Journey to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park
After the mad dash to reach the rock, four eager bodies saw the magnificent sight for the first time, Uluru, awestruck by its enormity. As the sun made it’s way to the horizon, we watched the rock light up in the most extraordinary reds. Our hearts content by its beauty and our tummies satisfied by quesadillas cooked on the camp stove.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is more than just Uluru
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a world-famous national park home to two of the most iconic rock formations in the world. It expands to more than 327,414 acres and is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna including the Mala (aka Rufous Hare-Wallaby). The Mala is sacred to the Anangu people (Indigenous Australians of the Western Desert) as it holds significance in their Uluru creation stories.
The Uluru base walk is a once in a lifetime cultural experience. As you trek the 10.6km loop, you can get a glimpse into the story of Uluru through native art on some parts of the rock. Information along the path enables you to see how Uluru fits into the history of the Anangu people. If you are not feeling up to the base walk, or you do want a little more insight from a ranger, there is a FREE Ranger Guided Walk that takes you from the Mala Carpark (at the Cultural Centre) to the base of the rock. They depart daily from 8 am in October to April or 10 am from May to September. The tour goes for approximately an hour and a half and gives visitors an insight into the history and traditions associated with Uluru as well as traditional and contemporary Anangu life and culture.
The Cultural Centre is your one-stop shop for visitor information, traditional hand-painted Anangu art, souvenirs and even a bite or two to eat. It is open daily from 7 am to 6 pm. We attended a FREE child-friendly culture and language class with a Ranger and an Anangu man. We learnt about the different languages spoken by different aboriginal people in Australia and specifically Pitjantjatjara which is spoken by those from the area surrounding Uluru. We also got to see a thorny devil up close and ask questions about aboriginal culture.
Kata Tjuta, or the Olgars, is often the forgotten brother of Uluru. It consists of 36 domes, the highest reaching 546m above the horizon. This exceeds Uluru’s summit by 198m! Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ in Pitjantjatjara. There are contrasting opinions between the Anangu and Geologists regarding the formation of these landmarks. Anangu describes the travels of Kuniya (woma python women), Liru (poisonous snake man), Mala and Lungkata (blue-tongue lizard man). Geologists describe the erosion of cracks in a larger mass causing the rounded domes seen today.
There are four main walks through Kata Tjuta (see below). The Valley of the Winds Karu Lookout prompts you to gaze through natures window into an abyss of greenery and rust-red rocks, a truly unforgettable sight. This walk takes approximately an hour and is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch with a view. The full circuit track requires about half a day, including a lunch break and it is recommended to start trekking earlier in the day, especially during the summer months.
Park open hours vary throughout the year according to daylight hours. It costs $25 per adult for a three-day pass or $32.50 for a yearly pass. Children aged 5-15 are $12.50 and children 4 years and below are free. Family passes are also available.
There are many options in terms of camping and lodging near the national park. Ayers Rock Resort has a population of larger than one thousand residents, making it the fourth biggest city in the Northern Territory, following Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine. There are many staff always happy to greet you with a smile and help to meet your every need. For families travelling in a caravan or camping, the Ayers Rock Campground is a family-friendly choice. Complete with a swimming pool, playground, giant chess and volleyball courts, the campground offers a perfect place to put your feet up after a long day of exploring or driving. A petrol station is also located close to the Ayers Rock Campground.
For those wishing to stay somewhere more luxurious, there are many options. The Desert Gardens Hotel has most recently undergone a complete refurbishment, creating a modern and cultural experience for your stay in Yullara (town closest to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park). It is a four and a half star hotel complete with a swimming pool and both premium and casual dining options. It is the home of Mingkiri Arts where you can purchase a range of Australian made crafts or view a revolving art exhibition at Arnguli Restaurant. The Wintjiri Arts and Museum is located adjacent to the Desert Gardens Hotel and is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm. The main exhibit displays a work titled “Artists in Residence” showcasing local Anangu work, which is also available for purchase.
Emu Walk Apartments have serviced apartments** with basic facilities. Their greatest asset is their location. Situated next to the Resort Town Square, they provide easy access to the town supermarket, postal services, banks/ATM and tourist information centre.
Sails in the Desert is home to the Mulgara Gallery. It is situated in the hotel’s lobby and is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm. The resort is complete with a swimming pool, fine and casual dining options and the Red Ochre Spa. They also have function rooms available for business trips. The Ilkari Restaurant is open for a buffet breakfast and buffet dinner. From personal experience, the breakfast buffet is extraordinary. With a chef station to cook your choice of eggs, omelettes, pancakes or eggs Benedict, you feel as if you are dining with royalty. The waitresses don’t let you see the bottom of your teacup and do the best to facilitate any request. Antipasto options, cooked options, fresh fruits and juice as well as standard cereals, toast, porridge and yoghurt allow even the pickiest of eaters an option.
The Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge is the perfect spot for those with a heart for astronomy. It is the Astro Hub of Yullara where tours run for both families and individuals. A resident astronomer takes you on a journey through the life cycle of stars and gives you a gold class view of many constellations through telescopes and binoculars. The Outback Pioneer Hotel is also a fantastic stop if you are looking for a good feed at the BBQ and Bar. There is a games room complete with air hockey table, pinball machines and more, perfect for entertaining children of all ages. They are open until 10 pm most nights. The Outback Pioneer Kitchen offers a cheaper alternative with light meal and take away options.
All hotels offer complimentary airport transfers, departing your hotel approximately two hours prior to scheduled flight times. There is also complimentary wifi at all hotels and the Ayers Rock Campground as well as a complimentary shuttle bus that departs out the front of each Hotel every 20 minutes. This bus takes you to the Yullara Town Square and many eateries. It does not take you to the National Park however you can book the Uluru Express from any Hotel or hire a car for those wishing to explore the rock at their own pace.
If you find yourself adventuring to the red centre before March 31st, 2018, you will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to wander through the majestic Field of Light art installation handcrafted by world famous artist Bruce Munro. Bruce travels around the world lighting up famous landmarks with handcrafted globes, creating an unforgettable sea of colour. This particular exhibit is crowned by 50,000 hand-crafted slender stems topped with frosted glass spheres. Each bulb is illuminated by one of 144 projectors powered solely by solar panels; Bruce’s first ever solar panel installation.
To those photographers out there, the magnificent reds and auburn colours known so famously of the rock are most vibrant as the sun hits the rock twice a day, as the sun welcomes and farewells the day. To take the most picturesque photographs, there are designated sunset and sunrise viewing areas, perfect for sipping a cup of tea and capturing the break taking view. Aim to get to these viewing areas at least half an hour before sunrise/sunset to ensure you get a car park. For sunrise/sunset times, ask at the reception of your hotel or conversely, if you have an iPhone, the weather app will inform you.
For those of you wishing to experience Uluru at a whole other level, camel tours are a fantastic way to avoid the congestion of sunset and sunrise. Each camel tour is guided by a friendly and knowledgeable host who shares about the national park and the camels themselves. The Uluru Camel Farm has the largest population of wild camels in Australia and is open daily from 9 am to 3 pm May to October or 9 am to 1 pm November to April. They are a fantastic family-friendly way to enjoy the rock in all its beauty.
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a beautiful part of Australia and Indigenous Australian culture. We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay at the Sails in the Desert; a highlight definitely being the buffet breakfast. The enormity and novelty of Uluru never faded and we have made many memories that will last a lifetime.
Kings Canyon is another amazing walk available nearby.