Another Hump on the Horizon: Ayers Rock

Ayers Rock
Ayers Rock Wikimedia Commons

Here, where sunlight plays tricks on the eyes, it doesn't take much to imagine this great monolith being built out of the earth by two young boys playing in the mud after a rainstorm. It's clear, as the sandstone rock changes from a rusty hue at sunrise, to a bleached, brilliant slab at noon and, finally, to molten rock at sunset, that something grand is taking place.

Rising 1,100 feet above the desert plain, it's been called the world's largest rock, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica cautiously adds a "perhaps." It is more than two miles long and about one and a half miles wide. In 1872 Sir Henry Ayers, a South Australian premier, became its namesake, but the rock today is called by its aboriginal name, Uluru..

The creation stories of the Anangu aboriginal people are rich bodies of song myths that celebrate this site and others where ancestral beings walked during what is called the Dreamtime, or tjukurrpa. All across the landscape, the hills, creeks, caves and large boulders are Anangu sacred sites, which they believe are physical proof of the reality of these ancient sagas. On the northeast side of Uluru, there's a small dome-shaped stone that is one of the ancients' digging sticks. On the southwest side, pockmarks in the rock are scars left by the spears of long-ago warriors.

In 1958 the Anangu were granted official ownership of the rock and the park surrounding it. Today the park is comanaged by the Australian government and the Anangu. The Anangu's spiritual way of life includes a fierce protection of the land, its care and its ecology. A visit to Uluru is a chance to see the rock from the perspective of another culture; guided tours explain the strong bond between the land and its people.

Tips: Visitors can meet Anangu guides who will share their stories on walking tours around the base of Uluru. The aboriginal people do not prohibit the climbing of the monolith, but they do not encourage it either, both for the sacredness of the rock and for the safety of the visitor.

Climbing is, however, prohibited in strong winds, when it is raining or in other hazardous conditions.

Consider your fitness level: don't climb Uluru if you have a heart condition or breathing problems.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.