Exploring

Uluru

Uluru (Ayers Rock) is usually found on the travel wish-list of even the most stay-at-home Aussie and no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, nothing will prepare you for your first views of the spectacular rock formation, which is as tall as an 85-storey building with a circumference of nearly 10 kilometres.

Indigenous Australians believe Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta to be the centre of all Dreaming. Traditionally, this area was seen as something like the hub of a wheel, with songlines radiating from it across the land. The monoliths, with their crinkles, creases, indentations and ancient drawings, provide a map of ancestors’ births, battles and deaths.

Official conservation bodies recognise Uluru’s star and spiritual qualities, too. In 1994, Uluru became one of just a few sites in the world to hold dual UNESCO World Heritage listings, acknowledging its ecological, as well as its cultural, value.

Getting there

Best time to visit Uluru

You can visit Uluru any time of the year – the resort and national park are open year round – but desert temperatures are extreme, with summer temperatures often nudging more than 45˚C. Summer is also when the flies are at their friendliest, and are annoying enough to spoil your holiday, even if you wear a fly net (which you can buy at the Uluru visitors centre).

Best time to visit is during the winter months between May and October, when days are mild and sunny, but night time temperatures are freezing, so bring plenty of warm clothes for sunrises and sunset outings because that’s the best time to see the rock as it changes colours in the soft light.

Flights to Uluru

The easiest way to see this sacred monolith is to fly direct to Ayers Rock Airport (Yulara), which is about 22km north of Uluru – there are direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns and Alice Springs and connecting flights from other capital cities – then book in at one of Ayers Rock Resort’s hotels, which includes glampsite Longitude 131° – a free shuttle bus circulates the resort daily making it easy to get around once you’re there.

Alternatively you can catch a tour bus from Alice Springs, which is a five-hour drive to the north-east. There are no trains to Uluru – the nearest train station is at Alice Springs.

Driving to Uluru

Driving to Uluru from Alice Springs is a great option, as you’ll arrive at Uluru with a deeper understanding of the Red Centre, and a better perspective of just how big it is. You can hire cars in Alice Springs and one-way hire is available if you want to drive in and fly out.

Alice Springs to Ayers Rock Resort is 450km down the Stuart and Lasseter highways, approximately 4.5 hours drive on sealed roads. There are four petrol stations along the way.

You can also drive to Uluru from Alice Springs via Kings Canyon – another breathtaking spot – on the Red Centre Way through the beautiful West MacDonnell Ranges. It’s dusty and bit bumpy, but one of the outback’s best road trips.

Things to do in Uluru

Ranger Walks

The traditional owners of Uluru, the Anangu community, urge people to circumnavigate the rock on foot, rather than climb it. Just in case you are wondering, we have five great reasons you should not climb the rock.

To really interact with this spiritual place in a meaningful way, and to learn all about the cultural significance of Uluru, join a ranger-guided Mala Walk, which leaves from the Mala car park each morning.

Camel Safaris

Take a sunrise or sunset camel-train tour watching the glowing light blaze across Uluru and Kata Tjuta. With dewy eyes framed by luscious lashes, the camels are gentle, friendly creatures, with an undulating, slow-paced gait.

Saddle up at the camel farm at Ayers Rock Resort just before sunset or sunrise, enjoy the view and return to the farm to munch on freshly baked beer damper.

Kata Tjuta

Make sure you have enough time at Uluru to spend half a day or more at Kata Tjuta, formerly known as The Olgas – it’s just as impressive as Uluru.

It’s around a half-hour drive from Ayers Rocks Resort, and there are lots of tours available if you don’t have your own set of wheels (book a tour when you arrive).

Field of Light

Another don’t miss sight is artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light, one of the largest art installations in Australia’s history. More than 50,000 spindles of light transform the desert floor into a multi-coloured garden at night. The installation was originally planned to be on show for just 12 months, but has been extended until the end of 2020.

Best way to see Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Your first trip to Uluru should begin at the cultural centre, where a series of exhibits, paintings, videos and interpretation boards explain the relationship that the Anangu have with the land, Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

Walks

Walk around Uluru – a 10.6 kilometre round trip, best completed before 10am – and you’ll find a permanent watering hole, caves and Indigenous rock art. Take a tour, and you’ll be guided by someone who won’t just reel off a series of statistics – although they’re in there – but who will explain the beautiful Aboriginal stories that entwine this rock through their culture. You can also explore Kata Tjuta on foot – the Valley of the Winds trail is a three-hour hike that takes you up the domes’ steep sides to some beautiful lookout points

Day Trips

Hire a bicycle from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre and cycle round the base of Uluru, jump on the back of a Harley Davidson for a motorcycle tour around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, or join a tour – a good guide really adds meaning to your time here. See our Uluru in a Nutshell guide for more touring ideas.

Scenic Flights

See the rock from above – scenic flights in fixed wind aircraft and helicopters are available, and if you really want to ramp up the adventure, you can admire the views as you freefall above the desert on a tandem skydive.

Uluru Accommodation

More like a village than a hotel, Ayers Rock Resort (managed by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia), has five different types of hotels, including the five-star hotel, Sails in the Desert, the four-and-a-half-star Desert Gardens Hotel (some rooms even offer glimpses of the rock), four-star Emu Walk Apartments, which are self-catering, both hotel and basic motel-style rooms at Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge, the more boutique style Lost Camel Hotel and air-conditioned cabins in the campground.

You can also stay at some roadhouses along the highway, but be warned – they’re very basic. Curtin Spring Cattle Station is our pick of the bunch, (and we mean basic, with a shared bathroom, although camping is free). It’s a good alternative if you plan to also see Kings Canyon as well as Uluru, and they run tours to Mount Connor, however if you plan to base yourself here, you’ll need a car.

Camping

Accommodation at Uluru is expensive, so the best option for those on a tight budget is to camp. You cannot camp in the national park, but Ayers Rock Resort has a surprisingly green camping ground that has powered sites for caravans, campervans, motor homes and camper trailers, as well as grassy tent sites. Facilities include a swimming pool, playground, bbq and outdoor kitchen and self-service laundry.

Glamping

If a view of Uluru from your king-sized bed doesn’t win you over, something else is bound to at luxury resort Longitude 131. Fitted with antique trinkets and earthly furnishings, the 15 tented pavilions take the concept of camping to another stratosphere. Guided tours included in the tariff give guests exclusive access to parts of the national park, and your Uluru experience can be as leisurely or intrepid as you like. Gaze at the ochre rock at sunset with a glass of bubbly, or follow the route of the ancestors on a guided, pre-dawn walk around its base.

Best Restaurants

Food always tastes better outdoors, but when it’s eaten beneath a twinkling canopy of stars in the outback, it’s truly unforgettable.

The Sounds of Silence dinner atop a sand dune in the desert near Ayers Rock Resort is not your average bush BBQ and nor is it priced as such.

After tucking into fine wines, fresh barramundi, lamb, kangaroo and emu steaks, bush vegetables and luscious desserts, the lanterns are dimmed, the port poured and the legends of the southern sky are explained by a local astronomer.

For something even more intimate, exclusive and gourmet, try Tali Wiri.

Like Sounds of Silence it’s a four-hour dining experience with a view of Uluru and after-dinner to tales told by an indigenous storyteller, but unlike Sounds, which caters for up to 350 people per evening across three different sites, Tali seats just 20.

To give you a feel for the level of gourmet, let’s just say it starts with Louis Roederer. The cuisine is distinctly Australian – think tender Darling Downs wagyu and wattleseed rubbed kangaroo carpaccio.

Other AT favourite places to eat at Ayers Rock Resort include café-restaurant Geckos, the friendly Pioneer BBQ and Bar at the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge and Arnguli Grill at Desert Gardens – a lovely, contemporary menu using modern ingredients and unpretentious recipes.

And if you are lucky enough to get your timing right, you could be visiting during one of Indigenous celebrity chef  Mark Olive’s Uluru Feastival.