When you enter the Cultural Centre just to the south of Uluru, an infamous rock located in Australia's "Red Centre," the first thing you notice is a large banner that says "I did not climb Uluru."
This may seem bizarre, particularly if you're a person whose first instinct is to climb nearby geological formations. Further inspection of the Centre, however, makes the reason climbing Uluru is a bad idea abundantly clear. But more on that later.
The good news is that as a gay traveler, you won't face any discrimination or difficulties spending a few hours or even a whole day at Uluru. This isn't because people in central Australia aren't prone to making homophobic comments – they certainly are, so far as I can tell – but rather, because you aren't likely to encounter any other human beings as you hike around the base of the rock.
Uluru Hotel and Tour Options
Before you concern yourself with why you shouldn't climb Uluru, which is perhaps better known as "Ayers Rock," you need to get to the centre of Australia. If you're in Sydney, hop a flight to the nearby Uluru/Ayers Rock airport on Virgin Australia or Qantas.
Once you've arrived in the land of the red sands, you need to sort out accommodation. The Voyages Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge
is a great option for a number of reasons. For starters, the hotel offers a free shuttle to and from the airport. Secondly, unlike some of the higher-end properties in the vicinity of Uluru, the Outback Pioneer offers a range of lodging options, from four- and 20-bed dorm rooms, to private rooms for individuals, couples and families. Dormitory options start at $36 per night.
Regardless of where you end up staying. you must figure out how you're going to get to Uluru. If you don't hire a car – and I didn't, so I can't really make any recommendations in that regard – you must take a tour to Uluru.
The most affordable option is the "Uluru Express,"
which takes you from your hotel to the rock, drops you there and brings you back. This is the ideal option not only for those on a tight budget (the cost is around $50 return, which is very cheap around these parts). Uluru Express offers sunrise and sunset packages and, if you arrive at the rock at 8 a.m., you can enjoy a free tour from a local guide. Alternatively, you can take a more expensive tour from AAT Kings, which is always guided.
Over a dozen kilometers of trails surround the rock, so choosing which path or paths to follow might seem stressful. After all, you'll have paid a minimum of $50 to get to Uluru, so you'll want the best experience possible.
To start with, I recommend you take the "Liru" walk, which starts at the Cultural Centre and ends up at the car park area where you're likely to be picked up. The walk is about 2 km in length and takes between 1-2 hours, depending on how fast you walk, how much you want to photograph and what time of the year it is.
This last part will be the most important factor in how you proceed once you finish the Liru walk. If it's summer as it is now, when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius (that's about 100 F for any Americans reading this), you may opt for the 2 km "Mala" walk to Kantju Gorge, rather than the longer "Lungkata," "Kuniya" or the 10 km "Base Walk," which may be unbearable for even the fittest travelers during the heat of an Australian summer day.
No matter which walk you choose, make sure and bring plenty of water – about 1 L per person for each hour you plan to spend outdoors – as you can only re-fill bottles a a few select places around the rock. As you proceed, remain in touch with how your body feels. If you feel tired or dizzy, sit down in the shade, rest a minute and drink some water. Don't be self conscious about taking a break: Only the Australian wildlife is around to judge you.
The Aborigines and Climbing Uluru
So why shouldn't you climb Uluru? Simply put, because doing so doesn't conform to the "Tjukurpa" or spiritual foundation of the Anangu
aborigines who have called the area near Uluru home for tens of thousands of years. The rock is a sacred place for these people, the traditional guardians and owners of the land, and climbing it is in violation of their sacred beliefs.
But is it actually illegal to climb Uluru? During some times of the year, yes – summer, for example. Otherwise, it is perfectly "legal" to climb Uluru, although it is obviously wrong as far as the Anangu are concerned.
Then, of course, there's your safety. More so than is the case with simple base walks, climbing Uluru subjects your body to extreme amounts of stress and the potential for dehydration and heat strokes. Many tourists have even died attempting to climb Uluru.
Instead of climbing Uluru, devote your extra time to exploring the Cultural Centre I mentioned. There, in delightful air conditioning, you can learn more about the cultural background of Uluru and Australia's indigenous people.