This month Uluru will be permanently closed to climbing. The significance of this act is far greater than the small ceremony planned to mark the occasion.
The sign that says “Please don’t climb” can be taken down, and people visiting the nation’s most iconic landscape can now focus on connecting with Uluru and the culture of the Aṉangu people who have been custodians of the land for thousands of years.
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia CEO Grant Hunt was a member of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management when the climb closure decision was made.
“At that time we were confident that the destination would not suffer as a result,” he says. “We believed that the cultural values of the traditional owners should carry maximum weight and that the majority of the travelling public have a level of cultural maturity and understanding.
“I still strongly believe this. At Ayers Rock Resort we are seeing record accommodation bookings for November and beyond and we continue to invest in authentic and contemporary guest experiences that reinforce the cultural and natural significance of the destination beyond the climb. These include our upcoming first-ever performance by Opera Australia at Uluru in November and Field of Light Uluru being extended indefinitely.
“It’s important to keep a place fresh and we are continually challenging ourselves to evolve ideas for new ways to experience the destination.”
The fact is that you can’t see much of Uluru when you’re on top of it. So now is a much better opportunity to connect with this remarkable part of the Central Australian landscape that has been here for almost 600 million years.
Caroline Gair, global director supplier relations at cievents, says that the decision to protect Uluru and respect its sacred significance to the traditional landowners is paramount.
“To visit this stunning land in itself is such a privilege and the great sense of spirituality one feels in its presence will not be lessened by the decision to stop the public climbing it,” she says.
“Uluru will continue to be a destination that our clients will want to experience and the opportunity to connect with the local Aboriginal community and learn more about their culture and traditions can never be underestimated. The extension of the Field of Light installation is great news and adds to the entire experience.”
So where is the best place to really develop an understanding of Uluru? Well unlike many places of historical and spiritual significance, you can place your hands on Uluru when accompanied by a guide.
To get a sense of its scale you can circumnavigate Uluru on a 10-kilometre base loop through acacia bloodwood copses and native grasslands. Along the way you can hear ancestral stories, acknowledge sacred sites and learn about the park’s geology and natural environment.
Visitors can be also view some of the around 80 rock art sites in the area. The Kulpi Mutitjulu (the Mutitjulu Cave) on the Kuniya walk is a record of human occupation in the area dating back at least 30,000 years.
A short walk from the rock itself is the Cultural Centre, which houses two Aṉangu-owned and governed art centres, Walkatjara Art and Maruku Arts, where up to 25 artists sit and work at a time.
“The closure of Uluru to climbers offers the opportunity to focus on ways to connect with the local Anangu culture,” says Katie Beer, Arinex business development manager – incentives & special events. “One of my favourite ways to do this is with Maruku Arts, a fun and organic dot painting workshop.
“For thousands of years, the Anangu people have passed down their knowledge generation to generation, to keep the land, their culture and their people strong. You are taught by a local Anangu artist (and an assisting interpreter) about traditional art, symbols, tools and more. In these workshops, artists share a part of their culture with you so you learn while you create.”
Another form of artistic expression is music, with Rock and Roll Team Building working with the talented duo Apakatjah for a ‘Rock with the Culture of Indigenous Australia’ workshop.
“[It] is a perfect solution to kick-off or close a conference or to ‘knock the socks’ off the crowd at any type of evening celebration,” says Beer. “[It’s] a fun and interactive way to learn about Australia’s Indigenous culture, music, language, dance and even learn how to use clap sticks.”
Uluru never stays the same, as it reveals itself anew with each change in the light. The best views can be had from a distance such as the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku (“place to look from the sand dune”) viewing site which is suited for early risers. For those that prefer to feast upon the Uluru in all its expansive glory at sunset, the Sounds of Silence or Tali Wiru dinner offer a spectacular way to take in the view along with an amazing dining experience.
And if the incredible food served up by Voyages Ayers Rock Resort executive chef Vanessa Grace whets your appetite, then keep it going with Ayers Rock Resort’s Uluru Bush Tucker Journeys. A cooking and tasting demonstration that opens up the world of Indigenous flavours and includes guided garden walks which explain how Indigenous people harvested spices, fruits and seeds from the bush.
And once the sun goes down, another marvel makes itself apparent in the form of the constellations above. Get a guided journey through the night sky and discover the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and hear how Ngurunderi created all the species of fish and then placed his canoe in the sky so that it could become the Milky Way.
One of the most popular ways to experience Uluru is through Bruce Munro’s immersive installation, Field of Light Uluru, which has just undergone a $1 million refurbishment. Attracting more than 450,000 visitors to date, the award-winning exhibition, located at Ayers Rock Resort, has been extended indefinitely from its previous close date at the end of this year.
Grant says Field of Light is “an enduring way for guests to enjoy the destination” following the Uluru Climb closure.
“Field of Light Uluru allows people to experience the destination in a way that is unexpected and we are still seeing incredible demand, with guests noting that the installation is a key element of their stay,” he says.
“Travellers are increasingly seeking experiences that transcend the superficial, that offer meaning, surprise and add great depth to the memory bank. Extending Field of Light Uluru will allow even more visitors to enjoy this extraordinary immersive artwork.”
Field of Light Uluru will also be the setting for an exclusive Opera Australia concert under the stars on November 2, marking this first ever Opera Australia performance at Uluru.
Just prior to the decision to end climbing, senior traditional owner and chairman of the park board Sammy Wilson declared that Uluru welcomed visitors.
“The land has law and culture,” he said. “We welcome tourists here. Closing the climb is not something to feel upset about but a cause for celebration. Let’s come together; let’s close it together.”
To find out more about holding and event or conference at Uluru head here.