Despite having visited over 40 countries (and counting!) there are many places around Australia I still haven’t visited yet. You could say I’m a bad domestic tourist. But thanks to Jetstar I recently got to tick The Great Barrier Reef off my bucket list, and now I was finally going to head to the red centre and experience Uluru!
Uluru is a notoriously expensive destination, but to keep costs down we booked for a long weekend away and crammed as much as we could into 2.5 days! If you are careful with your planning and book all the activities ahead of time, you can ensure to see all the best Uluru has to offer in a short amount of time. We visited Uluru at sunrise and sunset, enjoyed the Sounds of Silence dinner, checked out the Field of Lights art installation and explored Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It was a busy long weekend but an unforgettable experience.
The only thing we missed out on which I would have liked to do is The Uluru Base Walk. As the Aboriginal people prefer you not to climb Uluru (for a variety of reasons including spiritual and environmental), the base walk is a great way to encounter the rock up close and personal. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to fit this in, and to be honest with the 40 degree heat I wasn’t too keen on doing it in the warmer months anyway!
How to Get There
Jetstar operates daily flights to Ayers Rock Airport from Sydney and Melbourne. They will also operate three flights per week from Brisbane to Uluru starting from 3 August 2018. Our flight took 3.5 hours from Sydney and we were met by a complimentary shuttle bus to take us to Ayers Rock Resort, which took around 10 minutes.
Hot tip: make sure you book yourself a window seat so you can get your first view of Uluru from the air!
When to Go
We visited Uluru at the beginning of March, and it was still stinking hot (40°C everyday) and the flies were extreme! Because of this I would recommend avoiding the Red Centre in the warmer months and aim for April/May or September/October to make the most of moderate temperatures. Winter is also a popular time to visit, however you must bear in mind that temperatures reach near freezing at night, so pack your woolies!
If you do go in Summer, I highly recommend purchasing a face fly net in town. You will look such as ridiculous as we did.
Where to Stay
Accommodation options are limited in Uluru, and it appears that all the hotels are owned by the same corporation meaning finding a competitive and cheap deal is tough! Here are my suggestions:
Budget – Outback Pioneer Lodge
If you want to see Uluru on a budget, your options are very limited. If camping is not your thing, then try the Outback Pioneer Lodge. Prices at this no-frills hostel start from $38/night for a bed in a 20 person dorm and from $46/night for a bed in 4 bed room. It’s a great place to meet fellow young travellers and there is a fun do-it-yourself Outback BBQ and a bar onsite.
Mid-range – Emu Walk Apartments
The serviced apartments at Emu Walk are perfect if you’re travelling with family or a group of friends. There are 1 and 2 bedroom options available which both come with well equipped kitchens for you to prepare food in. The IGA Supermarket is a short walk away and is the perfect place to stock up on supplies.
High-end – Sails in the Desert
Sails is where we ended up staying, and for $440/night it certainly isn’t cheap – that rate doesn’t even include breakfast! Despite the eye-watering price, the luxurious rooms are spacious and adorned with local indigenous art, the service is excellent and the swimming pool is a welcome relief from the oppressive heat. I’ve heard great things about the on-site restaurant called Ilkari, but the high prices meant we looked elsewhere for sustenance.
What to Do
Sounds of Silence dinner
This really is a once in a lifetime experience, partly because it’s so incredible and partly because it’s so expensive (I promise I’ll stop complaining about the prices soon!) Firstly the good stuff – the food was delicious, the company was great, the service impeccable and the unlimited drinks on offer was very welcome. I really enjoyed the star-gazing portion of the night too.
As for the not so good part – at $210pp I must admit I was surprised it was a buffet dinner with everything served in bain-maries. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate, it wasn’t mind blowing for the price we paid. My second issue was that we were really far away from Uluru. Sure we could see it, but it was so much further away than implied in the marketing materials.
Uluru Sunrise tour
This was my favourite part of our entire weekend. Sure waking up at 4.30am wasn’t the most fun, but seeing the sun slowly rise over Uluru brought a tear to my eye and is an experience I’ll never forget.
Unsurprisingly, this is a very popular event, so you will be sharing this moment with hundreds of your closest friends. Most people race to the 2 main viewing platforms to jostle for a spot (which I did at first) but after a while I wandered along the dirt path closer to the rock and got a much better vantage point, without the crowds!
Visit Kata Tjuta
The Olgas are often thought of as Uluru’s forgotten sister, which is unfortunate as these huge rocks are just as impressive as Uluru, if not more! We tacked on a Kata Tjuta tour with our Uluru Sunrise tour which was perfect for us as we were short on time. We were taken by bus from the rock to Walpa Gorge (located within Kata Tjuta) which took about 45 minutes, and we got to observe these rocks up close and do a walking tour through the gorge. We were also taken to a viewing platform where we got to admire Kata Tjuta in its entirety from the southern side.
Bush Food Experience
The Bush Food Experience is one of the free daily activities put on by the resort and runs from 1-1.45pm. I booked this experience ahead of time, but it looked like a lot of people just turned up. Our local indigenous guide was funny and informative and I loved learning about the local native bush foods and traditional food preparation methods. He also did a cooking demonstration and made some wattleseed cookies which we got to sample (they were delicious!)
Ecology & Museum Tour
This is also one of the free daily activities, and I loved exploring Wintjiri museum and learning more about the Aboriginal culture, flora and fauna. We learned about the region’s unique history, how tourism started and transformed Uluru and some of the weird and wonderful animals that are indigenous to this area.
Experience the Field of Light
The Field of Light is an art installation of 50,00 stemmed lights dotted across the desert and is truly a sight to be seen. Make sure you book this tour ahead of time as spaces are limited and it often sells out. The cheapest way to view Bruce Munro’s award-winning art installation is to buy a “Field of Light Pass Departure” and there are 3 options, each from $42/adult.
Departure One leaves 30 minutes before sunset, so make sure you double check when your bus is leaving as they won’t wait for you! This basic pass includes a return hotel pick-up via bus and a self-guided walk through the Field of Light after dark. There is also a Star Pass option from $90/adult which gives you access to the installation at sunset and includes drinks and canapés.
Where to Eat
I’m not going to lie, the food in Uluru was generally of poor quality and was expensive. We had a light lunch at Kulata Academy which is an Indigenous training cafe. I loved the premise of this cafe, and the spinach and cheese roll was quite tasty, but the salad was lack lustre. We also had a meal at Gecko’s Cafe, I had the ribs which were overly sweet and fatty and I left most of it behind.
My top tip for eating on a budget in Uluru is to head straight to the IGA supermarket and stock up on supplies for your stay. We bought bread, pastries, cheese, ham and fruit and got a fair few breakfasts and lunches out of those items. Another meal I rather enjoyed was the Outback DIY BBQ located at the Outback Pioneer Lodge. You got to buy a slab of meat and cook it yourself on the communal BBQs, and then help yourself to their buffet of sides such as potatoes, salad and bread rolls. It was a delicious and affordable meal.
A huge thanks to Jetstar for helping out with this bucket list-worthy trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned for my next Uluru post!
Have you been to Outback Australia before?
Love Swah + 1 flew to Uluru as a guest of Jetstar. All thoughts and opinions are my own.