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As the bus sped along, often reaching speeds of 120km/h, all I could see on either side of me was red dirt. This was the second day of our journey to see the elusive Ayers Rock (or Uluru as the Australian Aboriginals refer to it) and the air conditioning in our mini bus was still not working.

I looked in the direction of my mother and I could see that even she, a self professed warm climate junky, was not enjoying the 40°C+ inside the bus. The mood in the bus was rather somber. After going through day one of our journey without air conditioning, we had been told that we would switch vehicles with the other group for second day. Needless to say, we never did. Just as I was starting to nod off I heard the tour guide Aaron speak up “We’re almost there guys, if you look out the ride side there in the distance you will see Uluru”.

We were finally here, and what a grand site it was.

Uluru Pink Sunset by Mark Wassell via Flickr CC

Uluru Pink Sunset by Mark Wassell via Flickr CC

It was back in 2010 that I had the opportunity to travel to the outback to see what many consider the 8th natural wonder of the world. Uluru is located 450km by road from Alice Springs, the only city with a large airport nearby. Some people fly straight into the Ayers Rock airport, but these flights can often be double or more the cost of flying into Alice Springs.

My mother and I had decided to see Uluru last minute. We were originally planning on going up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, but a last minute cyclone in the area forced us to come up with a Plan B.

We found a good return flight from Cairns to Alice Springs (convenient, considering that we already had a  flight to Cairns) and decided that a visit to Uluru was meant to be. 

In our rush to find a last minute itinerary, we stumbled upon a tour company called The Rock Tour. The company offers trips ranging from a single day tour of Uluru, all the way up to a 30 day tour of the outback. We had contacted their offices a few days before and had scored a 3-day/ 2-night trip from Alice Springs to Uluru and back.

Day 1

Our day began at 5am, and by 5:30am we were lumbering onto the minibus. Our first stop, 5.5hrs later, was Kings Canyon, part of the Watarrka National Park which sits on the western edge of the George Gill Range. Here we got to enjoy a guided 3-5 hour hike through the sandstone domes of the Lost City, visiting natural Amphitheatres, the North & South Walls, and the beautiful Garden of Eden. Throughout the hike I stuck to the front of the group, walking alongside  our guide Aaron who shared thehistory and stories of the land. It definitely made the trip pass by quickly.

Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park by Claudio Jofré Larenas via Flickr CC

Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park by Claudio Jofré Larenas via Flickr CC

Before I continue, I thought I would mention the black flies. Oh man, the black files. I had experienced blackflies before, while working at a camp north of Toronto. But the blackflies in the Northern Territory were on a whole new level and blackfly nets were a must. If there is one thing you bring if you are visiting Uluru, it is a blackfly net.

Max with black fly net on The Rock Tour. Uluru. Northern Territory. Australia

Max and crew sporting black fly net on The Rock Tour in Uluru

After the hike at Kings Canyon we were off on the bus again heading towards Curtin Springs, our camping spot for the night. It was at this point that we discovered that our mini bus’s air conditioning has decided to not come along for the trip. The heat was unbearable, I would wager it was north of 40°C and opening a window only meant that the hot air hit your face harder. Everyone on the bus was complaining. It was decided that we would switch buses with the sister group the following day. We had a quick wash and toilet stop at the Curtin Springs cattle station before setting up our Bush Camp. We all relaxed around the fire while our guide prepared a healthy camp-oven dinner. After trading stories, it was time for bed and to tuck into our swags (a combination of a mattress and sleeping bag that is common in Australia.)

Max and the guys on The Rock Tour to Uluru. Norther Territory. Australia

Max and the guys on The Rock Tour to Uluru

Day 2

On day 2 we took off shortly after sunrise heading towards the Ayers Rock Campground for a quick shower and toilet stop before making our way to The Olgas. It was at this point that we first got to glance at the marvelous site of Uluru. But Uluru was not until day 3, up first was a guided walk through to the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta.

Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta by Maarten Danial via Flickr CC

Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta by Maarten Danial via Flickr CC

It is at this point in the journey that we were meant to switch busses with the other group. Needless to say that never happened, a few fake heat strokes later and the leaders of the tour didn’t want to deal with the other bus revolting over having to switch.

After the morning hike we headed off to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre where we listened to tales from the ‘Tjukurpa’ Dreamtime. We spent the evening enjoying dinner and a spectacular sunset over Uluru and were treated to one of the most rare sights possible, lightning over the rock. I wish I had a great photo to share, but since this was many years back when I was still shooting with a point and shoot, I simply coundn’t capture the sight.

Lightning over Uluru (Ayers Rock), NT, Australia.- Photo by Christoph Schaarschmidt.

Lightning over Uluru (Ayers Rock), NT, Australia.- Photo by Christoph Schaarschmidt

We spent that night at the Ayers Rock Campground.

Day 3

Day 3 was THE BIG DAY, the day we got to visit and walk around Uluru. My mother and I had been hoping for an opportunity to climb the Uluru. Our guide, Aaron had done his best to convince everyone else within our group to not climb Uluru, but my mother and I were still determined.

To our disappointment the rock was closed because of the wind. Nevertheless we followed along with our group on the Uluru Base Walk. The walk was approximately 10km and took us around 3 hours to complete at a leasurely pace, snapping pictures and soaking in more stories from Aaron. Along the way we got to see several beautiful spots along side the rock including the Mala Walk, Mutitjulu Waterhole, and a few Aboriginal cave paintings.

Mutitjulu Waterhole by Robyn Jay via Flickr CC

Mutitjulu Waterhole by Robyn Jay via Flickr CC

After the base walk it was back to the sticky and hot bus for the 6.5 hour ride back to Alice Springs. There was plenty of time to sit back and reflect on the trip. Although I was disappointed that we did not get to climb to the top of Uluru, the rest of the trip and particularly our amazing guide more than made up for it.

Max and The Rock Tour group at Uluru. 2010. Australia

Max and The Rock Tour group at Uluru. 2010

If anyone is wondering whether they should jump on a plane and head out to see this unique rock in the middle of the desert, I would say go for it! You only live once and you have the opportunity to learn a lot about aboriginal culture that you may not get elsewhere.

*The Rock Tour generously hosted me and my mother on this 3 day/2 night tour, but the opinion is as always my own. 

Have you visited Uluru before? Would you recommend it to other travelers?

General Travel Info

Getting there: Webjet is the best place to search for cheap flights within Australia. If you decide to fly into Alice Springs, your best bet is Qantas Airlines which has connecting flights from Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns, and Perth.

Getting around: Visiting Uluru is best done with a tour. There are plenty of tour operators int he area, but if you want to book the same 3 day/2 night itinerary with The Rock Tour click here.

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Uluru (Ayers Rock) Tour - A journey to the middle of a desert