The less famous rocks
There’s more than just Uluru when you head to Central Australia
THERE is something slightly comical about an eager young ranger trying to explain the origins of a wondrous rock structure — one which dates back hundreds of millions of years — by poking a stick through red dirt.
Especially when her audience comprises a couple of knackered Aussies and a handful of Irishmen who, despite their good intentions, are clearly preoccupied by the fastapproaching “beer o’clock”.
But still, we listen to our guide and try to make sense of the mud map being drawn in the ground before us.
Eventually, one of the thirsty, but undoubtedly impressed, overseas tourists offers a banal comment: “So … what you’re sayin’ is it’s bloody old?”
Often overshadowed by the nearby and far more heavily marketed Uluru, Kata Tjuta can stand on its own as one of the most breathtaking natural gems in the nation, perhaps even the world.
Towering rock formations capture and manipulate the natural light like a master photographer, creating an orange-tinged landscape that resembles something from Mars.
It is a hidden treasure in plain sight.
With a highest point of 1066m, Kata Tjuta is taller — and arguably more visually spectacular — than the world-famous Uluru, which is 25km to the east.
Known to many as the Olgas, the collection of ancient rocks is a sacred site among the Anangu People.
For tourists, there are several lookouts and tough but highly worthwhile walking trails on offer.
While undoubtedly breathtaking from the air, I believe the most authentic — and affordable — way to experience Kata Tjuta is by being up close and intimate with the great boulders of basalt, granite and sandstone.
After our ranger’s introduction, we braved a harsh Red Centre sun to tackle the Valley of the Winds walk, a 7.4km circuit that takes you to the heart of Kata Tjuta’s rugged magic over three to four hours of moderately hard walking.
Thankfully, a water station provides some relief but it is not recommended to attempt this trail in the heat of the day.
For those looking for something less gruelling, the wheelchair-accessible Kata Tjuta dune viewing area is just down the road and serves up some of the best views you’ll see.
The road back to Yulara, the nearest tourist hub, is beautiful at sunrise and sunset and features numerous lookout spots.
Where else would you rather spend “beer o’clock”?
Sunset with dramatic clouds over the domes of Kata Tjuta rocks in the Australian desert