Kata Tjuta is one of the most iconic representations of Australia. Its majestic beauty and rich Aboriginal history continues to make it one of the most prized tourist stops in Northern Australia year after year.
If you’re looking to add an educational aspect to your Northern adventure, let us tell you about the beautiful stories that the Kata Tjuta carries within it.
“Kata Tjuta” is a Pitjantjara word meaning “many heads”, a pretty accurate description of the terrain: 36 conglomerate domes covering an area of 21.68 sq. km. The sandstone domes are composed predominantly of basalt, granite, and volcanic rock fragments (quartz and microcline) formed over the course of 500 million years. The Kata Tjuta is sacred to the Anangu people, who have inhabited the area for 22,000 years.
The Kata Tjuta is also known as “The Olgas” — named after Queen Olga of Württemberg in 1872 by the Australian explorer Ernest Giles. In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names consisting of both the Pitjantjara name and the English name, Mount Olga / Kata Tjuta. However a petition from the regional tourism association successfully lobbied for the naming order to be reversed. Resulting in the traditional Indigenous name ‘Kata Tjuta’ being predominant.
Aboriginal Australian mythology is composed of different stories and characters that recur in different groups across Australia. The web that connects all of these elements together is the Dreamtime: a place beyond time, where all of Aboriginal ancestral figures — heroes, supernatural creatures — reside. The Dreaming is the domain of all beginnings; the place where, as Aboriginals believe, creation began.
So what are the stories that the Anangu tell about the Kata Tjuta?
One legend depicts the Kata Tjuta as the home of the giant snake called Wanambi — the Dreamtime figure responsible for the formation of gullies, rivers and billabongs. According to legends, Wanambi stays curled up in a waterhole in the highest peak during the rainy season, and crawls down to the gorge during the dry season. The dark lines on the side of the rocks are believed to be his beard, and the wind that blows through the gorge, his breath — gentle breezes on some days, huge hurricanes when he’s angry.
The domes on the Eastern side are identified as the mice women; the two large rocks near the end of the peak are said to be the food they’re about to eat. A pillar on the Eastern side is known as the kangaroo-man Malu, dying in the arms of his sister Mulumara.
Some of the domes are believed to be Pungalunga men — giants that fed on aborigines. Once, it was said that a Pungalunga ate the wives of two hunters, who then decided to kill it. One man acted as a decoy, while the other speared it in the back. The Pungalunga died in Kuniula Cave, near Mulara Springs.
Every part of the Kata Tjuta is filled with significant stories such as this — stories that demonstrate Australia’s rich aboriginal culture, as well as humanity’s inherent penchant for creating and telling stories. The more extensive versions of these mythologies are not particularly disclosed to outsiders.
Visiting Kata Tjuta
However, if you’re planning on visiting Kata Tjuta, you’re still in for a rich cultural treat. Choose between the 2.6-kilometre Walpa Gorge walk or the 4-hour, 7-kilometre Valley of the Winds walk. The former is the easier choice, ideal for beginners — a quick tour around the place. The latter is more challenging, but the walk will take you in between the domes, through creek beds and to the Karu and Karingana lookouts.
The perfect time for these walks is during the morning, when the weather is more mellow, the crowd is smaller, and the wildlife is more active. Remember, though: during December – February, temperatures can reach up to 45 degrees Celcius. Walks are closed during these hot summer days.
To make the most out of your cultural foray to Kata Tjuta, visit the Uluru – Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre! The perfect ending to your Kata Tjuta visit? Standing on the viewing deck, watching the domes change colours as the sun set: from shades of brown to deep shades of red, and remembering, with the shifting of the shadows, the stories of snake-kings and mice women living within its midst.
The Erldunda Roadhouse is a mere 200km away from the majestic Kata Tjuta — the perfect place to stay in and relax before the Kata Tjuta walks!