Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) has a deeply special significance for me and thousands of others. Along with The Sydney Opera house and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it would have to be the three instantly recognisable symbols, of Australia:
If coming to visit, I recommend at least three days in the Centre. Many of the 300,00 annual visitors come in and out for one single day as part of a “whistle stop” Australian tour. One day at Uluru is not enough time to experience this magical place. This last visit was my fifth and I could come back another fifty. The two other places we visited in the centre on this trip:
- Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas) which is slightly less than an hour away
- Kings Canyon & Watarrka National Park which is about four hours from the rock
Uluru is simultaneously beautiful and dramatic. The rock is a massive 348m above ground. This makes it taller than the London Shard (310 m ) and Q1, Australia’s tallest building (311m). It also has some 2.5kms of bulk underground.
I recommend the rock for sunrise, sunset and in between!
The flat red plain around it accentuates the massive bulk of the rock. Surface oxidation of its iron content gives Uluru its unmistakable orange-red hue. I recommend the rock for sunrise, sunset and in between! The shot below is pre dawn!
The rock is about 3.6kms long and 1.9kms wide, with a circumference of 9.4kms. Walking round the rock is amazing. You can also bike around it but I find that too busy and too fast! Walking around gives you a sense of the size, and immenseness of the rock. There are some very fertile oasis around the rock where water has accumulated and stayed -an unusual situation in this barren place.
There is a steep climb to the top. Aborigines request that people not climb Uluru. The government in Australia have refused to close the climb which has caused frustration. My response to the climb or not to climb debate. Don’t. My experience does not trump someone’s sacred site. I think climbing is offensive when you understand the perspective of the local people.
Kata Tjuta/The Olgas
The 36 steep-sided domes of Kata Tjuta look like a group of giant’s heads. The early aborigines must have thought so because they named the area “Many Heads”. The highest peak Mount Olga, is approximately 546 metres (1,791 ft) above the ground. This makes it taller than One World Trade Center New York City (541 metres) or the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (452 metres).
There are three walking tracks around the 36 domes. Many people walk to the first lookout and then leave. I always do the full 7.4m (4.5 mile) walk through the valley of the winds. For most of the walk, you are completely by yourself, surrounded by massive rocks in the heart of an ancient landscape.It is extraordinary. Take lots of water and food. There are no shops for 53km (30miles).
Sunset is magic here. Unfortunately, it has become popular with everyone else and there is not much peace during the sun’s descent!
Kings Canyon & Watarrka National Park
I cannot skip this place. We enjoyed sunset drinks at the Kings Canyon resort with spectacular views of the light playing on the rocks. I have done all three walks in Watarraka National Park:
- the most famous is the Kings Canyon Rim Walk , a six kilometre (four mile) loop that will take about four hours. Like many people we started at dawn and enjoyed the sun rising as we climbed the first steep climb. The walk hugs the cliff face, descends via wooden stairs into a lush oasis with ferns and cycads around a peaceful pool, known as the Garden of Eden before depositing people back in the car park through a group of giant sandstone domes.You can do a short version of this walk which only gives you the South Wall of the Canyon. It takes about 1 ½- 2 hours.
- The Kings Creek Walk (2km return) is a short gentle hike along a rocky creek bed to a raised platform with views of rim. It can be done anytime.
- The Kathleen Springs Walk takes you for a stroll through early abandoned white settlement and ancient aboriginal territory to a beautiful plant, bird and wildlife filled area
The maximum temperature here averages 35 degrees celsius (95 F) through January. It is a very dry heat with almost no humidity. In June and July the maximum daily temperature is around 20 degrees celsius (68 F). It is best to bring something to rug up in night because it can be chilly! At night, temperatures average just three degrees in July and 21 in January.
I have never seen rain in the Centre. On average Uluru-Kata Tjuta receives about 308mm (12 inches) per year.
Culture: Many people marvel at the ancient landscape but miss the ancient lifestyles within it. Aborigines have lived, hunted and shared songs, stories and traditions in the area for at least 10,000 years. In other words, there are traces of people here 4,000 years before the pyramids were built!
I recommend the free garden walks at the Yulara resort with an aboriginal guide. They are very illuminating. The free Aboriginal story telling activities are great for adults and children. Also, make time at the Uluru Visitors Centre with its displays, videos and Aboriginal painters to really gain an appreciation of the Aboriginal influence in this area. Stop and look at the rock paintings at Uluru itself. There are signs asking people not to photograph certain places because they are sacred and we were impressed that people obeyed the signs.
We included a walk through an amazing art installation, Field of Lights,developed by British artist Bruce Munro. 50,000 solar-powered lights. Well worth it.
Accommodation and Meals
Thirty years ago, there were motels and a camping ground right next to the rock. Camping was allowed anywhere. In the 1980s, a new town was set up outside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, called Yulara. The town now has four hotels, a youth hostel and a camping ground. You cannot camp anywhere else in the area especially not in the national park. I have seen people get off the plane thinking they can sleep anywhere and find something on the spot. Book your accommodation in advance.
If you are a member of the ACCOR plus program you will get discounts on accommodation at the four hotels in the Yulara resort area, althiugh we found the same discounts on a number of websites when we booked in advance.
Accor Plus will also get you 50% off your meals which is a massive saving as everything in the centre is very expensive. This is because nearly everything has been trucked or flown in. The supermarket has a good range and not bad prices. Make sure you enjoy the Outback BBQ! Its fun and delicious with good music on most nights.
Look for discounts for the Kings Canyon resort area before booking accommodation there. Booking ahead does get you better deals. Be warned that breakfast at king’s Canyon costs a fortune so bring your own and eat it in the camp kitchen!
The Rock sits 2,156 km (1,340 miles) west of Sydney, about 3,5 hours flying time. By road its about 2,865 km (1,780 miles). The rock is 450 km from Alice Springs. Flights from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock take only 45 minutes.
We flew Jetstar into Connellan Airport located 10 minutes drive from Yulara (the Ayers Rock Resort). There is a regular free shuttle bus to and from the airport. You can hire cars at the airport or at the resort. Tip: it is usually cheaper to rent a car at the airport than the resort. Also book in advance as cars are often out of stock at peak times.
It is possible to pick up a car in Alice Springs and drop it at the rock and vice versa. Be warned there are quite steep one-way fees on some car rentals so check booking conditions closely. sometimes renting for an extra day may be enough to wipe out the one-way fee.
You can also take buses between all these places.
I have driven, taken a bus and flown between the rock and Alice Springs. Whichever way I have done it, I rank the Red Centre of Australia, one of the best places you can visit in your life. I know its a big claim but I do not shrink from it.