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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia: Where giant red rocks congregate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wearing: Gorman dress and ASOS hat

Up until January last year, visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park had been a dream that I wasn't sure I would ever get around to realising. However, lucky me had my parents looking out for my dreams as they kindly bought my brother and myself return airfares to the red centre for the previous Christmas. Is there any greater gift than the gift of memories?

Located 335 kilometres from the nearest major city (Alice Springs), one could assume that a visit to Uluru would be inconvenient or a hassle. However, with the Uluru Ayers Rock airport located only 6 kilometres from the main resort area with free transfers, visiting Uluru will perhaps be the easiest itinerary you'll ever encounter and you can book it all yourself! To drive home this point what follows is a few notes on accomodation, transport and activities for anywhere from a two- to seven-day stay.

Getting here and around:
 Direct flights to Ayers Rock airport depart daily from Sydney (through Jetstar and Virgin Australia) and Cairns and Alice Springs (through Qantas), as well as four times per week from Melbourne (through Jetstar; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday). Upon arriving at the airport,  all you need to do is hop on board the compliment coach transfer which meets every scheduled flight to Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. The drive is a mere 10 minutes, and full of beautiful desert scenery. The coach transfer will return you to the airport from the Resort approximately 2 hours prior to your flight departure.  

Unless you're hiring a car (which could be a brilliant idea with other amazing hiking spots such as Kings Canyon nearby), the only other transport you need to worry about can be organised through AAT Kings. Whether you plan to hike around Uluru or the Kata Tjuta independently or with a guide, AAT Kings organise transfers and walking tours up to seven times daily and this can easily be booked through the concierge staff at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort or online.

Where to stay: 
All accomodation in the area surrounding Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is contained at Ayers Rock Resort. The resort offers a town centre with an IGA and an assortment of restaurants, as well as 6 distinct accomodations to cater to individual traveling styles and bank accounts. Your options are... 

Sails in the Desert ($$$) : Despite it's 5-star pricetag this hotel is not that different to the Desert Gardens hotel, besides offering a few extra amenities. With this is mind, I suggest this hotel is only for those with a surplus of cash, looking a for a relaxing or romantic escape.

Emu Walk Apartments ($$) : Great for families this accommodation offers terraced one and two bedroom self-contained apartments, with separate kitchen, living and bedroom areas. 

Desert Gardens Hotel ($$) : This is your standard hotel accomodation style (à la an Ibis you'd find in any city). It offers comfortable, affordable hotel rooms with a private bathroom, and access to the pool and tennis courts. Although there is an IGA (with very reasonable prices) right nearby, this accommodation doesn't offer any facilities to cook food with, so you'll need to consider the extra cost of eating out at the local restaurant which aren't so reasonable with their prices.

Outback Pioneer Hotel ($$) : Same as the Desert Gardens hotel, but right next to Pioneer Lookout (perhaps my favourite lookout at the resort).

Outback Pioneer Lodge ($) : The most affordable option, the Outback Pioneer Lodge is equivalent to a decent hostel in any other part of Australia. There are three options for room types: (1) 20-bed same-sex dormitories, (2) 4-bed mixed-sex dormitories or (3) 2-person budget rooms with or without private bathrooms. All room types include access to a common room with television and internet access, a communal self-catering kitchen and shared self-service laundry facilities.

Ayers Rock Campground ($) : If you're looking for a more authentic desert experience, pitch a tent on any of the powered or non-powered camping grounds.

Things to do:
~ Take a walk with the big red rock ~
Follow in the footsteps of our ancestral beings that shaped the landscape. By choosing to walk around Uluru instead of climbing, you will be respecting Tjukurpa and Anangu wishes. - See more at:
Follow in the footsteps of our ancestral beings that shaped the landscape. By choosing to walk around Uluru instead of climbing, you will be respecting Tjukurpa and Anangu wishes. - See more at:
If you remember one thing from this post when you visit  Uluru it's this,  WALK DON'T CLIMB. It was truly frustrating arriving at the start of the hike only to see hundreds of people disrepecting the Tjikurpa and Anangu wishes and climbing up the giant red rock leaving a clear path of destruction. Instead, it is much more rewarding to depart on the 10.6 kilometre base walk, where you are able to observe first hand how the landscape and rock itself change over the circumference of the rock. Although I do recommend the full base walk to anyone who is not physically disabled or pregnant (it is flat path the whole way with numerous water taps), there are shorter walks that you can do. The most rewarding part of the walk was the first 1 km where we found this amazing overhanging rock shelter (images 2-4 below) and intricate wooden seat (image 5 below), which can be taken as a shorter Mala walk. What's more, at 8am in the summer months and 10am in the winter months, there are ranger-led Mala walks, which receive an abundance of reviews repeating the words "personable", "informative" and "amazing".

especting Tjukurpa and Anangu wishes.
If you do decide to follow my advice and venture on the full base walk make sure to allow 3-4 hours and start early so that you finish before midday. If you're willing to get up a bit earlier there are sunrise transfers organised by AAT Kings which take you to the sunrise viewing point to watch the sunrise before transporting you to the start of the base walk and back to the resort when you are finished.

especting Tjukurpa and Anangu wishes.

P.s. Be prepared for LOTS of flies!

This is how easy the walk is...

~ Make friends with a camel ~
Although Uluru Camel Tours operates daily express camel tours for $80, I definitely think it's worthwhile paying the extra $45 for a sunrise or sunset tour. Due to weather issues, my initial sunrise tour had to be changed to a sunset, but as you can see in the images below this worked out more than fine for me. For any animal rights activists out there, you can tell within the first 5 minutes of arriving at the Uluru camel farm, that these camels are treated like family by the guides. The 2.5-hour sunrise/sunset tour includes 1 hour of trotting along between the camels humps, as well as a social dinner or breakfast at the camel farm afterwards. I was second-to-last boarding the camel train and got Myrtle (my camel) all to myself.

~ Look up ~
The Resort organises daily astronomy tours, which include an expert guide showing you around the night sky by means of telescopes and binoculars. This tour is even worthwhile for those with their own telescopes, as the low humidity and minimal unnatural light in the Red Centre allow you to view the stars and planets in a completely new light.

~ Fly in a helicopter ~
I visited Uluru during my "helicopters are so cool" phase of my life, where I was willing to pay a decent sum of money for a 10-minute experience which usually wasn't all it was cracked up to be. This helicopter experience however, was everything it cracked up to be and more.  Although I was only signed up to experience the $110 20-minute scenic flight, as the flight needed a minimum of 2 people and my brother was not cracking under my constant pressure for him to join me, I had to join another couple who had booked the $220 40-minute scenic flight. This change in itinerary ended up being a blessing in disguise as the  flight gave me the only real experience with the Kata Tjuta (or Olgas). Hopefully, one day very soon, I will be able to return to better experience them as well as Kings Canyon. If you plan only to take the 20-minute scenic flight, be warned that you'll get an equally amazing view of Uluru from above when you are landing at the airport on your inbound flight if you are sitting on the left hand side of the plane.