The big red rock known as Uluru doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s an Australian icon that so many of us never get to see because of its remote location (in the middle of the Simpson Desert which is in the centre of Australia). It wasn’t until I bought a van and started driving around the country that I considered visiting Uluru as a young person. It’s a 20-hour drive from Adelaide, or 22 from Darwin, which is why I think so many people put it off until they’re retired.
I didn’t know much about Uluru or what else there was to see and do until I arrived. The park and every hotel/motel is owed by a company called Voyages, meaning they’re literally your one-stop-shop for accommodation, tours, bars and restaurants. It made things pretty easy—yet very expensive—when it came time to book.
We stayed in Yulara (the town centre) for four days, so we had plenty of time to suss out the best things to see and do in the area. Here’s what we recommend:
Visit Kata Tjuta
Kata Tjuta, previously called The Olgas, is a slightly smaller rock formation to Uluru and very different in appearance. When you pay the entry fee into the park ($25 per person for three days), you’re given access to Kata Tjuta which is 58km away. Unlike Uluru, people are encouraged to walk the trail, weather permitting.
Red rock tip: Walk to the second look out point, then turn back and retrace your steps. If you keep going, the track will lead you around the outside of the rocks which is apparently much longer and a lot less spectacular.
Ride a camel at sunset
Uluru Camel Tours run four tours per day, but the sunset tour is the most popular. We called to book in the day we arrived and had to wait three days to get a spot. It’s $132 per person and lasts for about 1.5 hours. The camels are connected to each other so they can’t go rouge or move at a pace any faster than a slow walk. Our camel’s name was Spinifex. Some of them have muzzles because they nip and chew other riders; ours didn’t, but the one behind us did, which was disappointing when it came to taking photos. We named him Camel Lecter.
Red hot tip: After the ride they serve hot beer bread and beverages, including beer and wine. They don’t really announce the fact you can return for as many drinks as you like within the 45-minute window. We only found out in the last 5 minutes, but had we known sooner we would’ve made sure we got our money’s worth.
Visit the Field of Lights
A UK artist called Bruno Munro created a colourful light installation made up of 50,000 bulbs and thousands of metres of fibre optic cable. You can’t go there by foot, so a coach makes three pick-ups from the roadside of each accommodation in Yalara. The earliest time was already booked out, so we went at 7:30pm. By the time we arrived the area was pitch-black aside from the flickering coloured lights. I felt a bit disorientated as I walked along the paths illuminated by white light. I think the photos on the advertising material are a bit misleading. There’s no way you can see Uluru given it’s so dark and the lights aren’t as colourful or bright as I expected. It was a nice experience but I don’t think it was worth $42 a ticket.
Red hot tip: Book in to the drinks and canapes session at sunset. It’s about $30 more than the regular ticket but you’ll get to see Uluru in the backdrop and have a better understand of where you are and how the installation is set up.
Go to the gorge to watch the sunset on Uluru
There are several roadside areas dedicated to watching the sun set on Uluru, all of which become packed full of cars during the lead up. We decided to go against the grain and stay at the base of the rock for sunset. We sat on a wooden bench seat made out of tree branches. As the sun weaved in the out of the clouds, the rock changed from brown, to orange, to red and even gold in some spots.
Red hot tip: If you’re going to watch the sunset from one of the dedicated parking areas, plan to arrive an hour early to get a decent spot. Make sure you pack some drinks and nibbles to share around.
Do the Mala walking tour
There’s a base walk you can do around Uluru which takes between 2-3 hours. When the weather’s hot and dry you might prefer to do the Mala Walk which is a 1.5 hour a guided tour covering one section of the rock. On the tour you’ll learn about some of the Aboriginal creation stories significant to the area, as well as the native flora and fauna.
Red hot tip: Big groups will be split into two and appointed one guide each. On the day I visited, there was an Indigenous and non-indigenous guide. I consider myself lucky to have gone with the Indigenous guide because he was able to speak about his culture and teach us some words in the local language.