Hundreds of tourists have flocked to Australia’s Uluru to take part in the final climb at the sacred site.
The giant red monolith, formerly known as Ayers Rock, will be permanently off limits after Friday following a decades-long fight by indigenous people to close the trek.
Long queues of tourists formed early on Friday ahead of the ban but strong winds meant visitors were initially stopped from making an early morning climb.
Authorities said they would reassess during the day whether or not to reopen.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is a top tourist draw in Australia despite its remote desert location near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board voted unanimously in November 2017 to bring an end to climbing at the site, with officials saying it is “not a theme park”.
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.
All signs and climbing equipment are set to be removed on Friday afternoon ahead of the site’s closure and anyone caught scaling Uluru following the ban will face a hefty fine.
As images emerged of tourists queuing to climb Uluru for a final time, prominent indigenous academic Marcia Langton tweeted: “A curse will fall on all of them. They will remember how they defiled this sacred place until they die & history will record their contempt for Aboriginal culture.”
A curse will fall on all of them. They will remember how they defiled this sacred place until they die & history will record their contempt for Aboriginal culture https://t.co/0FbT1qINEl
— 💧Marcia Langton 🐯 (@marcialangton) October 24, 2019
While most visitors do not climb Uluru’s steep red-ochre flanks, the impending ban has triggered an upsurge in people taking advantage of a final opportunity to make the trek.
Nearly 400,000 visitors flocked to the landmark in the year to the end of June.
Kelly Derks, from Melbourne, said she wanted to climb Uluru while at the same time respect indigenous beliefs.
“We respect that, we climb but we don’t leave rubbish, we stay to the path,” she said.
Sonita Vinecombe, from Adelaide, said the impending ban prompted her to come to Uluru.
“We weren’t planning to come anytime soon, but because it’s the last day we are here,” she said.
Dozens of people have died while scaling Uluru, from falls and dehydration.
Plans to ban climbing at the 348m (1,142ft) tall site were announced when fewer than 20% of visitors were making the climb.
Sammy Wilson, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board chairman, said at the time that the site was “an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland”.
“If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don’t enter or climb it, I respect it,” he said.
“It is the same here for Anangu. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.”
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