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Hi there Casey,

I have just spent my last day here watching a couple of feature films as I was fascinated by two of Australia's natural wonders. This is what I learnt. Aerial Photo of Uluru

The first natural wonder I was interested in was of a large red rock in the desert and Australia's most famous natural landmark. It is called Uluru/Ayers Rock, is in the centre of Australia and situated within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory. In this enormous park there are many Aboriginal sacred sites, spectacular scenery and famous rock formations. It is now a World Heritage listed site.

They say Uluru was formed 600 million years ago when the earth's movements pushed up some mountains. Over time they eroded leaving the summit of Uluru with most of the mountain now buried underground. It rises some 346 metres from the desert and has a perimeter [measurement around the base] of about 9km (5.5 miles). Uluru was said to be the largest monolith [single block of stone] in the world but now that has been corrected as the largest monolith in the world is Burringurrah/Mt Augustus in Western Australia which is 2.5 times bigger than Uluru. The red colour of Uluru is due to iron minerals in the surface rocks oxidising with the air. Uluru is considered sacred to the Aboriginals and visitors should respect this as they are the guests of the Aboriginal people and are only visiting with their permission. Climbing the rock

While there you can take one of the many walks available, the longest being the walk around the whole of the base of Uluru. In this walk you will see many Aboriginal paintings, along with boards explaining what they mean. Other options is to climb the rock or just sit and watch it change colours. Some areas of the rock are sacred and the Anangu people request that you do not take pictures or enter these areas. The aboriginals would prefer you didn't climb the rock but at this stage it is still possible. If you do decide to climb it is suggested you should try and be back down by 9am during the summer months. This is because it gets too hot to climb any later and if the temperature is due to reach 36 degrees C the climb is closed. The walk takes about 3 hours and once you reach the top there are fantastic views of the Olgas [rock formations] and surrounding area. You need to be careful as there have been accidents where people have fallen off the rock, or had heart attacks from the strain of the climb.

In the photo above right you can see people starting the climb. They look so tiny against this huge rock. The inset photo shows the chain set into the surface to help people on the steepest section but it only goes halfway to the top. If you can't do the walks or the climb, you can sit and watch the rock during sunrise or sunset when the it changes Rock showing a different colour colours from greys, to browns, to reds, to oranges, to yellows. They say it is an amazing experience to watch this happening.

In this photo you can see the rock in a different colour. Look how red the outback soil is in Australia.

It is often reported that those who take rocks from the area will be cursed and suffer misfortune. The park manager says that pieces of rock are being returned by people all the time, with letters stating that it brought them bad luck. By returning them back to the park they hope that the bad luck will go away.

Also in the park is the Olgas/ Kata Tjuta [meaning many heads]. They are 36 dome-like rock formations which stand up to 1,701ft (546m) high and cover an area of 35km and like Uluru, produce an incredible light show at sunset, with crimsons turning to rusts, and pinks to mauves. There are two walks that you can take around the Olgas. The Valley of the Winds Walk is along a 7km track that circles several of the rocks. The other walk that is available is the Olga Gorge Walk (Tatintjawiya), which is a 2km walk into the beautiful gorge.

Olgas/Kata Tjuta

There is an aboriginal legend about this area. They say Mount Olga, the tallest rock, was the home of the snake Wanambi, who, during the rainy season, stays curled up in a waterhole on the summit. During the dry season he moves down to the gorge below. He also uses the various caves on Mount Olga. The hairs of his beard are the dark lines on the eastern side of the Olgas up close rock. His breath is the wind which blows through the gorge; when he gets angry it can become a hurricane. The domed rocks on the eastern side are identified with ancestors known as the mice women; food prepared for them are two large rocks near the end of Mount Olga. Rocks in the south-western portion are where the poisonous snake men, the Liru, make their camp before setting out to attack the harmless carpet snakes at Uluru. The pointed rocks on the east is Malu, a kangaroo man, who is dying of wounds inflicted by dingoes. Malu leans on a rock which is his sister, Mulumura, a lizard woman, who cradles him in her arms. Also present are the stone bodies of the Pungalunga, giant cannibals who fed on Aboriginals. The legend says two hunters decided to kill the last giant after he had eaten their wives. While one was a decoy the other crept up behind him and speared him in the back. He died in the Kuniula Cave.

Different view of the Olgas

Aerial photo of the Great Barrier Reef

The other natural wonder that fascinates me is The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Corel Sea off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. The reef is a World Heritage site, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a large part of it is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

It is the world's largest coral reef system and natural feature, made up from roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, that stretches more than 2,300 kilometres. It can be seen from outer space and is sometimes referred to as the single largest organism in the world but it really is made up of many millions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It is a popular destination for tourists and scuba divers and many boats with glass bottoms take people out to view the reefs. Many different species live there including whales, dugongs [sea cow], turtles, birds, fish, corals and plants. The photo on the right showing part of the reef and it's beautiful turquoise water off the coast south of Proserpine was taken by NASA.

Coral, fish and a Blue Linckia Starfish.

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Today the reefs are threatened by climate change as a result of what humans are doing. Two of the biggest climate changes are that the sea surface is getting hotter and the sea levels are rising and this may have serious results for the Great Barrier Reef in years to come. As well, some of the coral are losing their colour. Tiny microscopic plants live within the coral tissue and provide the coral with food for growth and their normal healthy colour but because of stress to the corals they are losing their colour and sometimes turning white and this is called coral bleaching. Two of the animal species threatened with extinction in the reefs are the dugong and the large green turtle.

Before I end my adventures Casey, I'll tell you a little bit of what I've learnt about this country and my departure details on the next page.