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As the bus sped along, often reaching speeds of 120km/h, all I could see on either side of me was red dirt. This was the second day of our Uluru tour to see the elusive Ayers Rock (or Uluru as the Australian Aboriginals refer to it) and the air conditioning in our minibus was still not working.

I looked in the direction of my mother and I could see that even she, a self-professed warm climate junky, was not enjoying the 40°C+ inside the bus. The mood on the bus was rather somber.

Uluru tour: Outback road
Outback road

After going through day one of our journey without air conditioning, we had been told that we would switch vehicles with the other group for the second day. Needless to say, we never did.

Just as I was starting to nod off I heard the tour guide Aaron speak up “We’re almost there guys, if you look out the right side there in the distance you will see Uluru”.

We were finally here, and what a grand sight it was.

Uluru tour: Uluru in the distance
Uluru in the distance

Quick Uluru Facts

Many consider Uluru the 8th natural wonder of the world.

Uluru is located in the middle of the Australian outback near the geographical center of the continent. It is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The red rock monolith and surrounding area are considered sacred to the native aboriginal peoples.

Uluru is almost 350 meters above sea level and 3.6 long making it higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Its base reaches about 2.5 km underground.

Our Uluru Tour

It was back in 2010 when my mother and I had decided to see Uluru last minute. We were originally planning on going up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, but a last-minute cyclone in the area forced us to come up with a Plan B.

We found a good return flight from Cairns to Alice Springs (convenient, considering that we already had a flight to Cairns) and decided that an Uluru tour was meant to be.

Uluru tour: Uluru otherwise known as Ayers Rock
Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock

In our rush to find a last minute itinerary, we stumbled upon a tour company called The Rock Tour. The company offers trips ranging from a single day Uluru tours, all the way up to 30-day tours of the outback.

We contacted their offices a few days before and scored a 3-day/ 2-night Uluru tour from Alice Springs and back.

ULURU TOUR DAY 1

Our day began at 5 am, and by 5:30 am we were lumbering onto our Uluru tour minibus. Our first stop, 5.5 hours later, was Kings Canyon, part of the Watarrka National Park which sits on the western edge of the George Gill Range.

Here we got to enjoy a guided 3.5-hour hike through the sandstone domes of the Lost City, visiting natural Amphitheatres, the North & South Walls, and the beautiful Garden of Eden.

Throughout the hike I stuck to the front of the group, walking alongside our guide Aaron who shared Uluru facts, plus the history and stories of the land. It definitely made the trip pass by quickly.

Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park by Claudio Jofré Larenas via Flickr CC
Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park by Claudio Jofré Larenas via Flickr CC

Beware of Black Flies!

Before I continue, I thought I would mention the black flies. Oh man, the black files.

I had experienced black flies before while working at a camp north of Toronto. But the black flies in the Northern Territory were on a whole new level and blackfly nets were a must (later we discovered the same is true for Western Australia).

If there is one thing you need to bring on an Uluru tour, it is a blackfly net.

Max with black fly net on The Rock Tour. Uluru. Northern Territory. Australia
Max and crew sporting black fly net on The Rock Tour in Uluru

After the hike at Kings Canyon, we were off on the bus again heading towards Curtin Springs, our Uluru camping spot for the night. It was at this point that we discovered that our minibus air conditioning has decided to not come along for our Uluru tour.

The heat was unbearable, I would wager it was north of 40°C and opening a window only meant that the hot air hit your face harder. Everyone on the bus was complaining. It was decided that we would switch buses with the sister group the following day.

We had a quick wash and toilet stop at the Curtin Springs cattle station before setting up our Bush Camp. We all relaxed around the fire while our guide prepared a healthy camp-oven dinner. After trading stories, it was time for bed and to tuck into our swags (a combination of a mattress and sleeping bag that is common in Australia.)

Max and the guys on The Rock Tour to Uluru. Norther Territory. Australia
Max and the guys on The Rock Tour to Uluru

ULURU TOUR DAY 2

On day 2 we took off shortly after sunrise heading towards the Ayers Rock Campground for a quick shower and toilet stop before making our way to The Olgas. A group of rock formations rising out of the desert.

It was at this point that we first got to glance at the marvelous site of Uluru. But Uluru was not until day 3, up first was a guided walk through to the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta.

Uluru Tour: The Olgas
The Olgas

It is at this point in the journey that we were meant to switch buses with the other group. Needless to say that never happened, a few fake heat strokes later and the leaders of the tour didn’t want to deal with the other bus revolting over having to switch.

After the morning hike, we headed off to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre where we listened to tales from the ‘Tjukurpa’ Dreamtime.

Uluru Sunset

We spent the evening enjoying dinner and a spectacular Uluru sunset and were treated to one of the rarest sights possible, lightning over the rock. I wish I had a great photo to share, but since this was many years back when I was still shooting with a point and shoot, I simply couldn’t capture the sight.

Nonetheless, an Uluru sunset is a must-do, lightning or not! Watching the sky light up behind Uluru rock is an unforgettable experience.

Lightning over Uluru (Ayers Rock), NT, Australia.- Photo by Christoph Schaarschmidt.
Enjoy this photo by Christoph Schaarschmidt instead! Lightning over Uluru (Ayers Rock).

We spent that night at the Ayers Rock Campground.

ULURU TOUR DAY 3

Day 3 was THE BIG DAY, the day we got to visit and walk around Uluru. Several people in our group suggested that we climb the monolith. However, our guide discouraged everyone from doing so after explaining it was sacred to the local Anangu peoples.

In the Anangu indigenous culture, ancestral beings live on in sacred places like Uluru. So instead, our group did the Uluru Base Walk.

Uluru tour: Uluru up-close
Uluru up-close

The walk was approximately 10 km and took us around 3 hours to complete at a leisurely pace, snapping pictures and soaking in more stories and Uluru facts from Aaron.

Along the way, we got to see several beautiful spots alongside the rock including the Mala Walk, Mutitjulu Waterhole, and a few Aboriginal cave paintings.

Mutitjulu Waterhole by Robyn Jay via Flickr CC
Mutitjulu Waterhole by Robyn Jay via Flickr CC

After the base walk, it was back to the sticky and hot bus for the 6.5-hour ride back to Alice Springs. There was plenty of time to sit back and reflect on the trip.

Our Uluru tour and particularly our amazing guide made for a fantastic trip!

Max and The Rock Tour group at Uluru. 2010. Australia
Max and The Rock Tour group at Uluru. 2010

If anyone is wondering whether they should jump on a plane and head out to see this unique rock in the middle of the desert, we would say go for it!

You only live once and you have the opportunity to learn a lot about the aboriginal culture that you may not get elsewhere.

General Travel Info

Getting There

Uluru is located 450 km by road from Alice Springs, the only city with a large airport nearby. Some people fly straight into the Ayers Rock airport, but these flights can often be double or more than the cost of flying into Alice Springs. From Alice Springs, Uluru tours are abundant.

Flights are available from most major cities in Australia into Alice Springs. For the best prices on airfare book with a budget airline like Jetstar and Scoot Airways, instead of the full-service airlines like Qantas and Virgin.

Uluru Tour: Just outside of Alice Springs
Just outside of Alice Springs

Alternatively, Webjet.com.au is a great place to search for domestic flights in Australia. For more Australian travel tips click here.

You can choose to drive to Alice Springs or Uluru but, trust us, it is going to be a long drive and should only be attempted by those that have PLENTY of time. Think more than 30 hours from Sydney, or over 25 hours from Melbourne to Uluru.

Getting Around

Visiting Uluru is best done with a tour. Particularly because your guide will give you insight into the lives of the local community and history that you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. It makes the trip really special.

There are plenty of operators in the area but if you want to book the same 3 day/ 2 night Uluru tour with The Rock Tour that we did then click here.

Most tour operators offer a visit similar itinerary to the one that we did with The Rock Tour. Alternatively, tours start and finish at Uluru rather than in Alice Springs, or there are 1-day tours from Uluru.

Uluru Tours: Rock Tour bus hauling everyones gear. Photo by the Rock Tours.
The Rock Tour bus hauling everyone’s gear. Photo by the Rock Tours.

As advocates for sustainable travel, we always urge readers to choose sustainable tour operators when traveling. Responsible tour operators offer similar options to other tour companies but will incorporate a lot of the general principles of ecotourism into their mission. They will make the environment and local community a priority and involve themselves (economically, socially, and culturally) in the town or country they are located.

In the case of Uluru, responsible tour operators urge clients not to climb the rock and generally make every effort to respect the environment and its cultural history.

Where to Stay

Accommodation is few and far between in Uluru. There are no Uluru resorts, instead, camping and Uluru hotels are common accommodation options near the sacred rock formation. Always book your Uluru hotels in advance.

Uluru Hotels

Sails in the Desert is among the best Uluru hotels. They offer modern, upscale rooms and they are located just a five-minute walk from the Uluru lookout, which is a great place to enjoy an Uluru sunset. There is a pool, tennis courts, and a spa on-site.

Uluru hotels: Room at Sails in the Desert. Photo by Sails in the Desert.
Room at Sails in the Desert. Photo by Sails in the Desert.

The Lost Camel Hotel offers clean, air-conditioned accommodation close to Uluru. There is a communal pool, tennis courts and bus service available.

Uluru hotels: The Lost Camel. Photo by The Lost Camel.
The Lost Camel. Photo by The Lost Camel.

Outback Pioneer Lodge is among the only Uluru hotels that offer dormitory style accommodation as well as private rooms. The basic accommodation offers a shared kitchen, BBQ facilities, and a pool.

Uluru Hotels: Exterior of the Outback Pioneer near Uluru. Photo by the Outback Pioneer.
The exterior of the Outback Pioneer near Uluru. Photo by the Outback Pioneer.

BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget travel insurance

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Australia. Whether you just plan to explore the cities, do a little bit of hiking, or go extreme (think surfing, scuba diving, or ever skydiving), being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.

Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

Have you visited Uluru before? Would you recommend it to other travelers?

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Uluru (Ayers Rock) Tour - A journey to the middle of a desert

Disclaimer: The Rock Tour generously hosted my mother and I on this 3 day/2 night tour, but the opinion is as always my own.

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Wallaby at Granite Gorge National Park in Atherton Tablelands, Cairns

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