The ultimate guide to Uluru (Northern Territory, Australia)

Background

Uluru and its lesser-known sibling Kata Tjuta are two of Australia’s most spectacular natural rock formations. Uluru is one of the best-known icons of Australia and a central part of indigenous culture. Uluru has also been known by the English name “Ayers Rock”, and some locations nearby such as the resort and the airport retain this name, however we recommend using the indigenous names as many consider the English names anachronistic or offensive.

Uluru is a central and sacred location in indigenous dreamtime spirituality, particularly for the local traditional owners, the Anangu people. There are two settlements in the immediate vicinity of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – the tourist village of Yulara and the restricted indigenous community of Mutitjulu. The nearest town of any reasonable size is 450km (280 miles) away: Alice Springs, a modest city of just 25,000 and one of the most remote cities in the world.

While Uluru is open year round, be mindful of the time you visit as the climate can be extreme, with hot temperatures in the summer (December-January). Temperatures are more mild during winter (June-July) but can drop during the night. Visiting Uluru is a truly unforgettable experience and there are a variety of different tours and experiences to make the most of your time there.

Getting there

As you can see on the map, Uluru is a long way from everywhere. The good news is that there are a number of practical options to get to Uluru. The nearby Ayers Rock (or Yulara) Airport is serviced by daily Jetstar and Qantas flights from Darwin, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. This is by far the most straight forward way to get there, however it should be noted that flights direct to Yulara have been intermittently suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and the local indigenous community has sometimes blocked access when flights have arrived from designated hotspots.

If you’re not short on time, the best way to get there in our view is by flying into Alice Springs and renting a campervan, with an easy, sealed road all the way from Alice Springs to Yulara. This has some great advantages – you can stay comfortably for cheap at the campground, you can explore the area at your own pace, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the many other amazing locations in the area. For full details check out our article: Road trip in Australia’s red centre – Alice Springs, Uluru and Kings Canyon.

Other transport options are through an organised tour such as Intrepid Travel, or by renting a car in Alice Springs and driving. Be aware of the limitations of both, however – an organised tour means you’re limited to the activities organised by the tour for the most part, and a car rental in Alice Springs will often come with a relatively low daily kilometre limit, so be aware of the Ts and Cs to avoid a nasty bill shock!

Finally, if you live in Australia you might choose to drive to Uluru – this can be an epic, once-in-a-lifetime style road trip, however be aware of just how remote this area is and how much nothing there is on the way once you get beyond the Alice Springs area.

Getting around

Unless you’re on an organised tour, you will absolutely need a vehicle of some description to get around. Our preferred method of transport is a rental campervan, but rental cars are available from Yulara Airport. Alternatively, you may well prefer to come in your own vehicle if you have the capacity to make the distance.

Around the park, there are three broad locations to be aware of – Yulara (the tourist village where all hotels and campgrounds are located), Uluru, and Kata Tjuta. Despite all 3 being visible from each other, the distances between them are vast and you’ll want to be prepared with supplies before you go as supplies available within the park are limited. Broadly speaking, Uluru is 25km from Yulara, Kata Tjuta is 60km from Uluru, and the trip back to Yulara from Kata Tjuta is around 50km. So if you’re planning on going to both Uluru and Kata Tout in one day, you’re looking at a solid 150km or so of travel once you factor in travel around each site.

To get into the national park itself, which is where both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are located, you’ll need a park pass. They are available online for $38 per adult for a 3 day pass, or $50 per adult for an annual pass – children are free.

Accommodation

Photo credit: Longitude 131 resort

Despite its remote location, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to picking your perfect accommodation for Uluru. The accommodation options can broadly be categorised into budget, mid-range, luxury and ultra-luxury.

At the lowest cost end, you have the Ayers Rock Campground. The campground features countless powered and unpowered sites, as well as a number of 2 bedroom cabins. The campground gives you affordable access to the entire resort as well as the campground, swimming pool, and cooking and laundry facilities. Expect to pay around $40 per night for an unpowered site, $50 a night for a powered site, or $200 a night for a 2 bedroom cabin (sleeps up to 6 and can be a good deal if you’re travelling in a group).

For mid-range accommodation options, Outback Lodge, the Lost Camel and Desert Gardens present excellent value for money in comfortable quarters. Outback Lodge starts from around $260 a night, the Lost Camel goes for around $330 per night, and Desert Gardens starts from $400 per night.

At the luxury end of the scale, Sails in the Desert offers an excellent option with all the expected amenities of a 5 star resort at a cost from around $475 per night. For those wanting a luxury experience with a bit more self-sufficiency on the other hand, Emu Walk Apartments feature fully serviced one and two bedroom suites, starting from $420 per night.

Finally, for those for whom money is no object, Longitude 131˚ presents the ultimate desert glamping experience. Located separate to the Ayers Rock Resort on the border of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Longitude 131˚ features just 15 luxury tents with direct views of Uluru, fine dining, spa experiences, and bespoke, private experiences. Expect to pay upwards of $2,700 per night for your ultimate luxury experience.

Experiences

Free

Sunrise at Uluru

For free experiences, it’s hard to go past the sunrise and sunset viewing of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There are actually three different locations to go – one each for sunrise and sunset at Uluru, as well a sunset viewing area at Kata Tjuta. Each location gives you the perfect viewpoint to see the sun reflect off the enormous natural structures. For Uluru, the sunrise viewing location is to the south-east, while the sunset viewing location is to the north-west. At Kata Tjuta, the sunset viewing location is to the west of the rocks and is the perfect place to finish a long day of hiking through valleys of Kata Tjuta.

Walking around the base of Uluru will give you a unique perspective on this incredible location

For those seeking a more active experience, the best option at Uluru to experience everything this location has to offer is to walk around the base. The walk can be started from any of the carparks around the rock, however we recommend starting from Mutitjulu Waterhole for a great start and finish in a quieter area. Throughout the walk you’ll find information around the cultural and religious significance of each location and the Tjukurpa (indigenous stories and laws). The walk around the base is just under 10km (6 miles) and takes 2-3 hours. Note that walking around the base is the way that the traditional owners prefer to have visitors experience Uluru – climbing the rock is considered highly offensive (not to mention extremely dangerous) and since October 2019 has been banned.

Respect the views of the owners and don’t even think about climbing

Over at Kata Tjuta, a number of walks through the valleys and gorges – ideal for seeing the spectacular domes of the rocks also known as the Olgas. The main walks are in two locations – Valley of the Winds, and Walpa Gorge. Walpa Gorge involves a short, 2km return walk into the gorge where you will experience a refuge of flora and fauna around a seasonal stream. At Valley of the Winds, you can choose to take the shorter 2km return walk to Karu Lookout, or to take the full circuit through the valley for an awe-inspiring but physically challenging 7.5km, 3-4 hour walk. If you choose to go for the full circuit, be aware of the heat and start early in the morning, particularly in the summer months when desert temperatures can breach 50 degrees!

Away from the main attractions, Ayers Rock Resort offers a range of free activities centred around cultural experience including bush walks, story times, bush food experiences and even didgeridoo lessons! Finally, be sure to visit the cultural centre for a deeper understanding of the significance of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to the Anangu people.

Paid

The resort offers a range of paid experiences available to get the most of your time at Uluru. From scenic helicopter and Harley Davidson tours, guided nature treks, segway and bike hire, cultural experiences and sunset dinners, there is something to suit every interest and budget. Some of the experiences are seasonal so it’s best to check the Ayers Rock Resort prior to your stay.

Field of Light installation

Of particular note of the many paid experiences is the Field of Light installation. Against the backdrop of Uluru and under the southern night sky, the luminous garden includes 50,000 lights which gradually come to life as night falls. As you walk around the garden, different sections change colour. There are three packages available for experiencing the field of lights including access to the garden, canapés and drinks to a three course meal. This is a popular attraction and we recommend booking early to avoid missing out. 

There are many ways to enjoy sunrise and sunset at Uluru. One of the more unique experiences is riding on the back of a Harley Davidson as the Uluru and the surrounding landscape changes colour, making for an exhilarating and magical experience. Harley Davidson tours are offered year round for sufficiently thrill-seeking visitors, and cost around $230 (US$180) per person.

Photo credit: Viator. Okay, we didn’t do this one, but only because it wasn’t available due to the COVID shutdown – we totally would if we go back!

That’s it for this ultimate guide to Uluru – we hope it’s been useful in helping plan your dream adventure in Australia’s red centre! We’re constantly researching, planning and travelling to our dream destinations in Australia and around the world. Be sure to follow our blog and our social media accounts (TwitterInstagramFacebook) for the latest updates! Thanks for reading to the end, here’s to a Better Break!

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