The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is leased from traditional Aboriginal owners. I presume that vast amounts of the exorbitant prices’ money ends up in the pockets of these traditional owners. But I’m still not going to pay 95$ for a shuttle to Kata-Tjuta, nor 135$ to watch a sunset over a rock.
Instead I ride to Uluru well before the cut off time to begin the Base Walk should the temperature exceed whatever the authorities have decided is the limit, to try to keep them airconditioned-conditioned tourists from getting into lots of trouble.
It’s quite a hike up. One that’s killed many by heat exhaustion and heart failure. Though their memorials have all been removed
Dire warnings exist about the Base Walk and the Kuniya Walk, which is either an extension of the Base Walk or a name for part of it. Death by heat and dehydration form the basis of such dire warnings. Park Australia’s, who seems to manage such hikes and walks, info-brochure tells me there is a “Heat exhaustion and dehydration risk” and “In hot weather finish this walk by 11.00 am”.
Got it. But, err, what is ‘hot weather’?
Parks Australia has this to say about the Uluru Base Walk and “extreme temperatures” on another map/info-brochure:
”When the temperature is forecast to reach 40 degrees and above, the following tracks will close:
From 11.00 am: The Northeast section of Uluru base walk closes for the remainder of the day
From 2.00 pm: The Lungkata Walk closes for the remainder of the day”
Am getting the picture. The Base Walk is described by Parks Australia as follows:
“Uluru base walk
We recommend you start the base walk from the Mala carpark in the morning. Escape the crowds and take a meandering journey through acacia woodlands and grassed claypans. Discover the diverse plants, animals and geological features of the park. From Kuniya Piti follow the snake-like grooves at the base of the rock which were left when the ancestral being Kuniya journey to Mutitjulu waterhole. Encounter bloodwoods, native grasses and many waterways and soaks. The Base Walk is the best way to fully appreciate the natural and cultural beauty of Uluru.
Grade 3 | 10.6 km loop | 3.5 hrs”
I get all this info in the Culture Centre prior to taking on The Walk. There is a definite pervading sense of imminent doom in all the information. Being well acclimatised to extreme heat and actually doing exactly what Parks Australia and all other Australian organisations recommend I don’t do, namely anything if it’s going to be over 36 C, except lounge in the pool water bottle in hand wearing a long sleeved shirt and hat, by riding a fully loaded bicycle in obscene heat.
It is dead sensible stuff, in truth. The crowds at Yulara who descend upon Uluru truly do not inspire great desert trekking skills confidence. They are pure tourists here to see a marvellous icon but do not possess the knowledge or skills to deal with the extreme environment. Despite my nudging sense of incredulity at the warnings of doom I am respectful of their intentions and rationale.
It’s gonna be a scorcher, so I am here within time and I’m gonna go for the Base Walk.
I pick up a map, or two, and a brochure, or two, have quick chat to the resident Parks Australia staff member in the Cultural Centre, take a looong drink from the water tank and make sure my 2 litre Platypus water reservoir is full. I’m going out …
Am not quite sure how, by following The Path, a wanderer is going to discover much at “the base of the rock” given the path diverges from the actual base and keeps the walker several hundred metres from the rock itself.
A walker, having parked their vehicle at Mala Carpark, generally walk the ‘standard’ wander involves an easy 2 km return via Mala Puta to Kantju Gorge, a permanent water hole. The Base Walk continues off from the Mala walk around the Uluru for a further 8 km.
As I wander towards Kantju Gorge I find myself within earshot of a diverse group of tourists. The stuff that comes out of their mouths is both fascinating and frankly bizarre. A terrifying insight to how Random Tourists actually approach Uluru and its remote, foreboding location.
Everything from awe and being blown away by its beauty, to one pretty much putting a dampener on any attempt to capture it in photos – “You’ll never do it justice” – to utter indifference to it being a site of massive cultural significance to the local Aboriginal People. It’s just an icon, one that needs to be ‘done’, photographed, perhaps climbed (the climb is closed today coz of “Safety” reasons, whatever that means), and ticked off. The Mala Walk, at one kilometre one-way simply isn’t long enough to appreciate the diversity and scale of Uluru and ultimately how it would be a site of great cultural significance. Look at it in one way it is just a massive rock, very photogenic and beautiful. The group relentlessly compared it to other natural wonders, sometimes favourably, sometimes not.
Look at it another way and in the details, the little caves, the water holds and the shear fine artistry wind-water-dust has carved into it and it’s really easy see how it leads itself to Dreamtime legend and story.
I really want to ask them whether they are going to continue for the entire Base Walk. Am troubled by growing homicidal tendencies and burgeoning justification for suicide to end the horror … Which would be worse, is what troubles me.
They head back to the carpark from Kantju Gorge and I find myself well alone along the Base Walk. None of the other tourists continue past the Gorge.
I try, honestly, to stay, as recommended, on The Path. It proves impossible. It is simply too far from the details of Uluru itself. I want a far closer experience and find myself walking on the skirt of Uluru where its steep sides merge in a graceful curve into the dry red soil which surrounds it.
Occasionally my way is blocked by boulders huge boulders small but many and other insurmountable objects around which I’d walk through the light spinifex grasses.
Uluru is full of details and character which leads itself effortlessly to Story and Dreamtime. Without the ‘benefit’ of a contemporary scientific education Uluru would provide endless basis for stories of Creations, Parables of Life and Learning, and other Storylines.
It’s a great walk and I’m enjoying it.
It’s stinking hot and I do worry about my water supply. It will not take me 3.5 hours, which Parks Australia suggests it will. I’ll be crawling around Uluru for hours, most of the day.
It is almost inevitable then that half way around Uluru I come across my first “Track Closed” sign at the eastern end of the Base Walk, because of “Extreme Heat”. I look around. There’s not a lot I can do. There’s no airconditioned shuttle bus to return me to sensibility and safety, no light rail, no way at all to avoid continuing along the closed track.
Fortunately Park Australia has thoughtfully provided a large water tank here. I refill my reservoir and enjoy a looong drink and continue.
Not long after I come across my second Track Closed sign where the Mutitulu Waterhole path crosses the Kuniya Path. Not much I can do here either, except keep on walking.
It is hot. It’s not too hot. But then again I am acclimatised to this. It would be hot for someone not used to being out in such heat.
Eventually I find myself back at Mala Carpark and Dreamer. But there’s something odd. Dreamer is not in the same place I left it. One of my waterbottles is not in its bottle cage but standing on the ground. Someone has been tampering with it.
Upon closer inspection if find intriguing marks in strange places. The upside of the Brooks’ saddle as scuff marks on it. There’s dust on the handlebars, the mirror is significantly out of position.
Dreamer is locked by one of those ubiquitous Dutch bike-U-locks which attach to the outer arm of the rear-triangle, just behind the rear-break.
It appears to me that someone turned Dreamer upside down to try to work out why it didn’t move and subsequently how to break the lock. Failing to find such a solution, they returned Dreamer to an upright position. Nothing is missing from the handlebar bag, the Garmin Edge 520 cycle computer remains in its place.
Mystifying. And creepy.
I return to Yulara well stocked with photos and plan for my departure to Watarrka the following day.
Yulara 13 December 2015