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Sunrise Uluru pano

Flying or driving into Uluru will have you captivated by the sheer scale of the Australian landscape. Vast open plains stretch to the horizon with a colour palette of bright reds, mottled greens and whites from the many salt lakes. But centre stage in Australia is the monolith of Uluru in all its red majesty. In case you’re wondering, the correct Uluru pronunciation is Ooh-Luh-Roo. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a unique multi awarded UNESCO World Heritage area that not only includes Uluru and Kata Tjuta but the surrounding desert dunes, fauna and flora. Archaeological evidence shows that the Anangu people have inhabited this area for more than 30,000 years. The Anangu people are also the traditional custodians of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and play an active role in the preservation of the area and the education of visitors about the history and culture of this sacred site. 

Whether you choose to join a coach tour, visit independently, book an Intrepid Uluru camping getaway or explore in a campervan, it is impossible not to be touched by the ancient beauty and spiritual significance of this unique area. There are plenty of fantastic things to do at Uluru and a great choice of Uluru places to stay. Even if you have been here several times before, there are always new Uluru highlights to discover. Here’s a detailed Uluru travel guide to help you make the most of your stay written by someone who has been there many times. And plans to return to this very special part of Australia again (and again, and again).

Uluru Sunset
Uluru sunset

When is best to visit Uluru

The best time to visit Uluru is between May and September, when the maximum temperature during the day is usually between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. Be prepared for temperatures as low as zero degrees at night in the winter mouths of June and July. Thinking of visiting Uluru in December? Uluru in summer is hot, hot, hot. The one big question about when to visit Uluru often comes down to how much heat you can tolerate as the summer months can feel like a furnace with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. If you don’t mind the heat, you can often get last minute Uluru packages in the warmer months. One thing you don’t usually have to worry about is wet weather at Uluru as it seldom rains. But if it does, it’s a rare bonus and an opportunity to see this area come alive with waterfalls and flourishing flora including the beautiful wildflowers at Uluru.

Arriving into Ayres Rock Airport
Arriving into Ayers Rock Airport

What to wear at Uluru

Deserts are known for being hot but it’s not unusual for temperatures to dip below zero here in winter. If you’re wondering what to wear to Uluru in winter, a warm jacket, beanie, gloves and scarf are a must. Warm socks are important too. The ground is where the air is the coldest and your feet can get painfully chilly in thin socks on really cold mornings.

Even if you usually wear caps, it’s worth investing in a wide brimmed hat so your neck and ears don’t get sunburned when you’re out and about. A fabric one that can be crammed into a backpack is best as you don’t need to carry it when the sun goes down. If you’re visiting in summer, the heat also brings the flies which makes it a good idea to wear a fly net over your face.

Packing a pair of swimmers might seem strange when you’re heading to the desert, but you’ll be glad you did. Each hotel either has a pool or access to one and you’ll probably want to take advantage of it during the day if the weather is warm. Just be warned that even if the weather is hot, the pool water can feel like ice even in the middle of summer.

Also, don’t feel that you have to dress up to match the hefty price tag for high-end dining experiences like Sounds of Silence at Uluru. You’ll be eating in the great outdoors, so a pair of jeans or trousers and a smart blouse or shirt are all you need to look and feel fabulous at these events. Also, there is no need for fancy formal attire as the lighting is low once the sun goes down and you’ll be walking around on sand. Not great with high heels.

Casual clothes are fine at Uluru

Getting to and from Ayers Rock (Uluru) Airport

Ayers Rock (Uluru) Airport is just over seven kilometres from the town of Yulara. It takes around 10 minutes to reach Yulara from the airport. You can pick up a hire car at Yulara Airport or take the free shuttle bus which meets every flight. This is a cost-effective way to travel to and from Yulara airport and is included with your accommodation booking.

Getting around at Uluru

Many people rent a hire car at Ayers Rock Airport but this can be difficult, especially at peak times. Fuel prices at Uluru are also very high so you might want to think twice. Sometimes taking tours can actually be cheaper than getting an Uluru hire car. There is a courtesy bus that travels around Ayers Rock Resort and stops at the different accommodation options and and the Town Square shopping area. There are no taxis or Uber at Yulara but there is a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus which offers various fare and transfer options to get visitors out to Uluru and other sites such as the Cultural Centre and Kata Tjuta. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to get around is by booking a tour as these include commentary and transport (and tasty eats and drinks as well, depending which tour you book).  

What to do at Uluru

See the sunrise at Uluru

Darkness shrouds the tourist township of Yulara when you board the tour coach or jump in your car for the 20-minute drive to the sunrise viewing area. If you are visiting in winter, your departure is around 6.35am. It’s much earlier in summer when the sun rises just after 6am. Organised tours usually include a cup of coffee or tea and a snack before you head to the viewing area. You don’t have to view the sunrise from the viewing platform if it’s crowded. Instead, take the left-hand path to the more private location which is at ground level. Clicking cameras are the only sound as everyone attempts to capture the beauty of Uluru as the first rays of sun turn it lavender, then russet and finally red.

Sunrise on Uluru
Sunrise on Uluru

Kata Tjuta sunset tour

There’s no doubt Uluru is spectacular and holds a special place in Aboriginal culture but what surprises many is that Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) holds even more significance and greater spirituality for the Anangu people. The Kata Tjuta Sunset Tour begins at the Ayers Rock Resort 90 minutes prior to sunset and journeys for about 45 minutes to the sunset viewing area west of Kata Tjuta. This tour in my opinion is a must and spectacular in every way with colours and a view that will have you captivated. Add in some wine, beer and tasty nibbles with the stunning view to be inspired by and you have incredible memories to last a lifetime. 

Kata Tjuta begins to glow with the setting sun
Kata Tjuta begins to glow in the setting sun

Uluru helicopter tour

Seeing Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the air is a truly unique experience and gives you a totally different perspective on these sacred places. Flights over Uluru and Kings Canyon are also available although this trip takes a little longer and is more expensive. Taking off from the Ayers Rock Resort, the helicopter tour takes you west over Kata Tjuta before turning to take in the massive rock formation of Uluru. For the benefit of passengers on both sides of the helicopter, the pilot spends an equal amount of time viewing both sites on each side so no one misses out. Large windows on both sides of the helicopter make for excellent views and photographic opportunities also. The Uluru helicopter tour flight lasts for around 30 minutes but shorter Uluru only flights are cheaper and take about 15 minutes.  

Uluru from the air
Uluru from the air

Visit the Cultural Centre

It is free to visit the Cultural Centre where you can learn how the Anangu people have lived in this harsh desert environment for more than 30,000 years and find out more about traditional men’s and women’s tools. The staff at the cultural centre run free tours at least once a day. You don’t need to book for these, simply turn up at the right time and you are welcome to join the group.

Uluru base walk

The walk around Uluru is an easy stroll but needs to be planned. The circumference of Uluru is 9.4 km but round that out to about 10.6 km for the walk. Planning the walk is essential with the need for adequate water (1.5 litres minimum, even in winter), sun protection, a hat, sun screen and phone for any emergencies. The Uluru base walk time is about 3 to 4 hours with stops to read the informational signs and a few rests along the way. Plan the walk for early morning to avoid the midday heat which even in winter can be brutal. Also make a mandatory toilet stop at the start as there are no toilets at any other place around the walk. From experience, this can make for a sprint at the end.

Uluru Segway tour

This is the easiest and the most fun way to get around the base of Uluru and pretty much anyone can do it provided they can stand without assistance and are aged over 12. I booked the Segway Sunrise Tour which included a free pickup from Yulara and light breakfast enjoyed while watching the sunrise at Uluru. After sunrise it’s off for adventure around the rock starting with a quick training course for riders at the Segway Uluru basecamp before we set off with the guide around the base of Uluru. Our tour had a group of 9 and ranged from couples in their sixties to a teen. From start to finish, this was a fun and very informative guided tour experience that received lots of envious looks from people doing the Uluru walk. Allow around 4 hours to do the Uluru Sunrise Segway tour and about 2.5 hours for the regular Segway tour minus the sunrise add on. 

Travelling around Uluru Segway style

Uluru bike ride

Another easy way to get around Uluru but with a little more effort than a Segway is the Outback Cycling Uluru bike ride. This is a bike hire company located at the base of Uluru. Available to anyone who can ride a bike and with loads of bike styles and sizes available, it’s easy to set off for a self-guided ride around the base of Uluru. Like the walk you need water, sun protection and sensible riding apparel. This is a take your time and enjoy the moment ride and not a race so allow a few hours and lots of stops to explore the caves and storyboards located around the base. Pick up and drop offs to Uluru can also be booked with Outback Cycling if you don’t have a car or aren’t keen on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.

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Field of Light tour

Field of Light at Uluru was originally conceived to be a pop-up art installation by British artist Bruce Munro. That was in 2018 and Field of Light at Uluru is now extended indefinitely due to its overwhelming popularity. The installation, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku by the local Anangu community, means ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in the local Pitjantjatjara language. Consisting of 50,000 spindles of light interconnected with fibre optic cables, this stunning masterpiece slowly pulses and changes colour as you walk the trails which travel through this massive installation. Field of Light is only available to visit as a tour. You can simply take the coach out to Field of Light and walk through it or pay a little more for experiences such as the Sunset Star Pass which also includes drinks and canapes on an elevated sand dune so you can watch the sunset over Uluru then you get to watch the Field of Light as it comes alive with the twilight.

Field of Light
Field of Light at Uluru

Uluru camel tour

See Uluru as the early explorers did from the back of a camel. Day tours are available, but the sunset tour is especially fun and avoids the heat of the day if you’re visiting in summer. It’s easy to see how these animals earned the name ‘ships of the desert’. They roll from side to side like a galleon, yet the motion is strangely relaxing. The camel train crests a dune and Uluru appears in front of everyone looking just like the picture on your Nanna’s souvenir tea towel. Colours on the rock gradually change as the camels turn and walk beside it in parallel, their leisurely journey matching the rock’s slow colour change, before they emerge over another dune to the sight of Kata Tjuta. After the tour, everyone heads back to the camel farm for drinks and nibbles which are included in the tour.

Camel tour at Uluru

Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence is Uluru’s signature guest experience and truly captivating. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the money, there is no need. This five-hour tour more than lives up to the hype. After a bus pick up from Ayers Rock Resort, you’re taken to a raised platform on a dune in the middle of the desert to enjoy champagne and canapés as the last rays of the sun drape Uluru in a soft red cloak. When the sun has gone down everyone is escorted down a red earth path to linen napped tables laid with sparkling silverware. Moonlight plays on the desert landscape and conversation flows as freely as the wine as each table is invited to visit a bush tucker inspired buffet. The evening finishes with an entertaining Uluru astronomy talk and the chance to see Saturn and the Moons of Jupiter through two powerful telescopes. If you’re thinking of doing an Uluru astro tour or want to see the Uluru night sky, this is a great way to do it.

Sounds of Silence at Uluru
Sounds of Silence at Uluru

Free Uluru tours

Uluru tours which cost money provide an excellent way to learn about Uluru but there are also plenty of free Uluru activities and free Uluru tours to enjoy. Even if you aren’t visiting Uluru on a budget, the free activities are well worth doing. Visitors can gather at the Town Square’s Circle of Sand to hear indigenous story tellers or join a talk in the theatre to learn about native bush foods, watch a cooking demo and taste delicious wattle seed shortbread. Other free Uluru activities include painting classes, bush food walking tours, didgeridoo lessons or a stargazing movie and star talk. There is also a lookout a short walk from the Yulara hotels. You can get up early and watch the sunrise from here or walk up to the lookout after dinner to see the Milky Way over Uluru and the rest of the spectacular Uluru night sky.

Where to stay at Uluru

Back in the 1970s , it was possible to stay at a motel or campsite at the base of Uluru site, but the constant influx of visitors soon began damaging the fragile desert ecology and threatening the preservation of sacred sites. In an attempt to save one of Australia’s most precious and spiritually significant icons from being ‘loved to death’, the township of Yulara was created 24 kilometres away and the tourist infrastructure around the rock was removed in 1984. All the hotels at Yulara (apart from Longitude 131) are managed by Voyages Indigenous Tourism and you can choose from different standards depending on your individual needs and, of course, your holiday budget. Here’s a rundown on what to expect from each one to help you choose which accommodation option is right for you.

Emu Walk Apartments

Ayers Rock Resort’s Emu Walk Apartments are fully serviced apartments that have been renovated in a modern style and have all the comforts of home. With one and two-bedroom self-contained apartments available, Emu Walk Apartments are great for families or couples wanting a self-catering option. Rooms feature a well-appointed kitchen, ensuite bathroom and all-important laundry facilities to remove the plentiful red dust. A big plus is the king-sized bed in the main bedroom and sofa bed for guests in the lounge area which is very spacious.

Emu Walk one bedroom apartment with the sofa bed made up

Desert Gardens Hotel

Desert Gardens Hotel lives up to its name with a profusion of flowering native shrubs at every turn and a central location next to the Emu Walk Apartments which is hard to beat. It’s only a few minutes stroll from the Town Centre where most of the free activities take place. On-site restaurant Arnguli Grill overlooks the hotel pool and is great for people watching.

Sails In The Desert

This iconic hotel was originally named after its soaring white sails but these days the focus is more about celebrating the area’s cultural landscape. Guest rooms and public areas showcase the earthy colours of the Red Centre and striking First Nations artworks feature throughout. Even the classy on-site gift shop features traditional crafts. If you want to stay somewhere special (and don’t mind paying accordingly), this is the hotel for you. Some of the more stylish dining options are also located here.

Sails in the Desert
Sails in the Desert

The Lost Camel Hotel

The Lost Camel Hotel is a contemporary boutique-style hotel conveniently located in the heart of Ayers Rock Resort. This hotel offers stylish yet compact rooms that featuring a king bed which can be separated into two single beds, and private bathroom facilities with a separate shower and toilet. This is the perfect place to sleep and then explore Uluru by day and during the evening. One bonus if you’re staying in the warmer months is that, like the much more expensive Sails in the Desert, this budget-friendly hotel also has a pool.

The Lost Camel at Uluru
The Lost Camel at Uluru

Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge

Popular with younger travellers, the Outback Pioneer is renowned for its traditional Aussie-style outback pub and popular do-it-yourself BBQ. Accommodation ranges from no-frills hotel rooms and budget cabins to dormitories. If you’re planning on spending most of your time out and about, this cheap and cheerful accommodation will make you and your wallet happy.

Ayers Rock Campground

The Ayers Rock Campground is part of the Ayers Rock Resort and offers a large variety of accommodation options like air-conditioned cabins, caravan, campervan and motor home sites with power, or tent sites available under the shade of native trees with views of the Milky Way in the evening. If you would like to visit Uluru on a tight budget, this is your best bet. The camping ground also provides a range of services and facilities including a swimming pool, playground, BBQ facilities and outdoor kitchen and self-service laundry facilities to make the great outdoors truly enjoyable.

Ayers Rock Campground
Tent campsites at Ayers Rock Campground

Longitude 131

Time to potentially melt your credit card and enjoy a truly once in a lifetime experience at one of Australia’s most unique 5 star boutique resorts. Longitude 131 is the best accommodation at Uluru (and also the most expensive). Featuring sixteen Uluru luxury tents located among the red dunes, these luxuriously appointed dwellings are a destination on their own. Longitude 131 really is next level Uluru glamping. Add in a jaw dropping view of Uluru or Kata Tjuta from your bed and you have an experience to remember. The resort is also all inclusive of food and beverages and offers a sunning array of dining pleasures and experiences. There is also a spa and a pool to relax in after a day of exploring. Personally, I wouldn’t want to leave. 

Longitude 131
Living it up at Longitude 131

Restaurants at Uluru

Uluru is an amazing place, but you don’t really come here for the food apart from some exceptions like the Sounds of Silence dinner which is superb. The beautifully presented and high quality buffet breakfast at Sails in the Desert was also impressive. These are an array of dining options that range from cafés to upmarket yet casual restaurants. In all, there are about 10 restaurant and bar options around Ayers Rock Resort plus self-catering options courtesy of a fairly large IGA Supermarket at the Town Square.

The thing to factor in with any dining at the resort is the cost, as transport and wages at Yulara are higher due to its remote location. Having said that, the prices are reasonable overall and the food is pleasant enough provided you choose wisely. We found it better to go for the simple and more affordable options which were generally very good. Upmarket and more expensive choices such as lunch at the Walpa Bar at Sails in the Desert, not so much. Our top pick for the best restaurant at Uluru is the excellent Kulata Academy Cafe, where National Indigenous Training Academy students work to gain practical experience. The staff are delightful and the wraps, sandwiches, milkshakes, and coffees are delicious and well priced.

Uluru travel tips

You’ll need a park pass before you can enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. This includes any tours you’re booked on. No Uluru national park pass, no tour. You can purchase your pass online before you leave home or buy it when you book a tour at no extra cost. Print it out or save it to your phone to show your guide or scan it at the entry to the National Park.

If you would like to rent a car to get around at Uluru, check availability BEFORE you book your trip. There aren’t many cars available, and they are very popular. It is not uncommon for the car hire companies at Yulara to completely run out of cars months in advance. They’re also expensive so book early to save as much as you can on the eye watering daily rate.

If you’re visiting in the warmer months, it’s important to invest in a fly net to slip over your head as the flies around Uluru are relentless and very annoying. Flies are still around in winter but not in the same quantity as summer. If you want to wait and see how you go, you can buy fly nets at several of the shops at the Town Square.

Bring shoes that cover your feet, or your toes could get cut by spinifex, nibbled by ants or barbequed in the sun, all on the same day. Also consider light long pants for the same reason. Sturdy joggers or hiking boots are perfect for walking around the National Park. Ballet flats or fashionable sneakers you don’t mind getting dirty work well for upmarket evening tours and dinners.

Switch your handbag or satchel for a backpack. It’s more comfortable for walking and has plenty of room to hold your stuff, including enough water. It’s easy to dehydrate, even if you’re just walking around the Yulara township. Water fountains are available at most car parks in the National Park so fill your bottle before any walks.

Feeling too hot or too cold can spoil your day (or night). If you’re not sure what to wear, dress for the warmest part of the day and bring extra layers you can put on and peel off. Remember to bring a sweater for sunset and sunrise tours, even when the days are hot.

While you can buy most things at the supermarket at Uluru, everything including essentials like toothpaste is expensive compared to home. Some would say chocolate is also an essential but even if you aren’t a chocoholic, you can save a lot of money by packing your own snacks.

If you’re not out touring or dining at one of the restaurants in the evening, there’s little in the way of entertainment at Yulara. Pack your iPad or tablet and load it up with movies, books or something else to pass the time when the sun goes down. Or find a dark spot near the resort you can take in the amazing sight of the Milky Way above you. You’re pretty much guaranteed to spot falling stars, passing satellites together with a stunning kaleidoscope of stars.

There’s no need to invest in fancy camera gear. You’ll see plenty of high-end cameras but, unless you’re seriously into photography, it’s more rewarding to snap a few photos on your phone then soak up every minute of this glorious experience.

Want to travel smarter and save money? Check out our tips for flying a low cost airline, keeping your luggage safe, visiting Europe in peak season, getting a great car hire deal, avoiding travel scams, saving money at the airport, staying at an Airbnb, finding cheap five star hotel deals, catching public transport overseas, staying safe in a big city, getting the best round-the-world airfares, making the most of a five star hotel stay, travelling during low season, visiting a theme park in peak season, packing a carry on bag, visiting a wine region, planning a romantic getaway, early morning flights, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, multigenerational travel, travelling in a motorhome, buying the best souvenirs, going on safari, visiting the Eiffel Tower, travelling with pets, holidaying with adult children, travelling with teens, and sleeping on a plane.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.