The sight of the ‘Rock’ emerging majestically from the often featureless Red Centre landscape is one that lives long in the memory of most grey nomads.
The iconic sandstone formation has a total circumference of 9.4 kilometres, stands 348 metres high, and rises 863 metres above sea level with most of its bulk lying underground. But raw statistics don’t begin to tell the story of Uluru. The place has etched a special place in the national consciousness and its very identity.
While roads into it have improved massively in recent decades, while flights regularly ferry time-pressed tourists to the huge resort town on its doorstep, while coachloads of schoolchildren arrive in huge numbers, somehow the ancient monolith still represents the ultimate in Outback exploration.
Even those travellers who bemoan the commercialisation that surrounds this wondrous natural phenomenon, cannot be failed to be moved by its sheer ‘awesomeness.’
While Uluru itself and Kata Tjuta are the two major features of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – which lies approximately 450 kilometres from Alice Springs by road – the area is also home to many waterholes, rock caves and Aboriginal paintings. Not surprisingly, the district has huge cultural significance to the traditional inhabitants of the area, the Anangu people, and the Rock has inspired some fascinating dreamtime stories.
The best place to learn about these is at the Cultural Centre, where you can also pick up a visitor guide, find out other fascinating facts about UNESCO World Heritage Site, and meet local artists.
A consecutive three-day pass to the national park costs $25 per person which gives you the chance to see the rock at all different times of the day. There are two special viewing areas and these are very popular at dawn and dusk as Uluru ‘changes colour’ and positively glows.
While climbing the ‘Rock’ are no longer an option, there is no shortage of ways to sample what is on offer here. Visitors can take a walk with an Aboriginal guide, see the formation from above in a helicopter or hot air balloon, or take themselves on a 10.6 kilometre walk around the base. There is even the chance to take a sunrise or sunset ride on the back of a camel to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The ochre-coloured domes of Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, lie about 40 kilometres west of Uluru and are incredible in their own right.
There are 36 domes in all, with the summit of Mount Olga actually being 198 metres higher than that of Uluru. As there are at Uluru, there are a selection of great walks to take, and the Kata Tjuta dune viewing is a great place to take in the magnificent panoramic view of the domes. Geography dictates many visiting grey nomads choose to camp at the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara which is just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Another popular option is free camping at the Sandy Way Rest Area about 30 kilometres east of the ‘Rock’, and there is also camping available at Curtin Springs about 100 kilometres to the east.
Given the distances involved, a trip to Uluru and Kata Tjuta comes with a significant cost but, to most grey nomads, no Big Lap would be truly complete without a trip to the ‘heart’ of Australia.