After over three years in Australia we finally made to Uluru, the famous sacred site to many Aboriginal Australian communities. Us too were left speechless in front of it, the most suitable word we can think of to describe Uluru is: “magical”!
2022 started off grandly for us after the long lockdowns of the past two years in Melbourne. We went for new trips to Wilsons Promontory National Park in Victoria, to the gorgeous seaside in South Australia, and to the always charming Sydney.
Once all restrictions and interstate border closures had dropped, we dedicated three weeks to our first big outback trip from Melbourne to Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, via Uluru. Some 2,500 km one way, for a total of over 6,000 km driven in 17 days. A proper adventurous road trip!
After three full days of travelling for thousands of kilometres through the desert and visiting remote places like Broken Hill and Coober Pedy, here we are at Uluru, the main character of our journey in the outback.
WHAT AND WHERE IS ULURU?
Uluru is the largest sandstone monolith in the world, at 350 metres of height and 9 km of circumference. The rock extends for over 7 km underground. It is located in central Australia, in the Northern Territory. The closest city is Alice Spring, 460 km far, however the tourist village of Yulara is just 20 km away. Yulara was built on purpose to cater for tourists and is connected to all main Australian cities thanks to the small but busy Connellan airport.
The fact that it rises in the middle of the flat bush makes Uluru majestic and visible from miles away. Its reddish surface, rich in minerals, appears in the most diverse shades throughout the day, from amber to ochre, from red to purple. Particularly impressive are the light shows that can be admired at sunrise and sunset (see photos below), one of the main reason why millions of visitors come here from all over the world.
Following decades of controversy, climbing Uluru has been officially forbidden since October 2019. The news came much to the delight of locals who had been begging not to climb it, both because they consider it a sacred site and for safety reasons.
For years tourist have been hiking up along one of the steep sides of the monolith. It was an exhausting climb almost an hour long, often to be carried out under the blazing sun. As a matter of fact several tourists have lost their lives here over the last 20 years, due to heart attacks or heatstrokes.
BEFORE AND AFTER MASS TOURISM
Uluru has finally become pure again, as well as the ecosystem around it is blooming once more. For centuries men and animals used to gather around here after the rainy season. At Uluru they would find precious drinking water, food and shelter. But since many visitors started climbing the rock from the ’50s, waterholes around it became more and more polluted, so much that animals didn’t come back anymore. According to some rangers of the National Park, last February a kangaroo has been spotted drinking at a waterhole nearby Uluru for the first time in decades. Please always be mindful and dispose of your litter properly around the park!
As for every place “discovered” by early white European settlers, Uluru too lost its official Aboriginal name for a while. It was in 1873 that explorer William Gosse renamed it Ayers Rock after Sir Ayers, then governor of South Australia. Recently and rightly so, the government has started to officially give back historic and traditional sites to the custody of respective aboriginal communities.
Since 1993 Uluru is the official name again, but the double indigenous/Australian name is still used (Uluru/Ayers Rock or Kata Tjuta/Mt Olgas). It’s important to know that whereas on one hand Australia is simply divided in 6 states + 2 territories, on the other hand hundreds of different groups, tribes, and communities are still spread all around the vast Australian continent. We prefer not to go any deeper into the matter, which is long and complicated, but we choose to use traditional aboriginal names and enjoy the beauty of the place without any dramas!
ENTRY TO ULURU AND KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK
Uluru is located within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The closest place to stay is the village of Yulara, which receives the big flow of tourists. At Yulara you’ll find all sorts of accommodation managed by the Ayers Rock Resort, ranging from luxury hotels to apartments with kitchen, and also camping sites for campervans and tents. There’s no shortage of restaurants, souvenir shops, a supermarket, car rental, fuel station, hospital and every other basic service.
A Park Pass is required to enter the National Park, priced at 38$AU per person in 2022 (25€). The pass is valid for 3 days (extendable up to 5 days with no extra costs upon request).
Once inside the park you are free to drive around to the panoramic spots and take the several hikes available, listed below.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE AT ULURU
- Sunrise Carpark + Viewing Platform: ideal to see Uluru lighting up with the sunrise colours. A 2-minute walk from the carpark takes you to the panoramic platforms. About 30 minutes from Yulara, leave from Yulara at least 45 minutes before sunrise.
- Sunset Carpark: the perfect place for sunset, which can also be enjoyed while sitting in your own car or parking your van with a view over Uluru. 20 minutes from Yulara. Beautiful at sunrise too, with the sun rising from behind the rock.
- Uluru Cultural Centre: a recommended stop to understand better the culture of the Anangu local people.
- Mala Walk: easy 2-km walk along the sacred sites. We suggest doing it in the morning to join the free guide by the ranger. (8am in summer, 10am in winter)
- Uluru Base Walk: the full lap around Uluru, 10.5 km, allow 3 hours at moderate pace. Aim to complete the walk before 11am on hot days.
- Kuniya Walk: If you’re not doing the whole lap, take this easy 30-minute-long walk to reach Mutitjulu Waterhole, the most important one in Uluru, that fills up when it rains.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE AT KATA TJUTA
The same goes for Kata-Tjuta, the group of rock formations situated some 25 km from Uluru, or 50 km from Yulara, also within the National Park:
- Sunrise Carpark + Viewing Platform: again you can walk up from the carpark to the viewing platforms where you can enjoy amazing 360° views. It takes almost an hour to get here from Yulara, we suggest leaving 1.5 hrs before sunrise.
- Sunset Carpark: come here to see the rocks getting dark orange when hit by the sunset lights. The only toilets at Kata Tjuta are located at this spot.
- Valley of the Winds Walk: great hike meandering through the rocky domes. The difficulty level is medium, it’s 7.5 km with a couple of steep climbs, some stony parts. Allow around 4 hours including breaks.
- Karu and Karingana Lookout: these two lookouts are part of the Valley of the Winds Walk, you can use them as turning point if you don’t want to do the whole lap. 2 km return the first; 5.5 km and 3 hours return the second, which features the best overall viewing spot.
- Walpa Gorge Walk: if you still have energies left late in the morning, explore this narrow gorge to uncover its waterhole. 2.5 km and 1 hour return.
GUIDED TOURS IN ULURU
The above activities are to be done autonomously, getting around with your own car.
For those of you who won’t be driving at Uluru don’t stress, the resort provides guided tours of all kinds. Furthermore “hop on-hop off” shuttle buses are available all day at regular times to reach the viewing spots mentioned before. Ask at reception for updated timetables.
Among the most popular tours we mention:
- Field of Lights: a huge artistic installation consisting in thousands of tiny solar powered lights, which change colour armoniously and light up the night next to Uluru.
- Astro Tour: astronomy night class with use of telescopes.
- Camel Tour: camel ride in the bush around Uluru.
- Helicopter/Hot Air Balloon Flights: available seasonally for bird-eye views above the National Park.
- Dot Painting Workshop: painting class with examples of aboriginal art.
FREE ACTIVITIES IN ULURU
Finally let’s not forget all free activities and things to do, shorter and open to everyone, but still as interesting. Available most days depending on seasons. Some of our favourites were:
- Garden Walk: 9am meet up at resort square, an introduction on plants, fruits and native trees around the area.
- Bush Food: 1pm at Arkani Theatre, a demo class on how to use bush ingredients in the kitchen.
- Paint your australian animal: 11am at Sails in the Desert resort. Here you’ll be able to paint and keep your own wooden australian animal.
- Didgeridoo Workshop: 11am, introduction to the renowned aboriginal musical instrument.
- Gallery of Central Australia (GoCA): a nice gallery where aboriginal art pieces, artifacts and souvenirs can be admired and purchased.
All these activities will certainly keep you entertained during your stay.
We warmly recommend to spend at least tre days in Uluru to take full advantage of the Park Pass length. By doing this you’ll be able to enjoy multiple sunrises and sunsets even from different perspectives.
That’s why we stayed for 5 days and 4 nights, taking in as many activities as we could but also keeping time for ourselves to cool down in the pool during extremely hot afternoons and relax in the warm evenings.
For more tips and suggestions, refer to the paragraphs below and get ready for your trip to the outback!
Enjoy magical Uluru!
HOTEL – WHERE TO STAY IN ULURU
- You can book all your accommodation in Uluru and in Australia with free cancellation here.
- The Lost Camel Hotel: the cheapest (or less expensive…) hotel in Yulara, AC rooms and swimming pool.
- Sails in the Desert: right in the middle of the village, a 5 stars resort with all necessary comforts.
- Ayers Rock Campground: the only campground in Uluru, powered and unpowered sites for vans and tents, modern bathroom facilities, shared kitchens and a pool. Starting from 45$ (30€) per night.
HOW TO GET AROUND
- Car and campervan: the bright side of driving thousands of kilometres all the way to Uluru is that you’ll be able to camp in your own vehicle or set-up at night, and then drive independently around the park by day.
If instead you are flying in, rent a car here in Alice Springs or Yulara.
Check the best offers to rent a car in Australia here.
- Shuttle bus and coaches: free shuttle buses are available to all guests to get around Yulara, whereas guided tours include pick up and drop off from the hotel to each destination and back.
- Helicopter tours: helicopter (and hot air balloon seasonally) tours are available daily for flights between 15-35 minutes over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. More info here.
WEATHER & SEASONS – WHEN TO GO TO ULURU
Uluru is located within a semi-arid desertic area. Summers (Dec-Mar) are hot and humid, with seldom downpours and over 35°C by day. Nights are cooler around 20°C. The worst thing for us were flies, make sure you get a fly net for your hat!
Winters (Jun-Aug) are more pleasant, temperatures stay around 25°C. This is peak season though, it’s easy to find everything sold-out and huge crowds. Prepare for possible cold nights below 10°C.
As usual in Australia try and avoid school holidays, especially those in December and January. The best months to go would be April and October.
Always carry water reserves with you, as well as a hat and sunscreen, suitable walking shoes and clothes for your hiking needs.
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