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Photo: paleontour

A proposal by Australia’s National Parks may lead to a ban on climbing Uluru within the next 10 years.

IF YOU’RE THE KIND of traveler that likes to defy danger and the wishes of the local indigenous people, then you’d better get your butt Down Under real soon. If the National Parks and the Anangu people of the Western Desert have their way, it will be illegal to climb this famous Australian landmark.

Photo: rplzzz

Less is still too much

As it is, there are heaps less people making the climb than before. In 1990, three-quarters of visitors reached the 340 meter peak, whereas today that ratio has shrunk to just one-third.

But that still translates to 250 people per day. 250 more than the Parks and the locals would like to see up there.

Besides the cultural sensitivity issues, it’s a dangerous climb. To further deter tourists from attempting it, details of more than 30 deaths await you at the base.

There are also sanitary reasons why you shouldn’t do it. A lack of toilets on the sacred rock mean that some hikers are damaging the local environment as their waste runs down into the waterholes around the rock.

For and against

Not only is the Federal Opposition party opposed, but Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rejects the proposal:

Obviously it’s a question of public safety and managing important parts of our natural landscape…I think it would be very sad if we got to a stage though where Australians and frankly our guests from abroad weren’t able to enjoy that experience…to climb it.

However, there is no shortage of folks who are fully behind the idea of an outright ban, including many tourism operators. Ultimately, the decision may rest with Environment Minister Peter Garrett, the former frontman of politically charged Midnight Oil.

Mr. Garrett has never himself climbed Uluru, instead saying he’s respected the sign at the bottom placed there by the traditional owners, which states “Please don’t climb Uluru.” Although his preference is clear, he wants to make sure the correct decision is made:

There should be a debate amongst the stakeholders: the tourism industry, indigenous people, governments and others.

Stay tuned!

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Have you hiked Uluru? Would you do it despite the request from the local aboriginals to refrain?

Share your thoughts below!

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About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    Thanks, Carlo. I had no idea about any of this (inlcuding the fact that we don’t call it Ayers Rock anymore!). And no, I wouldn’t climb.

  • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

    Nope, wouldn’t climb, any more than I would hop the rope at St. Peter’s and climb up on the altar and jump up and down. Can’t believe it’s taken this long for a ban to even be a possibility, frankly.

    I’m also amazed the local Aboriginal groups have been so restrained in their campaign to get the climbing to stop. If this were happening in Canada, there would have been an armed standoff by now. More power to them for staying peaceful, but wouldn’t it be nice if they actually got their way as a sort of karmic reward?

    Thanks for this post, Carlo. Here’s hoping it passes.

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      Cheers to that

    • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

      Great metaphor, Eva! :)

  • http://matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    Wouldn’t climb.

    Although I am said that the Cambodians don’t let tourists scramble all over Angkor Wat anymore.

  • http://matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    I meant sad, not said.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      No kidding? I felt a little funny about it when I was there in 2006–but have to admit I enjoyed being able to explore wherever I wanted. When did it change?

  • http://marikm22.blogspot.com/ Marissa

    Visited Uluru and didn’t climb. For one, the rock is incredibly sacred to the aboriginal people and my tour guide and the museum and the signs and the fliers made it clear exactly how disrespectful it is. Plus it was really hot and I was tired from waking up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise.
    Plus it’s not like there’s a fantastic view from up there, really – Uluru IS the view. The only reason to do it is to say you did it, which is uncool.

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      Yeah, exactly right! It’s a pride thing. One of the news articles also stated the change in attitude is reflected in the t-shirts for sale now. Instead of saying “I climbed Ayers Rock” they now say “I walked around Uluru”.

  • http://www.bravenewtraveler.com ian

    I visited Uluru in 2001 – the rock was closed due to extremely hot weather, more of a safety concern for tourist who might become exhausted and fall enough. Even then, the debate raged on whether one should be allowed. While at the time, I felt like I’d missed out, it’s understandable why it should be closed out of cultural respect. The rock is vastly impressive from the ground anyways.

  • http://www.theodorescott.com Theodore Scott

    If a local asked me not to, I wouldn’t.

    If a cop told me I couldn’t climb it, I might.

    • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

      Ha! :)

  • Kathy

    A probably poor substitute but still a neat place to climb is Enchanted Rock in central Texas. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/enchanted_rock/ . There are stories that original indigenous people there thought the rock was haunted, but there aren’t any present-day objections to climbing it that I know of. However, the heat in the summer is a pretty potent deterrent!

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      Besides, you’d think that if they considered it haunted, they be like, “yeah man, go ahead!”

  • http://www.lucky7englishclub.com Paul

    I visited Uluru back in 2001 and clearly remember the discussions over wether or not to climb. Eventually we decided against climbing and instead walked around the rock. For me this experience was far more valuable than climbing it as we got to meet local aboriginal children playing Wall, see the art painted on the sides depicting the spirit world, numerous caves created over the years by rain and also a very cool horny devil lizard. Just as important for us, we could find solitude in such a busy tourist destination as harldy anyone took the time to walk all around the base.
    The next day we drove to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) which is about 30km west of Uluru where we hiked on the 30 domes which make up the site. It is far less crowded and just as spectacular. Ultimatley it should be a choice. I think no people should be able to own nature and keep it for themselves, on the other hand, we should respect the wishes of locals and preserve such beauty for everyone to find their own way of appreciating it.

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments Paul. Sounds quite reasonable.

  • http://www.trailofants.com Ant

    Climbing Uluru is pretty much the most ignorant thing you can do.

    I was there a month ago and there are pleas from the locals in all promotional material and educational centres.

    I honestly don’t know how the people who climb have the gall to go and do it, not least because the view can’t be worth it? Great, I’m stood on smooth red rock looking at the flat, empty outback, and oh, what’s that in the distance? A hotel resort.

    Would love to hear the ‘for climbing’ argument.

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      The only “for” argument I can see is just so you can say you did it (i.e. ego). On the other hand, I can totally see some folks just doing it to flaunt it, like “I don’t care what you say, I’m gonna do it anyway”.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    People who would climb someone’s sacred rock are the same kind who would crawl over their dying mother to have their way with their dead sister, IMHO;enuf?

  • http://www.writeronthewayhome.blogspot.com niamh

    I usually aim for balance when I’m commenting on stories here, but in this case….. why is this even a discussion?

    Most of the people on this site are open-minded and very curious about other ways of life, that’s why we travel – we know the world is a fascinating place and we want to see what’s out there. A huge part of that privilege is learning about the cultures in a meaningful way and respecting what different things mean to different people.

    Eva made the comparison above with St Peters which is exactly the comparison to be made or compare Uluru with any major religious building you can think of. Yes, I know it’s not a building per say, but that goes right back to the arugument made by the British when they colonised Australia in the first place. They didn’t see any buildings or walls similar to what they had in the UK so they declared Australia an empty land. Just because we can’t see the religious significance doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    You can walk all around Uluru, it’s beautiful or take a day-tour with a company like Anangu who will talk to you and let you see the cultural meaning.

    Rant over.

  • http://www.maltabulb.com Malta Bulb

    Been to Australia twice but sadly never got to that part of the country.

    If I’m ever near Uluru, I would definitely not climb it, out of respect for the locals. I think that given the sacred significance of the rock to the aborigines, we are lucky that they even let people near it.

  • Len

    I thought i had my answer until i read what Paul had to write…

    “I think no people should be able to own nature and keep it for themselves, on the other hand, we should respect the wishes of locals and preserve such beauty for everyone to find their own way of appreciating it.”

    and to some extent, it is nature. no one should be able to stop people from enjoying what ultimately is just landscape. i do understand the fact that the increased tourism ON Uluru will ruin/destroy it because of people who don’t care for its natural beauty, but if they really wanted to decrease that number, they should have taken the chained hand rail down a long time ago.

    i was there in early 2007, and i had a choice. i chose not to climb. i did this in respect for the aboriginal people of australia. you don’t go traveling to someone else’s home, and disrespect everything that their culture believes. but i did want to see the top. i did want to have a view. so… as poor as i still was/am, i took a helicopter ride that took me above and around (not directly on top).

    …oh, and that night, in the midst of the sunset, it rained. i got to see Uluru in all it’s complete beauty!!! :)

  • http://noconversation.com chris.

    i was surprised that people do this when i went to australia, but when i realized the tense situation dividing modern australia from aboriginees it, sadly, made sense.

  • RySnow

    I’d climb. Only because I love climbing. On the other hand I’d listen to what the locals have to say but agree with the notion that they shouldn’t dictate what is done with nature. What if eveywhere you went there were people pleading with you not to do this or that, you could probably find people anywhere who wouldn’t want you to do many of the things you’ve already done and will do in the future.

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      This is not a judgment on you, but I don’t think you’d climb only because of your love of climbing. I think visitors fall into three camps. Those who wish to respect the views of the local indigenous people, those who have their own principle (i.e. this is public and no one owns it), and those who are just that ignorant they don’t know the issue (although, with all the signs and warnings there and elsewhere, that would be hard to believe).

      Assuming you’re not in the third camp, your reason for climbing it is out of principle. You don’t sound like a disrespectful person, so if you’re not, then no matter how much you love climbing you wouldn’t do it out of respect. So your belief that the aborigines don’t have a claim on it is your reason to climb it.

  • Simone Gorrindo

    I definitely would not climb it, and I do feel it should be protected. Rolf Potts wrote a great travel article about this a couple years back for Slate, the sub-title of which is: The Pitjantjatjara Word for Tourists and Ants Is One and the Same..Ha!

    Here’s the link: http://www.slate.com/id/2161053/entry/2161054/

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the link Simone! On my way to read it now.

  • Simone Gorrindo

    A technical question for everyone: I have a Matador profile under Simone Marie. When I am logged in and I go to comment on an article, however, it comes up without my profile name or picture, and says my comment is awaiting moderation.

    How can I link it to my pic and profile?

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Simone, you can link your name to your profile just by inserting the URL for your Matador profile in the website field.

      For the picture, read this post to learn how to set up your gravatar (this is not Matador specific, but for anywhere you comment and use the registered email address) – http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2007/06/17/how-to-set-up-your-gravatar/

      As for comment moderation, you won’t be moderated anymore now that your first comment has been approved.

  • Artemis

    I was actually just discussing this very topic with a friend and happened upon this post while looking into it further, so thank you for the stimulating comments which have enhanced our discussion!

    I have a few things to say in response:

    1) To Carlo – The majority of more recent deaths are from unfit people having a heart attack during the climb. (If you don’t bother exercising, why the hell would you consider climbing this thing??). The rest tumbled down before there was an anchor chain to hold onto along the ascent/descent. As for the decline in number of people climbing, it’s mostly tour busses that bring the masses out there now…they arrive first thing in the morning, when the wind is almost always up and the climb is closed. Also, the cost of medical assistance ON the rock now falls on the visitor (no pun intended) and is generally not covered under regular travel medical insurance. This has really pushed tour operators to deter tourists from attempting the climb on their watch.

    2) To Eva – If you understand Australian Aboriginal culture, you would know that they are amongst the most peaceful indigenous people on earth. They did’t exist longer than any other known culture by fighting and killing eachother…even when the British arrived on the shores of Australia, the response of these ‘locals’ was far more passive than aggressive and continues to be so today.

    3) To Ant – Ignorance isn’t necessarily climbing the rock, it’s standing on the sacred land of Uluru-Kata Tjuta and saying everyone who is climbing the rock is ignorant! Correction – perhaps that’s not necessarily ignorance, that’s hypocritical.
    The whole entire area is sacred! So why would you step foot there at all??

    The only reason we are allowed on it is because when the Pitjantjatjara People were ‘handed back’ this culturally significant area of land by the Commonwealth Government in 1985, it was upon the condition that they would lease it back to the government for 99 years in order for it to be open to the public as a tourist park. Management is joint (more like the aboriginals assumed the role of care takers, and the government is raking in the cash). Didn’t it raise any questions the fact that you had to pay $25 just to access the land?? Either the aboriginals are charging you entry and pocketing the millions poured into the park a year, in which case you’d have every right to explore INCLUDING climbing the rock, OR there’s something a little deeper there…

    It comes down to this people – the descendants of the Anangu people have publically given permission for tourists to climb the Rock, though they prefer you do not, primarily because it is dangerous and their spirits suffer great sadness when someone is hurt on their land (not to mention you are up for HUGE medical costs if you hurt yourself up there!!).

    It is a personal choice whether or not to climb, and if you choose to visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta and tsk tsk the people who go on to climb Uluru, you should really consider the fact that the only reason the aboriginals are ok with you being on the land at all is because it was a major stipulation in getting the rights to their land back (‘rights’ termed loosely)!!

    I went in 2004 and was injured walking AROUND the rock – all part of a series of fantastically uncanny events – and I flagged down a park care taker (a descendant of Anangu people) who was driving home for the evening. On the way to the first aid hut, we discussed this very issue and she did in fact advocate the view expressed above.

    (I was tempted to ask if any spirits were hurt by the fact that my injury occurred walking around the sacred rock and not during my climb up it…).

    So, if you’ve already stepped foot on the land at Uluru – Kata Tjuta, you may as well carry on and do the climb, I say. And while you’re up there, take a good long look at the deep scars imbedded on the land surrounding the rock below…damaging evidence of all those who have visited, claiming to be respectful of the land and its people.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the in-depth insight on this topic Artemis. That’s an excellent point you raise there. If the land was never taken away in the first place it would be private and no one would even be stepping foot on it. Put this way, it does seem hypocritical to “tsk tsk” (as you say) the climbers if you’re also standing on sacred land yourself.

      “If you don’t bother exercising, why the hell would you consider climbing this thing??” – this reminds me of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver. Tourists just don’t know what they’re up against and think they’re going for a walk in the park.

      Much to ponder there.

    • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

      Artemis – I never suggested they were a violent culture, I’m not sure how you got the impression that I did. In fact, I said I was impressed that it hadn’t descended into violence, because similar Aboriginal land issues in Canada frequently do.

      And no, I don’t pretend to understand Australian Aboriginal culture. I’m still not clear on how visiting the area and climbing the rock amount to the same level of disrespect. If that were so, why would the locals only ask visitors to refrain from climbing, and not from visiting at all? Yes, they’re apparently obliged to allow visitors – and they are obliged to allow them to climb, too. So why not post signs and speak to the media asking visitors to refrain – of their own volition – from visiting at all, as they currently do with the anti-climbing campaign? You’re the first person I’ve ever heard suggest that visiting the area at all is disrespectful. If that’s the case, shouldn’t they let people know, so we can make an informed choice?

  • Artemis

    Carlo, I do have to agree with you re the Grouse Grind comparison. Though you can actually see what you’re getting into with the Uluru climb…Grouse Grind is cruelly disguised by the trees surrounding it!

    Eva, I was speaking (writing) more from a factual tone about the non-violent tendencies than a critical one…sort of adding to your comments rather than cutting them down.

    As for the notion that visiting is just as disrespectful, of course it’s not openly advertised because they’re under legal obligation not to obstruct tourism in that area. Walking around Uluru can be considered the lesser of two evils and if you go (or if you have been), honestly, speak to some of the locals, especially those who work there about it – maybe it was just coincidence that everyone I spoke to felt this way? Unlikely, but not out of the question.

    It’s easier to campaign against climbing the Rock rather than accessing the entier park because it’s something that’s physically there…something large and inviting that you don’t have to pay an additional fee to access.

    Can I assimiliate it to being held up and forking over everything you have in exchange to remain unharmed, but begging to keep something special to you that may have not significant value to the perpetrator…like a photograph in your wallet? Ok, maybe a bit farfetched, but that’s what I can come up with.

  • christine

    Carlo, if the land was never taken in the first place, it probably would never have been private! Although I can’t say for sure about Aboriginal people, I know that Native-Americans did not believe in land “ownership” (this is not to say they didn’t have territorial rights between tribes)–this was something the white man brought in. I’m assuming the same is true in Australia…

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    Check this latest article in The Age:

    Bowel-challenged Uluru climbers add injury to insult

    Where is the respect folks.

  • http:..robertwalls.wordpress.com Rob Walls

    I first visited Uluru before the matter of the clmb became an issue. I was so moved by the site, I could not bring myself to make the climb. Even then it seemed a disrespectful thing to do.

    At the moment the Australian Government has in place a new draft plan of management which is considering whether the climeb should be continued. My feeling is that it should not.

    What concerns me though is the friction that naturally occurs when you have an organisation like Parks Australia, on the one hand speaking of “preserving the natural and cultural values” of Uluru, while promoting the place as a tourism venue.

    Along with this go the blanket restrictions on professional photography that deny the traditionally symbiotic relationship between national parks and photographers. It is technically illegal to publish pictures of Uluru without permission.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    Thanks for your input Rob. If anyone is interested in reading about these photography restrictions, check out his post Uluru and Photography Restrictions.

  • Matt Scott

    I hiked around the base of Uluru and it was a stunning hike, getting close to the rock, seing wildlife and the Aboriginal art. I never hiked to the top but I’d be suprised if hiking to the top was anywhere near as interesting as the base walk.

  • http://www.writeronthewayhome.blogspot.com niamh

    Artemis, interesting comment.
    I’d share your opinions on talking to people in the area. To be honest, before I went there I hadn’t understood that the whole area is sacred, I thought it was ‘just’ Uluru itself. But we went on a tour given by Anangu Tours and Elsie was quite clear that she wouldn’t want people climbing the rock, but also too polite to explain all of the politics.
    And like Matt, walking around it is such a pure experience, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to jump all over it. We need to remember that we only visit a place and local people live there forever and we should respect their views.
    Which would you prefer – to tick off another item on the backpackers’ ‘ I climbed that’ list or sit and have a conversation with someone who really loves the place?

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/xtremxpert XtremXpert

    Wouldn’t climb it. If the locals don’t want that, than is better that way.

  • Pleski

    I climbed it and it was one of the most exhilirating experiences of my life. It belongs to everyone, and should be experienced by everyone. To only allow some aged indigenous men access is simply age, sex and racial discrimination.

    I will climb it again, without hesitation.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos
  • Mark

    The way Ayers Rock changes colour throughout the day and finally glows red at sunset is an amazing experience :)

  • http://www.digital-noises.com Florian Schommertz

    I wouldn’t.

    I remember the sign “please do not consume any food behind this point, it’s considered holy by the Maori people” (or similiar) – on the New Zealand North Island.

    That’s right at the light house at Cape Reinga. And 90% of tourists had their lunch there, many right behind the sign. I was ashamed.

  • Webar

    When I visited in 2002, I talked to an Aboriginal Australian about climbing beforehand. He said that it was dangerous, but that if I wanted to, I should. He also told me that the biggest concern for the Aborigines was not the holiness of the site, but that it made them sad when white people fell off the rock and hurt themselves.

    Whites were the only ones telling me that Uluru was a sacred aboriginal site. Incidentally, these were the same people selling genuine Uluru sacred souvenirs.

    As far as Eva’s St Peter’s analogy goes, the Catholic Church sells tickets to the Vatican and other religious sites. You can climb up into the towers at Notre Dame and wander around on the roof. Nobody is standing outside telling you that its disrespectful to sit in the pews, walk on the carpeting, or admire the architecture. And most people have the good sense not to urinate on the floor, finger the tapestry or steal the candles without being told.

    If people have bad manners or act dangerously in public spaces, well, that’s another issue.

  • Apolloin

    Climbing mountains because they’re there is the essence of why humans have always climbed mountains. Got to get to the top, got to see what’s on the other side. If our ancestors hadn’t climbed the Alps and had tried walking around them, we’d still be wearing goat skins and living in crude tents. As far as open minded and accepting the cultures of others goes, why should that not apply equally to Aboriginal and Australian culture?Everest is sacred to the Nepalese, but you don’t see them trying to arrange a ban on climbing – they simply demand that climbers respect the mountain.

    Why is Ayers Rock any different?

  • bluenosegirl

    Xmas eve I watched the sunset on Uluru, then I climbed it, at dawn on xmas morning. It is one of the most unforgettable xmases of my life, and one of the most unforgettable travel moments.  The base walk was also moving, but the climb will be one of the highlights of my travels forever.

    I understand there are cultural issues surrounding the area, and if I was going to stomp around the area I didn’t see it as much worse actually climbing the rock.  I am sensitive to other cultures but did not feel that it would be something that would be on my conscience if I climbed Uluru.  I agree with Pleski on this one.

    Those that stomped around the base but didn’t climb Uluru/Ayres Rock can sit on their high horse on a technicality, but I will never forget that climb, the feeling of getting to the top, or the view from the top for miles across the outback as far as the eye could see.

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