Hiking The Valley Of The Winds: Kata Tjuta, Australia
Ask anyone about where they would like to visit in Australia and most people would name the sparkling cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It’s true that these destinations are very exciting and certainly project one side of life Down Under. However, it’s not until you find yourself out in the red earth of the outback that you truly begin to experience the heart of Australia.
Uluru – formerly known as Ayers Rock – is synonymous with the red centre of Australia and in my mind is the cultural centrepiece of this entire nation. What you might not realise is that when you visit Uluru you are in fact in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Lesser known than Uluru but similarly impressive is Kata Tjuta – also known as The Olgas.
Discovering Kata Tjuta – The Olgas
Kata Tjuta is estimated to be over 500 million years old. They are a series of 36 domes – known as bornhardts – that rise out of the ground to a height of 546m above ground level; taller than Uluru. The formation is believed to have originated as one monolith, like Uluru, but has been weathered down over many thousands of years to form the fascinating undulating peaks.
For more awe-inspiring Australian geology, take a peek at:
- The incredible ‘bee-hives’ of The Bungle Bungle range in Purnululu National Park
- The beautiful rim walk at Kings Canyon
- Hiking and swimming in the ancient gorges at Karijini National Park
The Olgas were given their alternative name by Ernest Giles, an Australian explorer, in 1872 at the behest of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. The tallest peak in Kata Tjuta was named as Mount Olga in honour of the Queen Olga of Wűrttemberg, a member of the Russian Imperial family.
In 1993 a dual naming policy was adopted to restore the original name of Kata Tjuta out of respect to the Aboriginal landowners.
In the local Pitjantjatjara language, Kata Tjuta translates to “many heads.”
Kata Tjuta is located 30 kilometres away from Uluru. No visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) would be complete without exploring this beautiful area and it’s recommended to head over there in the early morning to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its outstanding natural and cultural values. Alongside the geological features of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), the area represents one of the oldest civilisations on the planet.
The area is Anangu land, traditionally owned by the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people who have lived here for 30,000 years. The park is now jointly managed by the local Aboriginal tribe and Parks Australia.
The Valley Of The Winds Walk
Kata Tjuta remains an incredibly sacred place to the local landowners. There may be several tracks crisscrossing the area, but only two are accessible for visitors to explore. It’s not even tourists who this applies to; Aboriginal people who are not from the Anangu tribes are also not allowed to wander freely in this area due to the cultural importance of the land. Today, the Anangu people hold most of their significant ceremonies in Kata Tjuta since tourism has all but taken over at Uluru.
The two tracks are:
- Walpa Gorge – 2.6km / 1.6 miles – a short, easy route
- Valley of the Winds – 7.4km / 4.6 miles – a circuit route with two steep inclines and magnificent views.
I set out just after dawn and followed the route in amongst the trees towards the base of a nearby dome. The track began to elevate over a smooth, almost tessellated pavement of rock until you reach a viewpoint. Here you turn right and head downwards to begin the first curve of the circular track. You cross a bridge and arrive at a grove area with a bench for resting. Here you can choose to walk towards the left (clockwise) or the right (anti-clockwise) to begin the circular loop of the track. Although there is a small incline on the left hand side at this stage, I would recommend choosing the left path as the right path has more of a longer, gradual incline that will wear you out.
You walk through a wide open plain for a while where you can marvel the skyline of these huge structures on your left hand side. This area had a meadow-like quality; wildflowers were blooming and tiny finches chattered and darted between the bushes all around you.
Gradually, the track turns to the right and leads you towards the most challenging section of the walk. Here you enter a ravine between two of the monoliths and begin to ascend. The path is not really wide enough here to zig-zag, so it is a reasonably vertical scramble. Take time to rest at the top and reward yourself with the stunning views down into the valley you’ve just walked.
What goes up must come down and you’ll be relieved to hear that there are no more climbs. However, the descent is also quite steep so take your time. The path then meanders gradually downwards back to the bridge where you began your circular route.
How difficult is the Valley Of The Winds Walk?
There seems to be some concern about the difficulty of the the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta. It is a beautiful walk for those who don’t mind a steep ascent in hot weather. The walk takes approximately three hours and you have to be reasonably fit to complete it due to a steep climb coupled with high temperatures.
Don’t let this put you off, however. Start early enough in the day to avoid high temperatures, carry plenty of water, wear sturdy footwear and take your time. The steepest sections were definitely not as lung-busting as the beginning of the walk I took around Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory, where you had to climb up to the rim of the gorge at the beginning of the walk.
Visiting Uluru / Ayers Rock
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is 450 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs by road. It is situated in the spiritual heart of the Red Centre in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Driving to Uluru from Alice Springs
You can choose to fly to Alice Springs, hire a car and drive to Uluru, but be mindful that this drive will take approximately four and a half hours. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, as a road trip in Australia is always fun if you ask me. If you stick to the sealed (tarmac) Stuart and Lassiter Highways then you don’t even need a 4wd vehicle to get there. If you’re planning on driving yourself from Alice Springs, here’s a really helpful article on Travel Outback Australia’s website on the different routes you can take.
Flying into Yulara / Ayers Rock Airport
The township of Yulara is situated within the Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park. It has a small airport, which may be the perfect choice for how to get to Uluru and The Olgas. The airport is called Connellan after Edward Connellan who started the outback airport to deliver the mail and to enable the Royal Flying Doctor Service to access this remote area.
Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas fly to Connellan airport. Check out Skyscanner for prices and availability.
Flying to Alice Springs Airport To Visit Uluru
Alice Springs airport may be the cheaper option to fly into. It is also serviced with a wider and more regular choice of flights and airlines. However, bear in mind that Alice Springs is roughly a five hour drive from Uluru, so you’ll need to arrange transport to get to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
How To Visit The Olgas By Tour
Although you don’t need a guide to direct you around the Valley of the Wind walk, you may benefit from someone with local knowledge to explain the geology and cultural history. For me, having a guide was a vital element to my enjoyment of the walk. Through my guide’s knowledge I learned about the Aboriginal people’s governing law that influences their every action and how Kata Tjuta is used for ceremonial purposes
There are many tour companies that offer guided tours of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Book before you arrive with a company such as Mulgas Adventures, which offer a 3 day outback experience that includes a base walk around Uluru, a guided walk of the Valley of The Winds, Kata Tjuta and also a rim walk at the incredible Katherine Gorge.
Check out more information on the Rock to Rock tour with Mulgas Adventures, including prices and departure dates.
There is the option to travel independently to the national park and organise an activity through the Park Visitor Centre. You can take part in a cultural workshop and try Aboriginal dot painting for yourself, or hire bicycles and explore Uluru on two wheels. The Parks Australia website will give you inspiration and a little more information about what you can do at Kata Tjuta.
Where To Stay At Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park
If you’re visiting The Olgas as part of a tour then your accommodation will be pre-organised. On my tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs, I slept in swags (Australian outback sleeping bags) outside under the stars. At Uluru, I stayed at the Ayers Rock Campground, which has large pitches and washing block facilities. It’s perfect for those people who are perhaps road tripping in their vehicles and camping / sleeping in their vans.
If you prefer to stay in hotel accommodation then there are several options in the small town of Yulara in the National Park. You can check out your options, prices and availability on Booking.com, which is my favourite website for organising places to stay in Australia.
Hints And Tips For Visiting Kata Tjuta – The Valley Of The Winds
- If the temperature reaches over 36 degrees Celsius, the National Park staff close the start of the walk off to visitors by 11am for their safety. Because of this, I strongly advise that you start the walk as early as possible. If you are watching the sunrise at Uluru, it is the perfect time to head over to Kata Tjuta and begin your walk. I was walking The Valley Of The Winds by 6am and the temperatures were pleasant.
- Wear sturdy walking boots as the ground is rocky. Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty – at least two litres per person – of water.
- There is a toilet in the car park at the start of the walk, but other than that there are no facilities. Bring some snacks with you for the walk or to eat afterwards although please remember to take all of your rubbish with you.
- There are no costs directly associated with doing The Valley of The Winds walk, however, you will need to pay a National Park entrance fee to visit Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park. This can be purchased online before you go or by heading to the Park office when you arrive. The cost is approximately $25AU and goes towards maintaining the land, the infrastructure and towards the Anangu people as the traditional landowners.
- Best season to visit Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is the Australian winter time, which runs from roughly April to October. This is when daytime temperatures will be a little lower. In summer, roughly October to April, temperatures can soar to above 40 degrees Celsius, which can make for very uncomfortable walking conditions.
Over to you! Have you experienced the beautiful geology of Kata Tjuta? Would you like to visit the red centre of the Northern Territory and see Kata Tjuta and Uluru for yourself? Let me know if you have any questions – or share your experience of your visit in the comments.
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