Uluru, the rock formerly known as Ayers, and still often referred to as simply ‘The Rock’, (not to be confused with the former wrestler turned actor who is, admittedly, of a similar size and arguably similar acting ability), is a natural wonder recognised across the planet.
Having been there a few times now, I thought I’d share some insider tips that no one really tells you about, to help you make the most of a visit there.
If you’re thinking of visiting Uluru, there are some things you should know first.
1. It’s the biggest monolith in the world
Uluru is massive, and certainly much bigger than most people expect, despite having seen any number of images of it over the years.
To be specific, it’s 9.4kms around, rises 863m above sea level, and there’s literally nothing anyone can say to prepare you for just how big and incredible it is.
What you might not know is that it’s the world’s largest monolith.
2. It’s a long way from… everywhere!
I’m an enthusiastic road tripper, so the few times I’ve been I’ve driven up from Adelaide, which is a 1,600km drive. If I’m on a mission I can do it in two days with a stopover in Coober Pedy.
If I’m making a few stops along the way, (eg Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, a few sights around Coober Pedy including the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, and numerous roadside stops to look at the local birds and wildlife), it takes me three days.
Most people prefer to fly to Alice Springs and think it’s close to there, and those people would be very wrong. It’s still 467kms from Alice, which can take around 5.5 hours so you need to keep in mind you’re still going to lose a big chunk of the day getting there, and another chunk getting back.
It’s a lot more remote than you would think, so plan your journey accordingly.
3. The base walk is longer than you think, and further than they say
Officially they say the walk around the base of Uluru is 9.4kms, but that’s a bare rock-faced lie. If you do all the little extra bits along the way, which you totally should, it’s more like 14kms. So if you’re going to walk it make sure you allow quite a bit longer than you might originally think.
The official estimate is 3.5 hours and I usually divide that by about half because I hike fast, but last time I hiked it in the heat it took me 3:23 with all the stops along the way. I’d previously done it in close to 2.5 hours so it is possible to do it faster if you’re fit and enthusiastic.
It’s also worth noting the base walk is often quite far away from the rock itself. So if you’re expecting up close and personal, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are some parts of the hike where you can literally reach out and touch it, but about 75% of the walk is at a distance. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as it allows you to take in a full view which isn’t possible up close.
Allow for extra time to fully experience the base walk.
4. Climbing has closed but there’s still plenty to do
Out of acknowledgement and respect to the traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the rock is no longer open for climbing. This sacred site is of great significance to Aboriginal cultural identity and especially to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the Anangu Traditional Owners. Although this was recognised in 1985 with the official hand over of land rights and title deeds, Uluru is the resting place for ancient spirits of the Anangu and since October 26th, 2019, the great monolith must now only be appreciated through the many other activities on offer.
Cruise your way around Uluru on a Segway.
Free guided tours with rangers are also available through the National Park or for a unique experience on 2-wheels, join in with Uluru Segway Tours. Heads-up, possible restrictions and/or limited tour schedules are currently in place due to COVID, so check out the respective websites for up-to-date information.
The Field Of Light Uluru exhibition by Bruce Munro has been extended indefinitely. Image: Mark Pickthall
Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku (Field Of Light) is a spectacular exhibition by Bruce Munro that uses 50,000 spindles of light to create a visual symphony covering more than seven football fields around the base of Uluru. There are various packages available, with more details available here.
You might not know that Uluru has waterholes, despite being in the heart of the red centre.
5. Uluru has waterholes!
Many of the images of Uluru are of the big red rock in arid surrounds so a lot of people are surprised to find several waterholes around it. Some of these get fairly dry at various times throughout the year, but Mutitjulu on the eastern side is almost certain to have water.
If you’re not up to the full base walk, it’s only a short hike from a nearby car park. It’s absolutely stunning, and I’d say a ‘must see’ part of Uluru. You can also view some indigenous rock art at this location.
You can also view the Aboriginal rock art around Uluru.
The Uluru climbing trail may now be closed but enthusiasts can still enjoy pretty much every other rock and hill and mountain in Australia. For the record, when I first visited Uluru, I wasn’t sure if I would climb it or not and when I experienced its immense dominance over the landscape and read the history and current issues of that time, I very quickly decided I could never do it. You can still have an amazing trip without the climb and hikers can still get their fix nearby.
6. Is nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) even better than Uluru?
Okay, this is a controversial one, because Uluru is so iconic, but if I was feeling brave I might admit I personally like visiting Kata Tjuta even more than Uluru. And if not more, at least as much. Uluru may be a monolith, unique and world-famous, but Kata Tjuta and in particular the Valley of the Winds hike is a much better hike and experience.
Kata Tjuta, though lesser known is just as worth a visit.
The Uluru base walk takes you around Uluru, but the Valley of the Winds hike takes you in, through and over and is way more immersive. There are canyons and monoliths and rock scrambles and creeks and different microenvironments.
All in all, a much more enjoyable experience, albeit without the same level of bragging rights when people ask “Where the hell is Kata Tjuta?”. Just tell them it’s the really good bit, often with fewer tourists, about 60kms down the road from Uluru. Well worth a visit!
TIP: On hot days above about 35°C they close the trail early so check with the ranger if it’s open before you head out there!
Don’t skip the Valley of the Winds hike when you’re there.
7. You’ve got to be there early for the sunrise and sunset
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta have designated sunrise and sunset viewing areas, and there’s no question that these are great places to get an awesome view. There’s only one catch: it’s where everyone goes to get an awesome view and can be a bit of a circus. Especially if you’re going to go to watch the sunset at Uluru, I strongly recommend getting there early and taking a chair. And a cool drink. Possibly even a few nibbles.
If you get there late, then your view may be obstructed.
Set up your chair right up against the fence so you’ve reserved your little spot, then sit back, relax, and wait for sunset. An hour or so early is a good idea, otherwise, you’ll roll up and get a great view of the backs of everyone’s head.
Of course, there are various other places around the park where you can pull over and enjoy the view too, so maybe do a drive around in the afternoon and see if you can’t find a spot. It may not be as perfect as the official viewing area, but it may well be more relaxing and enjoyable.
You can enjoy the view from various areas, but if you want the best spot – get there early.
One last thing!
Oh, and one last thing, a lot of people tend to race off the minute the sun sets and that’s just crazy. I strongly suggest sitting around for at least another half hour and enjoying the light dim beyond sunset. Watch the sky turn dark, the rock change colour again, and the stars come out.
Most of the people will have left, and it will be quiet and peaceful and beautiful. It’s probably my favourite time of day there.
Watching the stars come out is the most peaceful time in the park.
Itinerary for a shorter Uluru trip
If you’re pressed for time, a recommended itinerary might look something like this:
Uluru base walk then watch the sunset. Depending on the heat, I’d suggest doing the base walk as early as possible. If you arrive around midday as I did on my last trip, you can do the base walk in the afternoon. However, it can get pretty uncomfortable out there so slip, slop slap.
Also, take twice as much water as you think you’ll need!
Get up early and watch the sunrise, then head over to Kata Tjuta to do the Valley of the Winds hike. If you’re still around, watch the sunset at Uluru again or head back to see it at Kata Tjuta.
You can find accommodation, a petrol station, supermarket and various stores, cafes and restaurants all at Yulara – the township that services the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
So there you go, I hope you took something away from my tips for visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. If you do decide to visit this awe-inspiring place, you definitely won’t regret it!
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