Uluru

What to Know Before You Visit Uluru

This is the reaction I got most often when I told people Steve and I were headed to Uluru for my birthday: “What? Where’s that?” I was genuinely surprised that so few people knew about Uluru in Australia’s Red Centre! (No, I did not spell that wrong, it’s the Australian way!) But then, I guess most Americans were not fascinated with all things Autralian from childhood. So here it is, my readers: everything you need to know about Uluru!

Terminology

They do speak English in Australia, but you might still find yourself a bit puzzled at some of the words they use, especially those with an Anangu influence!

This is one of those “roads less traveled” that you definitely want to take!
Anangu: ah-nan-goo

This is the group of native Aboriginal people who live in this region of central Australia.

Palya: pall-yah

This is the Anagu word for “good” and is also used as a greeting. We heard it a lot in our time there.

Uluru: “oo-luh-roo”; formerly called Ayers Rock

This is the main attraction! It’s a large red rock in Central Australia’s Northern Territory, and it’s made of red sandstone. The color comes from iron in the dirt that has literally rusted into that rusty red color, and one of our tour guides said it used to be part of a mountain range higher than the Himalayas! It’s sacred to the native people and is 348 meters tall (380.5 yards). It’s also a World Heritage Site!

Uluru as seen from our helicopter tour!
It’s hard to understand how big it is until you’re next to it!
Kata Tjuta: “cat-uh joo-tah”; formerly called the Olgas

Nearby but less famous, Kata Tjuta is a group of large, dome-shaped rock formations. The name literally means “many heads,” and it’s just 16 miles from Uluru. The two rock formations are within the same national park: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Kata Tjuta as seen on our helicopter tour!
Hiking in Kata Tjuta’s Valley of the Winds!

Getting There and Getting Around

Ask anyone who works there, has visited there, or wants to go there, and you’ll hear the same thing, “It’s in the middle of nowhere!” But it’s possible to get there, and here’s how:

Fly to Uluru/Ayers Rock Airport (AYQ)

This is what we did, and I imagine this is what most people do. Tickets into this airport are pricey, but the next closest airport is a 4.5 hour drive!

There is a small cafe inside security, but it can only be accessed before your flight out, not after your flight in!
Pro tip: The best gift shop is in the outgoing flights terminal, after security. Don’t forget to do a little shopping on your way out!
Fly to Alice Springs Aerodome (ASP) and Drive

Alice Springs is the next closest city, but it’s 4.5 hours away, as mentioned above. You might want to check ticket prices and rental car rates to see if this is more cost effective for you. With such limited time for us, we did not want to spend nine hours driving round-trip!

Drive from Anywhere in Australia

It is also possible to drive here from anywhere on the Australian mainland. Here’s a quick run-down of drive times for those who love a good road trip:

  • From Sydney: 29 hours; 1,758 miles
  • From Melbourne: 24 hours; 1,440 miles
  • From Adelaide: 16 hours; 988 miles
  • From Perth: 37 hours; 2,280 miles
  • From Darwin: 19 hours 15 minutes; 1,213 miles
  • From Cairns: 29 hours; 1,735 miles
  • From Brisbane: 33 hours; 1,994 miles
See that gray circle with the star? That’s the middle of nowhere!
Take the Ghan Train to Alice Springs and Drive

If you’re up for a real blast from the past, take the Ghan Train! It runs from Adelaide to Alice Springs, then up to Darwin. You can take the train either direction and then drive from Alice Springs if you like.

Shuttle Around the Resort

There is a FREE shuttle that runs about every 20 minutes to several stops all around the resort, including the Camel Farm a bit farther afield.

FREE Resort Shuttle
Rent a Car

If you want some freedom of movement and to set your own schedule, consider renting a car to get to and around the National Park. You will definitely want a car to get around if you choose to do the National Park sites without a tour.

Take the Charter Buses to the National Park

This is the option we chose, since we only had limited time, and we don’t like to drive. We booked our tours with Uluru Hop On Hop Off, and we were pleased. We actually didn’t book our tours until after we arrived, and I’m glad we did it that way because we were able to get a better feel for how things work.

Uluru Hop On Hop Off Bus

I recommend the same thing the tour booking agent for Uluru Hop On Hop Off recommended for us: get the 1-day Pass, good for 24 hours from first departure to last departure, meaning you can take the afternoon bus to Uluru with a sunset viewing on the way back to the resort, and the next day you can take the sunrise tour and hike Kata Tjuta before the heat and flies take over in the afternoon!

Money Matters

There’s no real way around it—a trip to Uluru is pricey! An Australian gentleman we met there actually told us it’s less expensive for Australians to spend three weeks in Hawaii than just one week at Uluru! But it is what it is, and if it’s worth it to you, it’s worth it. Here’s the breakdown of what we spent for four days and three nights:

Flights

The flight to Australia is not cheap, but there are deals available! But then getting to Uluru is a bit of a different story. Because it’s so remote and only three airlines fly there, you’ll just have to pay what it costs. And for us, flying from Melbourne (MEL) to Uluru-Ayers Rock (AYQ) in early August from Friday-Monday cost $1,308.05 AUD (currently $886.55 USD), or $654.02 AUD (currently $443.21 USD) per person.

The view from the right window seat on our flight from AYQ to MEL on JetStar!
Read on: How to Find Flight Deals
Accommodation

There is exactly one place to stay at Uluru: Ayers Rock Resort. However, there are eight types of accommodations on the resort, so there will be something for your budget. The most expensive option is the luxurious Longitude 131, and the least expensive is the campground.

Sails in the Desert, Ayers Rock Resort

We stayed at Sails in the Desert three nights and got a package deal that included daily breakfast, dinner and a night at the Field of Light, a helicopter ride over Uluru, and one dinner reservation at Ilkari Restaurant. The total cost was $2,166 AUD (currently $1,467 USD).

Helicopter Tour Package Deal: For the Win!
Tours

Outside of the experiences included in our package, we paid $240 AUD (currently $162.50 USD) for the two of us to get 1-day passes with Uluru Hop On Hop Off. (That’s $120 AUD or $81.25 USD per person.)

In addition, you will need an Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Pass, which is $25 AUD (currently $17 USD) per person.

Uluru at Sunset, Courtesy of the Hop On Hop Off Tour!
Food

Even after living in D.C. for 11 years, I was surprised at how expensive the food was at Uluru. Thankfully there are several food options in a variety of price ranges, but nothing was what I’d call “cheap”! In all, we spent $156 AUD (currently $105.50 USD) on food over the course of four days, keeping in mind that breakfast each day was included. That’s $78 AUD (or $52.75 USD) per person. That price includes two sandwich-style lunches, two coffees, and two pizzas for supper one night.

Aussie Canapes!
FREE Things to Do

If you have a particularly tight budget, there are still loads of things to do that don’t cost a thing. As a guest at any of the Ayers Rock Resort properties, you have access to all the properties and their amenities, including four swimming pools! There is also the Wintjiri Museum and Gallery, daily cultural experiences, guided walks, astronomy lectures, and my personal favorite: the Imalung Lookout hike. It’s a short hike, but from the top you’ll get an unobstructed view of Uluru!

Advance Preparation

I’ll be honest, I didn’t do as much advance planning for this trip as I normally do, despite this trip being on my bucket list for decades! But thankfully, the kind people at Ayers Rock Resort have made it very easy to plan your trip on the fly when you get there. Definitely not our typical travel style, but it worked really well for us there!

Happy to be walking around Uluru!
There’s an App for That

Download the FREE Uluru Visitor’s Guide app! It will give you an idea of things to do and all that Uluru has to offer before you even get there.

Get Your Park Pass Early

This is something you can go ahead and do so it’s done and out of your way! Go ahead and purchases your park pass online and save it to your Apple Wallet or other convenient location on your phone.

Easy to access from your Apple Wallet!
And don’t forget your Visa!
Read on: How to Get an Australian Tourist Visa

Good to Know

There are a few other “odds and ends” to know before you visit Uluru, so don’t skip this section!

Timing is Everything

If you’re depending on the bus tours for your trip like we were, you’ll quickly find out that you’ll have to keep up with a schedule! Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to do the things you’ve paid for, but you will need to be back to the bus for the journey back to the resort at the appointed time!

Your bus driver will tell you what time to be back!
What Time is It?

Uluru is on Australian Central Standard Time, which is GMT+ 9:30. Yes, 30! If you’re looking for it in your phone’s World Clock, it’s in the same timezone as Darwin.

Sunrise, Sunset

It’s easy to find out what time sunrise and sunset will be each day (just check out the hourly forecast on your phone or simply do an Internet search for “sunrise and sunset time at Uluru” for the date you want). However, it’s important to know that the colors will start to change in the sky (and against the rocks) for about 45-60 minutes before the exact time, and about 15 minutes after. You’ll miss out on some of the beauty if you plan to arrive at the exact sunrise or sunset time!

Worth waking up for!
The Red Dirt Will Get Everywhere

No, really, everywhere! And that includes the inside of your socks and shoes.

My legs are not that tan… that’s the dust after the Uluru Base Walk! Oh, and my shoes used to be pink!
The City Where Uluru is Located is Actually Yulara

Uluru is not the city, but the main attraction. If you need to know the city, it’s Yulara! But for the most part, even fewer people have heard of Yulara that Uluru, so you are usually better off referring to the whole area as Uluru.

Want more? Check out 10 Things to Do in Uluru and my Australia Page!

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