Ten top things to do in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There are few natural landmarks as well known across the globe as mighty Uluru in Australia's Red Centre. Nannette Holliday checks in with suggestions for ten ways to spend your time in this incredible part of the country...
Covering 1,325 square kilometres in central Australia, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is not just the country’s spiritual heart; it’s also home to two of the world’s most iconic rock formations — Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).
The region is one of only a few places in the world to be both a UNESCO World Heritage-listed natural site (due to its unique geology) and a listed cultural site due to its importance to the local Indigenous owners.
Thought to be around 600 million years old, Uluru and Kata Tjuta belong to the Anangu first people. Europeans first saw the mighty monoliths in 1873. With its iron oxidated surface (giving it a striking reddish-orange hue), Uluru’s circumference is 9.4 kilometres and its mass covers an area of 3.33 square kilometres. Kata Tjuta is made up of a series of soaring rocky domes. The tallest peak is Mt Olga — 200 metres higher than Uluru. The two formations are approximately 50 kilometres apart.
Tourists have been visiting the area for decades and today there’s so much to see, do and learn. If you have the time, the completely sealed 467-kilometre drive from Alice Springs is well worth doing. Coach transfers are available. Air travel directly to the park is also an option.
Here are ten top things to do in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
1. Experience an age-old culture
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park represents the core of the Anangu’s rich mythology, song-lines and Dreaming stories. Start your visit by dropping into the Cultural Centre to gain a broad overview of local Indigenous cultural heritage. Next, visit the award-winning Maruku and Walkatjara art galleries. Here you’ll start to develop a deeper appreciation for one of the world’s oldest living cultures. Walkatjara showcases the work of artists from the local Mutitjulu community, while Maruku Arts features work from twenty communities throughout 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 and other guided activities.
2. Do a free guided tour
You will need to purchase a park pass to enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Currently waived due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a three-day pass generally costs $25 per visitor (over 16 year of age) and includes the opportunity to take part in a free guided walking tour around the base of Uluru with the Anangu owners. Along the way you’ll hear some of the associated Dreaming stories. The surrounding area has many waterholes and caves, along with numerous rock art sites. There are other free tours offered at the Ayers Rock Resort accommodation village, which will introduce you to bushman hunting skills and sources of bush tucker. Check with your accommodation reception for the most up-to-date tour schedule.
3. Enjoy a sunrise and sunset
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 lookout areas that offer fabulous sunrise and sunset views. If you want to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time, book a sunrise or sunset tour.
4. See the Field of Light
Like a living dot painting, Bruce Munro’s award-winning Field of Light art installation at Uluru complements the ancient landscape and has proved to be a massive tourist drawcard. Conceived more than 25 years ago by the British artist, the work finally came to fruition in 2016 and will continue to mesmerise visitors until the end of 2020. The nightly canvas is made up of 50,000 solar-powered, multi-coloured frosted-glass spheres. Covering more than 49,000 square metres, it is Munro’s largest installation to date. The Field of Light is only accessible on a tour. Experiences offered include a sunset pass, a pass including sparkling wine and canapés, and a gourmet Indigenous dining experience that caters to a maximum of 16 guests. A sunrise experience is also available. Pre-booking is strongly recommended.
5. Go in search of outback adventure
The Red Centre offers a vast range of adrenaline-pumping activities for thrill seekers, including quad biking expeditions through ancient dry river beds and rippling dunes, and mountain biking tours along world-class red dirt tracks. Glide through breathtaking natural beauty on a Harley-Davidson or take to the skies for a bird’s eye view of the terrain from a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. Take it a step further and go sky-diving with headlong views of Australia’s most famous natural landmark.
6. Hitch a ride on a camel
For those looking for a more sedate way to immerse themselves in the beauty of the landscape, a camel ride, with Uluru as your backdrop, is unforgettable.
7. Dine under the stars
No visit to the region would be complete without dining outdoors beneath the brilliant night skies of the Southern Hemisphere. Enjoy either the famous Sounds of Silence or exclusive Tali Wiru culinary experiences. The latter begins with champagne and canapés at sunset accompanied by the didgeridoo, followed by a table d’hote menu of cuisine derived from the bush, served with perfectly matched premium Australian wines. Enjoy an Indigenous cultural presentation, before wrapping up your evening with a port, cognac or native wattle seed-infused hot chocolate around the campfire. Pre-booking is essential.
8. Do some star gazing
With minimal local light pollution, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park offers incredible star-gazing opportunities. Lose yourself in the magnificent Milky Way and the many constellations that can be easily seen. Ayers Rock Resort’s Astro Tour will give you a comprehensive introduction to the night sky.
Tip: Children under 15 years can take part free of charge when accompanied by a paying adult.
9. Find solitude at Kata Tjuta
Fewer people take the time to travel out to Kata Tjuta, so you will find it much quieter than Uluru. Here you can have a truly immersive experience. It is also home to one of the Red Centre’s best walks — the Valley of the Winds — a three-hour trek that demands a reasonable level of fitness. The Uluru Hop On Hop Off Bus offers a convenient way to travel to and from Kata Tjuta.
On a tour to Mount Conner — around two hours’ drive from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park — 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). Located three and a half hours’ drive east of Uluru is Kings Canyon — famed for its dramatic gorges and scenic rim walk. You can visit Kings Canyon on a day tour from Uluru or opt for an overnight stay at the Kings Canyon Resort.
Where to stay
There is no accommodation inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. All accommodation is located within Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, and ranges from a campground and budget lodge rooms to self-contained apartments and luxury suites. The various accommodation options are positioned around a town square that has a supermarket, bank, post office and cafes. On arrival at the airport, you can either rent a car or take the free shuttle bus to the resort. A free shuttle service also operates around the resort if you don’t feel like walking between venues.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park? 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!