One of the stops we were most excited about was Uluru, in the Northern Territory of Australia. However this was probably our worst planned part of our Australia travels!. We were there for only 5 days but should have given ourselves at least a couple more to truly enjoy the parks and all that they had to offer. Maybe a bit innocently we didn’t think that there was going to be so much to see. But most of all that our kids would enjoy it as much as they actually did.
While we were deciding which was the best way to get there and where to stay, we got a bit scared of how expensive lodging was. There weren’t even many options! It was way over our budget! We decided that renting a camper van was going to be the best option for our family.
After landing in Alice Springs, we picked up the camper right away. We spent the first night in town trying to figure out camper spaces. This was our first time on one as a family. We went grocery shopping and found our first campsite. It was a completely new experience for us!
A visit to Kings Canyon
Bright and early we started our drive in the heart of Australia. First stop Kings Canyon, which was about 300 km drive.
This is often defined as the Grand Canyon of Australia. Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. It is approximately midway between Alice Springs and Uluru. The soaring sandstone walls of Kings Canyon were formed when small cracks eroded over millions of years.
We arrived there just in time to see the sunset, which was stunning.
The next morning we headed out on a little hike. We were hoping to see as much as we could of the canyon. Once you get there you have a couple of options.
Option #1. You can do a short hike on the Kings creek walk, which is only 2 km in the Canyon base. It leads you through lush ferns and eucalypts to a platform with views of the sheer canyon walls above. Unfortunately the platform was closed due to damage.
Option #2. You canclimb to the top of the rim of Kings Canyon. You can then do the 6 kilometer Kings Canyon Rim Walk. We did climb up to the top, but we were able to enjoy only the views of that first part. Unfortunately half of the family was tired and didn’t want to go all the way. From up there you can see spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape.
Option #3. There is a 22 km (most definitely not for us!) Giles Track that connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs. This route is popular with more adventurous hikers and it takes at least 2 days.
We didn’t dedicate as much time as we hoped to this beautiful area. Originally we didn’t even plan on being here! However we were highly recommended this side trip from the friendly lady at the camper rental office. We thought we should squeeze it in. It is also a great way to break up the driving. In reality you do go a bit out of your way to get there, it isn’t exactly on the road to Uluru, but it is definitely worth the extra drive!
On the way to Uluru
After saying goodbye to this unplanned stop to Kings Canyon we were finally on our way to Uluru!
During our drive we made an interesting encounter with a wild dromedary, which simply stayed there and stared at us! We were surprised to see one here. We had no idea there were any in Australia. Later on we found out that they were imported during the 19th century for transport and construction during the colonization of central and western parts of Australia. Once motorized transport was introduced, many were released in the wild. This resulted in a fast growing camel population. Unfortunately camels can cause serious degradation of local environment and culture. So in 2010 the Australian government endorsed a control plan, which aimed to reduce camel densities through culling and mustering the animals for sale.
As we got on the road for Uluru, we saw this monolith at a great distance. Like many tourist, innocently we though this was Ayers Rock. It actually is Mount Connor, which locals call “fool-uru” because it is often mistaken for Ayers Rock! it was pretty impressive!
Mt Conner is situated on a vast, fully operational, privately owned cattle station called Curtin Springs Station. You are only able to visit it by private 4WD tour. We could not do anymore detours. So we had to skip the adventure to see Mount Connor.
After another 300 km drive we got to Ayers Rock/Uluru!
A few interesting facts about Uluru
- Uluru is 348 metres (1141 feet) high, which is 24m higher than the Eiffel Tower!
- Uluru rises 863 metres (2,831 ft) above sea level.
- It is 3.6 km long (2.2 miles), 1.9 km wide (1.2 miles) and is 9.4 km (5.8 miles) around the base and covers 3.33 km2 (1.29 miles2).
- Uluru extends several km/miles into the ground (no-one knows exactly how far). It resembles a “land iceberg” as the majority of its mass is actually underground.
- The climb to the top is 1.6kms, much of which is at a steep angle, while the summit is generally flat. It isn’t illegal to climb the rock but it is still considered disrespectful to the Aboriginal culture. Everyone recommends to not do it. Since the 1950’s there have been 37 deaths. There are signs placed around the region asking you not to climb Uluru.
- The surface is made up of valleys, ridges, caves and weird shapes that were created through erosion over millions of years. Uluru was originally formed under the ocean, and gradually hardened over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.
- Surface oxidation of its iron content gives the would-be grey Uluru a striking orange-red hue.
- Uluru is estimated to be around 600 million years old.
How long does it take to walk around Uluru?
The Uluru Base Walk is a 10km walk on a flat marked dirt path. It can be completed in around 3.5 hours.
There is a shorter path that takes you around only part of the rock, known as the Mala Walk. Park rangers offer a free daily Mala Walk. They guide you along a shaded track. They stop to discuss Tjukurpa (Aboriginal law) stories associated with Mala ancestors, rock art, traditional Anangu lifestyle, history and the environment. This is where the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby) people camped when they arrived at Uluru in the beginning.
Alternatively there are paid tours offered, with aboriginal people as guides. However we didn’t look into this option because they were too long time wise. Our kids would not have paid attention for so long, when there is so much space to run around and explore!
Some areas of the park, including areas around Uluru /Ayers Rock and Kata Tjut /Mount Olga are considered sacred to the Anangu people. They may not be visited, filmed or photographed out of respect for their culture. While visitors are encouraged to learn about them and visit this special place they are asked to respect the traditions and culture of the indigenous people. All these sites that are sacred are clearly marked.
A bit of History
Once you arrive to Uluru and witness the environment and read the stories, you realize that it is more than just a rock. This is a living cultural landscape and it is sacred to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people. They are the traditional owners and guardians of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. This special place has great spiritual and cultural significance for these local indigenous tribes. It has over 40 sacred aboriginal sites and eleven Dreaming trails present in the area.
The Anangu people culture dates back 60,000 years. They believe that their culture has always existed in Central Australia. This landscape was created at the beginning of time by the travels of great ancestral beings. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are said to give physical evidence of these ancient events. They have been used for traditional ceremonies and rites of passage for over 10,000 years. Anangu people still continue to live by these ancient laws and traditions passed down through Dreamtime stories from their ancestors. These spiritual and cultural connections are still strong today.
The spirits of the ancestral beings continue to reside in these sacred places. Making the land a deeply important part of Aboriginal cultural identity. Each visitor to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is invited to share in these traditional beliefs and hear stories of this ancient land and how it came to be.
Uluru is the Aboriginal name of the rock. However in 1873 Europeans named it “Ayers Rock” after Sir Henry Ayers, the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are now part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which was founded in 1950. The Aboriginals own the land, although the Australian government currently holds a 99-year lease.
Uluru was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1987.
What else can you do in Uluru?
Once you have explored in-depth the monolith, you can visit nearby Kata Tjuta which are believed to originate from a similar time then Uluru. They are thought to have originally been one massive monolith, as opposed to the 36 separate domes they are today. If you’re planning to enter the park, you’ll have to pay a $25 entry fee per adult (kids can enter free). It lasts for 3 days and includes both areas, so you will have plenty of time to explore both.
While we were there we also found out that they were offering camel rides to Uluru. Unfortunately you cannot bring a toddler with you on the camel so we were not able to do the tour. Luckily there was the option to go to the Camel Farm and ride for 10 minutes. It was cheaper and we made the older kids happy. As for Luca, he loved feeding the animals at the petting zoo in the same farm. This was a win-win moment for the family!
We spent one of the last moments of our days in Uluru admiring the beautiful sunset. This is absolutely a must do! Unfortunately we missed the sunrise, because as we arrived to Uluru the rain followed us. It had not rained for 8 months so everyone was thrilled. Luckily we got a beautiful sunny day for touring the monolith but after that it was strong winds and rain!
Thoughts about Uluru
Uluru was a truly spiritual place to visit. You can feel this stillness combined to peacefulness as you walk around this rock. You feel the sacredness of the place all around you.
As you walk around and read the stories you are brought back to that time when the Anangu people arrived here. When they made this place their home, with true respect for its sacredness. Before coming here I read about it and saw many photos. So I had a general idea of what it was all about. However I was completely moved at a deeper level when I got to experience it in person. Something I cannot even express in words or photos.
Uluru is in the middle of nowhere some may think, but I think it is in the heart of “everything”.
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