Uluru: Ayer’s Rock Adventures

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Kids: 
15 years
13 years
11 years
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Parent
Date: 
2013-10-16 to 2013-10-19
Description: 

One single piece of sandstone, formed millennia ago from sediments laid down when central Australia was part of the great inland sea. Pressed, and pressed, and pressed; then, with a shift in the earth’s crust, tipped on her side and thrust upward until her nose peeked out of the soil, a giant tunneling mole just breaking the surface, extending 6.5 km below the surface. Uluru. Ayer’s Rock.

From a distance, it’s hard to grasp the enormity of the rock. The landscape doesn’t give the eye many clues. The horizon is flat, so there’s nothing further away to compare it to. The trees are short and scrubby; not too good for measuring and estimating against. We trick ourselves into thinking it must be much further away and smaller than it really is. Then, you turn off of the main road and, all of a sudden, BAM! The rock is right underfoot; towering over us like the monolith she is.

340 meters of one, single, solid rock, dwarfing everything in the vicinity.

The most popular time to visit Uluru, very close to the geographical center of Australia, is in winter, between July and September; when the weather is coolest. We arrived in mid-October, mid-spring. The weather was already unbearably hot. 39-42C, 100-104F. Hot.

If you’re planning a trip to Uluru we have a handful of tips for you, and also a recommendation of how to spend your days to maximize your time at the rock and the educational potential of the visit.

First, the tips:

Stay at the Ayers Rock Resort

There are not a lot of places to stay near Uluru. If, like us, you’re traveling on a serious budget it’s going to be tempting to take advantage of the free camping at Curtain Springs Station, about an hour from the rock. Two words: Don’t do it.

This is one time when paying the money to stay at the Ayers Rock Resort is worth the money. If you’re an hour away from the park you’re going to add long drives before dawn if you want to see sunrise on the rock (and you do) which is a bit dangerous with the kangaroo population that seems to hang out roadside, waiting to hop in front of your bumper. It’s also very hot, and very dry. There is no grass to pitch your tent on, little shade, and no family activities at all, just a dusty camping pitch. I cannot tell you how glad we were to have gone on and stayed at the campground near Uluru. It was not massively expensive ($50 a night for the six of us, buy two nights, get one free for an unpowered site). There was an excellent playground, a pool, excellent kitchen set up and fridges. It was the best campground we stayed in on our entire road trip through Australia.

Not campers? There are a range of accommodations here, from self catering cottages and apartments to four star hotels, to the campground and cabins.

Seeing sunrise

Plan to get up at least an hour and a half before sunrise, eat breakfast bars in the car and get going quickly. There will be a queue at the entrance of the park, as sunrise is a coveted moment for visitors. The best point to view sunrise from is all the way around the far side of Uluru, so you need to give yourself forty minutes to work your way around, find parking and make the short hike to the viewing platform. If you have kids, you won’t want to rush, so take extra time.

Plan for the heat

I really cannot overstate the heat, even in the shoulder seasons. You’ll have a few hours each morning and an hour or so at twilight where it’s bearable to be out hiking or doing strenuous activities, but the middle part of the day is scorching. You’ll need sunscreen and lots of it. Hats are a must. Signs recommend drinking two liters of water per person per hour. Dehydration is a very real danger and younger children will be at higher risk. One more reason to stay at the Ayers Rock Resort: swimming pools.

Eating

We expected there to be very little in the way of stores or food options in the middle of the desert near Uluru. We were very pleasantly surprised by a well stocked IGA store and reasonable prices at the Ayers Rock Resort. You do NOT need to be staying at the resort to head in and use the stores and other services in the town square. There are a a range of restaurants in the complex as well, so there’s no need to pack in three days worth of dry food rations... like we did!

Itinerary Suggestions:

Day One:

Arriving at Uluru, you’ll want to get settled in your accommodation. If you’re staying at Ayer’s Rock Resort then this is a great time to check out their long list of free activities <add this link to “free activities” http://www.ayersrockresort.com.au/activities/> and plan your attack on your visit. If you have time, drive into the park, purchase your three day tickets ($25 an adult, kids under 16 are free) so that you don’t have to take time to do that in the early morning darkness, perhaps this is a good evening to watch the sunset on Uluru, the viewing point is not far past the entrance point.

Day Two:

Get up early for sunrise and watch it from the advertised sunrise viewing platform on the far side of the rock. From this position you’ll get to see the sun strike the face of Uluru and paint it a thousand shades of red. As soon as the sun is solidly up, hop in your car and head around to the Mala car park where you can join a FREE ranger lead Mala Walk at 8:30 a.m. This is very, very worth your time. You’ll hear stories, history and cultural information about the Aboriginal people who lived here for thousands of years as well as the arrival of outsiders. A highlight, for us, was the cave paintings, 10,000 years old. This walk is suitable even for very small children.

By the time the Mala walk ends, you’re going to be into the heat for the day. Head back to the resort in time for lunch and a swim. Mid afternoon, make time to attend the Aboriginal dance performance at the town square.

Day Three:

Get up early and watch the sunrise from the SUNSET viewing spot. The best view is actually from the bus lot. You’ll get to watch the colorful sunrise behind the black silhouette of Uluru. As soon as the sun is up, head back to the Mala car park and take off on the 10.6 km hike around the base of Uluru. You want to get started as soon as it’s light so that you can be done before it gets unbearably hot. They will close the trails mid day, for heat related safety reasons. You’ll finish the walk by about 9:30 a.m. This is a great time to head over to the cultural center and watch the videos in the cool of the thatched huts and read the explanations and stories. In the afternoon, head back over to the town square and check out the boomerang throwing exhibition and Aboriginal tools discussion put on by the resort staff. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for swimming!

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