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Covering 1,325 square kilometres in Central Australia, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is not just the country’s physical, and some would say spiritual heart; it’s also home to two of the world’s most famous natural wonders — Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).
The region is both a UNESCO World Heritage-listed natural site — due to its unique geology, and a listed cultural site — because of its importance to the Anangu First People. Thought to be around 600 million years old, both Uluru and Kata Tjuta have a powerful presence that’s hard to appreciate until you stand before these vast ancient outcrops.
With its iron oxidated surface (which gives it a striking reddish-orange hue), Uluru has a circumference of 9.4 kilometres and its mass covers an area of 3.33 square kilometres. Kata Tjuta is made up of a series of rocky domes, the tallest being Mount Olga (which is 200 metres higher than Uluru). The two formations are approximately 50 kilometres apart.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is one of Australia’s key tourist attractions, and offers a huge amount to see and do. However, one thing you can’t do is climb Uluru; the practice was permanently banned in 2019 out of respect for the rock’s Indigenous significance. But that’s a small price to pay if we can all share this natural and national treasure.
Here are ten of the best things to do at Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
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1. Explore Uluru’s Indigenous cultural heritage
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park lies at the core of the Anangu’s rich mythology of song-lines and dreaming stories. To learn more, visit the traditional owners’ Cultural Centre on the main road as you approach Uluru. The centre is packed with informative displays, and offers a free ranger presentation weekday mornings at 11.30 on local Indigenous culture and how it interplays with the natural environment.
The Cultural Centre is also home to two award-winning art galleries: Maruku Arts and Walkatjara. Walkatjara showcases the work of artists from the local Mutitjulu community, while Maruku Arts displays the creative output of twenty communities across the central and western desert regions. See woven baskets, punu (woodwork), and traditional paintings on canvas. Visitors to Maruku Arts can take part in a dot painting workshop.
2. Do a guided tour with a ranger
If you’re aged 18 years or older, you’ll need to purchase a pass to enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. A three-day pass costs $38 per person (at the time of writing) and entitles you to join a free guided walking tour around the base of Uluru with an Anangu ranger. Along the way you’ll hear some of the associated dreaming stories and see numerous rock art sites.
3. Watch the sun rise and set
If there was ever a reason to get up before dawn, this is it! One of the absolute highlights of a visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is the chance to see the changing colours of Uluru throughout the day, but particularly as the sun rises and sets. There are different lookouts to visit for optimum views at various times of the day. A sunrise or sunset tour will ensure you’re in exactly the right place at the right time.
4. See the Field of Light
Likened to a living dot painting, Bruce Munro’s award-winning Field of Light art installation at Uluru complements the ancient landscape and has drawn thousands of visitors. Conceived more than 25 years ago by the British artist, the work has been exhibited since 2016 and will remain on display for the foreseeable future. The installation is made up of 50,000 solar-powered frosted-glass spheres, and covers more than 49,000 square metres. It can only be viewed on a tour from Ayers Rock Resort (Uluru’s accommodation hub).
5. Motor across or above the landscape
There’s an array of motorised ways to explore the terrain around Uluru. One of the most popular is a tour on the back of a Harley-Davidson with Uluru Motorcycle Tours. Feel the desert wind in your hair as your driver/guide shares their unique perspective of Australia’s most famous natural landmark. If you prefer to travel at a more leisurely pace, climb on board a Segway with Uluru Segway Tours and do a full lap of the rock’s base. You can also take to the skies in a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft for a bird’s-eye view of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
6. Follow in the footsteps of the Afghan cameleers
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the landscape, minus the engine noise, hitch a ride on the back of an obliging dromedary with Uluru Camel Tours. It seems an appropriate way to travel, given the Red Centre was opened up by the Afghan cameleers of the 19th century. An 1872 government-sponsored cameleer expedition resulted in the European discovery and naming of ‘Ayers Rock’ (after the then premier of South Australia). The name was officially changed to Ayers Rock/Uluru in 1993 to incorporate the rock’s traditional Indigenous title. The name was changed again in 2002 to Uluru/Ayers Rock.
7. Dine under the stars
No visit to the region would be complete without dining al fresco beneath the glittering night sky. It can be as simple as a BBQ with a glass of bubbles, or the far more elaborate Sounds of Silence and Tali Wiru dinner experiences at Ayers Rock Resort. The latter begins with champagne and canapés at sunset, followed by a table d’hote meal derived from the bush and matched with premium Australian wines. Guests also enjoy an Indigenous cultural presentation, before wrapping up the evening with a port, cognac, or native wattle seed-infused hot chocolate by the campfire.
8. Admire the Milky Way
With minimal light pollution, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park yields incredible star-gazing opportunities. Lose yourself in the magnificent Milky Way and many other constellations that can be easily spotted with the naked eye. Ayers Rock Resort’s daily video presentation Capturing the Cosmos covers the wonders of the night sky, and concludes with a short talk and Q&A with a resident astronomer.
9. Find solitude at Kata Tjuta
Fewer people take the time to travel out to Kata Tjuta, so it’s generally a lot quieter than Uluru. Hence, it’s possible to have a truly immersive experience in this part of the national park. Consider doing what is regarded as one of the best walks in the Red Centre — the Valley of the Winds — a three to four-hour return trek amongst Kata Tjuta’s towering domes and peaks. The walk demands a reasonable level of fitness, and is challenging in parts. That said, the rewards are huge. The Uluru Hop On Hop Off Bus is a convenient way to travel to and from Kata Tjuta.
10. Explore further afield
To see more of the region, consider heading out to Mount Conner — around two hours’ drive east of Uluru. Here you’ll see evidence of the early European pioneers and discover ancient fossils in salt lakes that were once part of an inland ocean. The flat-topped monolith can also be seen on the drive from Alice Springs to Uluru (and is often mistaken for the rock itself).
Most short stay visitors fly directly to Uluru, and there are regular flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin, and Adelaide to Ayers Rock Airport. You can also travel via regional hub Alice Springs, which is located 467 kilometres from Uluru. Driving the fully sealed route takes around five hours. Coach transfers operate on selected days (daily in peak season).
Where to stay at Uluru
It’s not possible to stay inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. All accommodation options are located at Aboriginal-owned Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, which sits just outside the park border and offers a campground, lodge-style and standard hotel rooms, and luxury suites. The central square has a supermarket, bank, post office, and several cafes and eateries. A free shuttle bus operates between the Resort and Ayers Rock Airport.
Browse our range of Uluru tours and experiences here.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do at Uluru? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Nannette Holliday was obviously born to travel — Holliday is her real name. A former TV and radio presenter, Nannette’s globetrotting has earned her the nickname ‘International Woman of Mystery’ amongst friends, while also providing a rich library of experiences to draw on creatively. Many are woven into her first novel: The Sting of Fate, and Nannette is currently working on the sequel. When she’s not drafting chapters for herself, Nannette writes for a variety of magazines, and even ghostwrites books for other people. It all helps keep her in the manner she has become accustomed to — indulging in world travel, fine food and great wine!
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.