Uluru Guide, Red Centre, Australia

Uluru sunset, Red Centre, Australia

Uluru (once know as 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.

What is Uluru?

Uluru (known previously 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 Guide: Climbing the Rock

Climbing Uluru will be prohibited from October 26 2019.  The decision was made by Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board in 2017.

To enforce this a chain helping climbers will be removed making the ascent arduous and quite dangerous,  while under NT law, breaching sacred sites such as  Uluru can lead to penalties of more than $60,000 and two years’ jail.

Hiking up to the top of the rock is still possible until October ’19 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.

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.

Red Centre best seasons

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!

The Red Centre is pretty obviously desert (in spite of the scattered shrubbery), 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.

Downsides

• Flies, heat! Flies and heat! heat and flies! Try to visit Uluru in Australia’s winter i.e. June-August.

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

Walking around Uluru

Uluru rock face and masked tourist, Red Centre, Australia

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

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, Red Centre, Australia

Kids, just say no! This jogger is a freak. 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 from heat exhaustion or a heart attack.

Uluru aboriginal rock art, Red Centre, Australia

Uluru’s aboriginal art, under a rock overhang.

Photography at Uluru

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 wide-angle 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.

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.

Alice Springs

Australia, Red Centre, Alice Springs

Alice Springs, gateway to Australia’s Red Centre and especially to Uluru, the mighty red rock that is sacred to Australian Aboriginals.

Alice Springs (population 60, 000) is not an interesting town and hardly worth making a special effort to see, though it does have some reasonable but pricey restaurants, lively bars and a couple of culture shows.

However, ‘The Alice‘ (as she is known to locals) is an appropriate introduction to the Red Centre. Usually hot and home to a million irritating bush flies that want to suck your liquid straight off your eyeballs. Fortunately even backpacker places in Alice tend to have swimming pools in which to shelter from the heat and flies.

Most tours of the Red Centre start from the town of Alice Springs, 400kms (250 miles) away and take about 5 hours to get there with little entertainment en route. However, 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 because:

a) it’s a 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.

The 400kms, 5 hours to Uluru, is broken only by the occasional road-house stop to pee, take refreshment or possibly grab a short camel ride. Outside the tourist bus passengers will soon tire of the sight of scrubby shrubs and half-dead trees desiccating under the roasting Australian sun. Meanwhile kangaroos resolutely refuse to show their legs.

In other words, don’t feel this is a journey you have make! if you have the money, fly there and stay at the resort hotel!

Alice Springs Aboriginal community

Alice Springs is home to a sad and lost aboriginal community of around 3, 000 living in appalling and inappropriate ‘town camps’ that trigger alcoholism and violence. In 2007 The Alice won first prize in three gruesome statistical races: Stabbing capital of the world; highest murder rate in Australia; and clearly not unconnected – the highest rate of alcohol consumption in Australia.

The government has made an effort to resolve Alice’s aboriginal problems with emergency intervention and changes to the welfare scheme, but it hasn’t worked.

Tourists are harassed, attacked and robbed regularly. Local businesses have had enough and are shutting up shop, leaving the high street to the ‘Grog shops’ that supply aboriginals of all ages with large quantities of strong liquor daily.

Kata Tjuta, aka The Olgas, is also in the Red Centre and often included in tours

Kata Tjuta, the Olgas, Red Centre, Australia

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

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.

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 long (4. 3 miles) 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.

Wildlife?

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.

King’s Canyon Tours? Just say no, mate. Alice too.

kings canyon walkers, red centre, australia

King’s Canyon. Not worth the expense or trouble, unlike Uluru, which is.

King’s Canyon is a tour option that extends a basic two-day Uluru and Kata Tjuta trip to three days.

Is it worth it? Absolutely not. The rim walk takes a couple of hours and is pleasant with pretty good views, but not worth another 24 hours of flies, heat, dull bus rides, tents and half-baked food, not to mention the extra expense involved.

Those punters who chose not to do the rim walk had a pleasant 15 minute stroll at the base of the canyon. . . in exchange for what? 24 hours of cost and extended discomfort! Just say no mate! Stick with Uluru!

Flies

kings canyon flies on netting, red centre, australia

Bush Flies are endemic in the Red Centre (Alice Springs, Uluru, The Olgas, Kings Canyon etc. ) as they breed in cow poo and the area is surrounded by cattle stations. The flies drive tourists crazy for much of the year and beating at them with a hand is not a solution. The little bug***s are suicidally desperate for liquid rich in protein and minerals and humans are the best source, whether it’s sweat or eyeball secretion.

Better to pick up a bit of broken eucalyptus and use it as a whisk, but this is not allowed in national parks as rangers assume that if every visitor wanted an anti-fly branch soon the nearby trees would be stripped bare. True.

The best anti-fly solution, though totally naff, unfashionable and not exactly comfortable, is a bag over the head, or more precisely, an elasticated nylon net. Sometimes this may come built into a hat, or with a little cloth bit at the top, but the selection in the Red Centre is poor, so try to buy beforehand. Cairns has a particularly good selection. $10 well spent, believe it.
The clichéd Australian hats with dangling corks don’t work well as once you stop moving, so do the corks, and bang goes your defensive system.

p. s. The other kind of Australia fly, the Blow Fly, is bigger, slower than the Bush Fly and doesn’t bother humans at all. The reason? It breeds in dead flesh, absorbing quite enough protein in the process, so it doesn’t need the paltry amount it could collect from sucking a human.