Northern Territory, Australia
The kangaroo, koala, Sydney Opera House and Uluru: for many travelers, they are the defining icons of Australia. The big red rock dominating the center—er, centre-- of the continent was called “Ayers Rock” in the past. But today, this sacred Aboriginal site is known officially as Uluru and is part of the spectacular Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (more about the smaller but equally fascinating Kata Tjuta rock formations in an upcoming Wide Open Ride). Now, you can fly to Uluru but I prefer the drive. And it’s a long, long way from anywhere: the closest large town is Alice Springs, some 450 kilometers (270 miles) away. It’s about a six-hour road trip but the highway is in great shape and the scenery is textbook Australia: red earth, expansive skies, desert vegetation. And then, on the horizon, you finally spot Uluru: colorful, mystical, ancient. Up close, you see its many pockets and ridges, worn smooth over millions of years. Though it may look like it's resting on the ground, Uluru (and nearby Kata Tjuta) are “the visible tips of huge rock slabs that extend far beneath the ground. It is possible they extend down to 6 kilometres” (3.6 miles). That’s according to Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy. The Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the Aboriginal traditional landowners, believe that Uluru and Kata Tjuta were “created by our creation ancestors. In their travels they left marks in the land and made laws for us to keep and live by.” Uluru inspires and humbles. It’s an investment in time, distance and money but well worth the experience.
Keep in Mind
Uluru rises about 350 meters (1150 feet) which is taller than Paris’ Eiffel Tower or New York’s Chrysler Building. Climbing the big rock is no longer allowed.
Route & Map
From Alice Springs, it’s about a six-hour drive to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. There aren’t any towns along the way so plan on filling the gas tank at Erldunda Roadhouse. This is also where you’ll turn onto Highway 4. Australian roadhouses are cultural experiences in their own right. In addition to meat pies, motel rooms and souvenir boomerangs, at Erldunda you can also feed emus—by hand!
Driving around Uluru takes 20 minutes but plan on time for stops. Be sure to do the Base Walk, too. The moderate, paved loop trail is 10.6 km (6.5 miles) and takes about 3½ hours.
Best Time to Visit
May to September brings moderate temperatures but larger crowds. Summer, December to February, is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere and gets scorching hot. But that also means fewer people and lower prices.
Yulara lies just outside the park and is the only place to stay. The full-service Ayers Rock Resort offers a range of accommodations, from campground to luxury. There are also several restaurants, a coffee house, gas station and grocery store.