Ayers Rock- Uluru- Kata Tjuta
Destination page: Uluru / Ayers Rock
The Red Centre. The Australian Outback. The focus of legend and a classic Australian icon. Uluru (also called Ayers Rock) may be just one small part of the vast and beautiful Outback, but due to its creature comforts, it’s the best place to experience the region, which is known for being so rough and tumble.
For tens of thousands of years, the local indigenous people have seen Uluru as sacred. This monolithic rock seems to appear out of nowhere, towering 350 meters (over 1100 feet) above a flat landscape. The site has indigenous rock paintings, and is still used in ritual.
In 1872 and 1873, the first Europeans found Uluru and named it Ayers Rock. They were also the first to climb it, a practice that was disrespectful to the native population but continued for decades (and still sometimes happens, though it’s strongly discouraged). The first tourists arrived in the 1930s. “Uluru” was added to the official name in 1993, and finally returned to being the preferred term for the Rock in 2002.
Tourists to Uluru now encounter a place that pays respect both to its indigenous history, as well as its geological and historical significance to Australia.
Weather in the Australian Outback
Being a desert, Uluru gets pretty hot and dry. During summertime, which lasts from around December through February, daytime highs frequently reach the mid to upper 30s Celsius, or upper 90s Fahrenheit. Summertime also gets lots of flies, which don’t bite but they certainly can be a nuisance buzzing around your ears.
The best time to go is during Australia’s Fall, Winter and Spring — roughly April through October. During these months, the temperatures are much more tolerable and the flies are more likely to leave you alone. Temperatures can dip below freezing though at night, so make sure to bring a sweater.
How to get to the Red Centre of Australia
The easiest way to reach Uluru is by plane from Cairns, Melbourne or Sydney nonstop into Ayers Rock Airport. Other cities have flights to Alice Springs, and then connect onward to Ayers Rock. If you have more time and really want to see as much of the Outback as possible, then another great way to travel is on board the Ghan train to Alice Springs, which takes about 24 hours from Adelaide to the South or from Darwin to the North.
If you arrive into Alice Springs by Ghan or flight, then you can spend a day there and then fly or take the bus about 4-5 hours from Alice Springs to Uluru.
Our favorite way to reach Ayers Rock is on the nonstop flight from Cairns. That way, you can experience the Great Barrier Reef and tropical North Queensland beforehand. Then after you’ve finished with Uluru, fly onwards to Sydney or Melbourne to continue your travels.
Alice Springs has more development and civilization than Uluru, as well as fun hot air balloon flights over the Outback and some other sights that easily fill a day of exploration. If you decide to leave Alice Springs by bus to Uluru, then you’ll have another opportunity to travel right through the vast red desert, experiencing Australia’s Outback for hours from the perspective of a comfortable paved road.
Where to stay in the Australian Outback.
Options here are somewhat limited, since the location is so remote without a town or city nearby. Most travelers stay in one of the hotels inside Ayers Rock Resort, which also has several shops, restaurants and activities inside it, plus a campground. The level of comfort at the resort’s hotels varies, so our two favorites are Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens. Sails is the most luxurious hotel in the resort, at about a 4-star level and ideally located in the center of things. Desert Gardens Hotel sits at about a 3.5-star level, and is plenty comfortable — make sure you pay a little extra to get a Rock View Room!
For those with ample budgets, Longitude 131 is a stellar 5-star luxury tented camp, located separate from the Resort with their own touring program and delicious meals. Although the walls and roof of each room are canvas, you won’t feel like you’re camping… picture a King-sized bed, modern bathroom, and all the mod cons, as well as a stunning view of the Rock from your front deck!
How long to stay in the Australian Outback
Costs are high here, being such a remote location where all the food and supplies must come from far away. Therefore, we recommend staying just two nights before traveling on. Your time at Uluru will be chock full of touring and activities, but staying longer than two nights tends to strain the budget for most travelers so we feel two nights is best.
What to do in the Australian Outback.
Being thoroughly developed for tourism, Uluru/Ayers Rock has enough to keep you occupied for several days. We like keeping our clients busy here, maximizing their time by doing as many unique activities as possible.
The accommodations are located outside the National Park, which requires permits to enter so it’s best to go as part of a small-group guided tour. Touring usually starts in the early morning, stops in the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak (and everyone likes to rest in the air conditioning or by the pool), and then starts up again in the late afternoon and evening.
First, we recommend going on sunrise and sunset tours of Uluru itself. The Rock changes color in different light, so visiting at these two times of day is the best way to experience and feel Uluru’s magnificence. You can do a vehicle-based tour or a walking tour around the Rock. Get up close and touch the rock if you like, or stand back and admire from a distance. Pick a tour that shows you the rock paintings, tells about the indigenous significance of Uluru, visits a sacred watering hole, or teaches the region’s flora and fauna.
Next, make sure you spend some time at Kata Tjuta, which is also called “the Olgas.” This is another unique rock formation in the National Park, right nearby Uluru and yet it looks and feels very different. Another sacred indigenous site, Kata Tjuta has its own legends unique to Uluru. Find out what those are on another small-group tour, either vehicle-based or incorporating some hiking.
At night, there are a couple of ways to experience the Rock again. Many of our clients enjoy dinner at Sounds of Silence, an open-air dining experience with Australian food and wine (and even some authentic “bush tucker!”) As the stars come out over the giant Outback sky, you can hear a talk about the constellations from both a European and Aboriginal perspective. You may see some of the same constellations as you would at home, but being in the Southern Hemisphere, they will all look upside down!
Some other great ways to experience the area include riding a camel, which aren’t native to Australia but thrive in the desert climate. Or if you like to move at a quicker pace, try driving a motorcycle or riding in a helicopter to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the air.
There are a few activities based only on the indigenous importance of the area, like visiting the Cultural Centre, going on a walk to identify native “bush tucker” foods, learning to make a dot painting or throw a boomerang (great for kids!) or… if you have ample budget and an extra day, head out to Cave Hill where you can actually meet and speak with indigenous people, see their art and learn about their culture in a more immersive and authentic way than you would at Uluru itself.
Another activity for those with more time is to go to Kings Canyon, which is worth an overnight stay. With great hiking and more stunning red desert scenery, Kings Canyon is for those who really want to get out and get active in the Outback. It can also be an overnight stop between Alice Springs and Uluru.
Keep in mind when you visit Uluru that you are visiting a sacred site to the indigenous people. They have had to fight very hard to keep their rights to this land. So unless you do a tour to Cave Hill, or find an English-speaking artist selling their wares along the roadside, you aren’t likely to have a personal one-on-one interaction with Aboriginal people here. There are authentic and respectful ways of experiencing indigenous culture elsewhere around the country. Protecting native culture is paramount, so be sure to appreciate the access that you do have to this beautiful landscape and treat it with respect.
Whether you are a couple, a family group with kids, or honeymooners, Uluru is absolutely worth visiting. The time and money you spend here will be returned ten-fold! It is a spiritual experience just to behold such a giant monolith in the desert and having so many ways to do it makes it even more unique and special. And of course, no trip to Australia is complete without seeing the Outback, so why not do it here?
Whether you are from Phoenix, Toronto, Boston or in-between this region is well worth a good 2-3 night stopover to experience all it has to offer.
** image courtesy of Tourism NT.