A long way from the sea on a vast spinifex plain, lies a group of old rocks (roughly 600 million years old) that harbour scorched valleys, wind tunnels, long shadows and hills which could be home for cow-sized ants. These rocks, called Kata Tjuta and also known as The Olgas, light up with a scarlet glow during sunset. It’s a striking place and there’s something very special about it.
Located roughly 50 kilometres west of Uluru, Kata Tjuta is much quieter than its more illustrious neighbour, although just as intriguing. Comprising 36 conglomerate rocks spread out over 20 kilometers, Kata Tjuta means ‘many headed mountain’ in the Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara language. It’s a very sacred place to the local Anangu people – particularly the men – and many of the legends surrounding it are kept secret.
One Pitjantjatjara legend, however, tells the story of a great snake king named Wanambi, who lives on the summit of Kata Tjuta and only comes down during the dry season. This summit, which is also known as Mount Olga, is roughly 200 meters higher than the summit of Uluru. Explorer Ernest Giles named it Mount Olga in 1872 in honour of Queen Olga, a German Queen, which is why Kata Tjuta is colloquially known as ‘The Olgas’.
Exploring Kata Tjuta
You can drive to Kata Tjuta (about an hour from Uluru), or choose from a number of tour options (see below). There’s a $25 per-person entry fee into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and once at the site, there’s two walks that will give you a better look: The Walpa Gorge walk (2.6 kilometres) and the Valley of the Winds walk (7 kilometres) – which I took. If you’re fairly incapacitated, there’s also sunset viewing areas which provide spectacular panoramas of this haunting landscape.
The Valley of the Winds walk passes through diverse terrain and has short, steep sections, although it shouldn’t pose a problem if you’re reasonably fit. The walk is a loop track that takes around two to three hours to complete and weaves between these hefty, rust-coloured monoliths, some of which are 500 metres high. The land is parched, very old looking – the sort of place where the sudden intrusion of a dinosaur could look quite fitting.
Being a brilliant, clear day on my journey, the vivid colours were a marvel to take in. Sallow tufts of sun-scorched grass rolled into olive scrubland, which rose into red, Mars-like domes beneath an indigo sky. Then there was the odd bare tree that stood against the lunar-esque landscape – which looked surreal – and for a moment I almost expected to see clocks melting across the trees.
Along the way there are a number of spectacular lookout points, which are best taken in early before things get too hot. Saying that, you should also return at sunset (sunrise is apparently good too), when the sun appears to burn Kata Tjuta like a hot coal against the fading hues on the horizon. It’s quite a sight.
If the urge takes you, you could see Kata Tjuta from a camel, as there are camel operators that do sunset and sunrise tours in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Or, you could see both Kata Tjuta and Uluru from the back of a Harley (tours run from Uluru). For more conventional transport, AAT Kings will drive you to Kata Tjuta, where you can walk the Walpa Gorge in the morning, then take in Uluru at sunset before feasting on a BBQ dinner.
Even though I preferred my experience at Uluru (which blew my mind – you can read about that here), I still found Kata Tjuta to be an incredible place which you really shouldn’t miss if you’re in Australia. Although many say just the opposite, and since the two are neighbours, you can quite easily see both.
Have you been to Kata Tjuta? What was your experience like?