The ancient red rock formations of Kata Tjuta rise from the dusty land to make an incredible sight in Central Australia. Witness the spectacular rocks as they appear to change colour and immerse yourself in the Aboriginal stories of this special place, 500 million years in the making.
By Stephanie Williams
Kata Tjuta is a group of large, ancient rock formations about 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) away from Uluru in Australia's Red Centre. Together, these giant stone formations form the two major landmarks within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is made up of 36 domes spread over an area of more than 20 kilometres (12.4 miles). The highest point is Mount Olga, named in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg by the explorer Ernest Giles.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is jointly managed by its Anangu traditional owners and Parks Australia. Kata Tjuta is sacred to the Anangu people, who have inhabited the area for more than 22,000 years. The sandstone domes of Kata Tjuta are believed to be about 500 million years old.
Kata Tjuta is a Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal word meaning "many heads". There are many Pitjantjatjara legends associated with Kata Tjuta. One tells the story of the great snake king Wanambi who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site for men in the Anangu Aboriginal culture and many of the legends surrounding the site are kept secret.
- Hike around the base of Kata Tjuta on the Valley of the Winds walk
- Take a helicopter flight to appreciate the scale of the formations
- Witness sunrise or sunset over the red rocks of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
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Top things to do at Kata Tjuta
Learn about the significance of Kata Tjuta
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area for both its natural and cultural values. Start your journey at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre to learn more about the significance of the walks around Kata Tjuta. You'll begin your walks with a deeper understanding of the formations and the spirit of this special area. While you're at the cultural centre you can buy local artwork, souvenirs, snacks and drinks from stores managed by traditional owners. There are also barbecues and toilets.
Take a helicopter flight over Kata Tjuta
Get an understanding of the true scale of Kata Tjuta on a helicopter flight. While you're up there, the pilot will take you on a spectacular fly past Uluru too. Kata Tjuta is spread over a wide area and some parts are either sacred or inaccessible, so a flight is the best way to see the whole formation. Tours depart from sunrise to sunset.
Enjoy the many walking tracks for all abilities
The ochre-coloured shapes of Kata Tjuta are an intriguing and mesmerising sight that some travellers find even more captivating than Uluru. You can choose from a number of walking trails that range from easy strolls to longer, more difficult tracks. The 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) Walpa Gorge Walk is one of the shorter and easier trails around Kata Tjuta. The longest trail is the 7.4 kilometre (4.6 mile) Valley of the Winds Walk. It’s steep in places, but the circuit is worth the effort. You'll go between the domes, through creek beds and to the Karu and Karingana lookouts. The entire circuit takes about four hours. The walk is best during the early morning hours, before the large crowds arrive, and when the wildlife is more active. The walk is closed when temperatures reach 36°C (96.8°F), which is very common in summer (December to February).
Visit Aboriginal art galleries and meet the artists
One of the ways local indigenous people share their ancient stories is through art. While you're here, visit one of the art galleries. There are a number of galleries in the Cultural Centre, including the Walkatjara Art Centre (a working art centre owned by the local Mutitjulu community) and Maruku Arts, where you can join a workshop or tour.
Spend the night near Kata Tjuta
The Kata Tjuta dune viewing and sunset viewing areas offer magnificent panoramic views of the domes and are relaxing places to sit and absorb the ever-changing landscape. At sunrise and sunset it’s awe-inspiring as the domes glow and turn a deep shade of red. You can't camp or stay within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, but on the park's border lies Ayers Rock Resort, with options from camping to five-star luxury. For a unique and luxurious immersion into the environment, stay at Longitude 131°. Away from the city lights, you'll see an incredibly vibrant night sky. Guests will enjoy Table 131° – a night of alfresco dining accompanied by an interpretive astronomy talk.
How to get there
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is about 450 kilometres (280 miles), or a 4 1/2 hour drive, south-west of Alice Springs. Jetstar and Virgin Australia fly to Ayers Rock Airport direct from Sydney. Qantas has direct flights to Alice Springs from major cities in Australia. Virgin offers direct flights to Alice Springs from Adelaide and Darwin. A major sealed highway connects Alice Springs with Darwin and Adelaide; it’s about a 16 hour drive from Alice Springs to either city. Some popular 4WD routes through deserts link Alice Springs to the Kimberley region and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. The Ghan is a comfortable and scenic train journey between Adelaide and Darwin.