Visiting Uluru in the Australian Red Centre was a great way to understand aboriginal culture and experience the harsh environment of the Outback in a comfortable manner. This UNESCO site is the country’s spiritual heart, offering unique geology and landscapes. Be ready to be constantly around vast red terrain with patches of yellow bush!
HOW TO GET TO ULURU
Uluru is in the Northern Territory, roughly in the centre of Australia´s Outback. Yulara town is 17 kilometres away from Uluru Kata-Tjuta park and caters for all visitors’ needs. The closest city is Alice Springs, about 450 Kilometres away. Considering its remoteness and small population, I think Uluru is well connected by air and road.
By Air – The nearest airport is Ayers Rock at Yulara town. It only serves domestic flights to Alice Springs (45-minute.flight), Melbourne and Sydney (around 3 hour-flight).
By Coach – There are only coach services between Uluru – Alice Springs and Uluru – King´s Canyon.
By Railway – The closest train station is Alice Springs (450 Kilometres away). If you decide to reach here by train, you will then have to complete the journey to Uluru by car or coach. Renting a car is an interesting option if you are planning on visiting King´s Canyon on the way.
By Car – Only one road passes through Yulara Town, the State Route 4. It connects Uluru to Alice Springs in around 4.5 hours. You can take the National Highway 87 from here to head North or South. It is around 1900 Kilometres from Darwin, 2300 Kilometres from Melbourne and around 2800 Kilometres from Sydney. Bare in mind that driving through the Outback (especially for long drives) will require careful planning of spare tyres, food, water and fuel resources.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND ULURU
There are 3 ways to move around the main sites of interest in Uluru: with group tours, by coach and by private car. For the latter option, you can hire a car through Thrifty, Avis and Hertz at Ayers Rock airport or Ayers Rock Resort town centre. Although cars might be available on the spot, I recommend booking it in advance to avoid disappointment. Depending on your travel party size and the places you want to visit, renting a car might be more economical.
WHEN IS IT BEST TO GO?
Uluru experiences a desert climate with the hot summer months between October to April and colder winter months between May to October. The daily average summer temperature ranges from 30-35 ºC and can go up as high as 45ºC. Fortunately, nights are milder but still warm (20-25 ºC). During the winter season, abrupt temperature changes occur as the pleasant day-time 17-25 ºC drop to sometimes below 0ºC at night. There is no distinguished dry and wet season but there is usually more rainfall during the summer months or cyclone season. Nonetheless, it is mostly dry and arid throughout the year with a small average rainfall of around 300mm.
Keeping this in mind, any time of the year is good too visit Uluru if you adapt your visiting schedule to the temperature patterns. For instance, cycling around Uluru is best done before 10-11 am during summer while in winter, it is more pleasant from midday onwards. If you come during winter, please bring warm clothes, especially if you are watching sunrise.
I visited Uluru at the end of May and enjoyed the daylight temperatures for comfortable exercise in the National Park. However, the early morning cold made waking up for sunrise so much harder!
WHAT NOT TO MISS IN ULURU
1. AYERS ROCK OR ULURU
Uluru, also known as Ayer´s Rock, is one of the most distinguishable landmarks of the Australian Outback. It is a large red sandstone rock formation of around 350 metres height and 9.5 kilometres in circumference. For the Anangu people (the aboriginal inhabitants) is a sacred area. The best way to explore is on foot or by bicycle around its base. A visit to the cultural centre is a must in order to understand the aboriginal culture, history and environment. It opens from 7 am to 6pm daily. I suggest starting here to realise the meaning and importance of Uluru before heading out outdoors.
There are bicycles available for rent at Uluru Kata-Tjuta Cultural Centre if you wish to cycle around the base of the rock. It is around 15 kilometres and can take around 3 hours with plenty of time to stop for visits, photos and rest. It costs 30 – 45 AUD per one bicycle per adult for 3 hours and helmet. I rented the bicycle on the spot without prior bookings, however, these are recommended, especially for large parties. You can arrange your bicycle on this link.
The National Park opens from sunrise to sunset but the administration office where the tickets are purchased has a different opening time (from 8 am to 4.30pm daily). You can check the exact opening hours for each month in this link. You will need a Visitor Pass that costs 25 AUD per adult. It is valid for 3 days and you can come in and out the park as many times as desired. Keep the ticket with you at all times as you will have to use it every time you re-enter the park.
Ensure to take plenty of water with you (1 litre per person per hour outdoors is recommended). There are a few drinking water stations around Uluru Base walk where you can refill your bottle of water.
Unfortunately, visitors to the park frequently overlook Kata-Tjuta. I think it is a mistake because Kata-Tjuta and the Valley of the Winds are prettier than Uluru itself. I recommend dedicating one day for this side of the park as it takes 1 hour to reach. The visit will not require a complete day but slightly more than one morning. Just be aware that the Valley of the Winds walk closes sometimes due to strong winds. Undoubtedly, this walk was one of the highlights of my Uluru visit!
3. SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Many people travel to Uluru just to experience sunrise and sunsets from different angles and take spectacular photographs. I cannot speak so much for the sunrise because I was too cold and bad prepared to stand outdoors watching it but I can now understand why the sunset is so special here! As the sun goes down, the intense bright red-orange colour of the rock dims to a darker maroon at the same time the sky becomes romantically pink and blue. Seriously, the colours and the setting are stunning!
There are many different viewpoints to watch sunrise and sunset. Because this is the real deal in Uluru, there are many private and group tours available offering camel rides and walks with inclusive breakfast in the desert or champagne and appetisers. If you want to experience these special moments more exclusively, there are helicopter and scenic plane rides flying over Uluru Kata-Tjuta Park also.
During my visit, the Field of Lights exhibition was on display, so I booked a visit including sunset watching with some pampering. Although a bit pricey for the actual experience, it was a very enjoyable moment. The exhibition consisted of thousands of colour-changing lights beautifully arranged on the desert ground with Uluru rock formation at the background.
OTHER PLACES TO EXPLORE NEARBY
- Lake Amadeus – A large salt lake around 50 kilometres away from Uluru. The way to see it is from the air during a scenic flight. There are different flight options including this location in their flight itinerary.
- King´s Canyon – A red sandstone canyon located in the Watarrka National Park around 320 kilometres east of Uluru (on the way to Alice Springs). Nice panoramic views and 3 walking trails are available for the visitor. You can visit on a day trip from either Uluru or Alice Springs, spend one night at the King´s Canyon Resort or from the air as part of a scenic flight from Uluru.
- Alice Springs – It is the largest city in this Outback region, around 460 kilometres East from Uluru. You can explore the McDonnell ranges in a variety of ways and visit aboriginal art galleries.
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY?
Although there are enough things to see and do in Uluru for two full days, many travellers crunch their visit into one or one day and a half packed days of sightseeing. This is frequently the case for organised 3 day-tours around the Red Centre. It really depends on how much time you will spend in Australia and what portion of that you want to spend in the Outback.
I spent two days and a half (3 nights) in Uluru as part of my 3 week-visit to Australia and enjoyed the visit a lot. It was enough time to visit both Uluru and Kata-Tjuta and have 3 sunsets from different locations. However, I wish I would have added 3 days to visit King´s Canyon and Alice Springs.
WHERE TO STAY?
All the accommodation available around Uluru is located at Ayers Rock Resort, near Yulara Town. It consists of 3 different hotels, apartments, a camping ground and a small town centre with a supermarket, information centre (tour bookings and car rentals can be made here), hairdresser, souvenir shops, a coffee shop and 2 restaurants. The hotels available are:
- Sails in the Desert
- Desert Gardens Hotel
- Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge
- Ayers Rock Campground
- Emu Walk Apartments
There is also the luxurious base camp Longitude 131º located outside Ayers Rock Resort, offering fantastic views of Uluru rock formation.
I stayed at Desert Gardens Hotel and had a very comfortable stay. A large buffet breakfast was inclusive in the room rate as well as the complimentary airport shuttle bus transfer. Also worth mentioning is the free laundry facilities (very important when you are long-term traveling).
WHICH LOCAL DISH NOT TO MISS?
Uluru´s foods mainly consist of native seeds and fruits such as Bush plum, Bush tomato, Desert raisin, Native figs and Witchetty grubs.
WHAT ESSENTIALS TO PACK?
Uluru is in a desert offering very little shade and cool places to rest other than the resort, even in the winter months. There are a few essentials you should pack, no matter the season of the year:
- A hat
- High SPF sunscreen
- Sports shoes for hiking/walking
Other essentials for a winter visit are:
- A warm outer layer such as a coat
- A warm inner layer such as jumper, fleece or cardigan
- Long trousers
- Beanies, scarf and gloves (especially if you are planning on heading out for sunrise)
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