Alice Springs to Uluru
There are two popular ways to drive from Alice to Uluru: either via Glen Helen and Kings Canyon (allowing a couple of days at least, and you will need a 4x4), or directly along the Stuart and Lassiter Highways, via Erldunda. We were on a tight timeframe, so took the latter.
The first stage from Alice to Erldunda is an easy 2 hour drive along the Stuart Highway where you'll enjoy iconic red-centre geography, geology and flora. If you need to stop for a comfort break, snacks, beverages, meals, fuel, souvenirs etc, stop at the Erldunda Roadhouse, located at the intersection with the Lassiter Highway.
The most iconic geological feature you’ll see first on this route is Mt Conner - a 300m high, flat-topped, horseshoe-shaped inselberg, part of the same vast rocky substrate thought to be beneath Uluru and Kata-Tjuta. There’s a lookout on the highway with plenty of parking … and restrooms.
Funnily enough, it’s often confused with Uluru by unsuspecting visitors. It’s not hard to see why – you literally come over a rise, and there’s a HUGE rock formation dominating the horizon! You gasp and think to yourself ‘is that it?’ Then you realise it’s not! The locals find this endlessly amusing and have come up with another name for Mount Conner: Fooluru!
Don’t worry if you can’t stop on the way from Alice, it’s only about 100km highway driving east of Uluru on the Lassiter Highway – easy for a day trip after taking in an Uluru or Kata Tjuta sunrise.
Or head off early and take in a sunrise here, then enjoy a picnic breakfast/brunch. Or pack a picnic dinner and drive down the dirt road (the Mulga Park Road) for approx. 1km, you’ll get some awesome sunset photos of Mt Conner.
Be aware, Mt Conner is situated on a privately owned cattle station (Curtin Springs Station) and is not open to the public. The only way to visit it is to book a tour.
We were really surprised that we didn’t see much wildlife out there, but we did see one spectacular example of Mother Nature at her best! We’d pulled over to resolve issues with the music, and as I went to pull back onto the highway, I couldn’t believe that straight across the road from us were a pair of eagles feasting on some roadkill!
We quickly stopped and grabbed our cameras, and although the photos aren’t great (zoom lens + extreme excitement = shaky hands!!), I’m happy with how a few of them came out.
The female (left) took refuge in a nearby tree as soon as we got out of the car! The male (centre and right) was huge - check out his legs – don’t want them anywhere near me thank you!
So we made it to Yulara with plenty of time to check-in and freshen up before heading out for the sunset. As an amateur landscape photographer, I wasn’t leaving without those iconic shots!
If I had to describe Uluru, I’d say ‘awe inspiring’ – it literally dominates the surrounding landscape, and it was so much bigger than I had imagined.
If you’ve ever seen Uluru from the air, it’s hard to reconcile its unusual shape with the iconic dome profile everyone associates with it.
I got this shot when we flew over on our way to Broome in 2014. The pilot kindly circled Uluru for us which was much appreciated (well, for those on our side of the plane, that is!). Although cloudy, we managed to see the whole rock.
One way to really appreciate not only how large it is, but that it’s not just a plain rock, is to take a bike ride or walk around the base. The Base Path is a flat, marked dirt path and is shared by walkers and riders alike. The walk can be completed in around 3.5 hours.
We hired our bikes from Outback Cycling which is conveniently located near the Cultural Centre and has a range of bikes and options available, including adult and children’s bikes, toddler seats and tag-a-longs. Be sure to check the information on their website to make sure they have everything you need.
Although the bike ride was a bit challenging for me, even with many rest and photo stops, we made it around the base well within the 3 hour bike hire time … and we all really enjoyed it! Well worth doing and I highly recommend it. The track around the base is 10.6km, however, it’s a 4km round trip from Outback Cycling to the base path, so say 15km all up. You’ll be amazed at what you see when you get up close and personal!
There are information signs identifying areas of significance all along the route. There are sections around the rock designated as culturally or spiritually sensitive where photography is forbidden. Please observe the signs and respect the traditional owners.
Of course, everyone who visits really wants to see those iconic sunrises or sunsets. We saw both at Uluru and a beautiful sunrise at Kata-Tjuta. I know it might sound cliché, but the changing colours have to be seen to be believed.
Some interesting Uluru facts
- The ancient monolith was created over some 600 million years
- It originally sat at the bottom of a sea
- The bulk of it is underground
- Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the biggest monolith in the world (that honour is held by Mount Augustus in WA)
- How big is Uluru?
- 348 metres (1141 feet) high
- 863 metres (2831 feet) above sea level
- 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long
- 1.9 km (1.2 miles) wide
- 9.4 km (5.8 miles) around its base
- Covers 3.33 km2 (1.29 miles2)
- Extends several km/miles underground (no-one knows exactly how far)
These spectacular birds-eye views of Uluru, offering a never before seen perspective of the 600 million year old monolith, were captured by the first drone to ever operate under permit inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru is the tip of a huge rock that continues below the ground for possibly 5-6km. Copyright: Ayers Rock Resort
Only 35km west of Uluru is its companion, Kata-Tjuta, a collection of monoliths rather than a single entity. It is often seen in the distance when viewing Uluru. I really didn’t realise how close this geological marvel was to Uluru so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to visit and photograph it.
Also known as the Olgas, Kata-Tjuta (which means ‘many heads’ in the local language) is comprised of 36 steep sandstone monoliths. There are only two walking trails open today out of respect for the delicate nature of the area and the spiritual significance to the local Anangu people:
- Walpa Gorge walk, an easy 2.6km stroll where you’ll enjoy the native wildlife and plants of the park
- The Valley of the Winds walk, an easy-going 7km walk boasting a couple of magnificent lookout points [best started early, as it takes about three hours to complete at a medium pace]
Thanks to Max from Southern Cross Printing for allowing me to share his photo as we didn’t get to the Kata-Tjuta sunset viewing area. It’s on the list for next time though.
- Kata-Tjuta is considered sacred under Tjukurpa and Anangu men’s law.
- It is almost 200m higher above sea level at its highest point than Uluru.
- The formation in its entirety is believed to have originated from one monolith!
The Uluru/Kata-Tjuta Experience!
There are quite a number of ways to experience Uluru and Kata-Tjuta!
- Sunrise and Sunset (when they are at their most spectacular) from dedicated viewing areas (please observe signs and guidelines)
- Guided tours
- Self paced walks
- State Road 4 circles Uluru, but be aware there are only a few places to stop. Great way to see the rock if you have very little time. Remember to observe no photo sites.
- Drive along the Lassiter Highway and Uluru keeps popping into view
- Scenic flight
- Hot air balloon
- Camel ride
Field of Light
The Field of Light art installation by artist Bruce Munro, has come ‘home’ to the place that inspired it - Uluru. More than 50,000 slender stems crowned with frosted-glass spheres bloom as darkness falls over Australia’s spiritual heartland.
Pathways guide visitors through the installation, which comes to life as the sun sets under a star-filled sky. The installation, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku (‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara), will be in place until the end of March 2017.
I strongly recommend pre-booking your Field of Light tour prior to arrival as spaces are limited and tours sell out nightly. The exhibition is in a remote location and is not accessible except with a booked tour.
A few things to be aware of:
- No tripods are allowed on the pathways among the Field of Light, although are allowed at the elevated viewing area.
- It is quite dark once you’re walking along the pathways at night – take your time and keep an eye out for others.
- Stay on the pathways – this is for your safety as well as the protection of the installation.
Beyond the Rock
Because the best times of day to view and photograph Uluru and Kata-Tjuta are sunrise and sunset, you’ll have a whole lot of day time left to travel a little further afield and explore this amazing part of our country.
Here are a coupe of links where I found some great ideas for exploring the Red Centre:
- Traveller: Other Things to do in the Region Beyond the Rock
- Australia Backpackers Guide: 10 Must Sees in Australia’s Red Centre
Hints & Tips
A few things to keep in mind when visiting Uluru and Kata-Tjuta:
- You must buy a visitors pass to enter the National Park (and the viewing platforms and areas are within the Park).
- If you are a solo traveller, all the designated viewing areas in the Park are very well frequented, especially at sunrise and sunset – you will not be out there alone! In fact, groups are transported in by the coach load. During the day though, it’s another matter! Take care.
- If you want to capture images without the hordes of visitors at sunrise and sunset:
- Reconnoitre the viewing areas to find vantage points that suit you, but be prepared that someone may beat you there! Have options.
- Get to your location early and get up close and personal with any fencing or boundary – believe me when I say that people will try and push in front of you to get their shots.
- If there are designated walking paths away from viewing platforms, these may offer the best vantage points, but please respect the environment
- You can’t just stop at the side of the road within the National Park, you can only park in designated areas – please respect that there are cultural and environmental reasons for this.
- Other visitors are there for the same reason you are, please consider that they don’t want you in their shot as much as you don’t want them in yours! Take your shot and move aside.
- Be aware that there are often professional photographers at the viewing areas who more than likely got there over an hour before the sunrise or sunset to secure a specific vantage point; don’t turn up right on sunrise or sunset and expect them to move aside. There are plenty of spots for everyone to get great photos.
- Climbing Uluru: although a popular activity for visitors, the local Anangu request that visitors do not climb the rock. If you do choose to climb, please make sure you are fit enough, well informed, properly prepared, observe all signage or guidelines, and respect the cultural significance of the rock to the Anangu people. The track will be closed without warning under certain circumstances, ie weather, visibility or cultural events.
- Mobile phone reception is intermittent or non-existent once you leave Yulara. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, especially if venturing out alone.
- Commercial Image Use: Be aware that if you intend using photos for commercial or promotional purposes, you must apply for and be granted an image use permit. Click here for more information.
It's hard to believe we were only out there for 4 days, isn't it? We certainly packed a lot in, but next time we will definitely stay longer and venture further afield!