Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Tourism NT
Disabled Park entry fee Toilets Aboriginal site Information Lookout Ranger Walking

Introduction

Located in the red heart of the central deserts, the ancient forms of Uluru and Kata Tjuta lie geographically, spiritually and symbolically at the centre of the Australian continent. Rising majestically above the red sand plains, they are shrouded in myth and mystery, their colours and moods ever-changing with the interplay of light from sun, cloud and rain.

Protected within Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) rise like giant red icebergs from the flat ‘sea’ of the surrounding desert. At around 350 metres high, Uluru is the world’s largest monolith; its circumference measures 9.4 kilometres and geologists estimate the rock reaches 6 kilometres below the earth’s surface.

Fact file

Access

From Alice Springs via Stuart and Lasseter hwys; by air from Alice Springs or most capital cities

Best season

May to October

Location

440 km south-west of Alice Springs

Park information

  • DEH Uluru (08) 8956 1100
  • www.environment.gov.au/parks/uluru
  • Culture Centre (08) 8956 1128

Permits

Park use fee required (per person), valid for 3 days or annual ticket available; payable at park entry station

Size

132 500 ha

Visitor information

Ayers Rock Campground (08) 8957 7001

Ayers Rock Resort 1300 134 044

www.travelnt.com

Featured Activities in the National Park

  • Experience the play of light on Uluru at dawn or dusk

    Walk along Kata Tjuta’s mystical Valley of the Winds

    Take a guided ranger walk around the base of Uluru

    Listen to Indigenous stories and experience traditional bush foods, unique to this desert environment

See Also

A look at the past

In 1872, explorer Ernest Giles was the first European to see Kata Tjuta, which was subsequently named Mount Olga. The following year, William Gosse was the first European to sight Uluru, naming it Ayers Rock after the chief secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.

In the following decades, various expeditions explored the area’s potential for pastoral use but all advised against it. In 1920, a parcel of land including the present national park was set aside as an Aboriginal reserve, known as the Petermann Reserve after the nearby ranges. This did not stop use of the area by missionaries, police, dingo hunters and fortune-seekers – Lasseter died in the Petermann Ranges in 1931. Pastoralists took up lands surrounding the reserve in the early 1900s, resulting in over-grazing and depletion of Aboriginal food sources.

The area became a tourist destination in the 1940s, particularly after a track was put through to Uluru in 1948. In 1958, Ayers Rock Mount Olga National Park was established, with legendary bushman and author Bill Harney as the first park ranger. The park was returned to its traditional owners in 1985; they then leased it back to the Federal government and now jointly manage it with Parks Australia. In 1987 it won World Heritage listing for its natural wonders. 

In 1993 Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park became the official park name and the next year it won World Heritage listing for its cultural value. The park is ranked as one of the most significant arid-land ecosystems and is classified by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.

Aboriginal culture

Uluru is a site of ceremonial significance for many Aboriginal groups of central Australia, including the Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people, who have lived in the region for at least 10 000 years. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Indigenous people moved around their lands, which varied from mulga flats and sand dunes to rocky hills and pockets of vegetation around the base of rocks such as Uluru. Each of these environments was used at different times of the year, depending on the food and water available. Water was present in claypans, rock holes, soaks and springs.

Around the base of Uluru are rock shelters and caves, decorated with hundreds of rock paintings – some executed as late as the 1940s – but the ravages of weather and over-visitation by tourists in the past have resulted in severe deterioration. The art sites at Kata Tjuta, where there are more engravings than paintings, are better preserved. Today, Aboriginal people of central Australia call themselves Anangu, and parts of the park are very important culturally and out of bounds to non-Indigenous people.

Natural features

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are remnants of a huge bed of sedimentary rock, worn down by nature over some 40 million years after an inland sea retreated. It is believed Kata Tjuta may have been a single rock bigger than Uluru before it was weathered back to 36 separate but dramatic rock domes, one of which is 150 metres higher than Uluru.

Between Uluru and Kata Tjuta lies an ancient valley comprising sand layers that hold water, much of which seeps out in Lake Amadeus, about 40 kilometres north of the national park. Some of this water is estimated to be 7000 years old. The surrounding dune country is even older, with dunes unchanged for 30 000 years, apart from the loose sand on the dune crests.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are among the most photographed and filmed destinations on Earth; the red rock changes colour quickly during the day, and particularly around sunset. Both areas are spectacular during storms and after heavy rain.

Native plants

The arid landscape around the park comes alive after soaking rains, and vivid wildflowers of white, pink, yellow and blue contrast against the red earth and azure sky. Daisies, desert fringe-myrtle, emubush and parrot peas are common. Spinifex and other grasses form a thick layer on the desert floor while mulga is the dominant tree species, tangled and black during dry times, lush and green after a flood. After rains, the green–grey bush tomato flowers and produces small purplish fruit highly prized by the Aboriginal people. The seeds of desert oak, umbrella bush and bloodwood provide food for desert animals while honey grevillea flowers provide sweetness and energy for a range of birds and insects.

Wildlife

Once 46 species of mammals were found in the park but this number has been reduced by more than half. In 2005 the rufous hare-wallaby was reintroduced and moves are being made to reintroduce other locally extinct animals. The insect-eating mulgara, which lives in burrows on the dry sand plain area of the park, is the only mammal currently listed as vulnerable. It shares its habitat with numerous dunnart species and the unadorned desert-skink; watch for this reptile around clumps of spinifex, where it likes to forage. Here, too, is the spinifex hopping-mouse, although it prefers to shelter in its burrow during the day, emerging at dusk to zigzag between grassy refuges on the desert floor. Seven species of bat live in the caves and rock crevices of the park. More visible mammals are common wallaroos (euros), red kangaroos, and herds of feral camels, all seen grazing on the plains. Around the rocks you might glimpse dingoes and emus, while rock-wallabies hop around the escarpments.

As expected, reptiles are abundant, with some 73 species recorded. Along with numerous skinks, there are sand monitors, the awesome 2-metre perentie, geckos, and a range of snake species such as the venomous king brown and the desert death adder, the latter inhabiting spinifex country where it can lie concealed in the loose red sand waiting for prey. In the shrublands and grassy tussocks watch out for the fierce-looking but totally harmless and somewhat delicate thorny devil. 

Bird species recorded in the park number 178, including some species that are rare in the area such as the elusive striated grasswren, another spinifex dweller. Some of the special birds to be seen at Uluru include the oriental plover, princess parrot, grey honeyeater and western bowerbird, while the chiming wedgebill and grey falcon may be seen at Kata Tjuta. Other desert birds such as cockatiels, budgerigars, little button-quails, zebra finches, crows and honeyeaters are common. Wedge-tailed eagles and other raptors such as black-shouldered kites glide effortlessly on the thermals looking for prey.

Introduction

The Cultural Centre showcases Anangu history and culture, and the arid zone landscape, to provide a better appreciation of the park. High temperatures can cause heat stroke and exhaustion and walkers are advised to wear a hat, strong shoes, use sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Stay on marked trails and walk in the cooler hours of the day – preferably early morning.

Scenic views

There are parking areas at Uluru and Kata Tjuta to allow visitors good views of the landscape at sunrise and sunset. Arrive early, especially to watch and photograph the changing colours of Uluru, as crowds can be heavy during the peak tourist season. Off the Kata Tjuta Road there is a 30-minute return walk to the Dune Viewing Area, which provides seating, shade and panoramic views of Kata Tjuta and the sand dunes (tour groups only after 4pm).

Campsites

Ayers Rock Resort Campground

The Ayers Rock campground has a very large shady camping area, with powered and unpowered sites. Cabins are also available, and there are bicycles to hire. The campsite includes a pool, 2 tennis courts and a wireless... Find out more