If you love waking up at 4am and hiking for hours in 38°C heat, then Uluru is the perfect destination for you. Joking aside, Uluru is a pretty special place. I’d loved the idea of the Australian outback since moving to Sydney, but it’s not exactly a typical holiday destination. Fortunately, I have an adventurous friend in Sydney, Fiona, who suggested going for a weekend. We found some cheap flights and went in February at the end of the Australian summer, which was out of season. Peak season for Uluru is May-September, when it’s cooler and easier to walk around during the day.
Most people who visit Uluru stay at Ayers Rock Resort, which is a short drive away from Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta (the two main attractions). There are just a handful of places to stay in the resort and, after doing some research, we decided to stay at Ayers Rock Campsite in a cabin. I would strongly recommend booking a cabin rather than pitching up a tent in February, because it gets HOT and returning to an air conditioned room made everything a whole lot more enjoyable.
There are a number of different ways in which you can experience Uluru, including individual tours, the hop-on hop-off bus and renting a car. After weighing up the pros and cons, we decided to get a two-day hop-on hop-off bus ticket. It was probably the most expensive “bus” ticket we had ever paid for ($160 for two days), but I would choose to do it again every time. The car hire was also expensive ($140 a day) and I think that the sunrise lookouts would have been difficult to find in a car without guidance because the the entrances via little tracks were not obvious without someone pointing them out to us. The individual tours were much more expensive than both the bus and the car hire, plus the hop-on hop-off bus basically felt like a tour with flexibility.
We were’t entirely clear from the website how the hop-on hop-off bus worked, so I’ll explain. The bus picks you up from Ayers Rock Resort shortly before sunrise and sunset and drops you off at viewing platforms. At sunrise, the bus waits for around an hour and then you all jump back on and head to either Uluru or Kata Tjuta. The bus does numerous trips in the middle of the day around Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta so you can head back at various times. At sunset, the bus waits for around an hour again and then takes you back to wherever you are staying.
On our first evening in Uluru, we visited the Field of Lights, which was (unexpectedly) the highlight of the trip for me. It is a field of 50,000 spindles of lights created by an artist called Bruce Monroe. It was a clear night, so you could see the Milky Way above the Field of Lights.
On the first morning, we watched the sunrise over Ayers Rock and then continued on to Matitjula Waterhole. I naively took a bikini in case I could fit in a swim, which was, in retrospect, just plain weird of me. The water of Matitjula Waterhole is sacred, and swimming isn’t allowed for tourists. We then walked around Ayers Rock clockwise, stopping for the free guided walk at 8am from the Mala carpark, during which we learned more about the Aboriginal heritage of Uluru. There are a number of sacred areas around Ayers Rock where you are not allowed to take photos. As we stopped for the guided walk, we ended up walking around Uluru in the blistering heat until 11:30am, but hey, when in Rome. The whole base walk is 9.4km, but it feels a lot longer when the temperature is 38°C! Ideally at this time of year you do most of your walking before 9am, but you can get picked up from various points around Uluru with a hop-on hop-off bus ticket if you don’t feel like doing the whole base walk (another advantage of doing Uluru by bus). Sunsets and sunrises at Uluru are particularly special. The colours of the rock change so quickly. One second it can look dark brown and then two minutes later it can look luminous red.
On the second morning, we went to the sunrise viewing lookout on the way to Kata Tjuta, which you could also see Ayers Rock from, but from a further distance than the dedicated Uluru sunrise viewing station. We went on from the sunrise lookout to do the Valley of the Winds Walk around Kata Tjuta which is 8km, but a lot more up and down than walking around the base of Uluru, which is pretty flat. There is also the option to do the shorter Walpa Gorge walk, which is just 2km. The suggested time for the Valley of the Winds walk was three hours, but everyone on our bus did it in two hours.
Friends of ours who had been to Uluru before had suggested going for just a weekend, and I agree that two full days and two nights is the perfect amount of time to stay. And now you’ll know not to take swimwear to the scared watering holes.