Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is located in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is 440 kilometres (270 mls) south-west of Alice Springs. The park covers 1,326 square kilometres (512 sq mls) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes Uluru, formerly Ayers Rock, and Kata Tjuta, formerly The Olgas, and is regarded as the spiritual heart of Australia’s Red Centre. First declared a national park in 1977 the Australian Government handed over the deeds to the land to its Anangu traditional owners in 1985, who leased it back to the government. It is now jointly managed by Parks Australia and the Anangu people.
Uluru is Australia’s most recognizable natural icon. The vast sandstone monolith stands 348 metres (1,141 ft) above the surrounding area with most of its bulk estimated to be up to six kilometres (3.7 mls) below the ground. It is sacred to the local aboriginal people who believe it is the home of ancestral beings who created their culture at the beginning of time. It is central to their Dreamtime stories. Many examples of rock art illustrating these stories can be found in the caves around the base of Uluru.
Kata Tjuta is a group of 36 large domed rock formations located about 25 kilometres (16 mls) west of Uluru. The highest point is Mount Olga which is 198 metres (650 ft) higher than Uluru. It is made up of conglomerate rock which includes boulders of granite and basalt cemented together by a matrix of sandstone.
The formation of both these sites started well over 500 million years ago when the area was covered by an inland sea. Over many centuries sand and mud and bits of rock were washed into the sea and fell to the bottom where compression from the weight of upper layers welded them into stone. About 400 million years ago, during a period of intense tectonic activity, the sea disappeared and the rocks folded and tilted. Since then the softer, surrounding rock has been eroding away leaving the hard rock exposed to rain and wind which have sculpted it into the rounded shapes we see today.
This part of Australia is very dry, receiving on average 307.7 mm (12 ins) per year, and temperatures can vary between 45°C (113°) in summer and -5°C (23°F) in winter, yet it supports a complex ecosystem full of unusual flora and fauna. The park is ranked as one of the most significant arid land ecosystems in the world. Many of the plants have been a source of bush tucker, medicine and tools for the local aboriginal people over thousands of years. Plants are an important part of the Anungu Dreamtime and many are associated with ancestral beings.
Apart from red kangaroos, emus and goannas there are several less common animal species in the area such as marsupial moles, woma pythons and the great desert skink. Listed as vulnerable is the mulgara which is related to the Tasmanian Devil and the quolls. It has evolved to withstand the harsh conditions of its environment having kidneys that excrete extremely concentrated urine to preserve fluid, as these animals never drink. Their diet is mainly one of insects, but they also eat lizards and newborn snakes.