Visitors Flock To Climb Uluru Before It Closes To The Public Forever
The desert vegetation sways in the breeze in the nation’s Red Centre. It offers some reprieve from the heat the day when 10 News First visits Uluru.
It also prompts the National Park ranger to unlock a chest of various wooden signs at the base of the controversial climb.
Beneath the plank inscribed with “Climb closed due to…” he puts in the place the warning sign that reads: “Strong winds at summit”.
Still, at 8am, a steady stream of potential climbers arrives at the base.
The ranger tasked as our crew’s guide ends up fielding a number of enquiries about whether it will open later in the day.
“Obviously we’d prefer you not climb, but until October..."
The visitor finishes the ranger’s sentence. “We’re allowed to… We’ve come a long way to climb it."
October 26 to be exact. Six months remains until the climb will be closed permanently. The date is also significant, as it will mark the 34th anniversary of the day the land was handed back to the traditional owners.
10 News First can reveal the park’s attendance figures are the highest in 16 years.
Around 380,000 people visited in 2018 – a twenty percent increase on the previous year.
National Parks acknowledges it is, in part, due to many racing to cross the climb of their bucket list, before they no longer can.
With a gathering forming due to the day’s closure, we quizzed a number on the walking paths at the base of Uluru. The topic is clearly divisive.
“I think it’s important for the children to see it raw…hands on and climb it,” one person said.
A visitor from Finland said she researched before embarking on her trip to Australia.
“I believe it’s disrespectful to do something against the community’s wishes," she said.
Large signs at the base clearly state the Anangu ask visitors to “please not climb”, for both cultural and safety reasons; more than 30 people have died while climbing.
Respected elder Sammy Wilson chairs the board that announced the ban two years ago.
There are some traditional stories related to Uluru he can divulge, there are some he does not.
“This is a people’s holy place,” Wilson said.
His vision is for tourists to learn the culture, without feeling the need to traverse the landmark.
“Can I climb the house? My friend’s house, or can I open the bedroom? No – only welcome in the lounge room, and we can sit down and talk.”
The recent growth in visitations has been welcome. The national park board has approved new ventures, as part of the agreement to close the climb.
Leaders in the region don’t believe tourism will suffer after the climb closes permanently in October.
“There’s an expectation from socially conscious travellers these days, that cultural values should dominate above anything else," said Greg Hunt, CEO of a neighbouring resort.
He added: “It’s definitely time.”