Ayers Rock, known to the Aboriginal people as Uluru, is one of the most iconic destinations in Australia. Along with the Barrier Reef and Sydney’s spectacular harbour, it’s one of the top 3 must-see places for international travellers visiting down under.
Don’t miss these practical tips for how to make the most of your trip to the world-famous Red Rock in the heart of the Australian outback and the nearby Kata Tjuta (‘many heads’ to the local Aboriginals), otherwise known as The Olgas.
Tip 1 – choose your plane seat carefully
Both Jetstar and Virgin fly direct to Ayers Rock. We flew Jetstar and as the plane approaches you get a great first view of the rock from the left hand side of the plane, so nab a seat in A or B. As you step out of the aircraft on arrival, the Jetstar plane is perfectly positioned to get your first full frontal view of the spectacular Uluru. It’s smack bang in front of you. Flying out, you’ll need to sit on the right side of the plane with an E or F seat to get your last aerial view.
Tip 2 – rent a car
The best decision we made was to rent a car, rather than take numerous sunrise, sunset and other bus tours which is what a lot of people do. You’ll need to book a car in advance so you don’t miss out. There are three options – Avis, Budget, Thrifty – we went with Thrifty which proved fortuitous as it had the shortest queue at the airport. There are some restrictions on driving between sunset and sunrise but this doesn’t apply if you’re within the Kata Tjuta National Park (Uluru and The Olgas are within the park). Petrol is of course expensive, $2.10 a litre when we visited.
Tip 3 – allow more than one day for sunrise and sunset views of Uluru
We were lucky that we had 3 days to view sunrise. Day 1 was cloudy, windy, cold and not very spectacular and we were very glad we hadn’t paid over $100 per person to go on a tour. Day 2 we went to the Kata Tjuta dune viewing area which provides a view of both The Olgas and Uluru. It was beautiful and the morning light over The Olgas was glorious. On day 3 we made a last minute decision to go to Uluru again for sunrise and I’m so glad we did. Watching the sunlight slowly break over Ayers Rock was worth a third early morning start.
Tip 4 – best place to park for an Uluru sunset viewing
Cars and coaches have separate viewing spots. You get a closer view from the car park than from where coaches park, another reason to rent a car. It’s worth driving to the far end of the car park as there are a lot fewer people down that end so it’s easier to find a bench to sit on and take a photo without crowds, plus you won’t get caught up in a traffic jam trying to get to your hotel for a drink!
Tip 5 – walk around Ayers Rock clockwise
It’s a 10.7km walk around the base of the rock, plus a couple of extra kms if you take side tracks to the water holes. Walk around clockwise as that’s the way the dreamtime stories unfold. All the advice says to start your walk early and it’s worth heeding. We started at 8am when it was still really chilly – by 11am when we finished it was very hot. It’s thirsty work so take plenty of water and sunscreen, as well as a hat, otherwise you’ll get fried.
Tip 6 – leave extra early for sunrise at Uluru
The sunrise parking area is quite a bit further on than the sunset viewing area (it’s around the other side of the rock) so make sure you leave an extra 15 minutes earlier. The car park was pretty full when we arrived and it’s a bit of a walk along a raised track to the viewing platform. It’s also very crowded – think cattle yard with people in the way wherever you go – so you’ll need to be patient and share the view for photo opps.
Tip 7 – eat at the Kulata Academy cafe at Yulara
There are numerous eating options at the resort town centre and at the different hotels. We had lunch every day at the Kulata Academy cafe which is staffed by trainees of Ayers Rock Resort’s National Indigenous Training Academy. We had a salad sandwich ($7.50) and milkshake – everything else at the resort is expensive, so this was a nice surprise.
Tip 8 – try some bush tucker
Indulge in some crocodile, kangaroo, and lemon myrtle. At the Sails Walpa Lobby Bar you could dine on crocodile laksa and at the Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars, there were main courses and desserts that were made with the delicious lemon myrtle. At $195 a head the SoS dinner is an expensive night out especially when it’s a buffet but dining under the outback sky is a treat.
Tip 9 – ride a bike around Uluru
There are so many different ways to see Uluru – walk, drive, helicopter ride, by Harley Davidson motorbike, on camelback … and now on a push bike. For $40 you can rent a bike at the Uluru Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre car park for 3 hours, plenty of time for a leisurely ride around the base walking track.
Tip 10 – do the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta, give Walpa Gorge walk a miss
If you’re short of time, do the first part of the Valley of the Winds walk, it’s much more interesting and has a much more spectacular outlook than the short Walpa Gorge walk. With the Valley walk you can wander along marked trails right down into the heart of the 36 dome-shaped rocks – the track is steep with loose rocks in part so you’ll need solid walking shoes.