Australia’s Uluru closes to climbers for good

YULARA, Australia: Australia’s Uluru officially closed to climbers for good on Friday, although the last visitors to scale the sacred rock were allowed to stay until sunset, as a permanent ban takes effect after a decades-long fight by indigenous people.
To commemorate the climbing ban, public celebrations will take place over the weekend when the dismantling of the trail and its railing is also expected to begin.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of tourists clambered up the Unesco World Heritage-listed 348-metre monolith, formerly known as Ayers Rock.
Authorities had opened the climb mid-morning amid clear skies, after blustery conditions delayed early trekkers.
Uluru is a top tourist draw in Australia despite its remote desert location near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
While most visitors don’t climb its steep, red-ochre flanks, the impending October 26 ban has triggered a surge in people taking a final opportunity to make the trek.
Nearly 400,000 visitors flocked to the Australian landmark in the year to end-June, government data shows. Australians still make up the bulk of the visitors to climb the rock, followed by Japanese, Parks Australia says.
The Anangu people, the traditional owners of Uluru, have called for the climb to be closed since 1985, when the park was returned to indigenous control. The Anangu say Uluru has deep spiritual significance as a route their ancestors took.
“This is our home,” read a sign at the base of the rock. “Please don’t climb.”
“It shows that Anangu can actually make decisions about the land they own and more importantly Anangu aren’t going to have to get sad anymore,” said Steven Baldwin, national park operations and visitor services manager. — Reuters