sleeping bag and a bedroll, which we have to admit were surprisingly comfy - we awoke blurry eyed to start the climb to the top of Kings Canyon. Whilst climbing the Canyon, an Aboriginal sacred site, it seemed like no time had passed before we were nervously peering over the edge and marvelling at the sandstone walls that seemed to have been cut with a knife. The gorge really is breathtaking. People on the other side were reduced to tiny specs and we stood in awe at its natural beauty. On the way back, we passed the eerie 'lost city', where the rock has weathered away to give the appearance of an ancient city, remarkably like ruins we had seen in Thailand.

We took a trip to the cultural centre and read of the Aboriginal stories behind the area and their fight to reclaim its ownership, which they did successfully in 1987. Our guide told us that many Aboriginal communities still live in the traditional ways, but with modern technology, these are slowly fading away. Aboriginals kicked out of their communities (in nearly all of which alcohol is banned) head for the cities, homeless and jobless, alcohol and drugs are huge problems and this highly visible minority have become an unjust stereotype for all Aboriginals. We had seen this for ourselves in Darwin and Alice Springs and it was good to be able to get an insight into real communities that still exist.

On seeing Ayers Rock for the first time, even though you know how tall it is and have seen it a million times in pictures, you still can't get over how big it really is. Up close, we were surprised at how many variations there were in the rock face itself. It's covered in craters and holes, a bit like the moons surface; not the smooth dome we had expected. It was then time for what was one of the highlights of the tour, the champagne sunset. We watched the subtle colour changes between mouthfuls of champers, snapping away every few minutes to capture the moment, which really looks more dramatic on film than it seemed at the time.

After being awoken in the night by rain, we discovered swags are, fortunately, waterproof. The rain meant the rock was closed in the morning to climbers, so we were to return in the afternoon after going to the Olgas, or Kata Tjuta, meaning 'many heads'. The Olgas consist of 36 weathered round domes, the tallest reaching 546m, far taller than Ayers Rock and with their weird shape, are very striking. We did a short walk up to the Valley of the Winds, where we got an up-close look at the domes and a spectacular view down the valley as the howling wind lived up to its name.

The last part of our tour consisted of the great 'to climb or not to climb' question. A display at the cultural centre asks you not to climb the rock and to respect the Aboriginals wishes. We thought that it was because of, for want of better words, 'religious reasons' but is apparently because it upsets them greatly when people are injured or killed while climbing. The rumours are the rock will be closed to climbers in 3 years, so it was now or never for our group. It turned out to be never as the rock was closed for climbing due to temperatures over 36 degrees. We walked around it instead, well, part of the way, the circumference is 5 and a half miles!

Then it was time to head for home, a long drive back to Alice Springs. We had had a fantastic few days on the tour, and our trip to the small and rather uninspiring town of Alice Springs had been made worthwhile. Apart from the fantastic views, seeing the rock and getting a taste of the outback, we met some great people and the brilliant Kings Canyon and the beautiful Olgas were a great surprise because we didn't really know anything else was there! It was hot and the flies in your face all the time certainly made you wish you had some corks dangling from your hat, but it really was one of those once in a lifetime things. We waved goodbye to the rock knowing we would not be back.

Jon & liz
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Jon Summary low bandwidth high bandwidth

Jon dangling over Kings Canyon

The Lost City

Collecting Firewood


The Olgas (from a distance)

Special Thanks to
Outback Scenic Adventures

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The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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The Valley of the Winds

Testing the Rivers Depth