Tourists will be banned from climbing Uluru in Central Australia later this year.
Tourists have been making the arduous 346 metre climb up Uluru, Australia’s most recognisable landmark, since the 1930s: and at least 37 have died trying to do so.
But from October this year, the sandstone monolith that attracts more than 250,000 people each year, will be off limits to climbers for good.
Climbing will cease on October 26, exactly 34 years after Bob Hawke‘s Labor Government officially returned the site to its traditional owners.
For many years, Australia’s Indigenous population in the Northern Territory has asked that locals and visitors respect their culture by not climbing the Unesco World Heritage site, formerly known as Ayers Rock.
There have been complaints of people urinating at the top, leaving rubbish on and around ‘the Rock’ as well as trampling and eroding the unique red sandstone.
The procession of thousands of people on Uluru after almost 90 years has now left a visible scar on the rock.
It’s not a playground or theme park like Disneyland
The traditional owners of the land, the Anangu people, have always wanted the climb to be closed, and now the board of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has finally agreed.
Although some, like former government minister Cory Bernardi, have started an online petition to try to overturn the ban.
Sammy Wilson, chairman of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board, said: “It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland.
“If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don’t enter or climb it, I respect it. It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.”
Climbing Uluru has long been considered a rite of passage for visitors to Central Australia, starting way back in the 1930s. A chain link fence was installed in 1966 after two people died climbing the giant rock.
In the 1990s, nearly 75 per cent of all visitors scaled Uluru, but that has fallen sharply in the decades since as the anti-climb message started to sink in.
By 2010, just 38 per cent of visitors were climbing, but that had dropped to around 16.5 per cent by 2015.
A survey a year later found 72 per cent of visitors understood the “please don’t climb” message on arrival, and 91 per cent said they wouldn’t climb.
Climbing the Rock is considered disrespectful by the traditional owners, who consider Uluru to be a sacred site. It is believed to have formed during the Dreamtime, an ancient period when all living things were created and whose spirits continue into the present.
Visitor numbers to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have been steadily increasing for the past six years, with a 22 per cent increase in 2018.
That’s been fuelled by a rush of tourists wanting to visited rock before the ban comes into force, combined with a weaker Australian dollar which has prompted more Australians to explore their own country rather than travel abroad.
The climbing ban is long overdue, but it shouldn’t deter would-be visitors. Uluru is actually best viewed from a distance, particularly at sunrise and sunset when the rock changes colour.
And with a base circumference of 9.4 kilometres (5.8 miles), there’s more than enough to explore at ground level.
If you’re making the pilgrimage to Australia’s red centre, be sure to check out some of the other big rocks and natural attractions, including the 36 red domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas); Walpa Gorge; the Valley of the Winds walk; and Uluru’s forgotten rock, Atila (Mount Conner).
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