Did you know that the Earth has a kind of “navel”? It is located in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea, in the South Atlantic Ocean.
However, Australia also has its own navel, Uluru, located in the middle of an endless expanse of arid desert in the Northern Territory. As I have long heard of this massive monolith and have always been curious about it, I decided to take our first travel group from Malaysia to venture overseas after two years to learn more about this natural wonder. According to the local Anangu Aborigines, Uluru is known to the community as the ‘navel of the world’. It is considered a sacred place in Aboriginal folklore and culture, “the guardian of our safety and growth over generations”, said an Anangu man we met.
In 1983, Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Princess Diana, traveled the world setting foot on this vast desert plain. They climbed the 384m high Uluru, enjoying breathtaking views out of this world. However, the Anangu people were not too happy about this.
As Uluru is a sacred place where only traditional ceremonies and rituals are supposed to take place, no one is supposed to climb it – let alone a stranger!
So when tourists, local and foreign, started to climb Uluru, many locals were unhappy. For many years the Anangu fought for the right to make Uluru a safe place for Aborigines and to prevent people from climbing the rock.
Finally, on October 26, 2019, the Australian government banned the ascent of Uluru.
We traveled 1,900km from Melbourne to Uluru in the Northern Territory. It was autumn in Melbourne so the weather was quite cool but in the desert it was quite hot and dry. Flying over the area, we got an aerial glimpse of this world famous navel, towering majestically out of the desert.
My dear Uluru, nice to finally meet you!
There are many legends and myths surrounding Uluru, one being that it is actually the remains of a large meteorite that fell to Earth millions of years ago.
A more absurd story is that it was actually a UFO that washed up here…
Some also say that around 70% of Uluru is buried under sand and what we see on the surface is just the tip of the monolith. I believe this rock was born after millions of years of earth movements and other environmental changes and incidents like erosion.
Some of the rock surface is shiny, while it also has uneven steep edges, hollows and shallow trenches. The oxidized iron and other mineral ores present here are what give the rock its beautiful red hue.
Located 867 m above sea level, Uluru was first discovered by a South Australian surveyor in 1873. It has a circumference of 9 km, a height of 348 m and a length of 3 km, and is the largest monolith in the whole world!
Uluru, along with the neighboring Kata Tjuta National Park, was declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1987.
I stood on a platform on the west side of the rock, with the large orange sun behind me. Its beams were like a massive projector that projected Uluru onto a super wide “screen”. As the sun slowly receded, the color of the rock changed into a dazzling mix of hues.
And in the darkness we could still faintly see the shape of Uluru, thanks to the moon.
The endless stretch of desert around Uluru, however, was shrouded in pitch darkness at night, making it the perfect place to marvel at the celestial splendours of stars and galaxies. The darker the night sky, the brighter the starlight, they said. Every once in a while we saw a shooting star or two.
We also experienced a romantic candlelight dinner under that starry sky. It made the trip even more special and memorable.
Early in the morning, just before the sun rose above the horizon, the sky above was already painted with a splash of color. As the sun slowly rose over the east side of Uluru, the uneven surface of the rock created a mesmerizing web of light that alternated with dark patches, creating somewhat of a mesmerizing work of art.
About 40 km from Uluru is the rock formation of Kata Tjuta, or Olgas. Covering a larger area, it includes 36 red-colored sedimentary rock domes, each with its unique shapes and varying sizes.
Our eco-guide Britt had organized a spectacular day for us: at 3 p.m. we walked about 700 m along the rocky path to Walpa Gorge. In the afternoon sun, the two massive boulders seemed miraculously split in two to form a narrow cleft overgrown with lush vegetation.
Currently, the only accommodation option around ancient Uluru is a 16-tent luxury resort camp. Unpretentious but full of character, Longitude 131° is an exquisite glamping resort. When you look out of your tent, you can see Uluru standing right in front of you.
We dined at Table 131° which is the restaurant of the resort. When you dine here, you are completely surrounded by nature, with shooting stars just above you. If you ever experience this, try not to spoil such a wonderful time looking at your devices and instead focus all your attention on your surroundings and the people you are with.
In Uluru, I felt like I could touch the sky and sleep soundly in the center of the Earth. This is the first time I’ve “encountered” Uluru, even after decades of travel, and I can’t help but think how lucky we are to have such a unique geological phenomenon on our planet.
I love seeing untouched natural wonders like this and being under beautiful, colorful skies. What more could you ask for in life?
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has traveled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He is also the author of five books.