Most people in New Zealand seem to think that Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) is near Alice Springs, but in actuality, it is more than 460 kilometres (nearly 300 miles) away. It takes over six hours to drive from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock, even at 130 km/hour (80 mph) on some stretches. It really is an all day drive, but it is interesting and there are places to stop and things to see along the way.
Another misconception is that Uluru (the local name for Ayers Rock) is all one smooth solid piece, when it actually is quite variable and undulating along its sides. Having not grown up in the southern hemisphere and having barely even heard of Ayers Rock, I had no such misconceptions. I looked at satellite photos (thanks, Google) of both Uluru (all three syllables rhyme with “boo”) and nearby Kata Tjuta (pronounced KAH-tah JOOR-tah) to prepare myself for this visit. Nevertheless, these rocks are impressive and well worth the long drive (or expensive flight) to see them. I think there is nothing like them in all the world.
Having departed Alice Springs fairly early, we had plenty of daylight when we arrived at Uluru. We took a quick walk through the Visitor Centre and then drove out to Kata Tjuta for the sunset.
Unfortunately, the weather during our two days there was not very cooperative. This was the dry season in the heart of a vast desert in the middle of a continent that receives very little rainfall except around its edges, yet it was cloudy and rainy the entire time we were there.
After hiking (2.6 km or 1.5 miles) up into Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta, we drove back to the sunset viewing spot. Shortly before the supposed time of sunset (we never did see the sun), busloads of other tourists arrived for the viewing.
Some of the tourist guides set up tables of snacks and wines for their clients, and we were a bit jealous of the wine-and-dine crowd. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that we didn’t have to pay for the service.
We stayed in a hostel in Yulara (the town just outside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the only place to stay). It’s a good thing we made a reservation, for everything was very full. At first, they put us in a room with two Asian ladies, apparently a mother and daughter, but the daughter was very ill. We went back to the registration desk and explained the situation, and they put us in a room to ourselves, very nice.
The next morning, well before dawn, we got up and drove out to Ayers Rock and around to the sunrise viewing area. Again, the weather was not cooperative, and there was no sun and no sunrise. Still, it was fun to stand there with the rest of the tourists in the drizzling rain and watch the light slowly reveal Uluru.
We then drove over to the rock and walked along a few of the trails up into the canyons of Uluru. As you can see from the photos here, Uluru is anything but boringly regular. And with the rain wetting the rock, we saw colours and contrasts that most visitors probably never are able to enjoy. It was amazing.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that at the canyon we walked into, there was a small waterfall and pond. This waterfall probably doesn’t flow for most of the year, but because it had rained all the previous day and night, the rock was well watered.
After our hike into this canyon, Andrew continued along another trail that circled Ayers Rock while I drove our rental car around and met him at the north end. We then completed our circuit around this amazing monolith and then headed over to the airport to catch our flight to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, our next stop…