Uluru (Ayers Rock)
at sunset: reality check, little magic here! Throngs of fly
swatting, wine quaffing overheated tourists fighting (good
naturedly, this is Australia) for the best place to
take photos of the Big Red's ultimate glowing redness which happens at both sunrise and sunset.
Climbing Uluru | Red Centre Climate | Walking around the rock
Alice to Uluru | Kata
Tjuta | Uluru Accommodation |
What is Uluru?
Uluru (also known semi-officially as Ayers Rock) is the second largest monolith (single chunk of rock) in the
world. The biggest is Mt Augustus in Western Australia, twice
as big but half as magical.
In the middle of Australia's massive, parched outback sits this
lone, brooding, red sandstone colossus, 3km (1.9mls) long, 350 metres high
(1,142 ft), with another 3kms beneath the surface. Uluru and
the land around is owned by Anangu Aboriginals and jointly managed with the Australian National
Park Service on a 99 year lease.
Uluru at 7.30am. It's steeper than it looks!
Hiking up to the top of the rock is usually possible though not encouraged
by the Anangu aboriginal people as the path is the route taken by their ancestors
on spiritual journeys and known by them as the Mala
What especially upsets the Anangu is
when a tourist dies on the rock, usually by exertion-related
heart attack, so if you are unfit or medically wobbly, don't
try it, and if you're in good shape you could still respect
their wishes and walk around the rock instead.
Red Centre Climate
The Red Centre is pretty obviously desert, and a hot one at that, with summer temperatures averaging highs of about 37C (99F) from December to February and reaching 40C+ (104F+) quite easily. It also rains here, and more so in the summer. Avoid these times as this is well past the human comfort limit and exertion at these temperatures is always unpleasant and occasionally deadly.
The best time to visit/climb Uluru is in winter, from May to August when high temperatures average 22C (72F) and there is less chance of overcast sky or even rain!
Walkers on top of Uluru (Ayer's Rock).
At 1.6kms (1mile) a climb will take about an hour - with the
help of a chain - and require good soft shoes and lots of water.
The middle of the day should be avoided; in fact climbing after
8 a.m. is usually forbidden in the hot season.
Anangu, however, are fine with tourists walking the 10 km track around Uluru.
An excellent alternative to climbing
the rock and much preferred by its aboriginal owners is
walking the 9.4kms (5.8 miles) around it on the flat, well-laid path.
Views of the grand rock and rocky features change constantly and include some
ancient aboriginal rock paintings on the way. The walk will
take from 2-4 hours depending on the walker's dreamstime.
Uluru's circuit at 7.30am.
Kids, don't try this at home! This jogger
is seriously disturbed. Although it's early the temperature
(in February) is already 30C and rising fast.
One great advantage of walking around Uluru
is that you're unlikely to die on the walk. Unless you jog it.
famous aboriginal rock face, with a lesser known face cunningly disguised
by a fly net.
aboriginal art, under a rock overhang.
Taking photos in the Red Centre is tricky due to the contrast
between intense light and, for example, shadowed faces, so if
good Uluru pictures are your target, study up on spot metering
or any means of avoiding overly contrasty photos.
Also, mandatory sunset and sunrise spots are fairly close to
the red rock. A 28mm lens from the front of one of those spots
can just accommodate Uluru, but the usual 36mm of a
small digital will not capture the full rock unless you stand
way back, in which case you will also capture all the other
tourists snapping away. Ergo, bring a wide-angle lens if you
can, or narrow your expectations.
Alice Springs to Uluru
Most tours of the Red Centre start from the town of Alice
Springs, 400kms (250mls) away and take about 5 hours
to get there with little entertainment en route, though you
could fly direct from Alice (or Sydney, Cairns, Perth) to Yulara
(Ayers Rock Resort) if time was more important than money to
Alice Springs is not a wildly interesting town and not worth
making a special effort to see, though it does have some good
but pricey restaurants, lively bars and a couple of culture
Tours are an effective way to see Uluru as a) it's a seriously
long and tiring drive b) the driver/guide knows exactly where
and when to go for the best pictures or walks c) the guide can
advise on snakes, spiders and other exciting wildlife possibilities.
Tours have their own fixed camp sites and food supplies.
Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort) is
20kms from Uluru and offers a comfortable - though not cheap
- hotel and a camp site. Camping nearer to Uluru is not permitted.
Tours have alternative accommodation arranged, mainly in fixed
tented camps where facilities are a little basic but sleeping
under the stars is a terrific option (especially if you have
a tent to retreat to). Mosquitoes are not a problem. Flies are,
but not at night.
There's not very much around here apart from flies! Don't imagine you're going to
see 'roos bounding around; the few kangaroos in the Red Centre are
nocturnal and will be lying in shade while you pass by.
Strangely there are an estimated 1,000,000 wild camels in Australia as they were used to carry supplies to central and north Australia
for many years, in 'trains' of up to 70 camels, until the arrival
of steam trains and trucks in 1929. At that point they were
released into the wild and have been multiplying ever since.
But you won't see them either as they stay well away from civilisation
and don't have to drink for up to 17 days so they have plenty
of space in the wild.
The most likely wildlife sightings will be of the occasional
rabbit and hordes of flies. Mosquitoes are a rare sighting.
Tjuta, aka The Olgas, is also in the Red Centre and often included in tours
50kms (32 miles) away, Uluru's
rocking buddies, Kata Tjuta, are a cluster of giant domes that are as almost as
impressive as Uluru, depending on the number of tourists spoiling
the ambience at either place.
Tjuta (The Olgas).
On the way to Uluru tour groups often do Kata
Tjuta first - even though it's 50kms further
Due to its significance as an aboriginal male initiation centre,
Kata Tjuta is more sacred than Uluru. You
cannot climb Kata Tjuta.
Uluru was chosen
as Central Australia's tourist target in the 50's because Kata
Tjuta was 50kms further away from civilisation (a long way,
there and back, in the days of slow, unreliable vehicles) and
200m higher (tougher to climb).
The Valley of the Winds walk, about
7kms (4.3mls) is impressive and should take about three hours
to complete if the flies don't drive you crazy first. The Red
Centre is usually extremely hot so walks are best tackled very
early. On particularly hot days parts of the Olgas walk will
be closed from 11am.
there is another bigger rock about 50kms before
Uluru, Mt Conner, also sacred but
on private land - a huge cattle station and not monolithic -
it's in three layers.
heat, heat. Try to go in Australia's winter.
Pretty well all year round but mid winter will be worst.
time to go to The Red Centre
Winter, but outside the
holiday season, so May, June, September.
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