Uluru trip tips for planning your visit to Australia’s Red Centre
Planning your Uluru trip? This guide will help you decide where to stay and what to do during your time in Australia’s red centre!
In my opinion, an Uluru trip and visit to the Red Centre of Australia should be on every traveller’s list of “must-sees”.
You think “cool, there are some rocks in the middle of the Australian outback.”
Then you arrive there and see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta rising up before you. It’s an incredible feeling.
No wonder Aboriginal Australians consider this to be a sacred place. It’s as though there’s some sort of electrical charge in the air.
So, it’s certainly worth travelling to this part of Australia, to see what’s on offer. Here are some tips in regards to transport, activities on offer and accommodation options on a range of budgets, for your Uluru trip.
And as part of your planning, discover the best time to visit Uluru.This is everything you need to know when planning a trip to #Uluru in Australia. Click To Tweet
Uluru Trip Guide
Some background information on Yulara and Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
The Anangu Aboriginal People are thought to have been living off the surrounding lands of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (which means “many heads”) for some 30,000 years.
The first white explorers to this region were William Giles and William Gosse. Giles called Kata Tjuta “The Olgas”, after Queen Olga of Wurttemburg. Gosse reached Uluru first and named it Ayers Rock, after his superior Sir Henry Ayers, the Chief Secretary of South Australia.
I’d heard Gosse had his eye on Ayer’s daughter and that she unfortunately ended up running off with another man, but can’t verify it for myself. Let’s pretend that it happened, because it makes the story more interesting.
The government claimed ownership of the land in the 1900’s and tourism in the Red Centre first kicked off in the 1950’s, which led to an airstrip and campground being built quite dangerously close to the famous rock.
In the 1970’s, the village and airstrip was moved outside of the National Park, as it was having a detrimental effect on the land.
And so the small town of Yulara was developed. All the hotels are located here, along with facilities such as a supermarket, information centre, swimming pools and a petrol station (we call them “servos” in Australia. You’re going to learn a little bit about Aussie slang in this article. Are you excited? YOU SHOULD BE. IT IS UNIQUE AND BEAUTIFUL).
In 1985, the Commonwealth Government of Australia handed the Ayers Rock (Uluru) National Park back to the Traditional Aboriginal Owners and Uluru was allowed for the first time to exist outside of parenthesis. The park is now known as the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park.
There was, however, a catch – the traditional owners were required to lease the park to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for a period of 99 years. This is why visitors to the area are currently allowed to climb Uluru, despite the fact that it is frowned upon by the Indigenous owners. More on that later.
Entry to the park is $25, which can be paid for at the gate. This gives you access for three consecutive days.
When to go on your Uluru trip
Australian summers are, well… awful. To be fair, I’m someone who finds the heat quite intolerable, but I don’t rate them at all, despite popular opinion (our autumn, winter and spring are so nice! Visit then).
As such, the best time to visit Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is in the dead of winter, when it’s quite nice during the day and absolutely freezing cold at night.
The on-season is officially May to September (I travelled there in August, 2015). Yet, going in the shoulder season probably wouldn’t be too brutal.
However, the middle of summer? Only for the very brave…!
What to pack for your Uluru trip
This list varies of course, with the seasons.
If you’re travelling to the outback in the winter months, expect the temperatures to be quite warm during the day, but then plummet at night (to temperatures below zero Celsius, believe it or not). I was quite happy with leggings or jeans and a t-shirt during the day and brought a thick jumper and coat to wear at night.
I did bring shorts to wear during the day and my “active wear” tights, which I wore whilst exploring Uluru.
Mind you, I was staying at a hotel and indulging in minimal outdoor activities at night.
If you’re camping, I strongly advise you to bring thermals, a fleece, a beanie, trakkie-daks (that’s Australian for tracksuit or sweatpants and they can double up as pyjamas), thick socks (hiking, bed socks and sport socks will all serve you well) and some long-sleeved shirts. You will get cold.
For shoes, I was fine with my normal joggers, because I wasn’t planning on climbing Uluru (as already stated, more on that below).
If you have a pair of those oh so practical [easyazon_link identifier=”B0151AB1LA” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]adventure hiking sandals[/easyazon_link], bring them to wear during the day. I also brought [easyazon_link identifier=”B000NBGN0W” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]thongs[/easyazon_link] (flip flops), because I am Australian and I don’t really leave home without them.
In the summer, expect it to be mercilessly hot. Shorts and t-shirts will serve you well, although if your skin is of the delicate European rose variety, use your clothing as cover from the sun.
Make sure you bring [easyazon_link identifier=”B06XXJBLRJ” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]some kind of fly net[/easyazon_link], as well as [easyazon_link identifier=”B004N59OFU” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]insect repellent[/easyazon_link] (if you’re Australian and after a natural repellant, here’s one you should consider). You’ll be absolutely fine if you visit from May to September, but those annoying little insects will be out in droves at any other time of the year.
No matter the season, be sure to bring [easyazon_link identifier=”B00AVO73JQ” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]plenty of sunscreen[/easyazon_link] (preferably toxic free) and a [easyazon_link identifier=”B004MZWS9U” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]broad brimmed hat[/easyazon_link].
The Australian sun has a nasty bite to it, more so these days than ever before (hooray for global warming!).
And don’t forget a [easyazon_link identifier=”B07CSY5HZS” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″]drink bottle[/easyazon_link], to take when walking around Uluru, or exploring Kata Tjuta!
Where to stay during your Uluru trip
Accommodation in this part of Australia is rather limited and I encourage you to book your digs the second your plan to visit the Red Centre is set in stone.
Here are the options, arranged from most to least expensive.
Sails in the Desert
This is a 5 star hotel with its own swimming pool and art gallery. It is also home to the Red Ochre Spa. Certainly the place to stay it if you want to splash out a bit and enjoy the finer things on offer at Yulara.
Check availability and prices at Sails in the Desert
Emu Walk Apartments
Rather than a hotel, these are self-service apartments of one or two bedrooms, which would be ideal for families not wanting to rock it at the local camping grounds, or groups of friends who are travelling together.
Food at Yulara is notoriously expensive, so you would probably save quite a few dollars in preparing your own meals. Not many, but enough.
Check availability and prices at Emu Walk Apartments
Desert Gardens Hotel
This is the hotel I eventually ended up picking – it seemed just as nice as Sails and had lovely looking gardens.
I opted for rooms that looked out onto the desert – yet, they gave us a room with a beautiful view of Uluru, regardless. A small bottle of champagne was left for my mother and I to enjoy (we were there for a milestone birthday of hers) and the hotel had everything we needed.
Check availability and prices at Desert Gardens Hotel
Outback Pioneer Hotel
Yulara’s only “budget” hotel, the Outback Pioneer offers affordable lodgings, that come with their own private bathroom. I imagine it is much like staying in the private rooms of a really nice hostel. Mind you, the rooms have air con, heating and their own tea/coffee making facilities, so it’s definitely not all bad.
Check availability and prices at Outback Pioneer Hotel
Ayers Rock Camping Grounds
The camping grounds feature three options – air-conditioned cabins, powered sites for caravans, campervans, motor homes and camper trailers, or non-powered sites for traditional campers that arrive armed with tent only.
When I am a “grey nomad”, travelling all over Oz armed with my trusty caravan, you can bet your bottom dollar I will be staying here. (In the meantime, here’s some more in-depth information for those wanting to stay at the Ayers Rock Campground).
Check availability and prices at Ayers Rock Camping Grounds
Outback Pioneer Lodge
This is Yulara’s hostel, where you can choose between the twenty bed female and male dormitories or the four bed mixed sex dormitories (I usually choose this option when staying in hostels, because I grew up with two brothers and would rather eat my akubra than live in the same room as nineteen other girls).
The dorms have air-conditioning and heating, with shared bathroom facilities.
This is the perfect option for young or budget travellers wanting to experience Uluru-Kata Tjuta, but not wishing to bankrupt themselves at the same time.
Check availability and prices at Outback Pioneer Lodge
I’m throwing this into the mix for a lark, as chances are that it is not for the likes of either me or you (of course, I am blissfully unaware of your financial situation, but if it is anything like mine, then no).
These luxury tents look like fun and games, but it comes at a price – of $2,700 for two nights. On the upside, you get your own exclusive tours, which are included in the cost, so that’s something – I guess!
I stayed in something similar at Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, for a fraction of the price. Read more about it here.
Check availability and prices at Longitude 131°
What to do on your Uluru trip
For a little town out in the middle of the Australian outback, there’s more than enough going on, that will keep you busy for whatever amount of time you spend there.
I can’t speak for all the activities available, but here are the ones that I did. We certainly jammed a lot into the four days that we were there!
Read more: Tips for Exploring Uluru With Kids
There are many options for alternative methods of exploring the surrounding Australian outback – ATV tours, bike rides, even cruising along on a Harley Davidson.
For me, it had to be a camel ride.
Camels were introduced to Australia during the 19th century. They were ideal for transportation whilst building railroads, but were eventually released into the wild, where they ran rampant. There are now hundreds of thousands of camels living in the outback and they are a destructive force.
This is led to the introduction of camel ranches, where camelboys and girls (cowboys seems wrong) hunt them, break them in and allow travellers to the outback traverse the desert by camel back.
Book a camel ride here
So that’s what we did, riding for an hour on the back of these gorgeous, but slightly ridiculous creatures. I have a soft spot for camels.
Outback Sky Journeys Astro Tour
I didn’t expect this tour to be as good as it was, which is silly, because I could honestly spend hours staring at the night’s sky (and have in the past).
The Central Australian sky at night, particularly in the wintertime is… something else and astronomer’s flock to the region for that reason.
The tour consists of an astronomer in residence telling stories about the night’s sky then allowing you to look through their beautiful telescopes to see exactly what it is they’re talking about. A highlight was seeing Saturn sitting happy – rings and all. It reminded me a bit of those glow in the dark planets that were all the range when I was a child, which kids used to beg their parents to buy so they could stick them on their bedroom ceilings. It looked a little like that.
I’m going to be an astronomer in my next life, for sure.
Tali Wiru was hands down my favourite part of my time spent in Yulara. Briefly, it’s a wonderful dinner, had in full view of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. I wrote about it in full detail, if you want more information on the subject.
This was the only activity we booked that I didn’t think was worth the money.
We were taken to the same site as for Tali Wiru, but the food was lacklustre – it did not possess the same enthusiasm that the dinner had had. I don’t think we even ate any home made damper (an Australian bread), which was a disappointment, for sure!
After breakfast, we were taken to Uluru, where we were told a little bit more about some of the Indigenous stories. That bit was interesting, at least.
Overall, I don’t think the tour was worth the price, particularly when pitted against everything else we did and saw, which was exceptional.
This is an amazing way to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta from an entirely different point of view.
Book a helicopter tour here
I distracted myself by taking photo after photo. Eventually, I put the camera down and enjoyed the sight. It didn’t end up being too traumatic, as I felt it was a “best of both worlds” scenario. I did end up trying the age-old thing of living in the moment and I got some pleasing photographs out of the experience.
Head out to Kings Canyon for a day trip
Kings Canyon in the Watarrka National Park is located pretty close to Yulara (okay, it’s four hours away, but that’s a stone throw in the outback), so many people choose to take a day trip to check it out for themselves.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can hope on a tour that’ll get you there and back, no bother.
Book a day trip to Kings Canyon here
Visit Uluru or Kata Tjuta
Of course, you’re going to want to visit Uluru or Kata Tjuta! I mean, that’s why you’re there… right?
Be warned – most hotels in Yulara are located 20kms away from the park entrance (and the campsite 15kms). Unless you have your own vehicle, you’re at the mercy of the shuttle bus, which I think was sixty dollar for a round trip, which we’ll all agree is an upsetting price. Yet, what can you do? Make it a day trip, that’s what and ensure you get your money’s worth by walking around Uluru!
You also have the chance to see the Field of Light, a temporary installation that is spread out in front of Uluru.
You can ride camels past them, dine in their presence or simply book to go check them out.
Book a tour to Field of Light here
To climb, or not to climb Uluru
Here’s the million-dollar question. Should you, or should you not climb Uluru?
Some travellers to the outback argue the fact that as Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is such a trek to get to (and incredibly expensive, to boot) that they feel that they won’t get their money’s worth, unless they climb the rock.
Maybe it’s part of a hiking mentality – some feel they need to “conquer” the rock in a way. I’m not a hiker and avoid any activities that involve walking up sharp inclines, but my refusal to climb the rock runs a bit deeper than just that.
A few things to consider.
First up – you can’t climb the whole rock. There’s a small section that visitors are allowed access to – you walk up beside a chain, stand on the top for a bit and enjoy the view of essentially nothing, apart from the Olgas in the distance.
Uluru is at its best when you’re looking at it, not from it.
You’ll then march down to the bottom, brush the red sand off your trousers and call it a day.
Walking around Uluru, on the other hand, takes around three hours, depending on your speed and level of fitness. You get to see the rock from all angles, read some of the traditional Indigenous stories surrounding certain features of the monolith. It’s a bit of a trek and you certainly will feel like you’ve achieved something upon its completion. I can tell you this from experience – I walked all 12,300 steps around Uluru, 18 months ago.
Not to mention that climbing Uluru is incredibly dangerous.
Trust me, you’ll look at the path and a voice in your head will scream “DANGER, DANGER”. A guide we had during one of our tours there told us that a German man had recently climbed it, got to the bottom, had a heart attack and died. Another tourist had ventured off the path, fallen, broken multiple bones and had to be airlifted to safety. He hadn’t had health insurance either, apparently and was hit with a pretty hefty bill.
Uluru is considered a sacred site, but the Indigenous people (the Anangu people) who still call the area home (and have for tens of thousands of years). When they were handed back rights to the land 30 years ago, it was done on the proviso that visitors to the area were still within their right to climb the rock for the next 99 years.
However, it is considered a sign of disrespect to defy their wishes and believe me when I say that the Indigenous people of Australia have faced more than enough of that since Europeans first stepped foot on the country 230-odd years ago.
So, that’s my two cents on the subject. Make your own decision… but I do hope it is the right one. There are plenty of ways you can make the most of your time at Uluru, without offending anyone in the process.
|Edit: A ban will be finally put in place to stop people climbing Uluru in October, 2019. Please don’t rush off to climb the rock before this happens.|
After walking, riding a bike or taking a segway around Uluru (because, you can do that too!) I highly advise visiting the nearby Cultural Centre, where you can learn about the traditional landowners, the Anangu people. It is wonderful. Also, get an ice cream – I recommend Maxibons or Golden Gaytimes (yes that is what they’re called and I think it’s fabulous that they’ve never changed their name).
So, there you have it – everything you need to know in planning your own Uluru trip!
I hope I have convinced you to place this destination firmly on your bucket list.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta are truly both phenomenal sights that are worth a visit. If you’re Australian yourself, you really have no excuse – I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to get out there, but it was worth the wait.
Have you been on your own Uluru trip and visited the Red Centre of Australia?
Some other posts about Australia
What NOT to do when visiting Australia
A guide to Australian slang
Where to stay in Melbourne
The Best Places to Travel to in Australia
Working Holiday Australia: The Outback Madness
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I have been meaning to go back; last time I went was in summer (!!!! Hello 45 degree heat!) nearly 10 years ago. Would love to be able to see a bit more, especially the Olgas, and also not worry about melting.
Nat // Dignifiable
You are one of the very brave! I don’t think I could cope being out there in the summer. It was regularly getting over 45 where I was staying over the last few months and I couldn’t do anything other than sit in front of the air con. I’d love to go back and see them too. In the winter, hehe.
So if this amazing place is just number 3 on your list, what were your top 2 holidays?!
I said it’s in the top three, not that it isn’t number one!
I love this! I so want to go here and this has so much good information. I drove from Perth to the Gold Coast along the Nullarbor and I so wanted to go up to Uluru but it’s not exactly a quick detour haha. One day!!
Cheers Sonja, hope you make it there someday! Haha yeah… there’s no such thing as a quick detour in Oz for sure…
Fabulous guide, LC!! I’m planning a trip to Uluru with my family later this year (late August) and this has come in super handy as I’m working out how much time to spend where, what to do etc.
Gee, accommodation prices are ridiculous! Did you book everything separately or did you book some sort of package?
I’ve been thinking about a helicopter ride… I tend to get a bit nauseous and I’m not a keen flyer but it sounds like that would be worth it??
Thanks Kati! Late August should be a good time to go. Everything is rather pricey, but I was only disappointed with one of the tours we did. My fella has just come back from the outback and stayed in the Outback Pioneer Hotel, which he said did the job. You’ll probably be out and about so often that you’ll only be there to sleep anyway… we only picked the Desert Gardens Hotel because of my Mum’s birthday.
I booked everything separately, picking the Sounds of Silence Dinner and the helicopter ride before getting there. We then went to the Tourist Centre in Yulara, where we upgraded to the Tali Wiru dinner (which was amazing) and booked the other tours we did. There’s a stack of things to do there and it’s a bit hard to pick them from looking at the internet, so we went in with a rough idea and planned our itinerary from there. We managed to book everything we wanted, despite it being peak season. My only regret is not leaving anytime to do the Valley of the Winds walk around Kata Tjuta, but I guess that’s reason enough to go back one day… maybe!
I hate flying too, but it was worth gritting my teeth and bearing it – the views were beautiful and I love my photographs of the rocks. Would the small plane be better for you?
Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with. I’m really excited for you!
I love the dinner idea, I’ll have to check that out! I think my mum would really like that, it sounds super special. We’re going for her birthday too so I think that would make a nice birthday surprise! 😀
Yes, a small plane would definitely be better for me. Me thinks… if they offer helicopter rides, surely someone will offer light plane rides too???
Was the camel ride worth it? I can’t decide if I think it’s “ethical” to ride a camel or not. I guess I could research the operators a bit to find out how the animals are treated…
At the moment I’m thinking around 10 days for Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Would be awesome to explore all that! But gee… it’s going to be pricey! 😀
My Mum loved it, so I’m sure yours will too! They definitely offer small planes and I’d find it preferable to the helicopter too, thanks to hindsight!
After living in Doha and seeing how the camels were treated there (and refusing to ride them as a consequence), I had no qualms with riding them in the outback. They seemed very well looked after and quite happy too. Animal welfare is a top priority for me and I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.
That sounds like a good amount of time to spend out there, but yes – I’d start saving! I think there are some ways you can budget your money, by not eating out too much, maybe consider staying in the apartments if there is a group of you going, so you can cook your own food. It may also be worth seeing if you can rent a car whilst to take out to Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the like, as the return trips via the shuttlebus are really exy. Once again, if you’re in a group, it will save you cash.
And to answer your next question, there’s an Aboriginal Cultural Centre by Uluru that you can visit, as well as one in town. There’s also a play run by an Indigenous group that’s put on daily, featuring a story from the Dreamtime. Most tours featured stories of the heritage of the Anangu people in some aspect, often told by tribe members, which was good. So, we didn’t do a tour specific to that, rather it was interwoven into everything else we did.
Got another question (sorry! 🙂 ) – did you do any guided Aboriginal tours?? Arts, culture, history, geography,…??
Wow, thanks heaps for all your advice, really appreciate it! 🙂
We’ll probably rent a car if not a campervan (if I can convince mum that that’s a good idea, haha) so we can be flexible and explore as we want to. I’ve got severe gluten-intolerance so eating out is usually not on my radar anyway but I want to investigate the dinner experience, even if it’s just for mum and I eat raw carrot sticks or whatever… I’m imagining the magical experience already…
Thanks for the tip re. cultural experience!
Lots to investigate… and best to make some car / accommodation bookings soon. Oh, and save money.
No worries. Yeah I’d get on booking it soon, especially as it’s peak season. Good luck!
Hey LC – we are headed to Uluru in August and we are camping – well in Safari tents anyway. I am concerned about bringing the right clothes as I will also have my 6 yo with me. Looking at the picture of your mum it will be necessary to bring the works – beanie, scarf, gloves, thermals, pants and thick jacket. What about during the day – is it pretty warm or still cold? I see you said you wore leggings or jeans so it sounds like it is still cold. I should say I am a Brissie girl so anything below 20 is cold for me!! LOL!! We are doing a 2 week tour starting in Darwin finishing in Uluru so we will need a range of clothes but only have a small bag each. Would love your thoughts. Thank you
Hi Melissa. Yeah, I would definitely rug up, particularly if you’re camping and DEFINITELY if you’re from Brissy! I found it to be quite crisp in the morning then pleasant during the day – around the early twenties by midday. The sun still had a bit of a bite to it. I was quite content in leggings and a tee by that point, but as soon as the sun went down, it was time to put on my jacket! I think the lowest it gets to at night is about 3 degrees, so it’s not too bad and I didn’t bring my thermals with me as I was staying in a hotel. We still did some night time stuff and I was fine. Small bag is tricky – you could probably get out and about in normal winter clothes, jacket, scarf etc and maybe cut down by just bringing a couple of pairs of thermals to sleep in? Particularly for your little one!
Have an unreal trip – it’s such an amazing part of the country/world!