Visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
It's quite a trek from anywhere, but visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is worth it to see such an iconic Australian landmark. This is the world's largest monolith, standing 348 metres (1,142 ft) above sea level. For scale, that's 24 metres (25ft) higher than the Eiffel Tower. And there's more underground, an estimated 2.5 km or 1 square mile!
About the Park
We were so lucky to be able to visit Uluru during a time without many visitors, and we had the place practically to ourselves. Park entry is normally $25 per person for a 3 day pass, but this was waived until the end of 2020 due to COVID.
The only downside of visiting during this time was the closure of the cultural centre, which I really wanted to visit to get some background knowledge on the history and culture of this famous place. Instead we read through our parks brochure and read some articles online, but I hope to go back for the full experience in a few years.
Some facts about the park:
Aboriginal people have inhabited Central Australia for more than 30,000 years
Explorer William Gosse became the first European to see Uluru in 1873
Ayers Rock was first declared a national park in 1950
After more than 35 years of campaigning, in 1985 the Anangu people were recognised as the traditional owners of the park and handed back the deeds to their homelands
The park was officially renamed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1993
The Anangu people own Uluru and Kata Tjuta and lease the land to the Australian Government
Parks Australia and Anangu jointly manage the national park
Top things to do at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
See the rock at sunset
If you roll up to Ayers Rock Resort mid afternoon, set up camp or unpack your suitcase and get to the rock an hour before sunset. There’s a dedicated sunset lookout, about 20 minutes from the resort. Leave a little extra time to get your entry ticket and park information from the entry gate.
Settle in for the show, stick around and watch the light change. If you’re lucky, Uluru will glow! We didn't get to see it go totally red, but kind of orange.
We met up with some friends from other travels who are touring Australia in their campervans. To see more information about where we stayed, scroll down to Staying near Uluru.
Walk or bike around the base
This is your only option to get up close and personal with the rock since climbing was banned in 2019. You can still see the worn path where the chain used to be. While climbing up the rock would’ve been a very cool experience, we understand that Uluru is sacred to the native people and climbing the rock is disrespectful.
Start early in the morning to avoid the heat, because there is zero shade out here. We chose to ride our mountain bikes and found the path to be flat and easy to navigate, with just a few sections of loose gravel.
Make sure you stop to read the signs and do all of the side trails. There are bike racks in a few spots so you can walk into the water holes.
As you get further around the rock, there are areas you're asked not to photograph. It was a bit hard for me to understand at first, but after reading the signs and asking around I started to get it. The Anangu (Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional landowners) ask you not to take photos of certain areas because the rock tells a story.
Uluru is seen as a sort of sacred text, and that script should only be viewed in person. The Anangu tribal elders keep their culture alive by passing on oral histories to younger generations. If visitors to Uluru photograph and spread images of these places around, these stories may be interpreted the wrong way. To learn more about this, read this article.
Uluru looks smaller from some angles, but then you get closer again and marvel at this huge monolith.
The rock's angles change as you go, offering a new perspective every few minutes.
Keep an eye out for the caves with rock art and the signage telling the Dreamtime stories.
We did see some Segway tours rolling around Uluru. While I understand that some people might not be able to hike the 10km trail around the base, it seemed a bit inappropriate to have something so futuristic-looking somewhere you go to appreciate ancient history and culture.
The base hike is a must-do for any visitor to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Visit Kata Tjuta/The Olgas
Perhaps even more picturesque than Uluru is nearby Kata Tjuta ("Many Heads"), otherwise known as The Olgas. There's a sunrise viewing platform, from which you can also see Uluru.
We did the Valley of the Winds hike, which took us about 2.5 hours. There are dire warnings on this trail but if you're an experienced hiker this one isn't too much of a challenge. The hike is closed after 11am on days over 36 degrees, but we'd recommend going much earlier. We finished at about 8:30am and it was already really hot.
The terrain here reminds of hiking in Utah or another desert area of the U.S. The rock formations at Kata Tjuta were amazing, and well worth a few hours. It's about a 40 minute drive from the Ayers Rock Resort.
Get a birds eye view
Since drones are prohibited here, there’s only one way to see the rock from above. We hopped onto a mid morning flight around the rock with Ayers Rock Scenic Flights. You can’t fly directly over the rock as there are sacred sites on top, but the pilot gives you a few different angles on both sides of the plane.
There's not a lot out here...
The flight itself is only half an hour, but that's plenty of time. There are longer options that go out to Kata Tjuta if you're looking for a more extensive experience.
The most interesting part about this flight for Bobby (who has a recreational pilot's license) was learning that Ayers Rock Airport has no air traffic control!
Say g‘day to some camels
Even if you don’t have the urge to ride one, Chris Hill’s Uluru Camel Tours is the largest camel farm in the area. Full of adult and baby camels, barnyard creatures, and some more unique critters such as a water buffalo, this is a nice family-friendly stop.
Our Canadian friends made some local acquaintances!
There are a few red kangaroos here, which are much bigger than the ones found closer to the coast. We all thought the baby camel was super cute...
Don't worry, these animals are fine, they had just gotten rained on!
The camel farm also has a very cool outdoor space which is used for an annual camel race. There was a massive storm rolling through while we were here. Check out those storm clouds! You can just catch a glimpse of Uluru through the brush.
We went back to the sunset spot to catch a better view of Uluru surrounded by storm clouds.
And then we started the 5 hour drive back to Alice Springs!
Staying near Uluru
There are very limited options out here. Most people stay at Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara. We stayed at the campground, which is actually part of the resort complex. We found it to be super clean, with spacious sites, great amenities, and an ice-cold swimming pool which comes in handy on those hot summer afternoons.
There's also a lookout in the middle of the campground which offers views of Uluru and far-off Kata Tjuta on clear days, and distant storm clouds on rainy ones.
Your other options are the resort hotels (which range from $470-$700/night) or the ultra-luxe Longitude 131 (which our scenic flight pilot told us costs $6,000 per couple for 2 nights).
We would've loved to go to the Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars, but at $300 per person it wasn't quite within our budget. Instead we made group meals from groceries we'd bought in Alice Springs and cooled off with the occasional ice cream from the campground reception office. There is an IGA and a petrol station/grocery here if you need anything, but everything is a bit more expensive due to the remote location.
Getting to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
We took a few months to drive out here, but most visitors don’t have quite that much time.
You can fly from large cities into Alice Springs or directly to Ayers Rock Airport. If you fly into Alice, be warned that it’s still a 5 hour drive to the park, and there’s not a whole lot to do or see on the way. Take extra supplies and spare petrol if you can, just in case.
Drive time to Uluru from:
Sydney - 29 hours
Brisbane - 32 hours
Darwin - 20 hours
Adelaide - 16 hours
Alice Springs - 5 hours
Here’s the map to show that it really is in the middle of nowhere:
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Visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is an experience not to be missed if you have enough time to explore the Red Centre.
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