Doctor Uluru, Mister Ayers Rock, this iconic monadnock in the heart of Australia’s Red Center goes by the original name given by the Pitjantjatjara people as well as the name explorer William Christie Gosse gave the rock after discovering it in the 19th century. Whichever name you refer to, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park deserves to be on your bucket list and you shouldn’t leave Australia without paying it a visit. To make the most of your experience, here are a couple tips :
1. Plan to spend the night
First and foremost, Uluru is a full-on destination in itself and we’d strongly advise avoiding to consider it a day trip from any part of the country, let alone from Alice Springs. Being the biggest (and almost only) city in the vicinity, Alice Springs will probably make it to your list of places to stop by and spend the night. That would be a fair choice since the city has quite a lot to offer in terms of geological formations, such as the MacDonnell Ranges, but it is also an important Aboriginal cultural center. To be honest, we didn’t really fall for the city as we felt a somewhat off-putting, tense atmosphere during our stay, but it remains one of the best gateways to Uluru.
However, the Alice is an exhausting 6-hour drive away from the Rock (not talking about Dwayne Johnson here) so you can imagine the boldness of wanting to visit both places on the same day. That being said, you can plan on spending the morning in the city and then head to Uluru in the early afternoon, which will allow enough time to get there by the sunset for an unforgettable experience. Sure, you’ll be surrounded by a couple hundred people, some extremely well prepared to the extent of carrying folding plastic chairs around by the way, but it won’t take anything away from the magic of Uluru turning into a flaming red silhouette in front of your very eyes.
When night falls, you won’t have that many lodging options left but know that the Ayers Rock Resort Campground is relatively affordable for backpackers (36AUD for a spot without electricity, 150AUD for a family cabin).
2. Get to the actual site early
Now that you’ve seen Uluru at sunset, you might want to relive this amazing experience at sunrise and who could blame you? Be aware that there is an even better way to indulge in the magic of the Rock early in the morning though, and that is by going straight to the site. Most tourists will be busy taking pictures from afar on one of the several viewing platforms, meaning you will most likely have the site all by yourself, even for the tiniest amount of time.
Park your car on the Mala Car Park and embark on one of the many walks that surround the Rock. All walks have been defined according to their length, so you can decide to circle around the entirety of the inselberg or just take an hour stroll on a short portion of it. It is extremely hard to describe the magnitude of Uluru when you get there, and the most adequate description will be along the lines of taking a punch in the face.
The site is huge, gorgeous, multi-faceted, spiritually-charged as it is covered of ancestral meaningful Aboriginal drawings on some parts and bare on others, orange, then black, home to ancient caves and then completely slick. Long story short, it is so much more than an isolated rock in the middle of nowhere so take the time you need and do not try to rush it.
3. Pay a visit to Kata Tjuta
Also known as the Olgas, the Kata Tjuta geological formation has its name up the front of the park but it is much lesser known than its counterpart. Its shape isn’t as perfectly emblematic but it would be a pity to miss it, especially since it is a really short drive away from Uluru.
Again, you will be able to choose from various walks, among which you’ll find the Valley of the Winds (7,4km) walk which is one of the best hikes you’ll find in the park. If you’re running out of time or if you’re a bit of a couch potato, which we can completely relate to, you’d better choose the easier Walpa Gorge walk. In the morning, you’ll probably be on your own but those walks are also fantastic in the afternoon when, high up in the sky, the sun drowns the Gorge in an exquisite sea of light.
Be sure to carry plenty of water with you however. If you’re still unsure whether to give any time to Kata Tjuta, you’ll be glad to know that it is also a great setting to witness the sunset over Uluru on the befittingly named Kata Tjuta Sunset Viewing Platform.
4. Beware of the flies
We’re sorry to break it down to you that way and that one part isn’t gonna be sexy at all, but Uluru is the Kingdom of Heaven of flies. At the time of our visit, we were unaware of this rather unpleasant side of the park and were taken completely off guard. We tried some slightly MacGiver-ish techniques, which included putting salt on our skin to deter the flies for some obscure reason. In a completely predictable way, none of said techniques worked and we had to fight flies upon flies in an epic battle for most of our visit.
Kata Tjuta was actually spared, but Uluru itself was apparently the place to be for all flies, and let’s say they weren’t gentle. Not only did they play with our nerves, some of them were even borderline suicidal, trying very hard to get inside our mouths. There was a way to get rid of them however, which we only learned later when we saw a group of tourists wearing some sort of net on their heads. These farsighted folks had bought a face net! They looked really silly but we didn’t look any better waving flies around our heads all the time, so if you get the chance to buy one of these, grab it!
5. Avoid the Wet
Uluru receives thousands of visitors all year round and it’s true that you could visit it at any time of the year. Yet, if you’re planning to visit the Northern Territory all the way up to Darwin afterwards, be careful in picking the right time for your trip. This particular region of Australia bears a very distinctive climate from the southern part of the country, as it is divided in two seasons: the Dry and the Wet.
Roughly, the Wet begins in November and lasts until April, and as its name states quite plainly it can be described as a monsoon season. On the downsides, a lot of national parks might be closed, including the infamous Kakadu National Park, flooding will occur on a regular basis on a lot of roads, which might get your car trapped if you’re not cautious.
Of course, the Wet has its plus sides too as the number of tourists will drop substantially. Also, many national parks will be on top of their game, in particular the Litchfield National Park near Darwin whose Wangi Falls are serving their best looks during the Wet, just as the Katherine Falls. But you will need to be very careful on the road, know your limits and be open to the fact that many places might be closed during your visit. Oh, and forget all about taking a dip in the sea, it’s box jellyfish season!
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