Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock as many know it, is one of the most recognized landmarks anywhere in the world. This strange giant rock in the middle of the Australian Outback has long kindled imaginations, going back millennia. It may be an important tourist site today, but it also holds immense cultural value for the original inhabitants of the area, something I learned all about on the very unique Anangu Tour of Uluru.
In the Pitjantjatjara language, anangu means person or human being, and the tours are designed to teach newcomers about the native peoples. The tours are given in the Pitjantjatjara language, with interpreters translating for the guides. It’s not that the guide didn’t know English, he certainly did, it’s that they want visitors to hear the nuances of a language most of us have never before encountered.
The walk around the rock was an enlightening experience, learning all about traditional culture and the extreme importance Uluru holds in the Tjukurpa or Dream Time. Tjukurpa is Aboriginal law, culture, history, and their worldview all bundled into one. It is expansive, impossibly ancient and much of it is shrouded in mystery, transmitted only to certain people at particular times in their lives. To be a part of that was a humbling experience.
Sadly this tour is no longer run but a new tour offered is very similar and offers many of the same features of the original Anangu experience: The Rising Sun tour booking information is below.
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Uluru Cultural Centre
Many people visit Australia's Red Centre to learn about or experience Aboriginal culture. As one of the oldest living cultures on the planet – actually a diversity of Aboriginal cultures dating back about 40,000 years – its appeal is considerable, especially given the unique and challenging environments in which it has survived.
'Culture' isn't however always found on easy display. In Australia, sharing Aboriginal ceremonies, practices and stories is often not allowed outside of the groups to which they have direct significance. And many indigenous people are understandably uncomfortable performing rites for show purposes alone.
There are many locations Down Under, though, where Aboriginal culture is so affectingly at one with a place that even a little allowed knowledge goes a long way. Nowhere is this more true than in the heart of Australia's Outback at Uluru, the mighty and mystical red-sandstone monolith sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people.
With a nod from the Anangu traditional owners of the Uluru parkland, an award-winning Cultural Centre stands near the base of Uluru and brings to life Tjukurpa, a complex word in the Pitjantjatjara language that describes the basis of all Anangu knowledge and connects everything in life. Through displays, art and video about creation stories and laws, some of the rich cultural and spiritual fabric of Uluru is revealed from the perspective of the Anangu.
The Mala Walk at Uluru traces one kilometer along the base of the famous Red Centre monolith, formerly known as Ayer's Rock, from the Mala carpark to Kantju Gorge, pictured above. It follows one of Uluru's two named and easy trails made accessible by parking areas – the other is the Kuniya trail to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. Both are brought to life by explanatory panels that reveal the tales associated with the rock, as well as details about the area's flora, fauna and Aboriginal history.
The Mala Walk should be of particular interest to first-time (or even return) visitors as there is a free and highly enlightening ranger-guided tour scheduled every morning, at 8am from October through April and 10am from May through September.
I soaked up information during the slow-moving stroll, as it stopped often and used near-at-hand rock formations, rock art, trees and other plants to tell the story of the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby); discuss Tjukurpa, a word in the local language describing the knowledge base of the Anangu people indigenous to the region; explain how the park is jointly managed by Parks Australia and the traditional Anangu owners; and share some of the Anangu culture.
The Mala Walk, part of the 10.6-kilometer (6.6-mile) Base Walk, is an excellent alternative to climbing Uluru, something the rangers make very clear when they share the request of the traditional owners that visitors not climb for cultural, safety and environmental reasons.
What could be better than sunrise in the Australian Outback? Or that same sunrise from the back of a camel—perfect cool and cloudless morning combined with the gentle swaying of a camel. As the sun rose in the east, the colors of Kata Tjuta became more vivid. Seeing the changing of the color on both Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunrise is every bit as dramatic as watching the changing hues of Uluru at sunset. Getting up at 4am was well worth the lost sleep.
Nothing is as beautiful as the wildflowers in Australia's outback. These flowers fluttered onto the red sand from a light breeze and I wanted to preserve that moment's beauty... until the next time I'm back.