The Changing Colours of Uluru

The Changing Colours of Uluru

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 05/14/2015

Reading time: 6 mins

Uluru is the most famous landmark in Australia.

Uluru Sunrise

The formation in the centre of the country is more than just a big stone in the middle of the continent. It is Uluru is a sacred site for the neighbouring Aboriginal communities, as well as a big part of their spiritual beliefs.

There’s no doubt that the giant sandstone rock is beautiful and unbelievably large. Its size is hard to comprehend, as there is more to the monolith than meets the eye. Much like an iceberg, the majority of the rock is below the earth’s surface. It’s said that 2.5 km’s of the rock in the underground!

Previously known as, Ayers Rock, it is 863 metres high and has a circumference of 9.4 kilometres. It is so large you can see it from space! Its size may be what started tourists visiting the rock, but it’s the sunrises and sunset are what keeps them coming.

The Formation of Uluru

There are two stories to the formation of Uluru. The first is told by the Anangu people of Uluru, the traditional owners of the land. They retell their Tjukurpa stories through song, dance and ceremonies. These stories, much like a Christians bible, hold answers to creation and ways of life.

The alternate story of Uluru is that formed by modern scientists and geologists.

Tjukurpa stories

Uluru is said to have form at the very beginning.

Ancestral beings took part in creating the structure, with each section formed by a particular spirit and event. The south side of Uluru was formed by the war between two ancestral snakes. The north side by the Mala people. A large mark on the side of the rock is said to be a mother snake who was doing a ritual dance towards her nearby eggs.

There are approximately ten ancestral beings whom contributed to Uluru’s formation. Additionally, many of the caves and crevices are sacred sites to the Anangu people. Stories and ceremonies can be secret, and are reserved only for the initiated, not to be shared with tourists or non-Anangu visitors.

Geology of Uluru

Geologically, Uluru was formed around 500 million years ago. This was the same time the supercontinent Gondwana was separating, slowly creating the smaller continent Australia. Due to the moving plates, Earth fans were being put under extreme pressure. Two of these fans were in the location of where Uluru is today, one made of sand, and the other from conglomerate rock.

At this time, the continent was covered in a shallow sea. Uluru began its formation underwater until these fans collapsed under the pressure of the water above them. The collapse, and pressure from the sea above fused the plates together. Thus, Uluru was formed.

Uluru’s Features

  • The Southern Side

    Uluru’s southern side displays a large portion of caves and crevices. Uluru features a series of steep valleys with large potholes and gaps. These gaps on Uluru have developed due to erosion and will continue to grow over time. Rainfall slowly flowing down the rockface, and pooling in deeper crevices, will continue to cut away at the rock.

  • The North-West Side

    The other side of Uluru has seen a different form of Erosion, with large parallel ridges cutting away along the rock. With rainfall trickling down the same spot of the rock until a long straight gap emerged.

  • Uluru’s Smooth Surface

    Uluru’s top features long lines of smooth rock sections, and it is all due to humans. Climbing Uluru was once a common practice for tourists, with millions of feet travelling up and down the massive rock every year. The constant travelling along the rockface slowly wore it down, leaving a devastating path.

    Today it is illegal to climb Uluru, however the damage has already been done. Though this erosion cannot be undone, human feet will no longer make it worse.

  • Uluru’s Flaky Surface

    When close to Uluru, you’ll notice that the surface is quite flaky. As though the rock has been sunburnt and is peeling its top layer. This unique flaking exterior is not due to the sun however by the chemical makeup of the rock. Iron in the rock has slowly rusted over the years, it is this oxidisation that causes a flaky residue.

  • Its Famously Bright Colour

    If you hear someone talking about Uluru, they are more than likely going to speak about its bright colour. The reason for its striking colour is due to the iron minerals found within the rock. The iron has slowly rusted over the years rock a bright red colour. However, this isn’t the only colour Uluru shines. Movements of the sun cause the rock to appear to change colours, from red to orange to purple and back again. Witnessing this sensation is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many visitors.

When to see the Colours

Uluru Sunset

The best times to see Uluru changing colours is at sunrise or sunset. At sunrise, the sun creeps from the ground and slowly fills the rock with a bright red, as if it is on fire. As the sun makes its way over the rock, it transforms back to its original rusty orange hue.

The fun begins again when the sun hits the rock on its way down, changing from sizzling red and back to orange again. This spectacle is the most popular time in Uluru National Park. Tourists, tour buses, travellers, and even the wildlife come out to capture what is to be an experience to never forget.

Where can you see Uluru?

There are designated areas around Uluru where you can watch the sunset. These car parks are packed with people and their photo equipment, taking videos and snapshots of the sun’s descent behind the horizon. There are even grand experiences like ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner.

Watch the sunset on Uluru while you casually enjoy a glass of champagne and gasp in awe of the beautiful view in front of you. Dinner is served after sunset buffet style and with help of lamps. If you want the ultimate experience out at Uluru, dining in the outback while watching the changing colours of the rock might be your best bet.

Related article: When is the best time to visit Uluru?

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.