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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Kata Tjuta; mighty rocks close to Australia's heart

Last year I posted on one of the truly special parts of this land, to me and to many others - great Uluru. You might like to visit that post again, to put this one into some context; I'll not repeat here the history and traditional aspects that are common to both. If you're not yet familiar with the area, they are part of the same national park, and clearly visible from one another across the plains, though 25km apart. Though, understandably, great Uluru usually gets star billing, many of the early European visitors - and indeed many later ones that I know of - regard Kata Tjuta with even more awe. I don't see a need to cast a vote; each is unique and truly wonderful (even awesome, a devalued word I make a point of very rarely using!).
The domes of Kata Tjuta from the south.
The name can be translated from Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara as 'many heads'.
Ernest Giles, perhaps the toughest of all the European desert explorers (though one could equally say the same of John McDouall Stuart or Edward John Eyre) saw the domes from a distance in October 1872, but the normally dry Lake Amadeus was boggy and kept him away. He, unfortunately, named them Mount Olga for the Spanish queen! (She, and her husband Amadeus, or Amadeo, were regarded by him as 'enlightened patrons of science'.) The name stuck until recent times, when the original name was reinstated. Shortly afterwards William Gosse 'discovered' and renamed Uluru as Ayers Rock, and visited Kata Tjuta searching for water. 
Some of the domes from closer up. It is hard to appreciate the scale of them unless you are among them.
Arthur Groom was a Queensland-based pioneer conservationist and author who in 1950 published
I Saw a Strange Land, an account of wanderings with camels in central Australia (he was a prodigious walker).
In it he wrote "The smallest dome could have crowned the world's greatest cathedral and the greatest
was a red immensity of rock that would have completely dwarfed the same edifice".
In less lyrical figures, the highest dome towers nearly 200 metres above Uluru, at 550 metres above the plain. There are 36 domes and the whole complex covers some 35 square kilometres with a 24km circumference. 

I realise that in the Uluru posting I omitted to include a map, perhaps making too many assumptions, so I'll rectify that now.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, deep in the central deserts (360km south-west of Alice Springs)
at the end of the red arrow.
On a later visit, Giles described the domes as being 'composed of untold masses of rounded stones of all kinds and sizes, mixed like plums in a pudding'. The materials which have since eroded away to form the exposed vast masses of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta were laid down at roughly the same time (give or take a few million years) but in different events, from the erosion of great mountain ranges to the south and west. These alluvial fans spread across the plain, becoming buried and compressed into hard stone, which eventually became partly exposed again. Uluru comprises relatively fine sandstone but, as Giles observed, Kata Tjuta is formed of conglomerates of granite and basalt rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders, glued together with sandstone. 
Conglomerates, above and below, Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata Tjuta.

Caves, eroded by wind and water out of the conglomerate.
The first view of Kata Tjuta for many people is from the sunrise viewing area at Uluru; the following were taken from there and a nearby dune.
This photo and the one below were taken from a dune near Uluru on the same morning.
(Part of a much longer series, which I'm sparing you!)

This was taken on a different occasion, from the Uluru viewing point.
There are two separate sites that most visitors explore. The first is the Valley of the Winds Walk, a superb six kilometre circuit among the domes and across the adjacent plains. It is one of our favourite walks in all Australia.
Start of the walk.
Pool among the domes.

It is only here among the domes that their immensity becomes overwhelmingly obvious.

Fluted dome.
The highest point of the walk is at Karingara Lookout, from where we can look out over the plains and back into the domes.
Looking out to the plains between outcrops from Karingana Lookout.
This is a lovely spot for a rest and a snack. It's also where many of the backpacker tour groups come
to shout for echoes, not always seeking peace and solitude. On the other hand they're generally on
a tight schedule so usually turn back from here, leaving the rest of us continue in tranquility.
The other popular site is Walpa Gorge, involving an in and out 2.5km return walk across a rock sheet and into a lovely deep shady gorge.
Part of the mighty Walpa Gorge wall.
Walpa is a perfect place for both reflection and reflections.
Head of the gorge; this was on a different visit, in a drier year, from the previous photos.
In a forthcoming post (by the end of September, promise!) I'll return to Kata Tjuta to talk about some animals and, more especially, plants of the domes, but that's too big a task for today.

To balance the earlier sunrises, let's end with a couple of Kata Tjuta sunsets, which can be equally breathtaking.
Kata Tjuta at sunset through the flowering spinifex, above and below

It probably wasn't news to you but, just in case, this place is very very special indeed. You need to experience it, either for the first time or again - it's different every time.

BACK ON FRIDAY; there's a good reason for making it 1 September!
(And remember that you can get a reminder when the next post appears by putting your email address in the Follow by Email box in the top right of this screen.)


Flabmeister said...

I am flabbergasted at the height of the domes. I had always thought of them as quite small - especially in comparison to Uluru.


Ian Fraser said...

I suspect that would be most people's assumption too.