Friday, October 6, 2017

Yulara - or "Resort Town" - Uluru

Our hotel
Two flights are required to arrive at Uluru from Adelaide. First we landed at Alice Springs where we changed planes for our flight to Ayers Rock Airport and our visit to Uluru. Several of our misconceptions were quickly corrected beginning with the idea that Alice Springs was actually close to Uluru. They are close like Seattle is close to Vancouver.

The second misconception was that we could easily walk from the resort to the rock when it is actually several kilometers away. It wasn’t always this way. When tourists first began to come to Ayers Rock, a hotel and airport were built right next to the rock. As the environmental degradation became obvious and the rights of native Australians began to be taken more seriously, the land was given back to the Anangu and the original hotel and airport were bulldozed away. A new town of Yulara was created several kilometers away and a new jet-ready airport was built near the new town. Town is perhaps a bit of a misnomer since it is really just the resort built to facilitate tourism to Uluru. Four hotels, a campground, a few souvenir stores, restaurants, a museum, an IGA grocery store, and employee housing are all that exist here. No one who lives here except those who support the tourism industry.

Our time at Yulara was spent mostly resting and eating. We also visited the museum which is mostly about the natural world with a few panels about the Anangu, the local Aboriginal population. Two of the hotels have plant walks showing off much of the local flora. There are also a couple of trails and a high point in the middle of  the resort area where we can watch sunrise and sunset. Two evening astronomy activities fill out the agenda. We took advantage of the later show which included some talk about stars and the cosmos with two telescopes for close up views. The earlier show is a bit more fun as it shows off the constellations,  a few of which are also viewable in the northern hemisphere. The astronomer who talked said southern constellations are rather boring as they were mostly created by exploring sailors and don’t have the same kind of stories created by the ancient Greeks.

Something else a bit surprising was the major effort made to stop climbing of the rock. When the land was returned to the Anangu, the deal included a 99-year lease for the national park and the stipulation that climbing still be allowed even though climbing is absolutely against the Anangu religion. Every guide we met and the folks at the hotel explained that we should not be climbing out of respect, something we regularly do at religious buildings and other religious sites around the world. Still, 24% of the tourists visiting Uluru make the climb, or at least make the attempt. Since the climb is closed when the heat is too much for entire months, this means that 300-400 people per day are making the climb. That makes for crowded conditions when the route is closed after 11:00 am.

One guide who talked about this at length said that in Japan Uluru is still marketed as a mountain to climb, probably because they see it as something similar to climbing Mt. Fuji. Another reason to stop the climbing is the fact that over 35 have died on the climb and numerous others were so dehydrated they died during their post climb rest. Hopefully, one of these days that will end and the number of people who want to climb will be small enough that they can close it off completely and really clean off the garbage climbers leave behind and remove the stakes that were put in to aid climbers creating a bit of an eyesore for the rest of us.

To help discourage climbers, the resort has developed a number of alternative experiences. One new activity coming on soon will be a tethered balloon ride. Visitors will be lifted high enough to see over the rock. This joins the airplane and helicopter trips already available. Evening experiences include the astronomy tours we took and a light show which looked rather kitschy in the pictures. Daytime activities include a myriad of tours and the opportunity to ride camels in the desert. Guests can also visit a reptile park or try their hand at dot painting.

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