To climb Uluru or not to climb, that WAS the question. As of October 2019 visitors no longer have a choice in the matter. Our beloved Uluru is now under a blanket climbing ban – and with good reason.
The local Anangu people have long been calling for visitors to stop climbing the sacred rock. And up until the ban, hundreds of thousands of tourists scaled Uluru every year, against the express wishes of the traditional owners, the Anangu people.
This played a part in the decision of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board to unanimously ban the climb – and we couldn’t be more pleased. But just why is it wrong to climb Uluru?
Uluru isn’t yours to climb
The traditional owners – the Anangu – consider Uluru an intensely spiritual place, an area where their Tjukurpa (creation stories), which govern their ceremonies, art and rules for living, converge.
The Rock is said to be spiritually significant because it was a traditional route of their ancestral Mala men. UNESCO has acknowledged this ‘cultural landscape’ by deeming it a World Heritage area so it’s hard to argue.
Would you climb over a church or wander through someone’s backyard without permission?
Uluru is not only a spectacular natural formation, but it’s also a deeply spiritual place. You can feel a powerful presence the moment you first set eyes on it. (Image: Tourism NT/Che Chorley)
Climbing Uluru caused erosion
The central Australian deserts and Uluru itself may seem outback tough, but the semi-arid ecosystem is actually quite fragile, as can be seen by the erosion along the historic climbing route, known as the Scar of Uluru. The wearing away of the sandstone is a very real issue.
Some have argued that we climb other iconic Australian sites, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge: so why not Uluru? Putting aside the point that the bridge is not sacred, it is also not made of organic material, and is, therefore, a lot more hardy – unlike Uluru.
The surface of Uluru is very textured and surprisingly fragile. (Image: Tourism NT/ Tourism Australia)
The Uluru climb impacted the environment
As well as causing erosion, walkers caused a major issue when they had – well – nowhere to ‘go’. There are no toilet facilities on top of Uluru, so when nature inevitably calls the climbers used the sacred site as a loo.
And when the rains eventually came, that concentration of number ones and numbers twos flushed straight into the waterholes below, tainting the water that threatened flora and fauna rely on.
Adding to the levels of disrespect and pollution, climbers would frequently leave their rubbish behind too.
Rain on Uluru causes waterfalls and anything on top to run into the waterholes. (Image: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia)
It was dangerous to climb Uluru
Okay, so 348 metres might not seem high in terms of mountains (Kosciusko stands at 2228 metres, for example), but Uluru has reportedly claimed 38 lives in recorded history.
Unfit tourists often underestimated the task, and the chain along the climbing route was inadequate for the steep and sometimes slippery surface. The 95-storey climb was often closed due to wind, storms, and over the hot summer months (or temperatures above 36°C).
When a person dies on their traditional sites, it is also said to cause great sadness to the Anangu.
There are endless alternatives to climbing Uluru
There are so many things to do at Uluru that don’t involve climbing it. You can cruise past it on a camel or on the back of a Harley-Davidson on motorcycle tours.
Cruise around Uluru atop a camel. (Image: Tourism NT/ Plenty of Dust)
You can enjoy it with champagne in hand or dine on a sand dune in its presence at the intimate Tali Wiru experience or the bigger crowds of the Sounds of Silence. You have to do at least one of these alfresco dining options on your first trip (try and time it with the waning crescent moon phase to have a spectacular star-watching session).
Take in a 360-degree view of the desert when you dine at Tali Wiru.
You can ride a bicycle around its base and there’s also a wide range of guided walks (for example, to Mutitjulu Waterhole) where you can see rock art up close with someone who can tell you the story of the land.
The Mutitjulu Waterhole at the base of Uluru is an awe-inspiring place. (Image: Tourism NT)
You can see it sunrise or sunset as the backdrop to the incredible Field of Light by Bruce Munro.
See Bruce Munro’s Field of Light on a tour with AAT Kings. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Heck, you can even skydive over Uluru if you’re looking for an adrenaline challenge.
Most importantly, you can choose activities that meaningfully engage in local Aboriginal culture. For example, you could visit the Gallery of Central Australia (GOCA) to see works by Anangu artists, visit the non-for-profit Walkatjara Art or book on to a tour with Maruku.
The Gallery of Central Australia exists to support the Indigenous artists of the Central Desert region of Australia. (Image: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia)
To really interact with this spiritual place in a meaningful way, and to learn all about the cultural significance of Uluru, join a ranger-guided Mala Walk, which leaves from the Mala car park each morning.
If you are planning to visit Uluru and want to know what else there is to do now you can no longer climb (and there are loads), check out our 3-day itinerary for Uluru or the unexpected things you can do at Uluru.