Monday, May 27, 2024

Gobsmackingly awe-inspiring: a cost conscious guide to Uluru and surrounds

You’ve probably seen it on tea towels, TV advertisements, and kitschy souvenirs. You’ve probably never seen the red-earth beauty up close. Uluru almost…

By Chan , in Travel , at March 5, 2024

You’ve probably seen it on tea towels, TV advertisements, and kitschy souvenirs. You’ve probably never seen the red-earth beauty up close. Uluru almost suffers from its iconic status. Many Australians don’t even know what it is.

While tourists from around the world marvel at the iconic red center, Australians are often blasé about their backyard. We may think it won’t disappear and will still be there when we visit. Perhaps the cost to travel into the heartland of the country is keeping it off the agenda. Fiji can seem more affordable.

We shouldn’t just leave it to our list of things to do. Uluru is both the geographical and spiritual center of Australia. It is also awe-inspiring. You can’t prepare yourself for the first time you meet.

It’s not cheap to visit, but the experience is worth it. There are more affordable ways to see, but you’ll need to plan.

How to get there

Yulara is the gateway to Uluru, which is a remote rock. It was built in the 1970s as a tourist destination. The town has grown to include both accommodation for tourists and staff living quarters.

Request a window seat if you are flying to see Uluru from above. Jetstar offers return flights for as low as $270 in Melbourne and $350 in Sydney. However, during peak season, the price can rise to over $800. If you are flexible about the dates you fly, you can often find cheaper options.

Be prepared for a long road trip with few stops. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Alice Springs.


The park is only $38 per day for those under 18. Under-18s are admitted for free. Uluru and Kata Tjuta, two majestic sites rising out of an otherwise barren landscape, are only a 40-minute drive apart.

Uluru’s proximity to Yulara, the variety of tours available, and its accessibility make it easier to see.

It’s worth getting up early to see the sunrise at Uluru.

You’ll want to have a fly-net for your hat, regardless of the time. As the sun comes up, flies become unbearable. (Nets are $10 in Yulara). Fly-repellent cream can be applied to the back of your ear.

Even a moderately fit person can walk the 10km flat route around the base of the mountain in the cool of the evening. It’s impossible to get lost as you are walking in a circular path. A guide is recommended (Seit Tours offers several trips, starting at $73 for a sunset tour and up to $177 for a trekking tour).

Tourists snap pictures of Uluru before sunrise. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Plaques installed by the National Park provide information about the cultural significance of caves and waterholes. The plaques also share some stories that are important to the local Anangu traditional owners, like the story of Wanampi the watersnake, which is said to have been created by the combination of Minyma Kuniya’s spirit and her nephews at the Kapimutitjulu Waterhole.

If you don’t like walking, then you can hire a Segway ($149) or a Harley Davidson ($139 ).

You may find that one visit is not enough and decide to return at sunset when the temperatures are more bearable. You’ll be joining a group of tourists in their campers and cars, with cameras as they watch the colors of Uluru change under the fading sun.

Steve Baldwin, a ranger at the park, says that many people are unaware of this because Uluru is a sensitive site due to Anangu’s beliefs. This means that much of what you see in photos before visiting Uluru will not be there.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta, formerly known as the Olgas, is often referred to as the Cinderella Sister. Most visitors arrive at Uluru and don’t go down the road to view the equally impressive domed rock formations. This is a big mistake.

Kata Tjuta, like Uluru, is best visited at sunrise or sunset to avoid the heat. You’d have to be a very dedicated trekker to cover both sites on the same day. However, you could spend a few morning hours at Kata Tjuta and then visit Uluru for sunset.

The site looks like a mass of large, round boulders that are leaning against each other and seem impregnable. The Valley of the Winds is a magical place that can be reached by the adventurous adventurer who commits to complete the three-hour, self-navigated walk. The Valley of the Winds doesn’t get its name for nothing. Prepare to be literally blown off your feet. It can get quite cold.

The Walpa Gorge is a favorite among tourists. It’s a unique place with two massive walls of rock that face each other and offer a tiny slice of the sky above.

Do I need to drive if I want to get around?

Uluru can’t be reached by foot, so you will need to take a car or tour bus.

The Uluru Hop-on Hop-Off service is available for solo travelers. A return trip to Uluru costs $49, and $80 to Kata Tjuta. These bus trips are only available at sunrise and sunset.

Rent a car at the Yulara Airport for more flexibility. Booking in advance is required to rent a car.

There are some deals, but the cheapest option for most car rental companies will cost around $320 per day. Rental car companies in Uluru have also been hit by the shortage of cars throughout the pandemic.

What else can I do?

The brand-new Gallery of Central Australia in Yulara is a free attraction. The gallery is a showcase for Indigenous artists in the area. It’s free to enter and offers daily tours starting at 10:30 am. Goca is an impressive place. The vibrant colors of the artwork on the walls are a great reason to visit. The gallery features works by emerging and independent artists across Central Australia. Paintings and some sculptures are available for purchase.

The resort offers a variety of free activities, including didgeridoo classes and dot-painting lessons. Bush Food Experience is a guided tour of the resort with local ingredients such as sweet bush plumbs that are used for food and medicine. The tour guides will explain when and how you can pick the fruits and the nutritional and cultural importance of each plant.

You can also spend your downtime in the many swimming pools that are available to all resort guests.

Finally, turn your gaze upwards. Gazing at the night skies away from light pollution in a city is like watching a film, with layers of stars and patterns becoming visible. The best way to see the stars is by driving a few miles out of Yulara. Turn off your phone and car lights, and look up. This is also free.

What to do?

Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara is (the only) place to stay. The minimum stay for hotels is two nights.

Photograph: David Wall/Alamy. Photograph: David Wall/Alamy

The Outback Pioneer Hotel is the most affordable option (starting at $300/night). Emu Walk Apartments (from $420 for a four-person, one-bedroom apartment) are ideal for families or groups who want to cook in their rooms.

Campervan travelers and tent campers can stay at the resort’s campground, which offers communal bathing and cooking facilities. Prices start at $43 per day.

What to Eat

It’s worthwhile to plan your meals after you have booked accommodation. The Tali Wiru is a $380 per head “gastronomic experience” that’s served on a private dune under the stars.

Around the Yulara Town Square, you can find a variety of cheaper restaurants. The Kulata Academy Cafe sells sandwiches and pies ($10.50 with a side salad), and trains resort staff. In the center of town, there are a number of takeaway options and cafes. You can also find an IGA supermarket (which sells BBQ chickens to take away for just $11). Near the camping area, the pub at Outback Pioneer Kitchen offers pub food with burgers and pizzas starting at $18.