Why Visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – Best places to see in Australia
Two things are most distinct to Australia, and most often are in the bucket list for a “once in a while trip”: Sydney Opera House and Uluru.
This park, formerly called Uluru (Ayers Rock to Mount Olga) National Park, features spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plain of central Australia. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes located west of Uluru, form part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world. The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta are the Anangu Aboriginal people.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – How to get there
Outback, Australia. Street between Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Alice Springs
From the north, in Alice Springs take the Stuart Highway (87) South for about 200km to Erldunda Roadhouse. Turn right onto the Lasseter Highway and 245 km further on you arrive at Yulara). It’s a sealed tarmac road – a bit of a sloping surface in places, but you can easily drive along at 120 km/hr. Far more cars on the road than you would imagine, and every driver waves hello to you (that’s what you get in these far off places!) Plenty of places to stop and picnic and get water, although no toilets unless you stop at an official roadhouse (few and far between). There’s lots of wildlife to see too: camels, cows, dingos and birds.
Cars can also be hired in Alice Springs. It is a 450 km drive to the resort from Alice, and should take between 4 and 5 hours. There are petrol stations along the Stuart Highway and the Lasseter Highway.
Tip for the outback driving: Be sure to top off your tank when you can. The gas can look expensive, but it always beats a gas panic in the outback roads.
In addition, if you have an early flight from Alice Springs and plan to drive back in the morning, be sure to top off the day before, as fuel in Yulara is not open 24 hours – and they won’t be open if you leave pre-dawn.
To the south the nearest town is Coober Pedy. Take the Stuart Highway north to Erldunda, 550 km away. In case you’re planning, it’s also the closest lodging, and potty station, on your way to Adelaide.
From the west the Docker River Road ends near Kata Tjuta. As this road is considered part of the Gunbarrel Highway, you will find detailed information in that article.
Driving at night can be dangerous because of animals on the road, particularly kangaroos and cows (Lasseter Highway goes through cattle station land and is not fenced in all the way). Rental car agreements often prevent doing this drive outside daylight hours.
Ayers Rock (Connellan) airport is around 15km north of the rock, and services the resort town of Yulara. Both major carriers Qantas and Virgin Australia fly there. There are direct flights from Alice Springs, Cairns, Sydney, and Perth.
Many travellers also fly to Alice Springs and drive or take a tour from there, but it is well over 5 hours drive from Alice Springs to Yulara. Unlimited mileage car hire is not common in Alice Springs if you arrive and hire a car on the spot from the majors. Travel agents and the government tourist office do have access to unlimited milage rates.
Flights from Alice Springs cost around $135 upwards with Qantas.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – How to Visit
The big rocks are actually a little distance from Yulara, where the accommodation and facilities are. If you are not with a tour, or didn’t bring your car, you will need to decide how best to get to these locations. Hire cars can be expensive, and have limited kilometres; however shuttles to and from the rock are also expensive, so do the maths and see what works best for you.
Cars can be rented nearby at Ayers Rock/Connellan Airport or at Yulara. The roads around Uluru and Kata Tjuta are all sealed, paved and well-maintained so you dont require a 4wd. Vehicles drive on the left. Be aware of additional charges that may apply Including premium location or one way surcharge. Also ensure you book early so you are not disappointed.
AAT Kings , ph 03 9915 1500, fax 03 9820 4088, firstname.lastname@example.org. AAT Kings operate bus sightseeing tours of the park, including sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Tours range from $40 to $150.
Ayers Rock Tours . Many of the longer tours of the Ayers Rock Region depart and return to Alice Springs. Some will pick up at Ayers Rock but do not drop back at Ayers Rock. If you are wanting to do a 3 day or 5 day tour and experience the entire region it is best to start and finish in Alice Springs.
Uluru Express offers unlimited access to the Park from your choice of hotel for 2-days or 3-days at a cost of AU$170 or AU$195, respectively. This cost includes the admission fee to the Park. This is a great deal for those who wish to see all the attractions in the park at their own pace. Other trips are available. www.uluruexpress.com.au
What to see in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru — there is a fairly new (opened in 2009) sunrise viewing area. The area, “Talinguru Nyakuntjaku” (which means ‘place to look from the sand dune’)is on the Eastern side of Uluru. It gives you a raised viewing area, and you can also see Kata Tjuta to the side from the viewing point., and a sunset viewing point between the Kata Tjuta turn-off and the cultural centre. In addition, the area also has 1.6km of walking tracks, carpark, shade shelters, toilets and an area that can be used for concerts.
Kata Tjuta — also has a well-marked sunrise / sunset viewing point on the road leading to the domes.
The Cultural Centre — built in 1995 to mark the 10th anniversary of Handover (the process by which land was given back to the traditional owners, and Ayers Rock became Uluru). Its worth a visit before walking around Uluru as it hosts a multitude of aboriginal creation stories and extensive articles about the history of the Pitjantjara. There are shops where you can buy local art and souvenirs. It’s also a good place for a rest after trekking around Uluru.
What and where to eat in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
The Cultural Centre near Uluru offers surprisingly good – and often vegetarian-friendly – fast food for reasonable prices.
The Sounds Of Silence Dinner is an extremely popular – albeit expensive ($159 per adult) – night under the stars. Advance bookings (e.g. 3-4 days) are essential even in low seasons. Coaches take diners from Yulara to one of a few dining areas out in the desert. Champagne (or beer, upon request) are served while the sun goes down over Uluru and the inevitable didgeridoo plays. The clean, elegant dining area is lit by table lamps. The food is served buffet-style, but it’s cooked with the attention of a gourmet chef (considering the circumstances). Between the main course and dessert, a star talker guides you through the stars that are out that night, and telescopes are available afterward. There is also a camp fire in the winter. Reservations can be made at travel agents or the various tour offices around Yulara. Ostensibly, reservations can be made over the internet as well, but it’s a good idea to follow-up by phone, as coordination between the resort offices and the tour company are spotty at best.
Desert Awakenings, occasional available, is a breakfast version of the aforementioned Sounds of Silence. It includes a guided tour around the base of Uluru and ends at the Cultural Centre.
Where to sleep in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – from budget to best lodging
There is no accommodation inside the park, and no camping is permitted within the park boundaries.
Accommodation from 5-star to camping is available in at the resort village of Yulara, just outside the park boundary. See that article for details.
About an hour short of Yulara (coming from Alice Springs) is Curtin Springs Station , which offers free unpowered camping, and $25 per night for powered sites. They charge $2.50 for a shower. You can “bush camp”, but it’s not recommended.
If you are interested in Aboriginal culture, consider staying at Mt Ebenezer. It’s 200km to Uluru from here, so you won’t see sunrise, but it’s good for a night’s stop if you are late getting away from Alice or Uluru. Whilst the accommodation is relatively basic, it is one of only a few Aboriginal owned roadhouses in the Territory. Go out the back and you will see an art room for members of the local Imampa Community, and you can buy art directly from the artists. Don’t be put off by not being served by an Aboriginal person, this is due to their culture, but rest assured it is owned by the local community.