I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it took me decades to visit Uluru, the geographical and spiritual heart of Australia.
Many Australians tend to be so focussed on holidays overseas that they neglect the beauty within. Other cultures have somehow always seemed more alluring than our own.
My experience is that when you do finally visit the Australian Outback, you’ll be captivated by its stark beauty, its incredible remoteness and the spirituality that transcends the environment.
From the air the big red rock looks like just that – a big red rock literally in the middle of nowhere. And disappointingly, our first sunrise viewing was dull and overcast so it was a little underwhelming. Fortunately we spent three nights in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park so we had plenty of opportunities to see the rock at different times of day and in different lights.
Getting up close, seeing the nooks and crannies, the carvings and fissures in the rock, learning about the dreamtime stories of the Anangu traditional owners and understanding how intricately intertwined Aboriginal culture is with the land, you begin to appreciate the significance of this landmark. The rich red earth is striking and spectacular.
The best ways to explore Uluru
There are several ways you can explore Uluru. We walked around the track at the base which is a 10.6km loop or if you follow all the side tracks, more than 12km in total. In some parts you can touch the rock, feel the different textures of its surface and even walk into small caves. The walk is totally flat and the hot temperature is the only real challenge.
For something a bit more dynamic and a much faster base trip, you can hire a bike and ride around the track. We did both and absolutely loved the ride.
You can of course drive around Uluru but in some parts the road is quite a distance from the rock and it’s so much better to get up close.
And then there’s the thorny issue of climbing the rock. The locals request that you don’t – it’s actually quite dangerous – but that doesn’t stop a lot of visitors. We chose not to and would encourage others to respect the wishes of the locals and not climb the rock.
Update: From 26 October, 2019 the rock will be permanently closed to climbers.
The Olgas, Kata Tjuta, are the other major attraction in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. They’re a collection of large rocks, 36 domes, about 50km from Uluru. They’re absolutely stunning. The highest rock is 546 metres above the ground which is significantly taller than Uluru.
It’s absolutely worth visiting at sunrise – the viewing platform is a few kilometres before you reach the ‘entrance’ to the Olgas – and we’d highly recommend walking the trail. You can get right in amongst the domes and really feel a part of the environment. The walk isn’t for the faint-hearted though as it’s quite steep early on and you have to climb across loose rocks.
Getting up early is key on this trip. Not just to witness these icons in the beautiful morning light but to start exploring before the heat of the day sets in.
Where to stay
The Ayers Rock Resort has 5 different accommodation options catering to different needs and price points. We stayed in the 5-star Sails Resort. The service is not very personal and it feels like a big dorm, however our room was clean, spacious and functional. We were a long walk from reception and one day they simply forgot to make up our room.
Where to eat
We ate lunch every day at the Kulata Academy Cafe which is staffed by trainees of the resort’s indigenous training academy. It’s simple fare and relatively cheap. Good coffee too. Keep in mind you’re in the middle of nowhere in a harsh environment and shipping in fresh food is expensive.
It’s worth splashing out for the Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars. Yes, it’s touristy and expensive but it’s also a lovely experience drinking bubbles as the sun sets over Uluru and the Olgas. It’s a buffet dinner so don’t have high expectations for the food (you will get a little taste of bush tucker), just soak up the atmosphere and enjoy.
Unfortunately the night we went was overcast so we didn’t get to appreciate the starry night sky but on a clear night, the stars are spectacular and the astronomy expert helps decode the stars.