250,000 people visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park every year. The majority of these visitors are tourists as this incredible place remains a mystery to most Australians. While Uluru seems a long way to go for a weekend, and there will be early mornings and big drives, a weekend is still enough time to experience the highlights. This weekend will be full of sunrises and sunsets, extraordinary landscapes and some of Aboriginal Australia’s most sacred sites.
Travel Time: 3.5 hour flight from Sydney
Highlights: Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Field of Light art Installation, King’s Canyon
Distance Covered: 20km each way from Yulara to Uluru, a further 55km from Uluru to Kata Tjuta. 600km return drive from Uluru to Kings Canyon.
If you have more time: Drive the Mereenie loop road – an 670km alternate route (including 200kms of dirt road!) between Alice Springs and Uluru.
A Weekend in the Red Centre by Natalie Hardbattle
Just before landing, we could see Uluru from the window. Rising out of the expanse of the Central Australian desert, it becomes clear why this is considered the spiritual heart of Australia. Part of the amazing world heritage listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, these red rocks are millions of years old. It is a place of both rugged outback beauty and abundant Aboriginal culture. The nearest major town is Alice Springs, about 450kms away. The small town of Yulara has been built to provide a base and essential services for those exploring the park in this remote landscape.
Entering the park and exploring the rock close up – be prepared to be overwhelmed by this monolith. Even if you’ve seen it in pictures, nothing really prepares you for the impact of its size. The 10.6km Base Walk is the best way to fully appreciate the natural and cultural beauty of Uluru as well as the diverse plants and animals in the area. Note that climbing Uluru is actively discouraged due to its cultural significance.
Uluru has gained its notoriety not only because of its unique landform but also the effect the sun has on its colours and appearance. Make sure you witness Uluru at both sunrise and sunset. This means very early mornings, especially if you want to beat the tour groups. Huddled together in the dark, we watched the moon set, the stars fade, and then the rain clouds come over, before the sun came up creating a rainbow – pure magic.
Just 55km down the road from Uluru you can find Kata Tjuta. Meaning “many heads” and often overlooked for the more famous rock, these group of rocky domes are equally impressive and awe inspiring – the largest domes are over 500m high. Want to feel small? Hike the Valley of the Winds trail and immerse yourself in this intriguing red landscape walking between these huge red rocks. The temperatures vary hugely in Australia’s red centre – expect cool mornings but extremely hot days, so if hiking make sure you’re prepared: plenty of water and appropriate footwear, unless you want to be bitten by bullet ants, snakes, scorpions or spiders….
Top Tip: Like Uluru, these domes glow at sunrise and sunset, an experience not to be missed.
Top Tip: As well as these incredible wonders of nature, the Red Centre is also home to an art installation by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro. When darkness falls over the rock, your Field of Light experience starts. More than 50,000 stems with glass spheres carpet the red earth and light up, drawing visitors into the installation, their brightness competing only with the stars. Munro was inspired by the colours of the Australian landscape and hopes his exhibition will inspire people to visit and appreciate the beauty of the region.
Don’t Miss: If you’re willing to go for a big drive, then head to Kings Canyon for breath-taking views of the bluffs and gorges of Watarrka National Park. There are huge sandstone walls and crevices filled with palm trees and desert views which will blow your mind. We hiked the 6km Rim Walk – one of the best walks for those who want to experience the greatest bits of the Canyon but are short on time. After an initial steep hike, you are free to wander the rim, admiring the sandstone chasms, the Domes of the Lost City and the exotic Garden of Eden – a permanent waterhole.
So that’s it – the Red Centre in a weekend. It might seem like a stretch but trust me, it’s possible. And rocking up to work on Monday with red dust still on your shoes is the best feeling. So there’s no excuse not to CU in the NT.