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”?

Pic­ture: iS­TOCK

Sun­set with dra­matic clouds over the domes of Kata Tjuta rocks in the Aus­tralian desert

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