Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Australia

Uluru sunset tourists, Red Centre, Australia

Uluru 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.

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.

Climbing Ulura [Ayers Rock], Australia

Climbing Uluru at 7. 30am. It’s steeper than it looks!

Climbing Uluru

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 Dreaming track.

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!

Uluru summit, Australia

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.

The Anangu, however, are fine with tourists walking the 10 km track around Uluru.

Walking 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 jogger, Australia

Jogging 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.

Uluru rock face, Australia

Uluru’s famous aboriginal rock face, with a lesser known face cunningly disguised by a fly net.

Australia, Uluru aboriginal pictures,

Uluru’s 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 you.

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 shows.

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.

Uluru accommodation

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.

Kata 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.

The Olgas rocks, Red Centre, Australia

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

On the way to Uluru tour groups often do Kata Tjuta first – even though it’s 50kms further on.
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.

p. s. 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.

Red Centre Downsides

Flies, flies, flies!

Heat, heat, heat. Try to go in Australia’s winter.

Crowds. Pretty well all year round but mid winter will be worst.

Best time to go to The Red Centre

Winter, but outside the holiday season, so May, June, September.