As our aircraft approached Ayers Rock airport, the desert landscape stretched flat, as far as the eye could see. A scorched, red landscape, broken only with the scattered collection of ancient Desert Oaks, white salt lakes, tufts of green and yellow grass and the bristly Naked Woolybutt shrub. It reminds the visitor of just how harsh this dusty, barren place can be.
Aside the great Uluru itself, it’s no wonder the Indigenous Australians once thought the earth to be flat, for the expansive desert plains make the planet look as though it could be hauntingly infinite.
I was curious to see why so many visitors flock here each year. Flanked by the Simpson Desert to the east and the Gibson Desert to the west, Uluru – otherwise known by its European name, Ayers Rock, attracts a great many visitors from around the world. Visiting in autumn, we found the days to be warm and balmy, with chilly evenings and dark clear skies. And while the mercury regularly tips 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, we appreciated the respite of the cool evening temperatures. It was hardly the desert climate I had originally imagined, but I knew how lucky we were to escape the heat of January.
At night, it was a joy to behold the sparkling sky. Alight with billions of stars, we only wish that we had found the time to experience the locally guided star gazing tour. Of course the main attraction here is the massive landmark itself, Uluru. There are many ways to see this famous site; either by car or bicycle, by hiking around the base of the rock, by air on a helicopter or plane tour, or interestingly enough, by camel. One guarantee though – however you decide to view Uluru, the views are sure to be impressive.
While Uluru is not actually the largest rock in the world (that accolade belongs to Mount Augustus in Western Australia), it can be counted as the second. So the Australian continent can boast the two largest rock formations, both just a couple of thousand kilometres apart.
Here though, are a few interesting quick facts about Uluru:
- Uluru is over 600 million years old
- Originally located on the bottom of the ocean, it’s now 348 metres above ground
- Similar to icebergs, the bulk of Uluru is underground – all 2.5km of it
- Surface oxidation of its iron content gives the would-be grey Uluru a striking orange-red hue.
- Uluru is 3.6kms long, 1.9kms wide, with a circumference of 9.4kms
Just up the road.
Just 50 kilometres away, and another must see landmark, is the impressive rock formation – Kata Yjuta or the Olgas. In contrast to Uluru, which is a single entity, Kata Tjuta is a collection of rock formations pushed from the earth’s crust. At its highest point, Kata Tjuta is actually 190 metres taller than Uluru.
Kata Tjuta provides several walking and hiking trials with some impressive gorges to hike and lookouts to enjoy. Walpa Gorge, with its towering walls is a popular trek and easiest of the walks at approximately 2 kilometres return. Although the terrain is rocky and hilly in parts, it’s a moderate grade at most, and the views are well worth the effort.
Yulara is the main township and where most of the accommodation and resorts can be found. There are also plenty of great food and restaurant options here. The small town square regularly hosts cultural events and festivals and is lined with quaint shops and cafes. There’s even a small IGA supermarket just steps away, making it easy to replenish all those hiking and touring necessities.
The red centre may be remote, but it’s filled with an endless array of tours and activities. The top of the list experience is the sunrise viewing over Uluru. The purpose built viewing platform fills early with tourists, but there’s plenty of space and the stunning views of Uluru in the early morning light are unforgettable.
For the best viewing however, the recommended arrival time to the viewing platform is 30 minutes prior to the sun breaking the horizon. As the sun starts its slow climb in the distant horizon, the changing hues of Uluru and the distant Kata Tjuta seem to change as if by magic.
Other experiences not to be missed include a sunrise camel trek through the sand dunes, the Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars and a helicopter ride over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. A bike ride around the base of Uluru and star gazing with experienced astronomers are also a must.
I flew – Virgin Australia to Ayers Rock Airport (AYQ)
I stayed – Sails in the Desert (5-star resort)
I tried – Kangaroo and crocodile
Would do again – Bike ride around the base of Uluru
My WOW factor – The contrast of the flat red desert with a giant rock breaking the landscape. Plus the green and gold of the desert flora against the red earth during sunset. I was totally impressed by the colours of the outback.