To cope with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year at Ayers Rock. a comprehensive resort has been built. It could have been a disastrous blot on the landscape, but the Ayers Rock Resort (Yulara) fits in benignly, 20km (12 miles) from the rock. The complex is almost entirely camouflaged, and too low-slung to detract from the majesty of the surroundings. The facilities range from tents and caravans to a five-star hotel with gardens, pool, spa, restaurants and bars and, of course, air-conditioning.
The visitors’ centre in the complex offers information, literature and audio-visual shows explaining the desert, the wildlife, geology, mythology and other angles to enhance your appreciation of the Red Centre. Several airlines serve Yulara, and the views of the desert on the way are spellbinding.
Otherwise you can take a bus or drive: it’s about 450km (280 miles) by paved road from Alice Springs. a whole day in which to become acquainted with the desert in its many forms — flat and desolate or covered with scrub, thinly forested or. more rarely, sand undulating in post-card-worthy dunes. The best time of year to visit is between May and October. when the days are sunny and warm and the nights refreshingly chill. In January. by contrast, the mean maximum temperature is 36.6°C (98°F) — not quite conducive to hiking.
The red road to Kata Tjuta: the name means ‘many heads’
Surviving the Outback Three-quarters of Australian land is desert — ‘burning wastes of barren soil and sand’, as the poet Henry Lawson described it. These vast empty spaces on the map hold an irresistible challenge for intrepid adventurers. Only vaguely comparable with desert of the Sahara type, the far Outback supports vegetation — sometimes even luxuriant — and fascinating wildlife.
If you do want to venture off the surfaced roads and explore the unknown, there are a few precautions you must take. • Do not even consider driving into the Outback in the summer; the heat is unbearable. In the 1840s, explorer Charles Stun recorded temperatures of 69°C (15719 in the open and 56°C (132°F) in the shade.
It was hot enough to melt the lead in his pencil and force screws out of wooden boxes. Just think what it could do to your car! • Rain can also be a source of disaster; after many years of drought, it can suddenly pour down for an entire week, and The Ayers Rock Resort (Tula ra) can accommodate 5,000 visitors a day
the land is transformed into an enormous flood plain. So make sure you never camp in a dry riverbed. • Your vehicle should be a reliable four-wheel-drive, with a complete set of Sparc parts: two spare tyres and tyre repair kit, two spare tubes, coil.
condenser, fan belt, radiator hoses and distributor points, a tin of radiator leak fixative, spark plugs, an extra jack (with a large baseplate to prevent sinking in sand or mud). 5 litres (a gallon) of engine oil, a pump, a tool-kit, an axe and a small shovel. Keep the petrol tank full and carry at least 20 litres (5 gal) in reserve. • You will need reliable maps and be sure to plan your route in detail — and stick to the plan relentlessly.
At your point of departure, advise the police of your route, the estimated time of arrival ill your destination, and the amount of rations you are carrying. Report to the police again when you arrive. Always seek local advice about the hazards you may encounter. If you wish to enter Aboriginal lands, you must first obtain permission from the Aboriginal landowners, and at least four weeks’ notice is required. Inquire at the government tourist office for the appropriate address (see page 250).
In some areas you have to be equipped with a two-way radio.
• Take adequate supplies. Most important is water—you will need 6 litres (B4gal) per person per day. best carried in metal containers. Emergency rations should be made up of high-energy foods such as dried fruit, with canned meats, soup and fruit drinks. Some invaluable components of your first-aid kit will be aspirin, water-purifying tablets, salt tablets. diarrhoea pills. insect repellent, disinfectant, bandages and sun-block.
Your personal survival kit, which you should carry with you at all times, must contain a compass. map, whistle. waterproof matches, pocket knife, bandage and adhesive plaster. • Other essentials: a set of billycans (pails or pots with lids and wire bails), several sheets of heavy-duty plastic (2m/6ft square) and a length of rubber or plastic tubing. A piece of nylon rope (30m/100ft long) may also be useful. • Wear loose, light cotton clothing and cover your head. Space blankets can prove a boon: the shiny aluminum side turned towards the sun reflects heat away from the body.
keeping the temperature normal. To keep warm, turn the shiny side inwards. • Do not drive at night. Kangaroos are a real hazard, and you may collide with wild water buffalo, attracted to the roads at night because the surface is wanner than the ground itself.