Planning a trip to Uluru? Here’s everything you need to know, and a few things we bet you didn’t know.

What is Uluru?

Good question.  AT rock hound Kerry van der Jagt steps back in geological time to investigate Australia’s Most Famous Rock.


SHORT ANSWER //  Uluru is a bloody big rock that has been exposed due to weathering of the surrounding land over gazillions of years.

LONG ANSWER // Uluru is in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park about 335km southwest of Alice Springs. It rises 348m above the sand plain and is 9.4km around the base. Its geological history spans hundreds of millions of years and is almost beyond comprehension. A saga of unimaginable upheaval, of inland seas, erosion and folding.

Over 550 million years ago (during the Cambrian period), erosion from the Peterman Ranges to the west of Kata Tjuta led to huge alluvial fans at least 2.5km thick being built up by deposits of Arkose sands from the eroded materials. Later (500 million years ago), the alluvial fans were covered by sediments when the entire area became a shallow sea. The layers contain many fossils of marine life and are the source of the oil and gas fields in Central Australia. A few million years later still, the inland sea retreated and sediment deposition halted. Then, around 400 to 300 millions years ago, another major mountain building event, named the Alice Springs Orogeny, produced massive lifting and folding in the region. This caused the formerly horizontal strata of the Arkose sandstone (which makes up Uluru) to be folded nearly vertically. The sand fan tilted almost 90 degrees!

Over the last 300 million years the softer deposits, which covered the Arkose sandstone, have eroded away. To put it in simple terms, Uluru stands above the surrounding desert because it’s more resistant to erosion than the former rocks which covered it. Continued weathering to this day has produced the characteristic plunge pools, valleys, ribs and the red flaky surface (the result of iron oxide formation after the grey arkose has been exposed to oxygen).

You probably knew // Uluru is the tip of a huge slab of rock that continues below the ground for, it’s thought, up to 6km.

But did you know // The world’s largest monolith is WA’s Mt Augustus – not Uluru. It’s 2.5 times larger in mass and stands at 717m above the surroundings (see page 84 for more info).

And did you also know // Bit by bit over the years, people (mostly German tourists, wouldn’t you know it) have been returning bits of rock and dust taken from Uluru, with notes of apology. One, from South Australia, weighed 32kg. Another was from 40 years ago. Staff at Uluru receive roughly one of these packages of “sorry rocks” per day.

Getting to Uluru

Uluru is in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – about 335 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs as the crow flies. The most popular way to get there is by flying directly to Ayers Rock Airport, then booking in at one of Ayers Rock Resort’s hotels, which includes glampsite Longitude 131°.

All ARR accommodation includes free airport transfers, and you can either book a guided tour from your hotel or hire a car at the airport.

Alternatively, you can drive – 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. Ensure you know how to change a tyre before you set out, though – the roads are busy enough, but just in case. A car trip from Alice Springs will take approximately five hours and there are four petrol stations along the way. You can also drive to Uluru from Alice Springs via Kings Canyon – another breathtaking spot.

Staying at Uluru

There are a handful of different accommodation options within the area’s purpose-built town, which is known as Yulara. Ayers Rock Resort (owned by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia) is your main option and includes:
• A lovely five-star hotel, Sails in the Desert
• The four-and-a-half-star Desert Gardens Hotel
• Four-star Emu Apartments, which are self-catering
• Both hotel and basic motel-style rooms at Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge
• The surprisingly green Ayers Rock Campground
• Top-end ‘glamping’ option Longitude 131°, which sits slightly separate to the rest of the resort and is managed by super-luxe hotel group Baillie Lodges (yours for a cool $1500 per person, per night, including all meals and drinks, the mini-bar, and a selection of guided tour experiences).

There is also a supermarket, bank, day spa, post office, art gallery, souvenir shop, hair salon and several good restaurants and the do-it-yourself ‘Outback BBQ’. Everything is a short walk or the free shuttle-bus ride away.

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, however if you plan to base yourself here, you’ll need a car.

Camping at Uluru

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 shady 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.

Best ways to see Uluru

The traditional owners, the Anangu people, ask that you don’t climb Uluru– here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t  – and the climbing route will be closed permanently on October 26, 2019.

Take a scenic helicopter flight instead. Don’t discount the Base Walk, either – you’ll become a lot more intimate with Uluru than you might expect by walking around its edges, plus there’s no risk of you tumbling to your death.

For everyone: A sunset drink overlooking Uluru is a right of passage for every Australian. If you don’t have your own transport the resort has plenty of tours and transfer options to choose from including the base walk and sunset drinks.

For more adventure: Take a sunrise or sunset camel-train tour around the Rock. Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, just 42km away, can be visited in one day, especially if you start with a dawn base walk around Uluru (10.6km circumnavigation, allow 3.5hrs). From October to April you can join a free ranger-guided Uluru base walk from the Mala car park at 8am daily (10am May-September), no booking required. Jump on the back of a Harley Davidson for a tour around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, cycle round Uluru with Outback Cycling or jump out of a plane with Uluru and Kata Tjuta for company with Skydive Uluru. Exhilarating.

For the fitness freaks: Try running the Uluru base walk. Take plenty of water. Not recommended for the middle of the day.

For the less mobile: The Uluru base walk is one of the few truly wheelchair accessible activities in the Red Centre. Its level pathway gives ease of access to everyone, all the way round.

For the curious: a guided tour is the best way to make the most your pilgrimage to Uluru. There’s something compelling about hearing Aboriginal Dreaming stories while tracing the Uluru Base Walk and most tour guides have a passion for the environment and culture of this region, married with an even greater passion for sharing that knowledge. Learn about Liru and the Woma Python, Kuniya and how the bumps in the rock face of Uluru signify the sacred sites. You’ll also learn about bush tucker as you walk through the bush and watch knowing hands touch flora and describe its cultural, medicinal and edible value.

Don’t forget Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta, formerly known as The Olgas, is the area’s breathtaking best-kept secret and is just as impressive as Uluru: do not be tempted to miss it. It’s an easy half-hour-ish drive from ARR and Uluru – make your own way there or take a tour with one of several companies (bookable when you arrive).

Kata Tjuta’s 36 domes form the region known for many years by white Australians as the Olgas. Kata Tjuta means “many heads” in the Pitjantjatjara language. While some areas here are out of bounds because it is a sacred site, there are two marked trails open to all visitors.

For fitness freaks: The more difficult 7.4km Valley of the Winds trail is a three-hour hike that takes you up the domes’ steep sides to some beautiful lookout points, then down between the many mounds. It can get unbearably hot here; if the temperature reaches above 36°C, this trail is closed.

For the less mobile: The least difficult of the two walks is the track to Walpa Gorge, a rocky 2.6km return trip from the car park. If the heat is too much, there are also two great viewing spots – for sunrise, stop 26km along the road to Kata Tjuta. The sunset viewing area also has the area’s only public toilets.

Things to do outside the national park

There’s so much to do here nowadays that the rock itself might not end up being the stand-out! Some of our top picks:

‘Fooluru’, aka Mount Conner, has its own fascinating heritage (Mount Conner is located on the private property of Curtin Springs Station) and adds another level to your experience of the area. Hike across it, 4WD around it, land on top of it and more with SEIT Outback Tours.

At Ayers Rock Resort, book in for some pampering at Sails in the Desert’s Red Ochre Spa. It’s a cocktail of slate, wood and restrained art installations, with an international-standard treatment menu.

Join a dot painting workshop (also at Ayers Rock Resort) or one of the free cultural activities which include guided garden walks, bush yarn and storytelling and visit the Wintjiri Arts + Museum showcasing local Anangu products and watch artists at work.

Don’t miss these events

Uluru Camel Cup, May: Fashions on the Field, a sparkling ball and a whole weekend carnival of activities may all sound familiar, but the race mounts are certainly bigger and less even-tempered. Off the track you can dance under the stars at the outback ball and bid (loudly) for your right to back your favourite in the famous betting Calcutta auction (29–30 May, 2015).

Outback Marathon, July: why race on a horse or camel when you’ve got two perfectly good feet? And with cool temperatures, blue skies and a backdrop that’s nothing short of jaw-dropping – running right through the incredible Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – it’s not really surprising that entrants flock here from all over the world. If you’re not quite ready for the full- or half-marathon of the Outback Marathon, there are a couple of fun runs for the less hardcore.

Enjoy this article?

You can find it in Issue 61 along with
loads of other great stories and tips.