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AUSTRALIA’S red centre right now is green. Very green. Last year the Uluru region registered nearly double its average annual rainfall and the start of 2017 was also wet.
It’s not just the plants that have been growing, the number of tourist options have likewise increased. Yes, it’s still a get-away-from-it-all destination, but these days there are plenty of things to do for anyone wanting an activity holiday with friends.
How long should you go for? Well, I reckon there’s a reason Voyages offers three-night packages. The serious nature lover may want longer but for most people a trio of nights will be long enough to enjoy a variety of experiences but short enough to avoid repetition and boredom.
Getting there? A handful of flights operate to Uluru daily, although none operate direct from Canberra, which means going via Sydney. Be aware that choosing to fly to Alice Springs and drive will eat into your trip, as it’s a good five hours on the road.
Accommodation? Most accommodation at Uluru is contained in the Voyages Ayers Rock Resort complex at Yulara 15 kilometres from The Rock itself and ranges from powered campgrounds to the five-star Sails in the Desert. We stayed at the Desert Gardens Hotel, in a room that had been refreshed so recently there was still just a slight smell of paint when we first walked in.
What to do during the day? Organised tours abound, but if you have two or three travelling partners in your group, renting a car is a viable option and may work out cheaper. It also means you can set your own itinerary to explore not just the big rock at Uluru but the dozens of domes at Kata Tjuta, a 50-kilometre drive to the west.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta are located inside the national park. Organised paid tours usually have park access, but if you’re doing your own thing you have to pay the access fee to the park. Park permits start at three days – literally, exactly 72 hours – longer passes are available, the staff at the access gate are very helpful. Be aware, the park is closed overnight and there’s no camping.
There’s a variety of Uluru tours. In addition to bus tours, there’s self-guided on foot or rented bicycle. For a more in-depth experience the park rangers offer guided tours of parts of Uluru.
We took to the newest way to circumnavigate Uluru; a Segway group tour. It’s a $120 investment for the Segway tour which – in a bit over two hours – takes in a full circuit of Uluru, with guides pointing out significant spots and talking about the local culture. The early morning Segway tours, especially in the middle of the year, can expose you to cold conditions, further enhanced by the wind chill when your Segway gets up to speed, but it adds an element of fun to the interesting tour.
Do you climb? Climbing Uluru itself is not forbidden, but it is respectfully discouraged at almost every opportunity. Indeed, these days the climb route is closed more often than it is open. This is because there have been several tourists killed and many more injured over the years, resulting in restrictions being put in place. The decision is left to individuals, but the question is often asked – would you climb a church or a mosque if you were asked not to?
If you really do want to check things out from above, flying is the way to go. Professional Helicopter Services include pick-up and drop-off via shuttle bus and several tour options. Uluru stands 348 metres above the plain, the highest point of Kata Tjuta is 200 metres taller, and a flight with the sun low in the sky allows the shadows to accentuate the heights.
For a challenging walk, Kata Tjuta (when I was a kid this formation was called the Olgas) has two that fit the bill. The Walpa Gorge walk is the easier and shorter of them, about 2.6 kilometres out-and-back. The harder walk is the Valley of the Winds, which can be done as a loop in about four hours for the fit and adventurous, or as a shorter out-and-back journey. In your correspondent’s opinion, both the Kata Tjuta walks offer more than climbing Uluru, but make sure you take water.
The writer received a discounted flight from Professional Helicopter Services. The audio review of Chris’ Uluru and Kata Tjuta experience is available in the podcast Travel First.