Park “encourages” Uluru climbers

A study reveals why tourists climb Uluru, against the wishes of the local people.
By Emma Young May 3, 2010 Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page

EVERY YEAR, MORE THAN 400,000 people visit the Uluru-Kata Tjuta
National Park, and about 38 per cent climb the iconic rock, despite
requests asking tourists not to. The requests come from local Aboriginal people in the form of
signs, guides and information leaflets at the park’s cultural centre. So why do
people do it?

The reasons are varied, Australia’s Dr Richard
Baker told the 2010 American Association of Geographers Conference in
Washington in April. To reduce the number of climbers, Richard suggested that basic factors, such as
infrastructure in the park, could be adjusted. Reducing numbers, argues Richard, is the
goal of the park’s board of management.

Climbers encouraged

Richard
and Hannah Hueneke, both of the Australian National University in
Canberra, studied surveys of more than 2000 visitors to the park, some
of which they had collected and some of which had been collected
earlier by Richard and another colleague. They found that almost all
the visitors knew that the local Anangu people ask tourists not to
climb Uluru because of its spiritual importance to them. Those who did
climb attributed a range of reasons such as a desire to take photographs
and see the views, an opportunity to challenge themselves physically or simply
to be able to say that they had climbed it.   

But Richard found
that the park’s physical factors also seemed to encourage
climbing. For example, the position of seats near the base of the
rock directs people to look up at the climb route. Toilets and the
start point of the daily ranger walk are also positioned near the
climb’s base. To add to this, other activities, such as the loop walk around Uluru,
were less well signposted and had limited facilities.

Under
a new management plan that was instated in January this year, National Parks can begin to move towards closing the climb, but only after at least one of three preconditions
is met: that the number of people who climb Uluru drops from 38 per cent to fewer than
20 per cent; that the attraction of the climb is no longer the primary
reason people travel to the park; or that a range of new experiences is
in place for visitors.

More rewarding experiences

“Richard’s work has been invaluable in
helping the board understand the motivations and behaviours associated
with visitors climbing Uluru,” says Peter Cochrane, director of
National Parks. And National Parks has already made some changes as a result. For
starters, the base walk and its facilities have been improved. “I’m
sure this will have made a significant difference in terms of taking
the emphasis off the climb,” says Richard.

In terms of introducing new activities to the park, Peter tells Australian Geographic:
“We’re working on a range of new experiences, from bush tucker and
cultural performances to guided cycling tours and overnight, low-impact
small group camping.”

Visiting Uluru can be a very moving
experience without the climb, Peter says. Do the base walk, wonder at
the rock art, take a tour led by the Anangu, see the sunrise or sunset. “They are all more rewarding and safer experiences than climbing
Uluru. Anangu say the ideal visitor is one who slows down, listens to
the land and feels a connection to nature and culture with all their
senses. Don’t rush a visit.”

Richard’s conference presentation is available online here.

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