Tourists flock to Uluru before ban, straining sacred site

Tourists to Australia’s Uluru, a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s dry “Red Centre”, are flocking to climb the structure before a ban kicks in.

As of Oct. 26, visitors will be prohibited from topping the 1,141-foot-tall rock in an effort to preserve the sacred site from desecration. The decision was made in Nov. 2017 when a park board primarily made up of traditional landowners vowed to ban climbing of the dramatic rock formation in recognition of its sacredness to Aboriginal people.

The impending deadline, however, has caused a sharp influx of tourism in the area, leading to hotels and campgrounds being booked to capacity, which in turn has resulted in increased reports of illegal camping and trespassing.

Locals and critics also denounced visitors at the site and said climbing Uluru is disrespectful to the indigenous people.

“It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland,” said board chairman and Anangu man Sammy Wilson. “We are not stopping tourism, just this activity,” he said.

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Photographer Glenn Minett captured images of crowds at Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock, this week. He told the BBC that a nearby campground appeared to be “bursting at the seams”.

“There is only one toilet block at the base of Uluru and the drains were blocked,” he said.

Tourism Central Australia chief executive Stephen Schwer said the increased occupancy had also generated additional waste.

“[Tourists] think they’re doing a good thing by free camping along the way,” he said. “What they are actually doing is trespassing on pastoralist and joint-managed and protected land, and a lot of people don’t seem to be getting that message.”

As of Oct. 26, visitors will be prohibited from topping the 1,141-foot-tall rock in an effort to preserve the sacred site from desecration.

As of Oct. 26, visitors will be prohibited from topping the 1,141-foot-tall rock in an effort to preserve the sacred site from desecration. (istock)

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Outrage circulated on social media due to the flow of pictures and posts regarding the continuing issue, and many are upset at climbers for not respecting the wishes of the Anangu people. Signs at the beginning of the site even request visitors to abstain from climbing the monolith as a mark of respect.

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Parks Australia said the park received 70,000 more visitors in 2018 than it had the previous year. Statistics for recent months are not currently available.

Fox News' Morgan Cheung contributed to this report.