Our last day at Uluru-Kata Tjuta was to be spent at the equally mystical formation of "many heads" or Kata Tjuta, to the west of the big red rock which had been our focal point for the first two thirds of our time here.
With a reasonable start, we were at the starting point for our walk by 8:45 anv the drive to the car park which marks the start of the "Valley of the Winds Walk" being 43 kms from our accommodation atYulara.
The walk commences with the usual necessary warnings about weather conditions, the need to carry water and a rating of the track. To date, no tracks we had walked in nine weeks on tour had been the equal in severity as those at our home base of the Warrumbungles. The possible exception may have been Boolimba Bluff at Carnarvon Gorge. However, we were aware the previous day a woman had broken her ankle during this walk, when she lost her footing andfell. Our sources had been the Rangers on our afternoon walk at Mutitjulu Waterhole. Their testimony was confirmed by the woman's husband, as the couple happened to be in the neighbouring campsite and we noticed her struggling in and out of their small dome tent with cast and crutches.
The first part of the walk ascended across the elevated scree slope of one of the inselbergs which make up Kata Tjuta. The white fellas name of The Olgas, had derived from the naming of Mt Olga, the highest peak among the large domes. This was given to it by Ernest Giles, in 1872, when he saw it from the northern side of Lake Armadeus. The Olgas differ from Ayres Rock in more than their appearance, as they are composed of conglomerate rock. Although both are sedimentary rocks, Ayres Rock is composed of a fine grained sandstone called arkose, whilst The Olgas are the classic conglomerate. Large rocks the size of over inflated footballs - and some larger - are embedded in fine mudstone and siltstone material which acted like a cementing mixture when they were laid down.
As a result, the rubble slopes about The Olgas are steep slopes of different sized, rounded rocks. Basalt and granite are the common rocks contained in the parent material. The creeks which flow after rain, show the continuation of this rock building process, with the beds strewn with different sized round rocks, waiting to be cemented into layers of sediment by the finer material.
Another major difference is the tilt angle of the beds. Whilst Uluru is almost 90 degrees from the horizontal, at Kata Tjuta the beds are little more than 15 degrees.
The first scree slope climbed, we descended on the other side as we passed between two of the domes - one steep sided and the other showing us a more gentle incline to its summit. At the base of the scree slope, we found a wet weather creek and our first canyon setting. Towering on three sides were domes of varying heights, imposing their importance on us from above.
The track reaches a junction, creating a circuit that can be walked from either direction. We chose to head south and in doing so, chose the easier direction of the two.
The southern leading track soon swings back east as it follows the contour of the huge inselberg above it and we were led into an increasingly narrow passage, through which the rainfed creek would roar in more precipitative times. Down low, the River Red Gums had etched a living: their roots buried deep in the sandy, hard soil. Spear Trees grew in impassable thickets and many wild flowers were giving us an early spring showing. Above us, the huge domes of Kata Tjuta stood silent, their orange glow pervading all and we were made to feel insignificant in comparison.
With the exception of a few cheap jokes at the expense of the now customary Frenchmen who always
appeared when we wanted to sit and contemplate, we completed our business here in a most satisfactory manner and walked on.
The path tookus down onto the open area between the more distantly spread domes. In this place, Gidgie Trees grew strongly into those twisted and gnarled shapes which turn from benign to evil in the hour of light transition at day's end. Sunscreen provided us with our only protectionfrom the sun as we carefully picked our footing over the sometimes rough track.
As we headed north and then north west over this enclosed and rough plain, we again began to climb and were able to obtain views beyond the Olgas for the first time since starting the walk. The endless sandy plains to the north east were revealed in part, with their ample supply of desert oak covering an otherwise featureless plain.
The cause of our ascent was another scree slope, but it soon gave way to another descent. At the bottom of this slope, we had come almost full circle to the creek where the track had branched after 1.5 kms. At this northern end, an emergency drink station had been established. A small shade structure with a rain water fed tank located at its centre - therefore reducing evaporation by keeping the tank under the shade - had been set up to aid sufferers from heat stroke and other afflicted walkers.
It was apparent there were fools other than "mad dogs and Englishmen" who went out in the noonday sun and in summer too and hence this structure was vitalfor their safety. Even in the course of this walk - which was now at the 5 km mark - we had seen enough people who were ill prepared for the walk. No hats; little or no water; no idea of the track; no map; inappropriate clothing or footwear.
These were just some of the things the children observed!
One such chap we observed as we ate our lunch in this shady refuge. We saw him RUNNING down the rocky slope which led to the station, with a child of eight or so on his shoulders. No hat and only an empty 1 litre water bottle. He stopped, read the sign informing walkers the water was for emergencies only and then proceeded to refill his water bottle and drink ! The rest of his family came at fast walking pace down the hill. They drank deeply from his 1 litre bottle which he had again refilled following their gorging.
Lunch finished and visitors commented upon, we swung our packs back into position and completed this pleasant, but slightly testing walk by rejoining the track over the original scree slope. Exiting, we were afforded views of the Mann Ranges to the south.
Our return to the car was greeted, as always, with sighs of relief as the air conditioner started to take affect on the hot walkers. We drove back toward Uluru and stopped at the observation deck which had been set up on a permanent sand dune between Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Grating has been set in place for the walk up to the obsewation deck, where wooden seats and shade were available to sit and consider the view.
Who should come along, as we walked back to the car from this cleverly designed stopping place? Our jogging mate from an hour earlier ! Sans child this time, he was also without shoes. The desert sun had done its work in warming the steel grating and that, combined with the rough surface, made the going tough for our intrepid mental giant. He raced to the top of the dune, took a snap shot and then set outfor the return journey, hopping and cursing as he went.
We were settling into the car in preparation to leave the car park by the one way track, when he jumped in his own vehicle, warned his wife to never run barefoot on steel mesh and zoomed off, out of the car park, against the direction of the One Way sign !
We bade Uluru goodbye, as we drove from the park, sad but complete. It had been an experience which even topped Kakadu and one that will ensure our return