Dawn had come and go. Rising at 5am was well worth it: the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta proved to be spectacular. After seeing Kata Tjuta from atop the sand dunes, it was now time to see it up close and learn about the many stories behind it.
Our young and energetic guide Nick claimed this to be his favorite part of the trip, “At Uluru, we can only walk around its base and admire it from below. But here at Kata Tjuta, we get to walk in and around the site, and immerse deep within it.” He said that once, there was an Australian woman in his group who cried the whole time they were hiking in Kata Tjuta – because it was the most beautiful place she’d ever seen.
Domes of the Olgas
We were eager to see Kata Tjuta’s beauty for ourselves and it wasn’t long before we were hiking along the Valley of the Winds route that snaked into and around the domes of Kata Tjuta. A cluster of large dome rock formations, Kata Tjuta is also known as the Olgas (because of the highest point Mount Olga). But don’t let this name fool you – the 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are assembled in such a unique and artistic way. From the base, we could see each dome rock pointing in a different direction, soaring into the sky like heads of giants. Perhaps that’s why the local Anangu named the site Kata Tjuta, meaning ‘many heads’ in the Pitjantjajara language.
A cluster of large dome rock formations, Kata Tjuta is also known as the Olgas. But don’t let this name fool you – the 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta are assembled in such a unique and artistic way.
“Kata Tjuta is a very sacred spot, only suitable for initiated men.” From our hike in Uluru, we knew this whole national park was a sacred area for the local Anangu who have been lived here for approximately 20,000 years. But here in Kata Tjuta, most of the sensitive spots are away from the walking trail.
“There are many Pitjantjatjara dreaming legends associated with this place. A number of legends surround the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season.” Tell us some of these legends, I urged Nick. “Unfortunately, the majority of mythology surrounding the site is not disclosed to outsiders.”
“There are many Pitjantjatjara dreaming legends associated with this place. A number of legends surround the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season.”
Ancient Rocks of History
As we continued to make our way deeper into the dome rocks, we found ourselves looking at the highest point of Kata Tjuta – Mount Olga, rising 1,066 m (3,497 ft) above sea level. It’s hard to imagine all these rocks date back to 500 million years, when they were all part of the Mount Currie Conglomerate.
Back in those days, these mountains were higher than the Himalayas but when Earth’s tectonic plates started separating, these mountains were lifted. Uluru was formed when part of the mountain got shifted 180 degrees, therefore resulting in a monolith; while Kata Tjuta was raised in various directions, causing the mound to be shattered into many domes.
On the surface of these sedimentary rocks, we could see striations, a result of different types of rocks mashed together. We also saw black stains on these rocks, a result of rainwater tricking down the rocks’ surface. Traipsing down these rocks, we found ourselves passing bearded dragons and galahs along the way – wildlife often found in the Central Australian desert.
By this time, the temperature was reaching 38 degrees Celsius, and the sun was blazing. We had started our hike at 7am so that we could walk in the morning temperatures but even though it’s hardly past 9am, we were soaked in sweat and finding it hard to cope with the weather. The trail was already closed for hikers and we had to finish our hike before 11am otherwise the extreme temperature might become a danger.
Soon we were climbing up steps that were naturally carved into the rock surface, towards the Karingana lookout point that led us way up towards the top of the valley. I struggled to keep up with the pace, the sun’s rays shining ferociously upon me, making it harder than before to continue. By the time we got to to the lookout point, we were drenched in sweat but thrilled to see a stunning panorama before us. The entire basin stretched out beneath us, with Uluru in the far distance. We sat and drank in the views, treating ourselves to some trail mix and snacks while taking some respite under the shade.
Winding Down At Camp
The walk back down to our starting point was easier than before as we skipped and hopped down to the valley, past creek beds, and over dome rocks. That day, we walked a total of 7.4km in three and a half hours, a great feat considering the extreme weather.
In the evening, we drove over to Kings Creek Station, a cattle ranch that had been featured in the ‘Australian Story’, a TV series about how an Australian couple had bought the land and and made it their mission to help educate the local Aborigines. It’s a great success story and we were glad to have the opportunity to be part of this brilliant project.
Before dinner, we set off to explore the sparse forest that surrounded our campsite. According to Nick, there were wild camels and dingos in the area – but all we found were massive mounds of black ants. As the sun set, we began piling out the wooden branches that we’d picked up along the way, and started a fire. We were blessed with a great cook as our guide, and as Nick whipped up stir-fried chicken for dinner, we all helped out while chatting and having a great time in the kitchen shack. For dessert, he prepared his specialty dish – delicious bush bread that tasted like fragrant scones.
That night, we slept like babies, tucked comfortably under our swags to a view of the star-lit skies before us.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Camping in Australia’s Red Center – Part III: Conquering Kings Canyon