We all fall into the trap of never exploring our own country. Whether it’s life or work, time just gets away from us. It happens, and we are all guilty of it. I was born and raised in Hawaii. I don’t surf (gasp, I know), and I can’t remember seeing an active volcano when I lived there; bucket list. But I have hiked into the crater of Haleakala, the summit on the island of Maui and camped there. Twice. That’s a story for another time. What I’m trying to say is this: if you haven’t travelled out to visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta, don’t put it off. With an easy flight to pop in for a quick four-night adventure, it’s worth it. Here we go.
Uluru, the Red Centre, the land of the Aboriginal Anangu people.
I had the privilege of visiting Uluru, the renowned Red Centre of Australia, and it was truly a remarkable experience. We were a multi-generational family of eight, with our sights set on exploring the mysteries and enchantment out west; we were not disappointed.
To start, we had the perfect April weather—extra cool and crisp nights and perfectly warm and dry temperatures in the day for adventuring. We packed in as many activities as possible while leaving some downtime to relax.
Outback Cycling Uluru
The journey around Uluru from the start of the cycling track is about 14 or 15 km round trip. The bikes are well maintained and adjusted to each person—Tag-a-long bikes for the little kids, and regular cruisers for the rest of us. We started our bike ride in the morning with the sun rising behind Uluru, making it glow. I have seen photos of that massive red rock, but somehow it is completely different from what I imagined. There’s a vibe it gives off, like it has a secret. The rock formation juts straight up out of the ground and is smoother than I thought it would be. We were out early, to beat the crowds. The kids squealed in delight, seeing the rock up close, and I nervously watched as my 76-year-old father took selfies and videos on his phone while riding his own bike cruiser over bumpy tracks. Naughty.
Uluru is considered sacred by the Anangu people, and portions of the massive sandstone rock are prohibited from photographs. The track to the top is still visible, albeit off-limits as well. In my younger, crazier years, that trek would have been at the top of my list of to-do, shimmying to the top, risking life and limb. Respectfully, I was secretly relieved it was no longer allowed, peer pressure and all.
If bikes are not your thing, there are many ways to take in Uluru besides cycling. Guided tours that stop at significant areas, independent walking and Segway Tours are also popular ways to get about. We waved to many groups on Segways as they followed their knowledgeable guides along.
Sunrise Camel Tours
As unusual as a camel ride might sound, it’s a fabulous way to see the Red Centre come alive. The early morning’s quiet, the colours of the landscape changing with every moment, and the massive beasts’ soft swaying brought a smile to the most grumpy and reluctant traveller. Their huge yet soft padded feet gently crossing the dunes, leaving little trace behind, was as surprising to me as learning that the wild camel population in Australia is one of the largest in the world. How about that! Our guide walked along next to our camels, sharing knowledge of the area, and stories of each of the camels we rode on and answered all questions our fellow riders had. The guides are also experts at getting the perfect picture as well.
Back at Town Square, we took part in a Dot Painting Workshop, led by a translator who expressed the importance of the artwork and storytelling of the Anangu people, their traditions and how to ensure we respect their way of life. The Anagu are the traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta and the surrounding lands of Yalara. We watched as the artist showed us traditional instruments used in the bush for hunting and gathering and then were shocked by the speed and precision of her paintbrush and stick. She masterfully crafted a painting reflecting the dream time story spoken to us.
The Sounds of Silence Experience
There are a variety of dining experiences to choose from when planning your time in Yalara.
In the evening, we adults slipped away for a spectacular dinner under the stars. After being transported to a secluded sand dune, we were served drinks and nibbles of exciting bush tucker-inspired pastries and bites, watching the landscape colours change with the setting sun before we were led to our candle-lit tables and serenaded by the low vibrating notes of the didgeridoo. Dinner was another bush-inspired buffet of fish and seasoned chicken and multiple styles of salads before the dessert. I love Davidson plum fruit. My mother-in-law introduced me to the excruciatingly tart fruit and I am now a passionate fan of her Davidson plum jams and creations. We were delighted to find it was the main ingredient for the tarts served for dessert.
As we savoured our tarts, the buffet lights and candles were extinguished and out of the darkness came the deep voice of the Star Talker. I always forget this, but… It’s incredible how much there is to see when you look up! An absolutely magical and endless night sky looked back at us. We had planned our visit as close to the new moon cycle as possible, on advice from the great Anthony Lee here at Traveloso. So, with the moonlight tucked away, the constellations shined at their brightest, winking at us as the Star Talker narrated their pathway through the sky and spoke of the legends and decoded the significance the stars and constellations have provided to the Anangu for decades, from seasonal changes and animal migration to guiding the people on their way. The similarities of the First Nations constellations to the Polynesian voyagers of my ancestors were quite the treat for my parents.
Kata Tjuta Rock Formations
Kata Tjuta, previously known as the Olgas, is not just another rock formation. It is much bigger and has a completely different vibe than Uluru. Uluru is a beacon, a crown demanding your attention, whereas Kata Tjuta is like an uncharted course daring you to conquer it. Hiking through Kata Tjuta’s Valley of the Winds circuit takes 3-4 hours, and is classed as a Grade 4 walk, steep, rocky, and difficult in places. It is worth the effort to view the spectacular Mars-like landscape. As a hiker and trail runner, it would have been epic to hit the trails through Kata Tjuta, but we kept everything pretty age-friendly and trekked as far in as our group cared to go. Standing between the towering rock formations at the Walpa Gorge lookout brought out the kid in everyone, reflected in a million photos we now have.
Sunset Helicopter ride
As ridiculous as it sounds, the helicopter ride was an afterthought, if you can believe that. My mother-in-law pitched the idea after hearing from her friends that it was breathtaking. So up they went, our parents, on the Sunset Helicopter tour. Grandad, selected to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and was most impressed with the young commanding pilot as she navigated them on their bird’s eye view of the rock formation, the colours shifting over the dunes with the setting sun. It is such a wonderful way to see the land about which you are learning.
Field of Lights
At night, the Field of Light illuminates. As far as the eye can see, the gentle rhythms of colour light up the dark desert. This solar-powered installation done by the celebrated artist Bruce Munro is now on display indefinitely. The lights cover more than four football fields (49,000 square meters), in this garden of 50,000 spindles of lights and colour. Ochre, deep violet, blues, pinks, and whites. They are all connected by hundreds of kilometres of glowing fibre optic cables that change along with the glowing bulbs themselves. We saw this installation on the night we arrived, and having not witnessed the many colours in and around Uluru, I did not completely appreciate the installation as I thought I would be seeing mainly a rusty red-coloured desert. I was wrong. The sunsets of orange, pink, violet, and royal blue, the striking green and champagne silver of the spinifex for miles. The blues of the cloudless skies of our first few days. They were all there, in the field of light. We just didn’t know at the time.
Where To Stay
Ayers Rock Resort in Yalara
This little resort town has everything you could need on your visit. Whether you’re staying at the campground in trailers, or at the central hotel and apartments resort, you have access to a post office, IGA market, cafes, restaurants, museum and art gallery, and the tour guide hub.
In the centre of town is a viewing platform, a small sand dune, to watch the sun rise and fall every day. If you have not booked a sunrise tour that first morning, it’s the perfect introduction to the area.
There is also the hidden, exclusive and luxurious Longitude 131 by Baillie Lodges, offering an all-inclusive stay with dining encounters by the talented Executive Cher Marama Hohepa, and signature experiences to Uluru and Kata Tjuta. You will find you are taken care of at every point. First and foremost, book early; with just 15 tent-pavilions, space is limited. The true gem of Longitude is its sleek two-bedroom Dune Pavilion. If waking up to a view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta from your bed is what you require, Longitude 131 calls. Each tent is named and styled after a great Australian explorer. Artifacts, maps and journal entries decorate the walls, giving you a feeling of being a great adventurer yourself. Fancy a night under the stars from the comfort of your private deck? Personal swags and your evening drinks and platters can be made up for a more pampered explorer’s evening star gazing. These tents are positioned at the border of the National Park and command the best views of the stunning rock formations, even from the bathtub. Make sure to explore the spa’s treatment menu and indulge in their luxurious rituals and therapies.
- April is the best month to go – not too many flies, cooler temperatures during the day for exploring.
- Clear night skies – If you plan on dining under the stars and star gazing, go during the new moon, when the moon is its smallest crescent shape, to take advantage of less light pollution from the moon.
- Transport – If you are staying at the main resort, hire a car. This way, you can retrace your steps and revisit your favourite spots on your own time.
- Campground – The best place to get your morning croissants to start your day.
- Babysitting – If you are travelling as a family, some dinners are exclusive and will not cater for those under 15. Be sure to check the age restrictions and arrange for childminding with your travelling party or through the resort.
- Booking at least six months out will ensure both the accommodation and tours you want are available.
For anyone looking for a expert luxury travel specialist to to plan their Red Centre stay should call us at 1300 747 100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an appointment.