“Tomorrow we are going to the Olgas to do the Valley of the Winds walk”, yelled my teacher! What are the Olgas? I thought to myself. As we jumped on the mini-bus the following morning and headed out along a road away from Ayres Rock I hear someone say ‘ wow’, I take my headphones out of my ears and sit up and look out of the window.
Off into the distance, I see huge domes popping out of the earth like giant marbles laying in the sand, white and black lines ran down some of the domes like paint runs off a canvas, it looked surreal. This was back in 2000, the first time I was to lay eyes on what I now know as Kata Tjuta.
When I first went to the Olgas I wasn’t a photographer, I was just a 17-year-old kid on a school camp, but I knew there was something special about this place.
It would take me 15 years to get back to the Olgas, but now I love photography and I call this place Kata Tjuta, but I still remember how special this place was, I can’t wait to see it again.
The first time I see Kata Tjuta again is from a helicopter, we are flying towards the 36 domes as the sun is rising, the rocks are lit up perfectly by golden light as if it was in a perfectly lit studio. Sitting in the front passenger seat with a wide-angle lens on one camera and a 70-200mm lens on my other camera. I am trying to capture it all, scared that I will miss the amazing light.
As we drift along the landscape you can really see how vast and huge the ancient area is, Kata Tjuta is truly massive. At it’s highest point it is 546 m (1,791 ft.) above the surrounding landscape, remembering Uluru is 348m above the land below.
You will never see Kata Tjuta in its entirety unless you see it from the sky, I cannot recommend this enough!
Now on the ground, the drive out to Kata Tjuta from where you are most likely staying (Yalara) takes about 40min or 35km from Uluru. If you are driving a hire car, tune into the local station and listen to some pretty good local musicians this will set a good vibe for your experience. You can see Kata Tjuta in the distance for pretty much the whole drive, for a nice wide landscape view of the domes there is the ‘Kata Tjuta Dune look out’ along the way, I recommend stoping here and having a look if you have time.
I didn’t do the Valley of the Winds Walk this time, as I have done it already and photography is not permitted so I walked the Walpa Gorge instead.
Like a trail of ants, tourists scale up the rocky path into the gorge, disappearing into the distance.
Walking up the track into the gorge it’s like walking down a city street with buildings either side of me, but these are 600 million-year-old rocky domes. The whole area is a refuge for the local wildlife and plants to flourish.
As a photographer, I must have both sides of the dome in every image that I take within the gorge. This is one of the many rules in the guideline that I must follow. Parks Australia don’t want any detail of the domes focused on so wide shots are the order of the day. I am seeing amazing photo opportunities everywhere! But with the guides I can’t take them, this was a hard pill to swallow. So I did my best to try and create unique photos within the limits I had been set.
The track is pretty easy, the hardest part is the heat and the flies, don’t be surprised when every now and again you hear someone coughing with a horrified look on their faces. They have just swallowed a fly, don’t worry if you don’t have a fly mask on you will soon have your turn!
Walpa actually means windy. I can tell you that when you are walking in the heat and you feel that wind on your face it feels amazing.
Just near the end of the trail I saw a really good location and I had a certain look in my head for the shot, the only problem is that I needed the sun to be very low in the horizon to achieve the look I wanted. This meant waiting for about two and a half hours under a tree until the light was just right! Patience and photography go hand in hand I believe. As a perfectionist I didn’t want to settle for anything less than what I had seen in my mind.
Like Uluru, Kata Tjuta changes with the light too. Although the two are essentially different, Uluru is one solid sand stone rock where Kata Tjuta is made up of millions of stones like concrete, however the stone still turns a brilliant red colour.
At one point I think I had the whole gorge to myself, this was one of the most amazing experiences to have. When I was walking back along the rocky trail I turned around and looked down into the gorge, there was no one around.
I said that Uluru is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been, well Kata Tjuta is with out a doubt the most peaceful place I have ever been. It is a very powerful place. It’s hard to explain it’s something you have to experience to understand.
When the sunsets it shines straight into the gorge, everything magically aligns.
Now home each time I see one of my images of this magical place it makes me happy, as my mind goes back to that peaceful place.
I hope it doesn’t take me another 15 years to get back to Kata Tjuta, the next time I see it hopefully it is with my wife and three kids.
• Car Hire – There are car rental services at the Airport, if you look around you will get a good deal. Read more Here
• Accommodation – Outback Pioneer Lodge has a mixture of rooms and shared accommodation with great facilities. For those on a budget this is a great place to stay. Read more Here
• Helicopter Tour – PHS is who I went with and I highly recommend them! They have big bubble windows as well so you get the a great view. Read more Here
• AAT Kings – A great touring company to book tours with while in the ear. Read more Here
From sunrise to sunset, here is Kata Tjuta!
“If you want to know something, go elsewhere. If you want to un-know everything, then sit and listen”. Adyashanti
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