Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock in The Red Centre of Australia had escaped us for 40 years.
It’s not that we’ve never wanted to visit, it’s always been at the top of our Aussie bucket list, but with all our overseas adventures and the age old attitude of Australia will always be there, we put it on the back burner.
You’ve probably seen hundreds of photos, postcards and TV commercials of Uluru, but it’s a place you have to see, and feel, for yourself.
Uluru has been a very spiritual place to the the Anangu people, the traditional owners, for thousands of years. Ask most people who visit and spiritual experience is the word they often use to describe it.
Made of arkosic sandstone, Uluru stands 348 metres high and is taller than The Eiffel Tower and 2.5 times the height of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
After spending a week here and getting to know the lands, I now know why this area is known as the heart of Australia.
Table of Contents:
1. Lasseter Highway Sand Dune
The anticipation was building as we turned off the main Stuart Highway and headed along Lasseter Highway in the direction of Uluru.
There’s this unofficial lookout at the top of a small sand dune. You’ll come across a free roadside campground approximately 20 kilometres before you enter the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park boundary, you can’t miss it.
Even though you are still quite a distance from THE ROCK, that first sighting is something special and you can feel its presence and of what’s yet to come.
2. Sunset at Uluru
The are several lookout spots for sunset at Uluru around the town of Yulara and within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Every lookout and sunset offers a different perspective of the vibrant and ever changing colours.
The most popular sunset spot is the official Uluru Sunset Lookout about 10 kilometres down the road through the entrance gates of the park (entry fee $25 for three days).
This is where we had our first up close and personal experience with Uluru, I’m sure you’ll recognize this profile shot, and like us, you’ll be overwhelmed by its incredible size, presence and spirituality.
We visited in late February (out of peak season) and sunset was around 7.10pm, and it was still quite busy.
If you come in peak season get here early. Set up your camp chair and tripod, bring some nibbles and cold drinks and enjoy the magical transformation as the sun sinks below the desert horizon.
The other option within the National Park is the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku sunset and sunrise lookout.
There’s a tiered viewing platform here which offers uninterrupted views of Uluru and you’ll see the sun setting in the distance, with views of Kata Tjuta 50 kilometres away.
Not as popular here at sunset as the first spot, but a totally different story at sunrise as you’ll read down below.
3. Uluru Sunrise
We dragged the kids out of bed at 5.am each day and jumped in the car for the 20-minute drive from Yulara into the park (sunrise was around 6.20am).
It’s the best time of day at Uluru, especially if you come in summer like us and need to beat the heat. Regardless of what time of year you visit Uluru, seeing the desert and the rock come alive is an unmissable moment.
For our first Uluru sunrise, we headed back to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout. Be warned, this is where hordes of people and tour buses converge and was very busy even in the off-season. Again, get here early unless you like people in the foreground of your photos.
To escape the bulk of the crowd and for a closer sunrise view of Uluru, walk down to the track a little in front of the viewing platform, set up your tripod and self-timer, and snap a priceless family portrait.
For a great Uluru sunrise silhouette, on another morning head back to the sunset lookout spot and you’ll get the rock blocking the sun as she rises.
Whilst almost everyone headed to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout for sunrise, we had this sunset spot all to ourselves, and this magnificent silhouette!
Caz even took a moment for a morning yoga session.
Outside of the park and in the town of Yulara, another good Uluru sunrise option is the Ewing Lookout near the camel farm.
You’re much further away from Uluru, but if you don’t feel like getting up as early to drive into the park it makes for a nice option, also with distant views of Kata Tjuta.
I used my 300mm canon lens to zoom in and get this amazing view of Kata Tjuta from the Ewing Lookout:
4. Kata Tjuta dune viewing area
Here’s an extra hot tip. For another brilliant sunrise silhouette of Uluru head to the Kata Tjuta dune viewing area.
We’ll be writing about Kata Tjuta in an upcoming post, but we were pleasantly surprised when we drove the 50 kilometres out from Yulara to watch the sunrise over Kata Tjuta, and then looked back and saw this.
Again I used my 300mm lens and tripod, but even to the naked eye this perspective turned out being one of my favourite spots in the whole park!
5. Do the Uluru base walk
One of the best things we did as a family was walking around the base of Uluru. We’ve done some great walks on this trip around Australia but nothing quite like the one at Uluru.
The loop walk is 10.6 kilometres around the whole base of the rock and it took us 3.45 hours, and that’s with a three and seven-year-old and taking lots of photos.
The walk is completely flat with one short sandy section but otherwise solid footing underneath.
Remember though you’re in the Outback so it’s best to start this walk early at first light to beat the heat. The park opens daily at 5am and as soon as we watched sunrise we were off.
We suggest starting at the Kuniya walking point and heading anti-clockwise. The back face of Uluru doesn’t get any shade so it’s best to walk this section early. In fact, if the temperature forecast is for 40 degrees celsius they close this walk from 11am.
Take lots of water, snacks and short breaks. There are a few drinking stations around the loop and don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat, comfortable walking shoes or sandals, and sunscreen.
There were quite a lot of flies at the time of our visit, but a head net soon took care of that.
Our kids, aged seven and three, did great. We had to carry little Savannah part of the way sharing the load but it’s all part of the family adventure.
We did it. A priceless family pic at the end of the walk is compulsory
If you’re wondering about climbing Uluru, yes it’s still legal to do it and about 20% of all visitors do, but we chose not to out of respect for the traditional owners who request people don’t as it’s such an important sacred site.
Regardless, the 800-metre steep climb is actually quite dangerous, people have died, and it was closed due to the high temperatures. This is what the Anangu people have to say:
6. Cycle the base of Uluru
If you’re not up to walking the 10.6 kilometres around the base of Uluru, a great alternative is to hire bikes from Outback Cycling ($30 for three hours) or bring your own and bike it. (You can even do segway tours of the base which sound exciting)
We had a tag-along for Kalyra who enjoyed the relaxation of letting daddy do most of the peddling, and little Savannah took in the sights in a baby seat on the back of Caz’s bike.
The 15-kilometre track took us about two hours, again stopping for more photos and drink breaks, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable family experience, not to mention another much-needed workout.
7. Free Ranger Guided Mala Walk
Your third option if you don’t want to walk or bike the whole 10.6 kilometres of Uluru is to participate in the two-kilometre return walk (1.5 hours) free ranger guided Mala walk.
A ranger will take you along the base of the rock, stopping to tell the story of the mala (rufous hare-wallaby) people. Learn about traditional Anangu culture, rock art and how the park is managed. 8.00 am – October to April. 10.00 am – May to September.
You can even participate in this Uluru walk and then head off and complete the entire base walk by yourself.
8. Uluru sunset camel ride
Looking for someone else to carry your load whilst you sit back and marvel at the landscape, then one of the unique ways to take in Uluru is on the back of a trusty camel.
Our kids, and us big kids, absolutely loved this experience. We’ve ridden camels at sunset before on Cable Beach in Broome, but I think this was better!
Little Savannah rode up front like a boss and I shared a camel with Kalyra. Our camel was a bit of a cranky bum to start with but soon fell into line, as they do.
As you can see everyone’s happy to be at Uluru. They’re a funny animal the old camel, always up for a pose and why wouldn’t they be with this as their backyard.
At the end of our one hour ride again we had amazing views all the way over to Kata Tjuta, and a nice touch was the beer, wine and nibbles back at the camel farm.
9. Sunset drinks with AAT Kings
A fitting farewell to our time at Uluru was sipping on a few glasses of champagne with the folks from AAT Kings.
By now we’d spent seven days by ourselves in and around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and it was nice to mingle with others from around the world and share stories and feelings of what it’s like to take in the wonder of Uluru.
It’s a sight you never get tired of seeing, an experience you never get tired of feeling, and funnily enough looks and feels even better after a few glasses of the old bubbly!
We had the most amazing time exploring Uluru. It was everything we imagined and then some.
No, we didn’t do every experience on offer at Uluru, and it still amazes me how much there really is to do around the National Park and Yulara.
You can be sure it won’t be another 40 years until we return.
On our bucket list is the Sounds of Silence dining experience under the stars (when the kids are a bit older) and a helicopter flight sounds amazing too! It’s included in this Uluru and Kata Tjuta tour.
Don’t just come for a day, stay a while and really get to know what I now know to be truly the “heart of Australia”.
When is the best time to visit Uluru?
Every season offers something different in Uluru, and we believe it is worth visiting whenever you can make it happen! We visited during the hottest month of the year, and while it was uncomfortable at times, we still had the most amazing time and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The winter months are typically the most popular time to visit Uluru as the temperatures are much cooler and the flies not as intense. The colors of the rock are more vibrant and you have more chance of seeing abundant waterfalls (yes, it’s amazing how much water you find in the desert)
But, visiting Uluru during the winter months will mean you’ll be dealing with higher crowds and prices.
You can look towards more of the shoulder months: April – May, Sept- October for more ideal conditions.
Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara is really the only place you can stay near Uluru.
It has everything you need from hotel restaurants, cafés, a mini-mart, and the only petrol station. The accommodation options for Uluru range from $30/night for an unpowered camping site, or up to $3,000/night for the Longitude 131º Luxury Pavilions. There are 2, 3, 4 and 5 star options.
In the busy periods, expect to pay up to $500/night for a 4 star option.
We experienced both camping at an unpowered site, which was killer during the hot summer months. We had 43º C – 45º C temperatures every day, which made sleeping very difficult, as did the crazy flies!!
Thankfully, camping at Yulara gives you access to the Ayers Rock amenities so during the heat of the day we could swim in the pool or sit inside the foyer in the AC.
We also had two nights in an Emu Walk Apartment, which was total bliss! We had loads of room and plenty of cool temperatures with the aircon. I highly recommend it if you are visiting during the summer months or visiting Uluru on a short term holiday rather than as part of your long term caravanning trip around Australia!
Yulara Accommodation options:
- Emu Walk Apartments
- Sails in the Desert
- Desert Gardens Hotel
- The Lost Camel Hotel
- Outback Pioneer Hotel
- Outback Pioneer Lodge
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