Anangu are the Traditional Owers of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the surrounding land. For tens of thousands of years Anangua have cared for this land. It has always been a special place, a living place. Creation beings have left their marks everywhere, their stories are alive in the landscape.
“Please don’t climb. We, the Anangu traditional owners, have this to say: Uluru is sacred in our culture. It is a place of great knowledge. Under our traditional law climbing is not permitted. Is this a place to conquer? – or a place to connect with?”
The land is vast and breathtaking and then, when you drive into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Uluru is magnetic. Its captivating presence holds you and quietens you. The best way to experience it? Step away from the crowds, settle in, touch the earth and listen.
Countless people had told me about the sense of spirit they felt at Uluru and to this I say: you’ll never feel it if you go searching for it. Our travels have taught me many things and perhaps the most pertinent has been this; you only truly experience a place when you stay for a while, talk to the community, witness the light as it changes throughout the day and observe what’s going on around you.
Conscious travellers are encouraged to tread lightly and this same message is shared by Anangu; respect and connect with the land, with its story, its presence and its spirit. For us, that meant riding around the base, 10km through grassy plains, under gumtrees and near gorges and returning to particular places on the days following to experience them at a slower, quieter place. You can drive all the way around Uluru and there are carparks at particular points where you can easily walk towards the rock and do shorter explorations. I highly recommend stopping at the Kuniya Carpark and walking left till you get to a seat placed within a group of trees; in the afternoon it’s shaded, quiet and cool and the rock takes on a mauve hue. The Mala carpark is another stop that takes you to Kantju Gorge, rock paintings and a grass hut where we sat for an hour, ate morning tea and drew pictures of eucalyptus leaves.
On our second night we drove to the Sunset Carpark, had a picnic and watched as Uluru illuminated while the sun went down. It’s was the very best of nature’s light show; it literally looked like someone had switched on a light within the rock – it glowed! The next time we watched the sunset – on our 1 year travel anniversary! – we pulled up on the side of the road just past the carpark. It was quieter and there was more space and we played classical music on the car stereo while the kids played at out feet. The light! The colours! And mostly, the profound beauty of this ancient earth. It’s hard not to get emotional about it and impossible to convey the size, presence and magic of it.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Tips:
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a World Heritage listed site. Passes can be purchased at parksaustralia.gov.au – adults are $25, children 5-15 years $12.50 or you can get a family pass (2 adults, 2 children) for $65. The pass gives you entry to the park for 3 days but when you purchase the tickets you can opt to extend to 5 days for no extra charge. The fee goes towards maintenance and care of the park and its facilities with a portion going directly back to Anangu traditional owners to support the community.
- Park management encourages all visitors to spend time in the cultural centre before exploring Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It’s a beautiful building in the shape of a serpent – a significant nod to the Dreamtime – and it details the history of Uluru and the rich cultural heritage of the traditional owners. You can easily spend a few hours here; immerse yourself in the Anangu stories, watch local artists as they work and peruse the gallery of art and if you do purchase, know that the money goes directly to the artists and their community.
- There’s a carpark designated for sunset viewing (another one for sunrise) but make sure you get there at least an hour or two before sunset. Do like we did and drive in, set up your chairs and enjoy a picnic dinner in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The next time we watched he sunset we parked up the road in an area for overflow parking just past the designated sunset carpark (thanks to our friends @these.wander.days for the tip).
- If you’re keen to ride around Uluru, you can hire bikes and helmets from Outback Cycling who are located outside the Cultural Centre (you must book online 24hours before you collect your bike). Daniel and the kids have their own bikes so we only had to hire one for me. However, Percy was a bit too young to be riding on his own as there are many parts of the track that are soft sand and tough to ride. We were also cycling into the wind! We ended up taking his bike back to the car and hiring an extra toddler seat for him to sit in – far less whinging, far more enjoyment.
- Kata Tjuta is a good 45minute drive from the front gate of the park and on the afternoon we were headed out there, we turned around thanks to a screaming toddler. Choose your battles. We did get to the viewing platform (about 10km out from Kata Tjuta) and spotted a few dingoes while we were there. Everyone raves about the Valley of the Winds walk but I’m afraid I can’t speak from personal experience (there’s always next time).
Yulara is the 4th largest town in the NT and is home to over 1000 permanent residents who all work within the resort. The resort itself boasts multiple hotels, restaurants and bars as well as galleries, shops and cafes. It fits seamlessly within the arid landscape and is shaded by natives and large sails. But the remote location – one of the remotest and least populated on earth – means its a constant logistical challenge to keep it running smoothly.
Twice a week, three fully loaded road trains make the 1663km trip from Adelaide to supply the resort with food and materials. The road trains are back loaded with glass, steel, paper and cardboard which are then recycled in Adelaide. Additional deliveries are made by trucks from Alice Springs which travel 443km each way. It’s a bustling hub in the desert – a fascinating scenario and a unique experience in itself.
- The town centre has a post office, cafes + restaurants, a newsagency and well stocked IGA. Get there before 10am as the sourdough is baked daily, it’s really good, and it’s only $6. Expect to pay a premium for everything else.
- Yulara is a dry town so there isn’t a bottle shop, as such (you can bring alcohol with you so make sure you get it in either Alice Springs or Coober Pedy). You can purchase alcohol from the Outback Lodge but expect to pay $41 for a 6-pack. Any alcohol purchased in restaurants and bars requires a permit which you will receive when you book into your accomodation or the campground.
- There’s so many free and paid activities run by the resort – everything from art classes to astronomy tours – you could never tire of what’s on offer.
Ayers Rock Campground
Ayers Rock Campground is located within the resort and features cabins and powered + unpowered sites for caravans, campervans and tents. It is notorious for being difficult to book (as in, I had to call 25 times to get through to reception) and you pay a premium price for power + water (which is entirely understandable considering the location). However, it was a perfectly adequate park with great amenities and staff always willing to help.
My advice when it comes to booking – call between 8-9pm as that’s when the office is quiet and they’re more likely to answer the phone. We spent the first five nights on a powered site without water and then moved to the overflow site which is $30/night and you park wherever your van fits. Luckily we got a spot next to a grass paddock and beside our friends @frontier_tribe and it was only a short walk to the amenities. To be honest with you, I would recommend going straight to overflow – there’s more space, it’s quieter and it’s significantly cheaper. There’s multiple camp kitchens with power and you can fill your tanks free of charge at numerous taps around the park.
We initially booked for five nights (which is adequate) but we really felt like we needed a few days of downtime after the long drive and the adjustment to the desert conditions – hot, dry and windy weather makes for some interesting behaviour. Nine nights was perfect for us; we got to spend five days visiting the National Park and on the other days we relaxed around the van, caught up on washing (which dried within the hour), the kids played with new friends and we bumped into a family we camped next to in Tasmania (what are the odds?!).
The Red Centre exceeded all of my high expectations; it’s an iconic Australian landscape, a palette of ochre and sage steeped in rich tradition and culture. Go, stay a while, soak in the Dreamtime stories and listen to the wind as it whips around Uluru; whispers of the past.