Kata Tjuta means “ many heads“. This in itself is probably not that exciting to a boy who would rather spend the day in a pool. But when it is also home to the Wanambi, a King Snake that has long teeth, a mane and a long beard, the interest picks up a notch. And more than that, during the dry season, he comes down to a waterhole in the gorge where his breath can produce a mighty wind, it is even more interesting!
But then disappointingly, that’s where the story ends. There are no more detail about his stories or his exploits that we could find despite suggestions that he appears in a few legends.
This perhaps should not be surprising as the aboriginal stories of Kata Tjuta are not told. Unlike the creation stories of Uluru, most of the stories around Kata Tjuta are secret. And they are still kept secret today. Despite being open to visitors, most of Kata Tjuta are off limits wherein some parts of it are sacred and still used for ceremonies by the aboriginals.
Seemingly the lesser sibling, I would suggest that the original name of ‘The Olgas’: so named after Queen Olga of Wurttemberg, probably didn’t help its cause. And when you have seen one giant rock, the thought of another 36 rounded domes 50km’s away, sounds like a cheap tour operator’s idea.
But as always, curiosity got the better of us. You may be interested to know that other than King Wanambi, the domes have names and stories behind them. Some of the domes are Pungalunga men. Giants who fed on Aborigines. There is also a pillar of Kangaroo man Malu. He is shown dying against his sister Mulumara, a lizard woman. Then other formations are camps of curlew men and mice women. With such colourful descriptions, how could we resist?
When you arrive at Kata Tjuta, you will have a choice between two walks. One is the Walpa Gorge Walk that is 2.6kms long and the other is the Valley of the Winds which stretches 7.4kms and naturally takes in a lot more sights. Taking lots of water with us (like a litre for every hour due to the dry, arid conditions), we easily opted for the shorter one. I doubt the boy would have thanked us if we had dragged him for a 2 hour walk.
In the end, it was more than enough for us. The day was scorching hot and I can barely imagine being out there any longer. Walpa gorge is a desert refuge for plants and animals. Walpa means ‘wind’ in the indigenous language here (Pitjantjara and Yankunytjatjara) and we were certainly glad it was a bit windy. The heat would have been unbearable otherwise. The rocky track took us between sheer cliff walls beside a moisture rich gully. They are home to many inconspicuous rare plants. As we clearly lacked any botany skills, we failed to appreciate the ecosystem that has sprung up here. A sign along the way, pointed out that some of the plants in fact grow nowhere else!
We happily just walked along the path that seemed to go forever. The whole time dwarfed by these massive giant cliffs. I can easily imagine at dusk, these domes turning into Giant Pungalunga men who will snack on anyone caught in its grasps! And then when it seemed we could go no further, we came to the end of the walk which overlooked a grove of spearwood vine (which is used for making spears!)
The boy was clearly unimpressed and wished to go on further (through the gap and out the other side). But railings prevented us from doing that. We were just amazed that he was eager for more! But we turned back and eventually caught the bus back to our resort. Kata Tjuta, despite its mystery, and lesser known status is well worth the visit. Perhaps one thing we could have done differently was to get a guide or go on a tour. Only the Anangu can bring it to life with their creation stories and just for that alone, would have been worth every cent.