Sandwiched between Western Australia and Queensland, Australia‘s Northern Territory is the third-largest Australian federal division and yet the least populated, with the country’s highest proportion of Aboriginal people. Its remoteness and vastness is mysterious and magical, and completely embodied in Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. A deep desire to see this sacred sandstone monolith was what motivated our trip to the Northern Territory.
Road trip it
Driving 200km from Darwin on a 4WD takes us onto the red-dirt tracks of Kakadu National Park’s wild outback, and along the way, we camp on the top of the car.
Journeying here is about cruising the outback’s savannah, wetlands, and escarpments filled with abundant wildlife. We drive through the Old Jim Jim Road and hike up to Gunlom Falls (pro-tip: bring goggles or a mask and snorkel to look for rainbow fish in the plunge pools) before continuing towards the Twin Falls – an extraordinary gorge on the South Alligator River.
There is a shift in the scenery as we head further east on the Arnhem Highway. The wetlands, floodplains and savannah woodland hand over the baton to the “stone country”.
Among these dramatic views is also one of the world’s longest surviving cultural landscapes that date back over 60,000 years. Some of Australia’s most important indigenous artwork on rocks and caves – 25,000 years old – have been found and preserved within this part of Kakadu National Park. This is precisely why Kakadu has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1981. It is also Australia’s largest national park, roughly the size of Slovenia)
Take it all in by air
Another way to see the Northern Territory is by air (sunset flight, anyone?), since much of the area is inaccessible by road or rail. We fly on a Cessna while beneath us, crocodiles scuttle into the East Alligator River with nothing on the horizon. From the sky, I observe the vastness of Kakadu’s wilderness and I am once again fascinated by Australia’s magnitude.
We continue flying to the heart of the Territory to see a giant rock rising improbably from the desert of Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Surrounded by the world’s biggest collection of nothing, Uluru is 270 miles southwest of Alice Springs, the only town of note in the interior, and over a thousand miles off the usual coastal tourist route. It’s a long way to go for one rock.
Stay at Longitude 131°
I also watch Uluru from the room where I am staying. Postcard-perfect views from the bed without lifting my head from the pillow are perhaps the most obvious appeal of Longitude 131°. With their own private view of Uluru, the 15 luxury tents sit atop red-soil dunes and the flowing fabric ceilings creates the illusion of camping – but with all the modern comfort one may ask for. Local 10km from the sacred Aboriginal site, Longitude 131° was only approved after extensive consultations with the Central Land Council and Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
“Uluru is a collection of different sites related to the journeys of the ancestors,” explains our guide from the luxury lodge, tipping to its profound significance to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. Our guide also highlights that the trek up to Uluru will soon be closed. The ban will officially be in place on October 26, 2019, in recognition of the holiness of the place to the Anangu people, who have long worried that frequent climbing will damage the rock.
As I watch another epic sunset near Kata Tjuta, I observe the light hitting the rocks, and glowing in different hues, from deep ochre to bright orange. Then, I think to myself, this is a site like nowhere else on earth. In Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, and other sites of the Northern Territory I’ve visited, it’s hard to escape the feeling that here lies eternity. And there is nothing more visceral than this mysterious, mythic call of the outback.
All images, except Longitude 131°, are courtesy of the author.