Rising from the red earth on Anangu land, Uluru takes your breath away. Spanning more than 1300 square kilometres, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is full of possibilities. So we’ve created the ultimate guide, including when to visit, the best accommodation to book and the coolest things to do while you’re there. Embracing the still of the desert is a good place to start.
Palya, pronounced “pahl-yah”. Roll it around on your tongue. Say it out loud and memorise it. Meaning “welcome”, “hello”, “goodbye” and “good luck” in the local Anangu language, it’s a greeting you’ll hear a lot when you get to Uluru. And like so many other things – the art, the colours, the red dirt, the people, the heat, the flies – the language in Central Australia is immersive.
How to get there
Qantas flies direct to Uluru from Sydney in just over three hours. Or if you’re a fan of the highway, flying into Alice Springs from Australia’s capital cities (Hobart via Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide) will add a 5.5-hour drive to your trip – car or camper hire a must. The bonus? You’ll take in the magnificent sights of the Tjoritja (MacDonnell Ranges) and Attila (Mount Conner), as well as the region’s flora and fauna, along the way.
When to visit
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park never really closes but to optimise the best of the experience and the weather, peak travel time is between May and September. Most tours are done at sunrise or sunset to avoid the extreme outback heat.
Flying in? Once you’ve landed, hop on one of the complimentary airport shuttle buses – running from 10.30am daily – to drive the 20 minutes to Ayers Rock Resort. The dusty brown sign on the side of the road as you turn left from the airport still says “Ayers Rock Resort” but this is Uluṟu, Yulara, on the land of the Anangu people.
If you’re planning to stick close to the local highlights during your stay, there are shuttle and tour buses (AAT Kings pick up and drop off at your resort’s reception) to take you the 20 kilometres to Uluru and 50 kilometres to Kata Tjuta. If you’d prefer to drive yourself, the information office at Town Centre – the hub of the resort – can hook you up with a car hire.
SEE ALSO: The Best Things to See and Do in the NT
Where to stay
With 997 rooms across the whole resort and capacity for 4000 guests, there’s an accommodation package to suit everyone from the single traveller to families and larger groups.
Wake up with a view of Uluru as the sun rises in select Desert Gardens Hotel rooms; opt for an affordable 3.5-star stay at the converted ex-staff housing, Lost Camel Hotel; discover outback luxury at Sails in the Desert – where the deluxe rooms include a spa bath, perfect for soaking up the complimentary Indigenous Wiru Quandong (wild peach) & Wattle Seed body care range; or book the family into a one- or two-bedroom Emu Apartment with full kitchenette and laundry on hand. If sleeping under the stars is more your style, pull up a van at the campground – choose from an un-powered or powered site.
For pure indulgence, check in at Longitude 131° for the high-end glamping. Start the day with breakfast on your deck then round it out with a dip in your private plunge pool, taking in front-row views of Uluru.
Where to eat
Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite at Kulata Academy Cafe, where trainees serve coffee in cups with Indigenous artwork and freshly made pastries – try the generous rose-infused meringue – or dining on saltimbocca chicken with quandong relish and duo potato gratin at the a la carte Arnguli Grill & Restaurant, the food is local and delicious.
Chefs who work at Uluru undergo a staff induction training program called Through the Eyes of the Anangu, which is delivered by the Anangu people. The cooks are taught what the land and culture is about before being left to experiment with the area’s ingredients and flavours.
Notch up a memory moment and book one of the 20 seats available each night at Tali Wiru between April and October. Served under the stars with Uluru as backdrop, the menu is Central Australian produce at its best. Your hosts will proudly talk you through each dish, such as Paroo kangaroo on wattle seed lavosh and gin compressed cucumber sprinkled with green ant and celery salt as starters, while pouring Australian wines like the Barossa’s Shaw & Smith Shiraz.
Things to do
At a staggering 3.6 kilometres long and 348 metres high, Uluru’s enormity means one of the best ways to appreciate the size of the landmark is from above. Helicopter tours are plentiful and your options range from a 15-minute loop of Uluru through to a full-day tour of the surrounding highlights, including Kata Tjuta and Lake Amadeus. For the most memorable views, time your flight to catch the sunrise.
For an intimate look at Uluru, consider a self-guided bike tour around the base of the monolith, a roughly three-hour journey during which you can stop to observe historic rock art and beautiful waterholes.
Walking the base of the Rock on a guided tour with SEIT Outback Australia allows you to listen and learn from local community members, who share stories of the battle of the Liru (poisonous snake) and Kuniya (woma python). It’s an immersive option for those with a few hours after breakfast (served onsite by your SEIT guides as the sun comes up), sturdy walking shoes and reliable fly nets overhead.
One year in, the Gallery of Central Australia (GOCA) has become a must-see within the resort. Since Geoffrey Barton helped the Papunya people develop their sand paintings in the 1970s – by working on canvas using acrylic instead of ochre paint – Indigenous art has become highly sought after.
Now GOCA provides a principal location for artists from local First Nations arts centres, such as Ernabella and Keringke Arts. Mostly women, these creatives bring stories of the Seven Sisters, salt lakes and traditional ceremonies to life in colourful, intricate form. You can purchase works from the exhibitors – with a portion of funds going back to the artist and their community. There are also tours and talks within the small gallery space, led by Verity, the new galleries manager.
See Kata Tjuta
Uluru isn’t the only rock in the Red Centre worth seeking out – in fact, it’s not even the tallest. Kata Tjuta is a group of 36 towering boulders, including one peak that’s almost 200 metres higher than Uluru. The huge stones are close together, forming deep valleys that can be explored on the popular Valley of the Winds bushwalk, which will take you up to four hours. For something shorter, just head to the Karu Lookout. At just over 2 kilometres return, this walk can be tricky underfoot but the views are worth it.
Visit Field of Lights
How do you make Uluru even more breathtaking? Spread 50,000 stems of light across an area equivalent to seven football fields in front of the Rock. That’s what artist Bruce Munro did with his world-renowned installation Field of Light, a vision best enjoyed after dark at the daily A Night at Field of Light three-course dinner and drinks experience.
Arrive at the artwork in time for sunset and, as darkness falls, you can watch the bulbs glow in spectacular reds, pinks and purples from a raised viewing platform while sipping champagne and nibbling canapés. If you’re a morning person, the sunrise option departs the resort pre-dawn and arrives in time to watch the colours glimmer and change with the rising sun.