The entry fee for ULURU–KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK allows unlimited access for up to three days, though it’s easily extendable (an annual pass is just $32.50). Besides the two major sites of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the park incorporates the closed Aboriginal community of Mutujulu, near the base of the Rock, the site of the original caravan park before the resort was built. More than 400,000 tourists visit the park every year, and as many come in tour-bus groups, the place can sometimes feel crowded.
It is thought that Aboriginal people arrived at Uluru more than 20,000 years ago, having occupied the Centre more than 10,000 years earlier. They survived in this semi-arid environment in small mobile groups, moving from one waterhole to another. Water was their most valued resource, and so any site like Uluru or Kata Tjuta that had permanent waterholes and attracted game was of vital practical – and therefore religious – significance.
The first European to set eyes on Uluru was the explorer Ernest Giles, in 1872, but it was a year later that William Gosse followed his Afghan guide up the Rock and thereby made the first ascent by a European, naming it Ayers Rock after a South Australian politician. With white settlement of the Centre and the introduction of cattle came the relocation of its occupants from their traditional lands.
The first tourists visited the Rock in 1936, and in 1958 the national park was excised from what was then an Aboriginal reserve. By the early 1970s the tourist facilities in the park were failing to cope and the purpose-built township and resort of Yulara was conceived and completed within a decade. At the same time the traditional custodians of Uluru began to protest about the desecration of their sacred sites by tourists, who at that time could roam anywhere. After a long land-claim the park was subsequently returned with much flourish to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara peoples in 1985. A condition of the handback was that the park be leased straight back to the Department of Environment and Heritage, which now jointly manages the park with the Anangu.