I’d wanted to make it out to Uluru for a few years but it’s just so far from anywhere – even when you’re living in Sydney.
Juggling a heavy partying and sunbathing schedule in Bondi, I decided to squeeze the trip in to a long weekend. The cheapest way to do it was to fly to Alice Springs and take a coach into Ayers Rock resort.
The fastest way to do it is to fly into the resort directly with Qantas and land in the heart of the red centre.
The ticket was $800 return but it saved time and made for a spectacular landing as you touch-down in the middle of bright red dust cloud with a breathtaking view of the rock from the air. Definitely my favourite airport, if you can call it that, so far.
I was advised at the time of booking that there is no backpackers’ accommodation on the resort and that I needed to check in to the Desert Gardens Hotel for about $280 a night. I disagreed and arranged my own accommodation courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide and found a 20-bed dorm at The Outback Pioneer Lodge for $38. Amazing location, great swimming pool, bar and barbecue area. Of course it does feel like you’re in a hastily thrown-up hospital ward on the moon – alongside 19 strangers – but it’s perfect for a short stay.
The resort is incredible. All transport is provided by large, air-conditioned coaches and is free. They do the resort circuit all day and stop at all hotels so you can wait outside and pick up a lift every 30 minutes to visit the centre with shops and restaurants.
I booked a two-day trip with Australian Adventure Tours for under $350. A trip to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) a night camping, a sunrise visit to the rock at 4am, a walk around the base (around 9.4km) and champagne by the rock at sunset.
The campsite was clean and all food is cooked for you. We had the chance to sleep in swagbags under the stars but the amount of snake trails through the dust saw me take up the camping hut option complete with a raised bed, lamp and table. The nocturnal noises of the outback were slightly disconcerting and the majority of the swag-baggers were heard bursting in to the huts in terror before midnight.
My door was secured on a hook but I was woken in the night by someone attempting to push it open. I kicked the table in front of the door – half expecting that sweaty Henk from Holland was about to appear, learing in the dark – and the noise stopped abruptly.
I awoke to be informed by the Camp Marshall that a 2-meter sand monitor lizard had in fact been thumping its scaly tail against my door – maybe he’d caught the scent of my contraband Mars Bar…
Still, slightly relived it wasn’t big Henk who I spied munching away on an industrial sized bowl of Coco Pops with Nutella down his vest. Presumably fuelling up for the 4am sunrise trip to the rock.
The 40 degree temperature was extremely hard going, I’m not exactly what you’d call a fan of rambling but I think it would be a shame not to walk the base. We walked at a good pace, considering we each were carrying 2 litres of water, and made the circuit in just over two hours.
There were several points where I wanted to give up but luckily we had a buddy system and Mathias from Germany went in to ’emergency mode’ and made me keep talking about childhood memories every time I started to complain/look faint/attempt to sit down. We only stepped over a couple of casualties who lay spread-eagled on the dust while their buddy made half-hearted attempts to stop the flies breeding on their face.
Seeing the white glimmer of the tour bus through the blur of desert heat was like a mirage. Forget Uluru, being so close to water and air-conditioning again was like a dream. All I can say is that it hurts but I promise it’s worth the pain as you step into the van, legs trembling all the way back to camp.
Nobody in our group wanted to climb the rock which looks almost vertical at the side approach. Plus, tour guide tales of people’s trainers getting melted by the scorching rock also seemed to make those who were 50/50, suddenly decide the climb would be ‘disrespectful’.
The other thing I wanted to do in the outback was a sunset camel tour. The trip was around $90 with Frontier Camel Tours and included transport to the camel farm, a ride of about one and a half hours around the outback with views of the sun setting over the rock and then back to the farm for a glass of wine.
I felt a bit bad riding Wombat the camel after eating camel sausages at the barbecue the previous night but, as you can see, we bonded well.
- Uluru gets its name from the local Pitjantjatjara people and stands 863 m (2,831 ft) above sea level.
- I took the trip in November which was extremely hot and averages 35 degrees. The best time to do the trip would be in the Australian winter of June and July where you could expect a temperature closer to 23 degrees.
- The hotels all looks quite spectacular but I really recommend the outback Pioneer Lodge if you are backpacking as the price is so good and the location is perfect.
- At the time of my trip only Qantas flew direct to Conellan Airport (Ayers Rock Resort). You can now get flights with Virgin Australia and Jetstar.
- If you fly to Alice Springs, the coach time to the resort is around 5 hours and is 280 miles.
- Flies were quite a problem in the outback in November. Many people had bought the fly net masks to cover their faces when walking around and I wished I’d had one. Buy them in the city rather than the resort where prices were slightly higher.
- Don’t forget to pack a bikini or shorts, all the hotels had beautiful outdoor pools and it’s much needed at the end of the day during the summer season.
- Pack trainers rather than sandals. Ones that come slightly higher up the ankle were recommended for slightly more protection against snakes – I saw many more snakes on the Great Ocean Road than in the outback so don’t let that put you off!