No More Climbing Ayers Rock

July 25, 2018


The Australian Outback has always fascinated me. Why? Well, this vast and sparsely populated region sounds like a great adventure and a daunting challenge. However, if I ever did manage to go I think the summer heat of 120F would flatten me. By the way, Australia’s summer is December to February and winter is June to August.

The spectacular Ayers Rock or Uluru

I’ve only known one person who has traveled to Australia and climbed Ayers Rock (or Uluru as it’s often called) and she thought the entire journey was quite an adventure. “However,” she added,  “I really didn’t want to climb it because I’d heard that the Aboriginal people consider it a sacred site. But my travel buddy really wanted to go so I gave in.”

They took a flight from Sydney in a small plane to the Ayers Rock Airport. An average of 300,000 passengers per year pass through here. “Ayers Rock is a strenuous climb,” she told me. “At the start there’s a chain for one to hold on to and then, about one-third of the way up there’s a spot called Chicken Rock where climbers are given the option of returning – many do.”

Starting up Ayers Rock with the help of a chain fence – this is before reality sets in at Chicken Rock

Make no mistake: climbing the rock can be dangerous. The chain was installed because two deaths occurred in 1964. Authorities have also closed the climb when conditions are particularly hot, windy, wet or cloudy. Thirty-six people have died climbing Uluru since 1950 and, between 2002 and 2009 there were a total of 74 rescues involving medical attention for heart attacks, injuries from falls, panic attacks or fainting.

My friend went on to say, “When we arrived at the top I was surprised that there were no warning signs, ropes or barriers. Instead there were WHITE FOOTPRINTS that we were told to follow by a guide. He said, “This is the way to get the best view from the top of Ayers Rock. Follow these prints or you will die.”

My mouth dropped open as I gasped and blurted out, “Did he REALLY say that?” She nodded and said, “Yep, it’s rough and rocky up there.”


“For the rock’s Aboriginal owners, whose tenure goes back thousands of years, this is a momentous decision,” writes Kennedy Warne in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveler. “It’s one they have dreamed of and worked toward for decades.”

As I neared the conclusion of this piece I read something that totally surprised me. Warne reports that “one unexpected response to the gradually developing perception of Uluru as a sacred site has been the return of the rock itself – or rather, bits of it. For years, visitors have purloined pieces of Uluru as souvenirs. Personally, I find this astounding, but then he goes on to say, “Now, almost daily, the staff receives packages of rocks from all over the world with messages of regret. (The heaviest piece returned so far was 70 lbs.) Some letter writers claim to have been cursed with bad luck since taking the rocks home. Most say they now realize what they did was wrong.”


This art installation debuted in 2016 and now more than 200,000 visitors have viewed it from a desert spot where they can also see Ayers Rock. As the sun sets Uluru blazes orange as if it has caught fire: the glow is fierce, intense and alive.


The July 2018 issue of Travel & Leisure reports, “This past November, Australia’s National Parks board voted to ban climbing Uluru for good. It was, the Director said, “The righting of an historic wrong.” The Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for 60,000 years – their link to the land is a birthright. There are more than 500 Aboriginal tribes, each with its own language and customs. But one belief unites them all: the idea of an ancestral tie to Mother Earth. That is why they do not climb Uluru. It is the place from which they came and where they will return after death.

Cathy Freeman, Aboriginal Australian and Olympic Gold Medalist


Due to unprecedented demand the Downton Abbey Exhibition in NYC has been extended to September 3, 2018. CLICK HERE to read our blogs about this exhibit and HERE.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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