Rising from nowhere, the massive sandstone Uluru is a symbol of Australia. I would see it almost every day on the cover of my Lonely Planet: I had to go and check it out. I joined a bus tour from Alice Springs to Uluru and around the Red Centre to explore the must-see in the region.
Although it is in a desert area, it is easy to reach Uluru by flying to Ayers Rock airport or Alice Springs. Hence, this trip can be made on a weekend trip from capital cities of Australia. I highly recommend to visit more of the Kata Tjuta National Park and go to the Olgas. If you have time to add an extra day to your weekend, I loved exploring Kings Canyon (300 km from Alice Springs). From my experience, you can skip Alice Springs with no regrets and fly directly to Uluru if your budget allows it.
I wrote this article below after exploring the Red Centre for three days with the Rock Tour in December 2010. The tour was cheap, and I was a broke backpacker/student. Hence, I had low expectations regarding food and comfort. You’ll find many different kinds of trips to choose from on TripAdvisor*. Browse the reviews to ensure it matches your needs!
If you plan to drive from Alice Springs to Uluru yourself, please note that you’ll need a different itinerary if you have a 4WD or not and driving time can vary. We were in a 4WD for this tour. Make sure you don’t drive at night as it’s hazardous because of the wildlife. You’ll see many cattle, camels and kangaroos.
Arrival in Alice Springs
I had no pleasure exploring Alice Springs and the place kind of made me sad. Yet, it was an interesting place to see to understand a bit better Australia and the Aboriginal history, and challenges. But maybe I didn’t spend enough time researching about things to do in Alice Springs. If you have planned to spend time there, you’ll find many Aboriginal art galleries and museums, and a few sites to visit nearby.
Day 1: Alice Springs to Kings Canyon
We didn’t go from Alice Springs to Uluru directly but took a detour to explore Kings Canyon. We reached Kings Canyon after 5 hours in the van. It was already lunchtime, and the dry heat was at its peak. Not the best time to hike. Well, according to the guide, we were lucky as it was only 42°C. I read that many tourists suffer from heat exhaustion while visiting this region, so make sure you stay hydrated, you fill up your water bottles every chance you get and have a hat.
We walked the 7km Kings Canyon Rim loop. It took us around 4 hours to complete it, and this was not an easy walk. The access can be restricted in case of hot weather, and it is highly recommended to do it early in the day. Indeed, the midday summer heat and the 3L water (1L for each hour of walking is the rule) would make any exercise challenging. And this walk begins with a steep climb (called “Heart Attack Hill” by the locals) to the top of the Canyon! Up there, the view of the gorge and its surroundings are stunning, and it is worth all the efforts. The walls are 100 meters high and it was my first time in such a big canyon, I was overwhelmed. The walk in the canyon gets much more relaxed after the climb, hiking around the maze of sand domes and massive cliffs.
We then drove again to reach our camp in the middle of nowhere. Some of us lit the fire while others were preparing the food, and we all had a nice moment at the dinner around the fire.
We slept under the star, in a swag, and it is maybe my best memory of this trip… The sky full of stars at night. I had never imagined it was possible to see such a sky with that many bright stars with just my human eyes. Stunning. It was hard to close my eyes; I could have watched the stars all night long. But we had a big day and the next days were promising too, so I finally fell asleep!
Day 2: Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park
We woke up with the sunrise to drive to the Olgas.
We did the Valley of the Winds Walk. It took us around 4 hours. Although it was not as challenging as the one in Kings Canyon, it is not flat and still required again to fight the heat and carry 3L of water per person. A big sign recommends not to start the walk after 11 am due to extreme weather.
After the hike, we went to the Cultural Center, at Uluru. It shows the basics about the Aboriginal culture: their way of life, their connection to Nature, their beliefs, their stories… It is an excellent start to learn about one of the world’s oldest living cultures and open our mind to an entirely different system of society.
The short walk we did after that was perfect to “put it into practice” our recent learnings. Our guide shared with us his knowledge of this culture, telling us stories… and History. All this touched me a lot. This culture is remarkably wealthy. Colonisation is a complicated topic, and it is sad how the destruction of a culture often happen (taking a territory and destroying the culture and the people living there before). Australia has a recent History, and many facts happened only around 50 years ago. The dodgy atmosphere in Alice Springs, with drunk Aborigines wandering the streets like zombies, made more sense suddenly considering what they have been through, taken away from their culture, their lands and from all, they knew to be put into an entirely different model.
I am so glad the country has recently reacted to it (there was a referendum to give back to Aborigines their land – even if there are some conditions… It is still better than putting them into camps – and the Prime Minister’s excuses about what happened are examples of a step forward). Our guide gave us many hints to explore more about it and made me think a lot about my own society and the way we live. It is not the only model, and I hope other models can cohabit together because it is so wealthy to learn from them as well.
Finally, that is what made Uluru so special to me. I did not find the rock itself more impressive than the Olgas but learning about the aboriginal culture, and the stories around it made it very special. This is why I would highly recommend hiring a guide for this visit.
We then watched the sunset on Uluru. The changing colours were gorgeous.
Day 3: Uluru
We woke up very early to have breakfast while watching the sunrise on Uluru.
It is usually possible to choose to climb Uluru, even if it is not recommended because Aborigines ask people not to do it. Uluru is for them a sacred place and climbing it is an offence to their culture. Moreover, due to the extreme weather, the climb is dangerous, and there often are injuries or deaths. After the moving talk from our guide the day before about respecting the Aborigines’ wishes, I did not feel at all the envy to climb it. Anyway, on the day we were there, the climb was closed because of the wind, and I was glad to avoid the debates in the group.
If you want an extraordinary experience at Uluru, rather than climbing it, why not taking a helicopter flight? It looks fantastic from up there!
We did the 8-kilometre walk around the big rock. It was easier than the two other walks we did during this tour as it is always flat. Uluru is an important symbol of Australia, and it is great to see it, but the walk itself is repetitive, and I preferred the landscapes from the Olgas and Kings Canyon.
It takes six hours to drive from Alice Springs to Uluru.
Where is this itinerary from Alice Springs to Uluru?
Uluru is in the desert area in the middle of Australia, between Adelaide and Darwin, to the south of the Northern Territory state.
Did you like this post? Add it to your Pinterest board:
Eloise lives in Brisbane (Australia), but you won’t find her often in the city. When she is not disconnected underwater or in a national park, she loves sharing her travel tips and inspiring her readers to take care of our beautiful planet. She considers every weekend as a two-day holiday break. Her approach: you don’t always need to go far to travel. Still, she also enjoys exploring the world and discovering new cultures. Eloise is originally from France and, before moving to Brisbane, she lived in Sydney, Istanbul and England.