SYDNEY: A looming ban on climbing Australia’s Uluru rock, intended to protect the sacred site from damage, has instead triggered a damaging influx of visitors, tourism operators said Friday.
Clambering up the giant red monolith, also known as Ayers Rock, will be prohibited from October – in line with the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.
But a rush to beat the ban has led to a sharp increase in tourists and is causing its own problems for the World Heritage Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Families arriving in campers vans and RVs are a particular problem, chief executive of Tourism Central Australia Stephen Schwer told AFP.
“We have got so much of one particular market coming, we don’t have enough infrastructure to handle the number of drive travellers.”
While most visitors are doing the right thing, camping venues in the area are at capacity with advance bookings, leaving many less organised arrivals to set up illegally.
“People don’t realise when they go off the road they are actually trespassing on pastoral land, or Aboriginal land, or protected land,” Schwer said.
“We are getting people that are leaving their rubbish behind and lighting fires,” he added.
“Sadly, people are also emptying their toilet waste out of their vans on what they think is unpopulated land, but is actually private land.”
In the 12 months to June 2019, more than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park, according to Parks Australia, about 20% more than the previous year.
Yet just 13% of those who visited also climbed the rock, the government agency said.
Tourism operators say that Australian and Japanese tourists most commonly seek to climb Uluru.
The Aboriginal connection to the site dates back tens of thousands of years and it has great spiritual and cultural significance to them.
“Since the hand back of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to traditional owners in 1985, visitors have been encouraged to develop an understanding and respect for Anangu and their culture,” a spokesperson for Parks Australia said.
“This is reflected in the ‘please don’t climb’ message,” they added.
Lyndee Severin from Curtin Springs station and roadhouse, one of just a few camping venues within 100 kilometres of Uluru, said “the vast majority of people are doing the right thing” but hundreds were setting up illegally by the side of the road or down a bush track.
“So we have some people that think that the rules don’t apply to them,” she told AFP.