A visit to Australia isn’t truly complete without a trip to the outback. Uluru isn’t only an iconic symbol of Australia but also one of the countries major bucket list moments. Rising 348m above the flat Australian desert, this red sandstone rock is over 600 million years old and a very sacred place to the indigenous Aboriginal people. Fun fact: it’s actually taller than the Eiffer Tower, 24m taller to be exact. It really is one pretty big rock! Thanks to Jetstar I was able to take a quick trip to Uluru and tick this one off the bucket list. So whether you’ve already planned a trip or still tossing up as to whether it’s worth traveling to the middle of nowhere, here’s a short guide on how you should spend your time here.
Where to Watch Sunrise and Sunset
Those iconic Uluru shots you would have seen are almost always taken from the sunrise and sunset viewing platforms. If you’re looking for fewer crowds and a different photo, try visiting the sunset viewing platform at sunrise and vice versa. You’ll likely have the place almost all to yourself and will get a different perspective from your typical sunrise or sunset shots.
Car Sunset Viewing Area: This is only for those who have hired their own car, as tour buses are not allowed.
Bus Sunset & Dune Walk Viewing Area: Here you’ll get 360-degree views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It’s accessible to everyone until 4pm, after that only buses and coaches are permitted. If you’ve booked any kind of sunset tour, it’s likely this is where they’ll take you.
Talinguru Nyakunytjaku Sunrise Viewing Area: This is the main spot for sunrise viewing of Uluru and offers 360-degree views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There are two high wooden viewing platforms that get flooded with tourists and it’s hard to get a good photo without someone’s head in the way. If you want a more beautiful and peaceful sunrise I recommend walking down to the track below the platforms where the majority of people don’t go.
Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area: This is the best place to watch the sunrise over the 36 head-shaped domes of Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas). It’s a boardwalk up to the top with a shelter, so not exactly a dune as the name suggests
Kata Tjuta Sunset Viewing Area: Visit here at sunset to watch the rocks change into the deepest red.
Imalung Lookout: This is within the Ayers Rock Resort so very convenient if you don’t have a car and haven’t booked a sunset or sunrise tour.
Uluru Base Walk
After sunrise people either head straight out to Uluru to start the base walk or they head back to the hotel for the breakfast buffet. The entire loop is 10.6 kilometres and will take you around the base of the rock on a completely flat and mainly hard packed red sand track. It’s best to start your walk early to beat the heat, particularly if you’re traveling during the warmer months. If you’re looking for a faster way to make it around the track, you can also hire bikes for the day from Outback Cycling. Your other option is to take the 2km free ranger guided Mala walk. This takes about 1.5 hours and you’ll learn about Aboriginal law, stories associated with Mala ancestors, rock art, traditional Anangu culture and the history of the area.
Can You Climb Uluru?
While it is still legal to do so, the Anangu (local Aboriginal people) ask that you don’t as it’s an important sacred sight and under their traditional law climbing is not permitted. Over the coming years it’s expected climbing of the rock will eventually be banned, but for now out of respect for the traditional owners, don’t climb Uluru!
It’s Not Just Uluru, There’s Kata Tjuta Too
What many don’t realise is that Uluru isn’t the only geological structure in the area, though it seems to get most of the attention. Kata Tjuta is a group of large, ancient rock formations about 30 kilometres from Uluru. Apart from these two major landmarks there’s nothing much else nearby other than Alice Springs and Kings Canyon, both of which are 5+ hours away. Only in the outback would a 5 hour drive be classified as nearby!
There are two different hikes you can do at Kata Tjuta, but if you only have time for one I recommend The Valley of the Winds trail. It’s a 7.4km circuit that takes about 3 hours to complete and will take you between the domes, through creek beds and up and down some pretty steep and rocky areas. There are two lookout points along the way, Karu and Karingana lookout, but if you’re traveling during the warmer months, the track is closed at 11am from the Karu Lookout if the weather is forecast to hit 36 degrees or higher. Another easier walk is through Walpa Gorge, which is a 2.6km walk and will take you 1 hour to return.
Best Thing To Do: Field Of Light
Easily the highlight of my time at Uluru was visiting the Field of Light installation. The display will sadly be coming to a close March 31st 2018, so if you needed an excuse to visit Uluru soon, this is it! Artist Bruce Munro’s largest work to date consists of 50,000 flower like stems, topped with radiant frosted-glass spheres that cover an area the size of seven football fields. A pathway through the installation allows you to be completely surrounded by the field of lights, which is very reminiscent of a Christmas light display of thousands and thousands of tulips.
There are a number of ways to experience Field of Light, but they all involve a tour. We chose the Star Pass that included hotel pick up and transfer to the remote desert location, sunset viewing from a dune with champagne and canapés, followed by a self guided walk through the lights. This gave us the most amount of time and also allowed us to view the lights from afar. The basic passes will drop you off right at the lights and you won’t be able to see their full effect. If you wish to drop the big bucks, you can also view the lights from the air in your own helicopter.
Where to Stay
Ayers Rock Resort has a number of accommodation options to choose from that cater to a range of budgets. The ultimate luxury glamping experience can be had at Longitude 131°. Definitely for those celebrating a special occasion, as it will set you back $2,800 a night (and it’s a minimum 2 night stay). Your 5 star and 4 star hotel options are Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens Hotel. Each includes a swimming pool, multiple restaurants, spa and elaborate breakfast buffet. For families or those traveling in a group Emu Walk Apartments may be your best option. There are also some great choices for backpackers and campers with the Outback Pioneer Lodge offering budget rooms and hostel dorm rooms and the Ayers Rock Campground offering cabins and campsites. So while Uluru is literally in the middle of nowhere, there are a variety of accommodation options that cater to different budgets and experiences. All are within a short walk from each other within the Ayers Rock Resort complex, while Longitude 131° is located in a seperate area slightly closer to Uluru.
We visited in September and didn’t find the flies to be much of an issue at all. Though if you’re traveling during the warmer months when the flies are at their worst, your best bet will be purchasing one of the stylish Aussie hats with the swinging corks or fly netting that you can place over your hat. Super stylish but you won’t care. You can find these at the Yulura town square shops, which are within the Ayers Rock Resort.
I took a direct flight from Melbourne to Uluru on Jetstar that had us arriving just before lunchtime, giving us most of the day to still explore. Make sure to book a window seat because you can see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta on landing and take off. It seems like the left side of the plane gets the Uluru view and the right side gets the Kata Tjuta view. The airport is only 10 minutes from Ayers Rock Resort, with complimentary shuttle buses ready to take you to and from the airport. Uluru is really convenient in that you don’t need to travel a great distance from the airport to the attractions. The second you step of the plane you are literally there.
With thanks to Jetstar for making this trip possible. As always, all opinions expressed remain my own.