In a country full of “big things”, Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) has got to be one of Australia’s biggest and most popular tourist attractions. Standing at a whopping 348 metres tall and 1.7 kilometres wide, the natural sandstone formation pulls in over 250,000 visitors a year who want to see the big rock in all its glory.
So extraordinary it can be seen from outer space, Uluru is a bucket list location that deserves some extra attention. Whether you’re flying in or it’s part of an epic cross country roadtrip, you’ll need at least a few days to really see everything Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has to offer. If you’ve got the luxury of time, we advise you stay longer but we’ve put together a packed itinerary so you can get the most out of your Red Centre experience in just three days.
Get your bearings
A short ten minute drive from the airport, Ayers Rock Resort in the small town of Yulara will be the base for your trip. The tiny town caters for all types of visitors, with accommodation ranging from campsites for budget backpackers to 5-star luxury hotels.
After settling in and acquainting yourself with your facilities, go for a walk or catch the free shuttle bus that circles the Resort every 20 minutes to get your bearings. If you head to the centre of the town you”ll find a raised lookout where you can catch your first glimpses of Uluru without even going anywhere. Magical.
Sacred to the Anangu Aboriginal people who are indigenous to the area, Uluru plays a huge role in the lives and local customs of the traditional people of the land. There are many free cultural activities you can participate in to get a better understanding of this culture. This is also the perfect time to drop into the Visitor’s Centre to see what activities and tours are available to join over the coming days. Alternatively, you can hire a car here to explore the national park at your own pace.
You can hear a Bush Yarn in the Circle of Sand, watch the Wakkagetti Cultural Dancers or learn how to play the didgeridoo (sorry ladies, it’s for fellas only). Free activities run daily and are scheduled during the middle of the day so they won’t interfere with any dawn or dusk tours you may book.
On your first night, you have a dozen choices of where to eat as the sun dips down. Visit one of the many restaurants in town, cook your own meal at the Outback Pioneer BBQs or join a tour like the Sounds of Silence that will transport you to the desert to watch the sunset over Uluru before wining and dining you under the stars. If you want to experience a more intimate setting, splash some cash on the Tali Wiru dinner for a truly unforgettable three course meal complete with captivating Indigenous storytelling by moonlight.
Rise and shine
Don’t hit the snooze button this morning or you’ll risk missing one of the most magical sights in the world – watching the desert come to life as the sun rises behind Uluru, spreading a range of oranges across the Outback. You can watch this from one of the many free lookouts in town, drive out to a closer sunrise spot or join a sunrise tour complete with camel rides and fresh damper cooked on an open fire. However you choose to see it, this amazing display of light and nature is 100% essential viewing. Thrillseekers can take it a step further (they always do) with a helicopter ride over the Outback or a once-in-a-lifetime skydive through Skydive Ayers Rock.
Rock and roll
Set in the centre of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, day two is the time to head out to Uluru, which literally translates to “island mountain”. Taller than the Eiffel Tower or New York’s Chrysler Building, Uluru will leave you speechless as you drive closer to the famous rock formation that bursts from beneath the red sand.
Start at the Cultural Centre (open 7am – 6pm) to get an understanding of Uluru’s spiritual history before you join the free ranger-guided Mala Walk that runs from the Mala Walk carpark at 8am daily. You can also embark on the longer Uluru Base Walk, which covers 10.6 kilometres and takes a few hours – it’s completely worth it for the array of Uluru views you get beyond the typical postcard snap. You can also hire bikes to ride around the Base Walk or purchase art and ceramics made by local Anangu artists.
Weather wise, remember you’re in the desert so keep your travels to early or later hours to beat the midday heat. Locals ask that you do not photograph certain areas of the rock that have spiritual meaning or climb the steep incline to the top.
Many visitors may not realise is there is an entry fee into the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park of $25AUD (valid for three days). If you plan to stay longer, buy the annual pass which costs a few dollars more ($32.50AUD). You will need to have this on you whenever you’re travelling in the park.
Under the Stars
After returning to your room, relax and enjoy a dip in the resort pool to cool down or grab a drink from one of the many bars before heading back out to the desert under the blanket of darkness. Join an astronomy tour and learn all about the stars without city lights interfering or get your nerd on discussing the Big Bang Theory (the cosmological theory of evolution, not the popular TV show) plus other astronomic delights with host Dr Karl at the Uluru Astronomy Weekend (returning 14 – 16 August).
Begin your last day with another memorable sunrise as the dawn breaks over the spectacular red domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), meaning “many heads”. Sometimes overlooked, you shouldn’t leave without hiking through the Walpa Gorge and Valley of the Winds and appreciating some of Australia’s most sacred landmarks. The domes are breathtaking up close and the tallest rises more than 500 metres above the ground making them taller than Uluru itself. The walk will close at 10am if temperatures are expected to go over 38 degrees so make sure you head there early.
Got more time?
If you’re taking a longer break, make sure you get out to Kings Canyon which is a little over three hours away and truly worth a visit to experience the rugged central Australian landscape of the Watarrka National Park. Wander the bottom of the canyon floor or take the high road of the Rim Walk to take in the breathtaking scenery of the red centre before enjoying a swim in the natural watering holes.
Siân Edwards is a Sydney-based freelance writer and food and travel blogger who has travelled to more than 20 countries. She has written for publications including Holidays for Couples and Go Camping Australia magazines and contributes to various online sites like this one. When she’s not travelling, she’s tweeting at @sianwithashh about how she wishes she was travelling (plus other cool stuff).