Uluru/Ayers Rock is one of Australia’s most iconic sights. In fact, a picture of Uluru is like a synonym for Australia and of course it ranks high on any traveler’s bucket list. But is it really the greatest sight in the country? The one place you absolutely have to see if you’re going to Australia?
A long drive from anywhere
Driving towards Uluru on the Lasseter Highway, the first mountain you see is Mount Conner. It’s an impressive sight and probably every first time visitor to Uluru goes “Whoa, look, Uluru!” (Moment of silence) “Er, no, wait, that’s not Uluru”. That’s the advantage of having seen so many pictures of the famous mountain; you can tell which one it is almost immediately. Uluru or not, it’s worth stopping at the lookout point for Mount Conner because, apart from great views of the huge mountain, opposite the car park a short trail (not really visible but just assume it’s there) through sand dunes leads to a salt lake.
The closer it gets to sunset, the faster people drive to be there in time to watch the sun go down and paint the orange mountain red. It’s a long, long drive from either Alice Springs or Kings Canyon so most people arrive in the late afternoon, purchase the entry ticket (valid for three days) and head straight to the sunset spot. Sunset and sunrise spots for Uluru and Kata Tjuta are marked on the small map you get with the entrance ticket and you may find it a bit uncool to go to these designated spots but, in fact, they’re really great spots. And, of course, they’re accessible by car (because forget about walking, the sites are huge).
Watching the sun set and paint Uluru red while the surrounding plain goes dark is a must do. While some people take out their camping chairs and enjoy the sunset with a snack and a bottle of beer or a glass of champagne in hand, others rush around to find the best angle for the sunset picture (needless to say which group we belong to). Even though there are not many trees and certainly no other mountains obstructing the view, taking a photo isn’t that easy; the shadows grow long and longer and keep creeping into the picture. The sunset isn’t spectacular, on most days there are no clouds and the sky just goes dark, but it’s beautiful to see how the mountain glows orange-red when everything else has already lost color.
Getting up for sunrise
It’s spring and the nights are very cold (we slept with caps and jackets on) and getting up before sunrise in that fridge the van turns into at night is hard. Very hard. We only managed to go watch the sunrise once, at Kata Tjuta. What we didn’t know and what came as a very pleasant surprise, was that from there (from the designated sunrise spot of course) you can see Uluru as well. At the time we were there, the sun rose exactly behind Uluru and, as you can imagine, that looked absolutely stunning.
A walk around the rock
To learn more about Uluru, its significance to the local Aboriginals, and their culture we wanted to join the daily ranger guided walk. After finding the last available parking spot (what’s it like here in peak season?) and seeing how many people had already gathered for the walk, we reckoned we wouldn’t hear much of the talk anyway and decided not to join and do the 10 km base walk around Uluru instead.
On both the northern and the southern side there are short and very worthwhile detours to waterholes. In the otherwise desertlike environment, the waterholes are a very important source of water for both humans and animals and are home to a variety of plants. Signs tell interesting stories and facts about Aboriginal culture and life around the rock and there are several sites with rock paintings. The walk is nice, especially the part on the southern side of Uluru. However, it’s all flat and can get a bit boring. We preferred the walk around Kata Tjuta, which is much more interesting, at least what in terms of the trail and the views.
So, is Uluru really THE sight in Australia? Probably not. There are lots of other stunning sights and places in this huge and diverse country. But it surely is a great place and absolutely worth visiting, and it’s not only the huge rock – it’s much bigger than we’d imagined – that makes this place so unique. It’s also its location far away from anything, its cultural significance, and the surrounding landscape.