For those of you who follow me on Instagram, or know me IRL, you’ll know that our outback adventure has come to an end. It was a bit of a messy ending, but the silver lining of this whole situation is that we got to have a mini roadtrip holiday!!
Sad to say ‘bye’ to Alice, but not to the flies… and hello to:
AYERS ROCK RESORT / ULURU-KATA TJUTA
There is really only one place to stay when you visit the big rock, and that’s the Ayers Rock Resort. This resort is around 15km away from the big red rock itself, and is not one resort, but a variety of accomodations you can choose from. We chose the most budget option at the campgrounds, where you can camp, or rent a small cabin. We chose this option because we were traveling with our cat, Cookie, and the campground was the only pet-friendly place. We stayed two nights, but I wish I’d stayed longer!! It takes a while to get your head around the large resort and its various museums, shops and restaurants.We enjoyed our stay at the campground, as we can pretty much sleep anywhere 😛 You can of course get a hotel, even a 5-star one if you want, but be warned – it’s not cheap. There’s no competition so prices are high. Check out what’s available on the resort’s website (here).
Despite the fact that the Ayers Rock resort holds a monopoly over tourists, there are a few things I’m impressed by.
Firstly, the resort reached a milestone of 40% Indigenous employment in 2017. They are aiming for that number to reach 50% this year. They also have an Indigenous Traineeship Program which places trainees in their preferred area of work, and upon completion, offers them full-time work at the resort or assists them to find employment in the tourism & hospitality sectors elsewhere in Australia.
Secondly, Tjintu (‘sun’ in local Pitjantjatjara) is the name for the solar powered field on the resort, which produce’s around 15% of the resort’s energy needs. In the sunniest part of the day, it can produce up to 30% of the resort’s peak energy use. The resort has made a commitment to sustainable tourism practices and this is a great step!
Field Of Light – Bruce Munro
I had been looking forward to seeing this amazing artwork, made of thousands of beautiful frosted glass spheres. There are many ways to see Field of Light – at sunrise, over fancy dinner, sunset, by helicopter, by camel…you name it! Ken had booked us in to the ‘Star Pass’, which is an experience including watching the sunset on a hill, drinking sparkling or juice and eating canapés, then walking down the hill and seeing the Field of Light exhibition itself. I couldn’t eat any of the food but I had a couple of glasses of juice, and took heaps of sunset pics with Uluru in the background.
As darkness fell, we wandered down a pathway into the Field of Light, and boy, it was STUNNING. We were on a tour, so we were worried about getting through it quick to make the bus, but then we realised that a few people were lagging behind taking pictures so we leisurely strolled through. I’d recommend spending a bit more money on the Star Pass like us, or even one of the other experiences, as friends of mine who’d just done the Field of Light by itself didn’t get to experience the wonder of watching the sun go down and the lights come on, and they were disappointed by their experiences. (BTW, these pictures don’t do it justice. You have to see it IRL, trust me.)
Last thing about seeing the Field of Light at night…don’t forget to look UP. Ken and I had been excited to move out bush for the beautiful unpolluted night sky – we love stars and the Milky Way and the scene at Field of Light was truly amazing. Lights on the ground, and a smattering of milky stars spread across as far as the eye could see. It was a DREAM! I tried my best to take a picture with my DSLR, but it was impossible to capture the creaminess and depth of what I could see. Sorry, very nerdy. But true. Astro-gasm!
The National Park
Okay, onto Uluru itself. Uluru is situated in the Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park, with the entry fee being $25 for three days (entirely reasonable!). My recommendation is that you hire a car, or drive there with your own car. Why? Well, the park us huge, and there are many things to see. From catching the rock at sunrise, to various walking trails, lookouts and a cultural centre, I found there were so many options. It felt easy for us to get recommendations from the tourist info desk and then have the freedom to spend more time in the places we were interested in. It’s also much cheaper than joining tour groups and sitting on a bus.
We spent a full day in the park. An early 5.30am start meant that we got to ride camels past Uluru with Uluru Camel Tours. I did my research and they don’t breed camels, but take them from the wild, where people are currently trying to send them back to the Middle East anyway. Did you know? Camels were first imported from Afghanistan as horses couldn’t survive in the outback! The camels are treated like a big family, they don’t have bits placed in their mouths, and lots of money is spent on ensuring each camel has a custom, comfy thick saddle. I was reassured as our camel, Darcy, was super enthusiastic, loved meeting us and genuinely was so sweet. I loved giving him a cuddle.
After the sunrise, we drove our car into the park and visited Kata-Tjuta (Many Heads) which is 36+ large rock formations, looming majestically over you. We stopped at the ‘sunset viewing; platform for some pics, before heading on the Valley Of The Winds walk. The lady at the info desk recommended we walk this ’til the 2nd lookout and then turn back, as the section after the 2nd lookout was just more of the same (see map below). We decided not to do the Walpa Gorge (the easier and shorter of the two) as we didn’t have enough time to tackle both.
The Karu Lookout and the Karingana Lookout on the Valley of the Winds track are both worth getting to. The Karu is relatively easy trek but the second lookout is a tough, steep and difficult trek so wear good shoes!! It’s also slippery on the rock when it rains. We were lucky the weather was mild, as the track is closed if it gets over 36 degrees. Unfortunately Ken accidentally deleted ALL our Kata-Tjuta hike photos (WAH), but it was honestly the most stunning part of the park, for me. People often forget about Kata-Tjuta bc, well, ULURU DUH!, but these formations are so under-rated. Well worth the tough hike up!
Before heading on to Uluru itself, we stopped at the Cultural Centre where there are many informative posters, exhibits and recordings which tell of the history and culture of the area, as well as info about the flora & fauna that live there. We also grabbed a quick lunch – a roasted vegie sandwich thing, fruit salad and a regular green leafy salad.
We then chose one of the shorter walks on the South side of Uluru – there are a few more tracks here, and you can walk all around the base. We were INCREDIBLY lucky that it rained when we were at Uluru, as you can see amazing silver waterfalls off the side when it rains. It wasn’t heavy rain so we saw small trickles of it. It seems so strange that there is so much water in the area – it’s surprisingly a more lush area than Alice Springs.
We decided to head back to the campgrounds in the afternoon as we were both exhausted, and then headed back out to see the sunset from one of the viewing points in the park. The park closes at 8pm, and there is no where to camp in there, but it gives you ample time to watch the sun go down and then drive back to Yulara and the resort.
Tips and other activities
If you visit the official Ayers Rock Resort website, you can browse through many many activities. There are free bush food tours, and other free activities you can book into. You can see Uluru by segway, do an astronomy night time viewing, King’s Canyon day tours, even sky-diving experiences! Check it all out here, I’m sure there’ll be something that captures your attention. You can also buy a ticket for a hop on-hop off bus which means you have a bit more autonomy, but there are also plenty of tours for if you want to be guided through it all.
#1: Don’t come in the middle of Summer! IT’S REALLY HOT. We caught it right at the tail-end of Summer and were lucky it was stormy and had cooled down a lot right as we arrived. But sometime in the cooler months will mean less flies on ya back and less heatstroke opportunities too
#2: Please, please please. Don’t climb Uluru. It’s extremely disrespectful to the Indigenous owners of the land. The climb is officially going to be closed next year, but I would urge all tourists to respect the wishes of the owners of the land. It’s also an incredibly dangerous climb, and it was closed the day we went anyway due to forecast storms.
#3: Be careful what you photograph. There are areas around Uluru that are culturally sensitive, and Aboriginal people have certain beliefs around what happens to people’s spirits when they pass away. When I worked in Alice Springs people would get distressed seeing images of deceased peoples. Read all signs and ask for consent/permission before taking someone’s picture.
#4: Spend as long as you can at Ayers Rock Resort – two nights was not enough for us and we definitely need to get back. There is soooo much to do and learn and take in. Not to mention that it’s incredibly confusing there as to where is good to eat, and restaurant opening hours, and how to get around.
I hope this guide was useful, and helps you in planning to get to Uluru and surrounds!! If you have any more questions ask me down in the comments below, or hit me up on Insta. Or hit the resort up on Insta @exploreuluru 😀