A complete guide for visiting Uluru
Too expensive, too much hype, too crowded, too hot. These common thoughts often prevent people from visiting Uluru in the first place. But they have also proved to be based upon misconceptions, exaggeration and wrong information. Having visited Uluru twice, on my solo travels around Australia, in 2004 and 2011, I have noticed that my enthusiasm grows every time I visit Australia's Red Centre.
As I say in all my articles here on Rocky Travel, good research and accurate trip planning belong to any great Australia Itinerary.
These are my best tips for travelling to Uluru and make the most of your Outback Trip.
Travelling Solo to Uluru
Flights to Uluru are expensive from any Australian city. However, there are lots of ways to save money if you make all the arrangements in advance. Pick the right season to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Between March-April and October-November is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Uluru.
Start early with your research and book your flights to Alice Springs, they are generally cheaper than flights to Ayers Rock (as Uluru is also known), these can be +500 dollars one way. On top of that, there is no cheap accommodation at Yulara, which is the Ayers Rock Resort.
There is only one hostel which is often overbooked and hotels. If you are adventurous, you may want to consider camping at Uluru, as it's a cheaper accommodation option.
A self-guided road trip vs an organised Tour
You can get to Ayers Rock by plane or by car. However, from anywhere in Australia it's between 1.5 thousand km or longer. So a good alternative is to fly to Alice Springs and then hire a car to get around the area. Self-driving is the cheapest way to visit Uluru and, according to my experience, the best way to see it. Driving to Uluru is an easy drive and belongs to the best road trip experiences of Australia. You will not need a four-wheel-drive vehicle; the route is completed on well maintained sealed roads and a two-wheel drive car is what you need.
Self-driving from Alice Springs is the most convenient route as it allows to see much of the Red Centre and do it at your own pace. Alice Springs is the principal city in Central Australia, about 440km to Uluru, along the Red Centre Way. The road trip is about 5.5 hours with three stops at the service stations in between.
All roads are sealed and in right conditions, with no detours on unsealed roads. Either on the way to Uluru or on the way back to Alice Springs I would plan an overnight stop to King's Canyon – driving on sealed roads – and from there do the beautiful Kings Canyon Rim Walk.
Alternatively, you can hire a 4WD or a camper van and drive across Outback unsealed roads. A four-wheel drive vehicle will allow you to explore the gorgeous landscape of the nearby West MacDonnell Ranges.
How to plan your Uluru Road Trip
What about a rental car for travelling to Uluru? Do I need a two-wheel-drive or a four-wheel-drive vehicle?
You don't need a 4WD to travel to Ayers Rock. The easiest and more relaxed way, especially for international travellers, is to drive on sealed roads from Alice to the Ayers Rock Resort.
Book your rental car according to your Northern Territory route. As you know in Australia, you are not allowed to drive on gravel roads with 2WD vehicles. If you plan to go on the loop tour through the Western MacDonnell Ranges, the Kings Canyon and the Uluru, you need a 4WD car.
While travelling to Ayers Rock, you can always include a visit to the fascinating Kings Canyon National Park. If you love hiking, you cannot miss out on this astounding place.
To sum it up, the total driving distance for a road trip to Uluru:
- 440 km from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock via the Lasseter Highway
- 300 km from Ayers Rock to Kings Canyon (sealed roads)
- 400 km from Kings Canyon back to Alice Springs (sealed roads)
This driving route is all on sealed roads. And you can do it in four-day-round-trip Alice Springs to Ayers Rock in a loop via Kings Canyon. Or you can plan it before going to Uluru.
What to pack for a trip to Uluru
The first thing that you should think about it, is to pack your food when driving from Alice Springs to Uluru. Central Australia is expensive, and Uluru tends to be overly expensive. Be prepared for this. Alone for fuel you will spend about 20-30% more than the average fuel price in Australia.
Food is also costly. Since you will be spending a few days at Uluru, I can highly recommend buying food in Alice Springs and pack all the things you need. Here you can read about my tips on how to stay healthy while on the road. At fuel stations, the food and beverage offer is limited (for my taste I would say poor).
I experienced tea being outrageously expensive. A half-cup of hot water + 1 tea bag for 5,50 AUD. Take plenty of water tanks with you before you hit the road. You will drink more than what you plan to drink.
Where to stay at Uluru: Yulara Resort
The Ayers Rock Resort or Yulara s a large complex with a range of accommodations. There are a supermarket and a variety of shops where you can buy anything you need from food to souvenirs. To stay at Yulara Resort is expensive, so if you want to book the only budget Uluru accommodation available (hostel) you must book at least 3-4 months ahead. Beware that there is no chemistry at the Ayers Rock Resort, so if you need to take medicines or prescriptions be sure you get it in Alice Springs before setting off to Uluru.
A road trip from Alice Springs to Uluru
The road trip to Uluru is a pleasant and comfortable drive. From Alice Springs you cannot miss the road, follow it straight ahead of you and keep driving for 440 hundred km. What you need is to make yourself comfortable on the road. Take a good map of the area to check where the fuel stations are along your way.
There are four fuel stations on the way to Uluru from Alice Springs, where you can stop to fill up the car tank. Make as many stops as possible, to stretch your legs. At the fuel stations, you can stay for rest, seat comfortably in the shadow, eat your food while enjoying the Outback colours and breathing the outback air. Swap the drive if you are travelling with companions.
Driving long distances in the outback makes you tired because of the heat. Here you can find more tips for enduring long driving distances in the Australian Outback
How many days for a trip to Uluru
Some people travel to Uluru on a one-day trip. But that's not good, because you will not see much. First of all, you will not be able to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta on one day. The long trip distance to the Red Centre is not worth it. So to make the most of your trip you need to plan two full days and two nights for visiting both places. I' recommend to stay at the Yulara Resort, that's the only accommodation hub for the whole area (unless you want to camp) and it will be your base. It takes about 25 minutes to drive to the Uluru Rock, and from the Uluru resort, you can drive to both the various sunset and sunrise viewing areas.
Where to start visiting Uluru
You need time to savour the Uluru Rock. To get an insight into the indigenous culture and get a feel of this unique place, next to the fantastic visual light effect of the sunset and sunrise there is much more you can do there. Soon after sunrise, the Uluru Culture Centre awaits you.
The park rangers offer a free-guided morning walk. They take you to some of the best rock paintings and Uluru Waterfalls. Don't skip on this as this is a fantastic occasion to learn about the indigenous significance of the place. The Anangu People are the traditional land-owners, and you will hear fascinating things about their Uluru Dreamtime story.
Once you have done that, I would recommend walking around the Big Rock and do the Uluru base walk. This is a 9 km walk, and you will not be allowed to take photos. However the trail is not dull, there are many sacred sites, rock carvings and painting. Furthermore, if you want to explore more the area, there are a handful of guided Uluru Walks with local aboriginal rangers that you can do too. Whatever you plan, do it early in the morning as it gets scorching during the day.
Kata Tjuta: the Olgas
Once you have visited Uluru, you should plan your next day for a trip to Kata Tjuta. It is 50 km away from the Yulara resort, but you must visit. Some people prefer this place than Uluru itself. I must say that it's a better place for walking around with the incredible round shapes of many heads (the meaning of Kata Tjuta). Do not skip the Kata Tjuta Sunrise, it's best way to see the light reflections on its big walls.
The best way to enjoy the Kata Tjuta is taking the two main walks. One short and one long. I recommend the Valley of the Winds Walk, which is a 4 hours walk.
Sunsets and Sunrises
The biggest Uluru attractions are its magnificent sunsets and sunrises. From the information centre located at Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort), you can get a detailed Uluru map of the area, with distances, plus all Uluru sunset and sunrise timetables. Plan plenty of time to drive from Yulara to the Uluru viewing area as well as to the new sunrise viewing platform, they are 15-20 minutes drive from each other.
More exciting things to do at Uluru
There are many day-tours at Uluru that you can join when you are there. From a camel ride to dining under the stars. Among all trips I would consider a scenic flight over the Uluru Rock, this is the best way to see Uluru and Katja Tjuta from the air perspective and really worth the money.
While it's not inexpensive, a treat with stunning views from the air will add extra value to your trip. No matter how you will be visiting, the magic of Uluru will leave long-lasting memories among all the destinations of Australia.
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How to get to Uluru Trip Planning Tips
For planning a self-guided road trip to Uluru, you can use the following resources that I use all the times. They are the best tools for all my travels in Australia.