Ayers Rock, also called Uluru, is the spiritual and geographical center of the Australian continent or its 'red heart.' Uluru's color comes from the iron in the rock which when weathered by water and oxygen turns a brilliant orange. It has become over centuries, the iconic symbol of the continent. Since 1985, 510 square miles round the rock has been designated as the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and is now managed by a joint committee of tribal people and white officials. Uluru is a place of spiritual significance for the local Anangu people where every rock represents something sacred.
Have a luxe experience
Have a great Outback experience by glamping at the luxurious Longitude 131 with 15 tented rooms on stilts, each dedicated to a famous Australian pioneer. Every room has a great view of the burnished monolith and you can chose from a variety of outdoor activities to occupy yourself. The Dune House in the middle of the resort is the 'living room' of the resort, a communal space where you can meet other guests or relax. You can lounge in comfy leather couches in the the cosy library stocked with maps, books and games and plan your next few days.
Walk the Rock
The full six-mile circuit around Uluru (the Uluru Base Walk) takes about three hours. Various companies offer guided walks with explanations en route, of Aboriginal stories, flora, fauna, and rock paintings. There is a complex world of gullies, gorges, caves and galleries tucked into its side. Hardy plants grow in narrow cracks in the rock, crested pigeons flit from branches of trees, and small lizards dart under ochre rocks. If you want a less strenuous walk take the two kilometre Mala walk. Explore overhanging rock caves with faded paintings and engravings in red, white and ochre paint, studded with motifs like concentric circles and dotted lines presenting a tableau of prehistoric culture.
Explore new ways of seeing the rock
The best times to see the rock is at sunset and sunrise, when the light seems to change the colors of the rocks from a burnished orange to a deep mauve. Take a sunset tour with champagne and sunrise tour with breakfast thrown in. Meander through the sand dunes on a friendly camel and watch the backdrop of Uluru and Kata Djuta turn fiery in the setting sun. The cameleers will describe the unique flora and fauna of the outdoor landscape as you move. The other new ways of seeing the Rock is on the pillion of a Harley Davidson or with a quad bike with some photo stops on the way.
Watch the Wakagetti dancers
Catch a cultural performance of the local Anangu people who dance in the light of a bonfire, imitating animals like the emu and the echidna, to the eerie strains of a didgeridoo. This interactive show gives you a glimpse of the indigenous culture of the remote Northern Territory.
Be a Culture Vulture
There are various activities that you can participate in at the town Square at Ayers Rock Resort, like bush yarns told by an indigenous story teller about history and culture. Take an interactive walk where your guide will point out native flora and talk about how indigenous people used the bush for food and medicine. You can even have a go at throwing a spear or a boomerang. Finish the cultural explorations with a visit to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre at the base of the rock, where wall displays, frescoes and recordings give you an insight into aboriginal legends and culture.
Have a dinner with a difference
For something unique go to the 'Sounds of Silence' dinner with bush-tucker inspired cuisine, canapés and wine under a star spangled sky with the silhouette of Uluru against the last glowing light and the soulful sounds of a lone didgeridoo. Post dinner the lights are switched off and a telescope and astronomer with a laser pen, leads you through a magical journey of the southern skies.
Explore the skies
The Northern Territory is one of the best places to see the southern skies from because of the absence of pollution and city lights. Enhance your knowledge of astronomy with a guided exploration of the night sky that almost every hotel and resort offers, exploring the night sky with the help of a telescope, binoculars and iPads. Learn how stars are formed, their life-cycles and about different constellations.
Hike the Kata Djuta
The red center is not only home to the Ayers Rock but also the Kata Djuta (also called the Olgas) -- 36 majestic red domes rising from the floor of the desert, just 32 kilometres away from Ayers Rock. Choose between the easier 2.6km Walpa George Walk and -- if you're up for it -- the more challenging 7.4km 'Valley of the Winds Walk.' You will need fly nets on your face as you walk through huge boulders of conglomerate with large pebbles of granite and basalt. A little farther afield, visit King's Canyon, a spectacular sandstone gorge, with fossilized tracks of ancient creatures and rainforest.
Learn to appreciate indigenous art
Ayers's Rock is one of the best place to take an indigenous dot art appreciation course, which explains how the same symbols can have a multiplicity of meanings -- for example, a series of parallel lines can represent a journey path, sand hills, a creek or a riverbed. Visit the Gallery at the Sails in the Desert Hotel at Ayers Rock Resort for an insight into Indigenous arts and crafts.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Aboriginal dot art is found on many objects that are sold as souvenirs from didgeridoos and boomerangs to T shirts and key chains. Buy dot art directly from the communities which have shops or galleries attached to them. Not only are you guaranteed authentic merchandise but also you are supporting the preservation of Aboriginal culture. Buy wooden animals carved by the indigenous people, didgeridoos, and glass ware with local motifs from the galleries here.
Cultural Etiquette - certain sacred sites of the Aboriginal people cannot be photographed without permission- do observe these rules.
KALPANA SUNDER is a travel writer and blogger based in Chennai, India and blogs at www. Kalpanasunder.com/blog