Central Australia has always been a place I wanted to visit, but it was never quite at the top of the list. International travel was always somewhat more appealing due to the sheer cost of travelling within Australia being the same as international. So when the opportunity arose to travel with some overseas friends, I took the plunge! Uluru surprised me more than I could imagine. It’s absolutely impossible to understand the sheer size of the red rock, Uluru until you see it up close. All those photos you see of Uluru are taken from 20km away and it’s STILL that big. The surrounding areas of Yulara and Kata Tjuta are equally as interesting! Here’s my take on what to see in the Uluru region for 3 days.
Hiking is the main activity around Uluru. National park guidelines stress the importance of finishing your hike by 11am if the predicted high for the day is above 37 degrees. In summer (November to March) hot weather is pretty much guaranteed! As most hikes are several hours in length, you need to work backwards, often starting a hike at 7am in order to complete it time before the track closes at 11am. If you are a little late, it’s ok so long as you are on your way back. Don’t ever doubt how hot the sun is, the rules are there for your safety.
Uluru is located 30km drive from Yulara. There are 4 walking tracks (Mala, Base, Kuniya & Lungkata) that combine all the way around Uluru totalling 11.6km in total. There is an energy that surrounds Uluru, a real sense of respect, sacred and just something super special. You can quite literally feel the motions coming off the rock. It’s size dwarfs you, and a sense of inner peace is found. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else in the world.
Respecting sacred areas is the right thing to do. Uluru is incredibly important to it’s traditional land owners, the Anangu people and therefore ask for respect when visiting Uluru. Certain areas of Uluru are spiritually significant because it was a traditional route of the ancestral Anangu.
The Base walk was almost entirely sacred. The walk distanced itself quite far from the rock because to this. One thing to keep in mind is that about 3/4 of the full loop around Uluru is considered sacred zones where there are requests for no photos to be taken. Out of respect, I did not take photos in these areas.
The climb point is located near the Mala carpark, and is of great significance to the Aboriginal people. Aboriginals ask for people to not climb Uluru. There are multiple reasons as to why. Would you enter someone’s house uninvited? Uluru is sacred and should be treated with respect. Every step made leaves a scar. The rock is fragile, and the more people that climb it, the more it wears away. It’s also quite dangerous, more than 30 people have died whilst climbing Uluru. There is one single metal chain that goes the 348m up, and the severity of this climb is often underestimated by people.
When I looked at the chain leading up to the top, I got the feeling of looking at an animal you love dearly being tied up. Your heart breaks. Whilst it isn’t illegal to climb Uluru, it is against the wishes of the Anangu people. The choice is yours. I did not climb.
The number one piece of advice I can give is to rent a bike for $40 from the Uluru visitors centre. Even more so if it’s above 30 degrees. Heat exhaustion is a serious thing out here and the walk is almost entirely in the sun. We didn’t rent bikes as we thought we would end up stopping a lot to take photos and that it would get really cumbersome. In hindsight whilst the walk was lovely, it would have been as pleasurable on a bike (if not more so) as the bike would generate a little wind as you ride, and because photos weren’t allowed everywhere.
Bring 1L of water with you per hour. We estimated 3 hours walk and therefore each carried 3L of water. There are water stations in rest stops, which are about every 2km. Rest stops do have water, but the water doesn’t taste great.
The Mala Walk was my favourite part of the base walk around Uluru. It has very varied rocks, caves you can explore and a small waterfall. You could also take photos there!
I was also lucky enough to be visiting during a freak rainstorm in December, and saw Uluru turn into a waterfall. Stunning.
The biggest surprise when visiting the Uluru region was Kata Tjuta. I’d heard about these as the sister rocks to Uluru, and therefore expected something somewhat smaller. Boy was I wrong! I found Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) more enjoyable to hike through, however didn’t get the same spiritual connection as in Uluru. Kata Tjuta is located about 50km from Yulara. Kata Tjuta is quite different in that the rocks are like these huge marbles that have been stacked right next to eachother. This creates stunning landscapes inside, where you are able to hike between gorges, amongst rocky faces and even some greenery.
VALLEY OF THE WINDS
We chose to hike the Valley of the Winds to Karingana Lookout, about 5.4km return. There are two lookout points; Karu Lookout and Karingana Lookout. The view from the Karu lookout is good, but Karingana is even better! The track will close at the Karu Lookout point if the temperature is set to reach above 36 degrees. We were lucky that it was still early enough and were able to continue our hike. To reach the Karu Lookout is 1.1km, about 30min walk one way from the carpark. The walk is entirely in the sun and flat most of the way with some stairs.
From Karu to Karingana Lookout, it is a more challenging and exciting walk. You enter down into the gorge between humongous rocks. Here you’ll see creeks, greenery, have to climb rock faces (nothing too serious, your hands and feet will do), which will ultimately lead to the Karingana Lookout. The view is absolutely spectacular, with two of the rocks opening, leaving what looks to be a totally photoshopped background which is completely and utterly natural. It just can’t be believed. The journey to Karingana Lookout is oh so worth it. You won’t do the hike justice if you just go to Karu. Karingana Lookout is an additional 1.6km from Karu Lookout (or 2.7km from the carpark). It will take approximately 1 hour to walk there from Karu Lookout as there are a lot of steps and bits to climb that will slow you down. There are moments of shade on this track, so make the most of them.
Should time allow, you can continue further and complete a full circuit loop which is 7.4km, however this is suggested to take 4 hours. From Karingana Lookout, the track is almost entirely in the sun.
No surprises here – bring lots of water! 1L per hour. There is a rest station past Karu Lookout where there is water. Again, the water doesn’t taste great, but you will need it. I carried 3L and surprise surprise ran out. This is because the terrain is more demanding thanks to stairs/climbing etc.
FIELD OF LIGHT
A really beautiful thing to do in the evenings is to visit the art installation called Field Of Light. Imagine a football field covered in tulips, with tulips as far as the eye can see. Now, replace the tulip with a glass bulb and the stem with wires. It sways ever so softly in the wind. The cabling below lit up, as if it was something out of a Sci Fi movie. Then, every 30 seconds, the entire field piece by piece changes colour. Field off Light is somewhat a garden of the future that is solar powered. It is very peaceful and cool to see how the lights change. See it whilst it’s still here!
Often on the list for most visitors, Kings Canyon is another stunning natural beauty within the Australian Outback. There’s just one thing. It’s 330km from Yulara. If you’re wanting to visit Kings Canyon, it’s best to either arrange bus transportation for this, or stay the night in Kings Canyon. It is quite a distance to be driven, and you cannot drive at night because of the Kangaroos and Camels. That said, it is beautiful, and I hope to get there next time.
Uluru was first named ‘Ayers Rock’ by Ernest Giles in 1872 after european exploration named it after the then South Australian Premier, Sir Henry Ayers. European settlement had a huge impact on the Anangu, and the traditional and cultural land owners, the Anangu people were not listened to. Tourism began and many people began to visit Ayers Rock. This continued for a long time.
In 1985, the Australian government returned Uluru to the Anangu people under the condition that it was leased back to the National Parks and wildlife agency for 99 years. In 1985, the name was changed back to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, to acknowledge and respect the Anangu people.
Now, it depends on the season and how wet it has been, but sometimes the flies can be pretty insane out in Uluru. I had strangely almost no flies in the middle of summer (which is extremely rare), but did go prepared with a fly net. You can pick these up from adventure stores like Kathmandu, or in the IGA in Yulara for less than $10.
Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen with you. There are only limited supplies available in Uluru and they are expensive. Make sure to also take a hat to protect your head from the sun. The heat really is quite overwhelming.
Enjoy the desert and the red sand. It will get all over your shoes, and they will come back home a shade of orange (I was lucky and was able to get MOST of the orange out of my shoes).
Hotels in Yulara (the town near Uluru) are somewhat expensive. As there is very little choice, the hotels charge a minimum of $200 per night per room. There are also plenty of luxury hotels available (Desert Sails & Longitude 131), ranging all the way up to $700 per night.
If you’re looking for a budget friendly hotel, I can recommend the Outback Pioneer Hotel. Whilst it’s nothing flashy, it’s got all the basics including a pool. For those wanting to stay in the hostel, the Outback Pioneer also has a lodge. A bed is $35pp/pn. The huge benefit of staying here in the hostel is that you have access to the resort facilities of the hotel = you can use the pool. When it gets hot (and I mean outback 40 degrees hot), you want to use the pool! The hostel is nothing flash, there is a common area, a kitchen and laundry facilities. The hotel kind of feels like a campground with lots of different buildings all with an outback twist.
Whilst staying somewhere with a pool is a wonderful luxury, I can recommend staying overnight camping in a swag. It’s safe and something totally wild. You would have a totally unspoilt view of Uluru, and the stars shining oh so bright at night.
GETTING AROUND THE ULURU REGION
It should come as no surprise to know that everything is still quite a distance from Yulura. In order to see the sights, it’s at least a 20km drive. In case you were wondering, there are no public buses. It’s either tour operators or you rent a car.
RENTING A CAR
If you are in a group of 2 or more, renting a car is cheaper. You can pretty much rent any type of car you like if you plan on sticking to the major tourist spots on sealed roads (that’s only normal roads and not gravel or dirt roads). If you want to go off road, you will have to do more research as to which rental companies allow this and get a 4WD.
There are stands for Avis, Hertz and Thrifty at the airport. Cars start from around $50 a day and daily kilometres are free up to 100km. Keep in mind that means that if you are renting the car for 3 days, you have a combined limit of 300km, which is easily enough to get you around.
There are huge benefits to driving yourself around. For starters, you’re in charge of your own schedule. As a lot of the activities in Uluru are based around hiking, early mornings are necessary to avoid the heat during the middle part of the day. It also means you can leave when you like. Often tour companies will have set departure times meaning you have to finish the hike by a certain time or alternatively wait around for everyone else to finish in the heat. When there is a pool back at the hotel and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting, patience wears thin quickly.
DRIVING IN AUSTRALIA
If you’ve never driven in Australia or on the other side of the road (the right side), Uluru is arguably one of the easiest places to do it. You see, there is just one roundabout in town, and the rest is just ridiculously easy driving on straight roads. There is just one caveat to how easy driving is here. The Kangaroos. Car rental companies forbid driving the car after dark with the exception of back to Yulara from the sunset viewing locations for Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Kangaroos are most active at dawn and dusk as the temperature cools. In my 7 years of driving in Australia, I’ve only ever once encountered an animal on the road. Just as you could see deer in Germany or cows in rural areas, it happens. The law in Australia and the safest way to stop is to brake in a straight line and potentially hit the kangaroo/animal. The wrong way (which tends to be the natural reaction) is to swerve off road or onto the other side of the road to miss hitting it. This is the unsafe way as you have a much higher chance of losing control of the car.
HOW TO GET THERE
FLY TO ULURU (AYERS ROCK)
There are flights with Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia to Uluru from most capital cities. Flights are generally 3hrs from the east coast cities.
FLY TO ALICE SPRINGS
Rather surprisingly, you there are no flights from Darwin to Uluru. Your only option then is to take a flight to Alice Springs with Qantas (QantasLink propeller plane) and then drive / bus 5hrs to Yulara (it’s almost faster to fly to a east coast city from Darwin and then fly to Uluru!!).