I put my belongings into the back seat of my friend’s ranger and hopped up into the passenger seat. I was terribly excited because in 4 short hours I was going to be in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and would be ticking one of my biggest bucket list items off.
After a final check to make sure we had everything including our fly nets (because fashion) we hit the road excitedly chattering away and singing to a Spotify road trip playlist. Despite living only 5 or so hours away from ‘The Rock’, I had only visited on two occasions, one as a baby (mum and dad obviously weren’t scared of camping with a baby and dingoes) and when I was 12 on a school camp. My memories of the camp are pretty hazy and mostly concern school-based activities we had to participate in. Over the past 5-10 years, visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta had crept their way to the top of my bucket list. I wanted to visit the place as an independent person, not subject to an enforced school camp schedule. The fact that it was so close by only seemed to fuel the fire.
There always seemed to be something stopping me from going, from expensive accommodation prices, to owning an untrustworthy car, to the incredibly popular location being fully booked out for months at a time. Something always seemed to come up. I even made a booking earlier this year but COVID-19 swept in and disrupted those plans.
After being closed to tourists for a number of month the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park began gradually opening up again in July and three weeks ago began promoting a NT locals only accommodation deal at one of the higher end hotels. This time it seemed as though the stars were finally aligning. I contacted my friend and upon discovering our schedules aligned (for once!) we snapped up the deal and booked two nights and began planning our road trip.
About three hours into our four hour journey we saw our first iconic geological monument. And no, I’m not talking about the rock, I’m talking about Mt Conner!
Standing 300 metres tall and completely flat-topped, Mt Conner is a site to see. We pulled into the lookout and rather than staying there, crossed the road and climbed a red sand dune which provided an amazing view. From this vantage point the red of the sand contrasted beautifully with the purple of the mountain in the distance and the clear blue sky. In the opposite direction is a large salt lake which normally would have made for some awesome photographs but recent rain had left it looking a dirty brown.
After returning to our car we drove the last hour to our destination.
My first view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta poking out over the horizon left me breathless. We arrived at our hotel around 5:30pm with just enough time to check in and put our bags in our room before we had to race out the door so we could make it to the car lookout for sunset. We sat on the roll rack of my friends ute eating cheese and biscuits and drinking wine as we watched in awe at the magical way the colour of Uluru changes as the sun sinks below the horizon. We had a late night that evening drinking wine and ordering expensive room service.
The next day we woke at 5:30am and drove out to the Uluru sunrise viewing platform. When we arrived we saw that there were already a lot of people on the top level of the platform so we decided to stay at the bottom of the dune and honestly, I think we made the right decision. We shared the large space with only one other couple and had an unobstructed view of the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the distance. Once the sun had risen and people began to leave we checked out the top platform and saw that a number of trees slightly obstructed the view.
Following sunset we decided to complete the base walk which is about 10km and goes around the entire monolith. As we walked we discovered rock caves filled with rock art and hidden waterholes which sustained the Pitjantjatjara people for tens of thousands of years. It is important to know that there area umber of sacred sites throughout the walk and that these are photography free zones.
After we returned to the hotel for breakfast we repacked our backpacks and decided to really up our step count and complete the Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta. This walk is rather difficult as it involves a lot of steep inclines and declines.
Pro tip: I highly recommend turning left and completing the walk in reverse as you will have an amazing view of the domes for the majority of the walk and will see the Valley of the Winds lookout towards the end. While going this way means you will have to complete a crazy steep climb to get to the lookout, the view is worth it. Turning right at the start of the walk means that while most of the inclines are more gradual and you get to see the lookout early on, the rest of the views will be behind you for the rest of the walk.
We finished our day at Kata Tjuta by completing the Walpa Gorge walk which is a short but steep 3km walk.
For dinner that evening we returned to the Uluru car sunset viewing area with pizzas from Geckos Cafe before we had to race back to our hotel to make it to our Field of Lights booking. If you ever get the chance to visit Uluru don’t miss out on this experience. Seeing the thousands of lights spread over 7 football fields against the back drop of the Milky Way is unforgettable. The artist, Bruce Munro, was inspired by the blooming wild flowers in the desert after rain and decided to immortalise it through lights. Walking amongst the lights was such a beautiful and calming experience and I was actually sad to leave.
The next morning we awoke even earlier than the day before (5am!) so we would make it to the Kata Tjuta sunrise viewing area which is about 30 minutes from Yulara. We once again struck gold as we shared the entire viewing platform with three other people.
This was the end of our Uluru and Kata Tjuta experience as we had to check out of the hotel that morning. With one last good bye to this amazing landscape, we departed exhausted, but fulfilled.
Have you ever been to Uluru and Kata Tjuta? What nearby places are on your bucket list that you haven’t checked off yet? Let me know below.