Uluru aka Ayers Rock
Our whistle stop self guided tour of Australia continued, next up was Ayers Rock, or by its Aboriginal name Uluru. We got an amazing view as we came in for landing at Connellan Airport, albeit a rather bumpy flight via Alice Springs, Phil compared it to like riding the Big One rollercoaster in Blackpool! Stepping out of a plane the extreme dry heat hit us (39ºC) and gave us a taste of what was to come, we headed straight to the air conditioned arrival hall to get our hire car for the next few days. The airport looked like it had an airplane graveyard too, which was an eerie sight of abandoned unmarked planes parked in the desert.
Yulara & Our Hotel
We headed to our hotel – The Outback Pioneer, only 15km from the rock. It’s situated in the town of Yulara, best known as Ayers Rock Resort, a strange place where you realise the ‘town’ is actually one huge resort comprising five different hotels from 5 stars to a campsite, with shops and restaurants – so you basically have no choice, but to go to what the resort is offering, as it’s all owned by the same company. Our hotel was the cheapest in Yulara, the room was basic, but it was comfortable and the hotel had a small pool, which we used to cool down. Garth has a phobia of cockroaches and there were a few outside our front door, so we stuffed a towel under the door gap at night, just in case!
The hotel catered for the masses, including many backpackers, but it’s do it yourself BBQ was excellent and good fun. You queue up at the meat counters and buy what you fancy we chose Kangaroo, Emu and Crocodile sausages and steaks, you then head over to the BBQ’s and choose one, there are 10 or so and there was always one free, so you can tick off that Aussie Barbie box!
The following morning we ventured out to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, you need a ticket for the car to enter the park it costs AU$25 and is valid for 3 days. Seeing Uluru is awesome and yet so familiar, you really can’t comprehend the sheer size and beauty of the rock from TV or pictures, until you get up close, a bit like seeing The Grand Canyon for the first time. You also realise how remote it is, situated in the middle of the desert, it’s 280 miles to the nearest town of Alice Springs.
We went in low season, in January, which means extreme heat, and Outback flies, oh my the flies! I’m not sure they all come from because the place isn’t dirty at all. But they are absolutely everywhere. We had read about the issue of flies and bought face nets off eBay for a couple of quid each, you can get them from the shop in Yulara but if you arrive in the evening it may not be open. Do you really need the nets, OMG YES! they’re not attractive, but be warned without them, the flies will be up your nose, in your ears and you’ll have a miserable experience, we took them off for a couple of photos, but they went straight back on as soon as the shutter had closed!
Uluru Cultural Centre
We then headed to the Cultural Centre for lunch, the restaurant there made us laugh, with just two items for sale, a generic pie and a cheese sandwich. After eating we sat and watched the centre’s video to Ananou people, Aboriginal culture and the sacredness of Uluru. The video is interesting but in desperate need of updating and cutting down from what felt like a 2 hour movie. The shop has some great original Aboriginal art too, but too pricey for us to warrant the souvenir.
We spent the rest of the day hiking the suggested base walk. Along the route you read stories about the Elders of Uluru, the men had their own caves, the women had theirs. There are even some caves where you can get up close and see ancient cave paintings, the womens kitchen caves still have the areas that food was ground and cooked in.
The reason the rock is red is due to the amount of iron in the rock itself. As it reaches the surface it oxides – basically goes rusty
Photography is not permitted in certain sacred parts along the routes, these were clearly marked and we respected this. The area of the rock, that you can’t photograph tells a story which is passed down from mothers to daughters though the ages.
Climbing and hiking the actual rock is not banned but considered controversial. In the past hundreds of people have climbed and even died its strenuous hike to the top. Today the Anangu people ask tourists not to do this, and respect their culture and sacredness of Uluru.
Uluru is beautiful, but it is a harsh environment in the heat. There are warning signs everywhere not to under estimate it. Heat stroke, exhaustion and dehydration are very real dangers. So make sure you wear a hat, cover yourself in suncream and wear good hiking boots too. Carry at least a litre of water per person per hour, and avoid sports and caffeinated drinks as these contribute to dehydration.
Other good tips and precautions from the Cultural Centre included:
- Hike in the cooler parts of the day, before 11.00am
- Walk with another person at all times
- Always stay on the designated tracks
- Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of heat stroke – such as dry mouth, clammy sweating, dizziness or nausea
- Temperatures at Uluru are considered extreme once it reaches 36ºC – certain tracks will be closed.
Sunset & Sunrises
Evening and it’s time to drive to the sunset viewing car park, this is a real highlight, as well as the perfect opportunity for taking the obligatory tourist shots of both of us of the sun setting on the rock. It’s just magical spending time watching Uluru change colours from orange to a blood red and its texture change from the the long shadows cast. We kept saying to each other, are we really stood in front of Uluru!? It was special and somewhat surreal too, we thought about how lucky we were to have been up close to this natural wonder and how far away from home we were at that exact moment. After it turned dark we headed back just in time for another Aussie barbie of kangaroo and crocodile sausages!
There were various stargazing tours on offer, which we definately would have taken up, but sadly it was too cloudy for our stay as there was a nearby cyclone developing, so we didn’t bother. The skies must be amazing at night as there is no light pollution, we both love stargazing so that would have been amazing to witness, but Mother Nature wasn’t playing ball. Many people went to see the similar beauty at sunrise, but we we’re too tired from all our travelling in Australia and somewhat lazy!
We knew there was a neighbouring rock, Kata Tjuta about 20 miles from Uluru, but never really realised just how striking and impressive Kata Tjuta would be. It’s meaning is ‘many heads’, with its huge domed rocks. We hiked into one of the canyons created from the boulders, it’s terrain is rocky and uneven, so quite different to the red dust like Uluru walks, take plenty of water and your face nets! We only saw a couple of people during our time there, magical.
We filled our bags with quite a few bottles of water, and so glad we did, as we got through all of them. Dehydration is a real risk here, so don’t be caught out as the area is so isolated.
Phil & Garth’s Top 5 Uluru Tips
- Tip #1: Remember those flies we told you about – You must buy face nets before you go, just incase local shops have run out!
- Tip #2: If you avoid peak season (April-October) and go in summer like we did, prices are low, but you pay the price with flies! and the heat!
- Tip #3: Some people fly in and out the same day, we don’t suggest you do this, as it’s just not enough time to see everything on offer
- Tip #4: When taking those must have sunset shots, wait another half hour after the sun has set, as we got some of best shots then.
- Tip #5: Food is very expensive, but the local supermarket we went to in Yulara isn’t.