There’s no doubt that one of Australia’s real highlights is its centre. With the outback town Alice Springs somewhat roughly in the middle of this amazing land, I can say it genuinely was the most interesting and worthwhile place I’ve visited in my own country. It has a beauty all of its own, with wide open spaces, desert, canyons and so much more.
And of course, when most people think of Australia’s Red Centre, they think of Uluru, also known by its ‘not-very-politically-correct’ name of Ayer’s Rock, and that name comes from the white guy who stumbled upon it one day and declared he discovered it.
Today, thankfully, there is better acknowledgement of its importance to indigenous Australians. I visited it over ten years ago. It was up to the visitor whether they wanted to climb it back then. I had chosen not to, however they close it on days over a certain temperature, and on the day I was there it was 36 degrees and too hot to climb, so the decision was taken away from me and the others in my tour group. They are about to or have just closed Uluru for climbers completely. I saw a photo the other day of flocks of people climbing the rock as it was their last chance to do so. So now the choice has been taken out of the hands of the visitors completely. Personally, I understand that it’s of great significance to the first Australians, and I am happy that those wishes for people not to climb it are being respected.
Getting to Alice Springs is not so hard. The Ghan passes through it, and there are buses as well. It is not true though that Uluru is basically next door to Alice. In fact, it’s just under 470km between the two.
I think the best way to see Uluru from Alice is on a short tour. For the backpacker you will find plenty of options for visiting the rock on a couple of nights tour from Alice Springs. This is what I did back in 2008, and similar tours are available today.
They usually include a few things, including two night’s accommodation and a visit (with hike) to King’s Canyon and Kata Tjuta – also known as the Olgas. The night before we went to Uluru we slept under the stars, in the desert (in a designated camping ground) which incidentally is one of my favourite ways to spend a night when travelling. I’ve also done it in Jordan and India, the sky is brilliant and so is the experience!
Having said all that, there is plenty of accommodation around Uluru, and buses there and back, and I think if you have your own vehicle, it’s a pretty good option too. And probably I might prefer that today as I’m older and I prefer to march to beat of my own drum.
Tours of course like to get you up before the crack of dawn whenever they can. That was my experience with Galapagos, out of nine mornings I think only one were we able to rise after 630 – 7am. And I am NOT a morning person. However, you know, in a place like Uluru, it’s the sort of place you want to see the sunrise.
I remember we were all woken up with it still fully night, hopped into our mini-van and then transported to the side of the highway which was regarded as the best place to see the rock at sunrise. And no, we were not the only ones there, even if we were one of the first. There was a rush to get there before the best spots were taken I recall.
And slowly but surely the sun rose over Uluru for some great shots. I mean, my camera in 2008 was far inferior to what I use today, just a simply point and shoot digital, but still, it was a fine scene indeed.
Although climbing the rock may be a thing of the past, it’s base has a track all the way around it which is just under 10km in total distance. We did about half of it from memory. We stopped at points of significance such as Indigenous drawings on the rock itself. I think it’s really important to have someone with local/Indigenous knowledge to inform you when there.
It’s a five-hour drive back to Alice Springs, I remember we stopped at a HUGE souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere. I also remember, sadly, that I left my favourite hat there which I have never been able to replace. Sigh.
How is Alice Springs? It’s a dry and dusty town with a population of around 25,000. It has a grid-like layout, and there are a few pubs and places to eat, and a few backpackers. I went to the Telegraph Station which is on a ‘historical reserve’. There are number of nearby national parks and places to visit, a transport museum, a gorge, and if I go back, I might just visit some of them!
There are a number of cultural (indigenous) art galleries too. Flights are available from state capitals and probably a couple of other places also – so you are not committed to get there by land by any means at all. In fact, air is the most logical option as it’s really out there on its own. The weather in the winter months June to August is the coolest. It was already mid to high thirties in October for me, and you can add up to ten or more degrees for summer. Today the forecast is for 26 degrees as a maximum, but down to 17 degrees on Saturday with a nighttime low of MINUS 1!
Thanks for stopping by today. May the Journey Never End