The Anangu traditional owners of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) in Australia’s magnificent Red Centre hold this unique rock formation sacred and prefer that people don’t climb it. Along with the obvious environmental damage that comes from climbing Uluru, this is an obvious reason to walk around Uluru rather than walk to the summit.
Visiting the beautiful Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park is a wonderful experience and climbing ‘the Rock’ should not be part of that. I felt my experience in Australia was in no way compromised by doing the base walk and here’s why. Uluru is surrounded not by a barren desert but by a lushly-green, fecund variety of trees, plants and wildflowers of Australia.
I visited Uluru in late July, at the end of the coolest time of the year (still hot enough during the day) and the beginning of the season of growth. This is called piriya by the local aboriginal people, when animals breed and plants flower. The usually bone dry ‘Red Centre’ of Australia’s Northern Territory blossoms.
When I did the hike around the base of Uluru I could not resist taking many photos of wildflowers. The red monolith is surrounded by a garden that offers a huge variety of exquisite flora.
There are so many flowers, including the carpets of Billy Buttons (Yunpayi-Yunpayi in the Warlpiri language – Calocephalus platycephalus if you’re botanically minded) around the rock pictured here:
In the morning the air smells sweet as honey and that’s thanks to the Honey Grevillia (Kaliny-kalinypa is the common name – Grevillea eriostachya), which casts its golden candles on long arms above the bleached white Soft Spinifex or Tjanpi (Triodia pungens). In fact the flowers of the Grevillea plants contain honey – you can just suck it out. Local Australian Aboriginal people use it to sweeten water.
The Waputi or Desert Thryptomene (Aluta maisonneuvei) is another source of honey sweetness in central Australia.
The unusual and appropriately named Upside Down Plant or Ikulyukulyu (Leptosema chambersii) shows its red flowers crouching against the red soil, protected by the cushiony green plant above. It’s pretty dramatic against the red earth.
The pom-poms and fruit of what is probably a broad leafed Mulga Wanari (mulga – Acacia aneura). I found this specimen not far from where the Sounds of Silence Dinner is held each night at Uluru.
This little pink number was decorating a path near the Kings Canyon Resort. It’s a Turkey Bush (Calytrix exstipulata.)
Next is a Mulla Mulla or pussytail (Ptilotis sp. or possibly P. obovatus).
These gorgeous flowers which look distinctly un-desertlike were growing in great banks both at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It is a Rosy Dock or Bladder Dock, also known as Wild Hops (Rumex vesicarius).
It’s a plant that is native to the deserts of north Africa and central Asia. It was brought in as saddle padding and feed for camels and now generally has the same distribution as camels in Australia.
This is one of the varieties of Solanum or Bush Tomato. It’s a type of nightshade, the fruit of which is an important traditional plant food source in central Australia.
And finally an everlasting daisy at the foot of Uluru. I hope you can see what a wonderful experience you can have at Uluru without climbing the Rock!
Many thanks to @OwentheWorld for assistance on plant identification in this post about the wildflowers of Australia and general fantastic knowledge of Australia’s natural environment.
Reference acknowledgement also to Peter Latz’s Bushfires & Bushtucker: Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia and Arid Shrubland Plants of Western Australia by AA Mitchell and DG Wilcox.
By Natasha von Geldern
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