9 Jan 2010

Uluru can still be climbed - for now

9:11 pm on 9 January 2010

The Australian government will allow tourists to climb Uluru for at least the next two years. But its longer-term aim is a complete ban on climbing the national icon formerly known as Ayers Rock.

About 100,000 people make the ascent each year but the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park board of management last year called for an end to the practice.

The ABC reports that the federal government has approved a management plan for the park setting out a number of conditions that have to be met before the climb is closed.

One condition is that the number of people climbing Uluru has to drop to below 20%. Another is that the climb will no longer be the main attraction for visitors to the park; there will need to be alternate experiences for tourists.

The tourism industry will have to be given 18 months' notice before a ban is imposed, and environment minister Peter Garrett says he expects the rock to stay open to climbers for several more years.

Ban seen as good for indigenous culture

Uluru, which at 346 metres stands higher than the Eiffel Tower, is visited by 350,000 people a year.

More than one in three visitors scale it each day, ignoring "Do not climb" signs put up by traditional owners urging people to respect the cultural significance of the site.

The tourism industry has opposed a ban, arguing that the experience of climbing the rock is still one of the region's main drawcards. But the chair of the park board says it will be good for the culture of the Anangu people and hopefully lead to job creation.

Already the climb is closed for more than 300 days a year, because of extreme heat, windy weather and slippery conditions.

More than 30 people have died attempting it.