Uluru is an ‘island mountain’ which began its formation more than 550 million years ago and, risen from the sea, now stands a majestic 348 metres above ground. However, perhaps even more startling, about 2.5km of it is, in fact, underground. What you’re really seeing is the tip of a huge, hot, red iceberg.
By road, the ‘Rock’, as it’s often called by locals, is more than 450km from Alice Springs but Jetstar now flies direct from Brisbane to Ayers Rock Airport, only about 20 minutes drive from the Rock itself, making it easier than ever to visit the World Heritage-listed area. Here’s a quick guide to the best ways to experience Uluru.
The walk around the base of Uluru is more than 10km and can take almost four hours but it’s well worth the effort to fully appreciate the natural and cultural beauty of the Rock. If this seems daunting there are shorter guided walks such as the free daily Mala Walk which is 2km return and hosted by park rangers. The 90-minute walk offers a snapshot of the traditional Anangu culture, rock art and how the park is managed. The Mala Walk has wheelchair access. Another easy walk around part of the base of Uluru is the short track to Mutitjulu waterhole, home of a wanampi, an ancestral watersnake, and a place to see cascading waterfalls in times of rain.
A self-guided cycling trail around the base of Uluru can be completed in less than three hours and signs along the way describe important cultural and natural features of this sacred site that has been home to Aboriginal people for at least 30,000 years. Bike hire $50 per person (less for children age 6 or under).
One of the most interesting and leisurely ways to travel at Uluru is by camel and tours range from 90 minutes to longer sunset and sunrise tours, starting from the camel farm at Yulara which is also home to the annual Uluru Camel Cup (24-25 May 2019). Once you've been on one you'll appreciate the skill of the riders to stay on at a gallop! At the Cup, visitors dress up for Fashions on the Field, festivities take over the Outback Pioneer Hotel, there's a gala ball and plenty of family-friendly activities.
The cave paintings at Cave Hill, about 100km from Uluru and accessible on a 4WD day tour, illustrate the Seven Sisters Tjukurpa (creation story) which is explained by a local Anangu guide through the Songlines of their traditional homeland. Views from the top of the hill extend to Uluru, Mount Conner and the Musgrave Ranges. Cost $280 per adult.
Under the stars
Low humidity and light pollution allow star gazers of all ages a spectacular view of the southern skies on a nightly Astro Tour or at the annual Uluru Astronomy Weekend (held in September) hosted by leading astronomers. The enlightening weekend includes activities, demonstrations, astro-photography, a starlit dinner, discussions on cosmic events, the Universe, dark matter, Aboriginal astronomy and navigation and more.
A dinner like no other
Dining is a unique experience, from a Desert Awakenings breakfast outdoors to watch the sunrise, followed by a guided walk at the base of Uluru, to the Sounds of Silence and Tali Wiru dinners against the backdrop of Uluru under the stars at Ayers Rock Resort.
Take the challenge up a notch
The Australian Outback Marathon (2020 event is unfortunately cancelled, but start training now for 2021) attracts runners from all over the world. The 42km course does not circle Uluru but it does offer great views of both the Rock and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) along the way and, while the trail is mostly flat and unsealed surface, there are a few small sand dunes thrown in to add to the challenge. There are shorter courses ranging from 6km to suit different abilities of runners.
Uluru is a sacred site for the Traditional Owners and it can have a spiritual impact on many visitors so it's no surprise it is a popular site for wellness retreats where the focus is meditation, mindfulness and life-changing workshops between desert tours, stories around the campfire and more. Try the Desert Dreaming Yoga Retreat.
Light it up
Bruce Munro's brilliant Field of Light installation will continue to light up every night year-round at Uluru until December 2020. The installation of 50,000 solar-powered light stems comes to life after sunset and tours range from walks through the Field of Light to scenic helicopter flights overhead, some with dinner or canapés and sparkling wine included. Prices from $42 per adult to $615 per adult.
Stay in luxury
Ayers Rock Resort is a one-stop-shop for accommodation at Uluru, with options from camping to 5-star luxury. It also offers access to all kinds of experiences in addition to those mentioned here, including scenic flights, dot-painting workshops and Segway tours. Free activities for hotel guests include Indigenous theatre performances with insight to local legends, as well as bush tucker cooking demonstrations and guided nature tours.
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