I’ll be the first to admit I was slightly sceptical of a trip to Uluru, immediately imagining a commercialised area heaving with tourists and selfie sticks. But upon entering Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, my assumptions were instantly put to one side, and we embarked upon what I can only describe as a magical weekend away in what felt like a different planet.
With Uluru only being a 3.5 hr flight from Sydney, a long weekend is totally doable and gives you enough time to experience the heart of the area. It’s pretty incredible that after such a short plane journey, you find yourself in such a hugely contrasting landscape from where you left off. Bag yourself a window seat for the ride as the views are well worth staying awake for. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to be on the side of the plane that gets the stunning sweeping birds eye view of Uluru as you come in to land.
We picked early August for our trip to Uluru, a time of year we’d highly recommend. Not only is it outside of the school holiday season, but the temperatures are perfect rising to around 28 degrees celsius in the day time, and 10 degrees at night. We were lucky enough to visit Uluru after the region had had a heavy few weeks of rainfall, so the flora and fauna was flourishing at it’s very best. This really added to the beauty of the area, and seeing bright purple and yellow flowers scattered around the desert, contrasting against the red sand and rock was quite stunning and unexpected.
We stayed at Ayres Rock Resort for our 3 night trip, the only resort close to Uluru, in the Emu Walk Apartments. Admittedly you can’t really escape the commercialism of this resort, but they’ve done a great job at keeping the resort tasteful and the decor in keeping with the landscape. The location is fantastic, just a few minutes drive and you’ll be in the red desert landscape of the national park.
As soon as we arrived we headed straight for the park, itching to see Uluru with our own eyes. Despite seeing countless photos of it previously, nothing quite beats seeing it for real, and you’ll immediately be taken by the absolute vastness of it.
We headed for the cultural centre to quickly geek up on the area, something we’d recommend doing to allow you to really appreciate the cultural significance of the area. We knew Uluru was sacred, but we hadn’t realised quite how significant it is for aboriginal Australians, and it’s pretty shocking to know that some people are still adamant about climbing up Uluru despite this.
We soon started our first walk around Uluru in the late afternoon sunshine and clear blue skies. The contrast of the red rock and red sand against the bright colourful flowers and blue sky was incredible – it all looked so perfect, we commented a number of times on how it felt like we were walking around a movie set. We were so surprised about how quiet it was walking around Uluru, both in terms of a lack of people and what felt like a sacred quietness in the atmosphere. It’s hard to describe but the serenity and spirituality of it all will certainly capture you and is likely to challenge any stereotypical views you might have had about Uluru.
Towards the end of our walk we stumbled across a forge, which the Ranger at the cultural centre had told us to look out for, which was an incredible experience. Not only was it beautiful, but it was probably the quietest spot in the area. You could really feel something almost electric in the atmosphere, and it’s a great spot to just sit and soak it all up.
Make sure you catch sunset here, as you’ll see some wonderful sights of the rock starting to gradually change colour in the setting sun, and shadows starting to cast themselves against the rock from the trees surrounding the area. This has got to be one of the best times to make your way around Uluru to witness the ever-changing colours of the rock as the setting sun moves from one spot to another.
After sunset we headed back to our resort for dinner. The Ayres Rock Resort has plenty of dinner options, we’d recommend heading to The Outback restaurant if you want a laid back pub atmosphere. The best thing about it are the BBQs where you can grill your own meat, we opted for emu sausages and kangaroo steaks which were delicious.
As well as sunset, one of the other best times to experience Uluru is at sunrise, so be prepared for early morning starts and a chill in the air. If you head to the sunrise viewing platforms, get ready for the crowds, which are unavoidable, but keep your eyes peeled for other viewing opportunities around the platforms to get your own space and experience. Sunrise really is quite something, and it’s magical to watch the sun slowly cast it’s orange and yellow rays over Uluru and gradually move across the entire rock. Everyone around you will be madly snapping away, and whilst we of course took some photos, try to resist the temptation to experience this sight from behind your camera lens, as it really is quite a special moment.
After sunrise, a must do is driving about 40 mins west to visit Uluru’s neighbour, the Olgas. Originally named Kata Tjuta meaning ‘many heads’ in traditional Aboriginal language, the Olgas may be Uluru’s little brother from a fame perspective, but we think it might just pip Uluru to the post from a scenery perspective. As you start to drive towards the Olgas you’ll notice the ‘many heads’ – an impressive set of domes made up of an amazing 36 different rock formations, which gives you the sense of walking through a unique marshmallow type landscape.
We only intended on only doing a short walk to tick this spot off the list (the Walpa Gorge trail is only 2.6 km), but when we realised how incredible this place was, we quickly decided to do the longer hike called The Valley Of The Winds. Out of everything we did on this trip, this would be our number one recommendation. It’s a looped trail taking you all the way through the Olgas with absolutely incredible viewpoints. Not only will you experience winding valleys views through the many formations of the Olgas, but you’ll be stunned by blankets of bright purple and yellow flowers spreading from one formation to another.
The route takes about three hours and can get very hot so bring plenty of water with you. If you don’t fancy a hike at all, head to the Kata Tjuta Dune viewpoint instead – it’s a quick walk from the car park and you can enjoy great views of the Olgas from there.
Coming closely in at second position as a must do, would be a day trip to Kings Canyon. Part of the Watarrka National Park, which covers a massive 71,000 hectres, climbing up to the top of Kings Canyon (not for the faint-hearted) will give you panoramic, awe-inspiring views of this incredible place. If you’re going to do this in just one day, like we did, be prepared for an early start and a lot of driving. It’s about a 4 hour drive north of Uluru one way, and although 8 hours of driving in one day sounds intense, if you don’t have time to stay overnight (there are plenty of accomodation options here), rest assured it’s totally worth the trip. A different landscape altogether to Uluru, you’ll really feel like you’re making the most of your weekend and experiencing all the wonderful places the region has to offer. Be sure to fill up with petrol before you go, as the drive to Kings Canyon will take you through empty desert roads with nothing to be seen for miles. Try and get there as early as you can as the heat will hit you in the midday sun, which you’ll want to try to avoid.
We took on the 6km Kings Canyon Rim Walk and although it starts with a steep 500 step climb, each and every step will be worth it once you reach the incredible view of Watarrka National Park and the gorge from the top of 300m high cliffs.
As you walk around the rim of the cliffs you’ll soon descend down into a serene and beautiful spot – The Garden Of Eden. It’s a little lusciously green haven that you wouldn’t expect to encounter in such a barren place, and somewhere definitely worth stopping for a bite to eat and a drink.
Amazing views continue as you begin to loop back to your starting point, and after about 3.5 hours you should be back at the start, ready to take on the drive home. The Outback General Store at Kings Canyon is a great stop off for a quick refresher and to top up your petrol before the long drive back to Uluru. Keep an eye out for wild horses, camels and kangaroos on your way home!
For our final evening in Uluru we splashed out on a ‘Sounds of Silence’ dining experience. Although pricey, it was a great way to finish off our trip with unique dining under the outback sky looking out to Uluru. A coach will pick you up from your resort accomodation and take you into the outback to kick off your evening. As you look out onto the sun setting across Uluru, you’ll be offered prosecco and canapés to enjoy your view with.
As the night sky starts to come to life, you’ll be taken to your table of eight with fellow tourists and visitors. Initially the idea of having to share a table with total strangers put me off a bit, but we ended up having a lovely group of people to dine with, each sharing tales of their own Uluru experiences. A lovely touch was having a resident astronomer visit each table to tell stories of the outback skies (sounds a bit touristy on paper but really added to the experience).
Our trip to Uluru tied in with an art installation called ‘The Field Of Light’ by the artist Bruce Munro, which has actually just been extended to March 2018. The installation is made up of 50,000 slender stems crowned with bright spheres over an area the size of seven football fields. If you can tie it in with your Sounds of Silence dinner then we’d recommend doing this, but of everything we did on our weekend, this probably felt the most touristy of all and it might not be worth the trip alone. It’s no doubt a unique sight, but be prepared for coach load of tourists heading in this direction.
When it was time to pack our bags and leave Uluru, we felt we had just the right amount of time to experience the heart of Uluru and the surrounding area, and would recommend a 3 night stay if you can’t afford to do a full on week of road tripping around the Northern Territory. Don’t let the touristy assumptions get the better of you and miss out on this iconic spot, it really is worth the trip and I hope you come away feeling as pleasantly surprised and privileged for visiting such a special and sacred spot in Australia as we did.