A visit to Australia is not complete without seeing Uluru with your own eyes. And for many Australians, a trip out to the Red Centre is a once in a lifetime experience. The magic of Uluru and Kata Tjuta cannot adequately be described in words and even images hardly do this place much justice either. As the Traditional Owner’s often say, it’s more of a feeling and connection to the land at Uluru that is the most memorable aspect of a trip to the desert in the Northern Territory.
Having visited as a kid, I wasn’t sure what it would be like re-visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park as an adult. After driving up from Coober Pedy in South Australia on the Stuart Highway, I immediately felt the overwhelming excitement as I turned down the Lasseter Highway towards Yulara. I spent five days inside the national park, camping in my van at the Ayers Rock Campground. It was definitely a highlight of my time travelling along the Red Centre Way through Central Australia and even after five days, I still found myself staring in awe at this beautiful, big rock amidst the flat red desert.
If you’ve never made the trip out to Central Australia, this guide to Uluru and Kata Tjuta will help you plan the perfect escape to the heart of Australia. From the best sunset spots to where to stay, I cover everything that you need to know about visiting Uluru.
About Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru has become Australia’s iconic landmark. Like the Eiffel Tower for France or the Taj Mahal for India, Uluru is that one place that everyone should visit in Australia, if they can make the trip out to the Red Centre. Recognised around the world, it truly is a natural wonder.
Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith, which basically means, one giant rock. Stranded out in the heart of Australia, it’s located in what is referred to as the Red Centre in the Northern Territory. The rock stands at an astounding 348 metres high and is estimated to be some 550 million years old.
While Uluru certainly gets most of the attention, Kata Tjuta is also within the same national park and just over 50km away. Kata Tjuta is a collection of 36 rock domes which stand taller than Uluru at 564 metres high. It’s thought that it was once a complete rock formation, but over millions of years of erosion, it has been reduced to large boulder-like rocks.
Yulara is the name of the town near Uluru. It’s located just outside the national park boundary and has all the amenities and facilities that you’ll need for your visit, including accommodation, restaurants, tours, fuel, a supermarket and more.
You can download an official Uluru map and visitor guide here.
History of Uluru-Kata Tjuta
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Uluru and Kata Tjuta is a deeply spiritual place and holds significant cultural value to the Pitjantjatjara people, known as the Anangu. They have called the area home for over 30, 000 years and have many dreamtime stories that relate to the rock and its significance.
The first European to see Uluru was surveyor William Gosse in 1873 who named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia. While it was referred to as Ayers Rock for many years, it’s now considered respectful to refer to it as Uluru, the traditional name given to the site by the Anangu people. Similarly, Kata Tjuta is often called The Olgas, although the traditional name is preferred by the Anangu people.
Uluru was first named as a national park in 1950, and was later broadened to include Kata Tjuta in 1958. The national park was first listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural values in 1987 and then, for its cultural values in 1994. It’s one of the few unique world heritage sites that is listed for both its natural and cultural values.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park is jointly managed between Parks Australia and Anangu Traditional Owners. The land title is owned by the Anangu people and has been leased to the Federal government for 99 years. Obey the signs around the national park, as much of the land out there is Aboriginal land and permits are required.
When to visit Uluru
Like most of Central Australia and the Northern Territory, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is best visited during the cooler winter months. High season runs from May until September and is when temperatures are more moderate. In saying this, overnight temperatures can drop to zero in winter, so it can make those sunrise missions a bit chilly.
The temperatures between October and March can be extreme with days over 35 degrees. If you do decide to visit at this time, you should try to explore before 11am and then opt for a siesta for most of the afternoon.
How to get there
Uluru is a little remote. And I say “a little” quite loosely. Even for Australians, Uluru and Kata Tjuta is a bloody long drive from anywhere. The nearest major town is Alice Springs at 446km away, along two outback highways. The national park is a sort-of out and back destination west of the Stuart Highway, with this highway being the only way of accessing Uluru (unless you have a permit from the Central Land Council for crossing from WA).
Of course, with the tourism industry a very well-oiled machine in Central Australia, you don’t have to succumb to many hours of driving through the middle of nowhere if you don’t want. You can also fly to Yulara and enjoy a quick weekend break in the desert, if you’re short on time. More info below.
Driving to Uluru is a great adventure. Whether you come up from South Australia or on your way down from the Top End in the Northern Territory, there’s no other way to really appreciate its remote location.
Uluru is accessible by the Lasseter Highway which runs west off the Stuart Highway. The turnoff for the Lasseter Highway is at Erldunda Roadhouse, which has a fuel station, food and drinks and a caravan park. From there, it’s 246km to Yulara, the main town at Uluru.
If you have a 4WD, then you can reach Uluru from the northern direction by taking the Mereenie Loop from Alice Springs to Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon. Then, you can drive on the Luritja Road (2WD accessible) heading south from Kings Canyon, which connects onto the Lasseter Highway to Uluru.
This road trip through Central Australia is known as the Red Centre Way, which eventually heads up to Alice Springs and includes the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Alice Springs, NT to Yulara: 446km or 5 hour drive via Stuart Highway and Lasseter Highway
Kings Canyon to Yulara: 304km or 3.5 hour drive on the Luritja Road and Lasseter Highway
Coober Pedy, SA to Yulara: 734km or 8 hour drive via Stuart Highway and Lasseter Highway
Plan your road trip! There are not many services or towns on these highways, so you must plan out your fuel stops. For example, between Erldunda Roadhouse and Yulara, you will only find fuel at Curtin Springs. Yulara does have a petrol station though once you arrive.
If those distances seem a bit much, then you can also fly to Yulara. The Ayers Rock/Connellan Airport can be reached from most cities in Australia. There are direct flights from Alice Springs, Darwin, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. Airlines flying to Uluru include, Virgin, Jetstar and Qantas.
Essential information for visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Entry pass: A Parks Pass is essential for visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. You can purchase one at the entrance gate, but it is much more convenient to do it online before you arrive. You must scan your pass every time you enter the park. As of 2021, the price has increased to $38 for three days per adult. Get your pass online here.
A little-known fact! The Parks Pass can actually be extended for an additional two days free of cost. So, the price really covers five days inside the national park, if you wish. You can extend it easily with the staff at the entry gate.
Opening hours: There is no camping or accommodation inside the national park. Everyone must stay at Yulara or elsewhere. The national park opens before sunrise and closes just after sunset year round. The exact times differ on the month, so make sure you check during your visit.
Phone reception: There is some phone reception inside the national park, but it’s very limited coverage. However, Yulara has full 4G Optus and Telstra plus other providers too.
Road conditions: All roads in the national park are sealed and in good condition. You do not need a 4WD or special vehicle to access any of the official parts of the park.
Services: Yulara has a fuel station, restaurants, post office, IGA supermarket, souvenir shops, accommodation, tourist information desk, tour desks and campground. Prices are more expensive than you will find in places like Alice Springs, but that’s the nature of the remote location and tourism industry. Fuel can be over $2 per litre in high season!
Safety: Be sun smart when exploring Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are very real conditions. Drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunglasses and keep your skin protected from the sun.
Be respectful of the Traditional Owners
Uluru and Kata Tjuta are very sacred places to Aboriginal people and they ask that you respect this place as though it was sacred for you too. This means reading and listening to the signs around the national park. There are some restrictions on photographing certain areas around Uluru which are clearly marked as sacred (they’re marked in black on the national park map). It’s a small ask, but it’s really important to the Traditional Owners.
You used to be able to climb Uluru. This was a controversial topic until it was finally closed in 2019 after many years of lobbying by the Aboriginal community around the country. The old climb site is closed off, and there is a fine if you’re caught trying to climb Uluru. After many years, it was a massive relief for the Anangu for it to be finally closed.
Where to stay and eat
Yulara has plenty of accommodation options to suit a range of budgets. While most of the hotels and resorts are definitely on the upper end of the price spectrum, it’s not surprising considering how remote it is. There are plenty of restaurants to try as well, from take away to classy dining experiences. The campground also has camp kitchens for those wanting to self-cater.
Ayers Rock Campground || For anyone travelling with a van or caravan or even a tent, Ayers Rock Campground will be your only option. This fantastic caravan park is huge with plenty of room. They offer powered and unpowered sites. Don’t worry if it appears booked out, they have a massive overflow section for those without bookings and walk-ins. While the overflow is simply a dirt carpark, it’s cheaper than camping inside the campground and you still have access to the amenities. Prices start from $30 per night. Check availability here.
The Lost Camel Hotel || If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in Uluru, then the Lost Camel Hotel is your best bet. They offer clean and neat rooms with private bathrooms, air con, TV, free Wi-Fi and a mini fridge. The hotel also has an outdoor pool and free shuttle bus. It’s still not cheap but it’s the cheaper option out of the hotels and resorts at Yulara and is a very nice place to stay. Check availability here.
On a very tight budget? There is free camping available at Curtin Springs that is unpowered. They have a few powered sites as well for a fee. They charge $4 per hot shower and there’s toilets available for all campers. It’s located 107km away from Uluru on the Lasseter Highway. I met a few people exploring Uluru on a day trip from there.
Things to do at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There’s quite a lot to do at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, or at least a lot more than people first realise. While the highlight is often watching the sunset or sunrise from different platforms and viewpoints, there are some great walks and activities to join in as well.
1. Watch the sunset and sunrise
Undoubtedly the most famous thing to do at Uluru is watch the colours of the rock change with the rising and setting sun. There are different angles and viewpoints to head to for sunrise and sunset, including over at Kata Tjuta too. There are basically four main viewing areas, two of which are considered best for sunset and two for sunrise. I visited all four multiple times, so keep reading for some good tips for each spot!
Or you can join a small-group camel ride at sunrise or sunset for a completely unique experience! Book here.
Uluru Sunrise Viewing Platform/Talinguru Nyakunytjaku: This is the main viewing spot for sunrise at Uluru. There is a short loop walk to a large purpose-built viewing platform. The sun comes up from behind you at this location, so you get to see the colours of the rock and sky change in front of you. While the platform itself becomes crowded up to half an hour before the sun actually rises, I would suggest walking further along the path to a spot along the fence just opposite a shelter. This offers a really great view and you’ll likely only share it with a few other people.
Uluru Car Sunset Viewing: This is the most famous spot for views of Uluru. It’s effectively a long line of car spots so you can just park up and enjoy the view from your vehicle. It gets VERY busy at sunset in peak season, and it fills quickly. I arrived THREE hours before sunset to get the best spot and there were already a couple of people there. While most people believe the best car spot is the furtherest one in the lot, I actually preferred a couple of spots which were in the second section as you drive in where you can get an almost unobstructed view. The changing red colour of Uluru at sunset is pretty amazing here, so it’s definitely a must do. It’s also worth visiting here at sunrise if you have the time, as you’ll have it almost completely to yourself.
Uluru Bus Sunset Viewing: This place is just before the car sunset viewing area and is restricted to bus tours only. BUT, if you visit outside of the sunset times anyone is allowed to visit this spot. There is a sandy path that takes you onto a little hill with unobstructed views of Uluru. It is slightly further back from the car viewing spot, but it still offers a nice view nonetheless.
Want to see the famous Field of Light at Uluru? Check out this Field of Light sunrise tour at Uluru, which sells out quickly in high season.
Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Sunrise: This is a purpose built platform for viewing Kata Tjuta at sunrise. You can also see Uluru from here in the distance, which makes it a nice spot. I visited at both sunrise and sunset, and both are definitely worth doing, although sunrise is probably slightly better for the lighting on Kata Tjuta. However, it gets very busy at sunrise, while at sunset I was the only one there. The best spot to stand is in the far corner from where you can get a front row seat to Kata Tjuta and also see Uluru to your right.
Kata Tjuta Sunset Viewing: The viewing area for sunset at Kata Tjuta is just a patch of red sand in front of the domes that makes you feel very close to them. While at sunset the red colour of the rock is definitely beautiful, I found it the least impressive out of all the viewpoints. There’s also usually a bus load of tourists here, so it can get very crowded.
Hot tip! I visited most of these spots twice, for both sunrise and sunset. The viewing areas labelled sunset have the sun setting behind you so that you can see the colours of the rock changing, and it’s the same for the sunrise locations, where the sun will be rising from behind you or to the side (depending on the time of year). However, if you want to see the sun actually rising or setting behind Uluru or Kata Tjuta, then you should go to the opposite spot, i.e. go to the sunrise spot at sunset. If you do this it also means that you’ll have the view almost all to yourself. Ultimately, it depends on what kind of photo or view you want!
2. Join the free ranger-guided Mala walk
The Mala Walk is the gentle stroll to Kantju Gorge at Uluru, past some significant rock art and cultural sites. While you can easily do this yourself, a highlight of my time at Uluru was joining the ranger guided walk here. It’s an easy 2km walk with the free guided option taking around 1.5-2 hours all up.
The rangers know the national park best and also understand Tjukurpa (creation stories) so it’s a great way to get to know the cultural significance of the site. Meeting at the main Mala Carpark, the ranger takes the group along the walk stopping at important spots on the way. I learnt so much during my 2 hour walk that I definitely left with a greater understanding.
In the winter months the walk begins at 10am, but check at the cultural centre for more information.
3. Browse through the Cultural Centre
If you don’t have time for the ranger walk, then a browse through the Cultural Centre inside the park is essential. It provides a nice display of the history of the area, including many of the important Tjukurpa (creation stories) along with some artefacts.
Inside the centre, you’ll also find a cafe, art gallery and souvenir shops which all support the Anangu people. The ranger on the Mala walk told us that they prefer if people go to the Cultural Centre first before exploring more of the national park, as it gives a nice overview of the importance of the area.
4. Walk the base of Uluru
The best way to appreciate the full size of the rock is to walk around the base of Uluru. The Uluru Base Walk is roughly 10km along a gentle, flat trail. You can start the walk from anywhere, but most people begin from Mala Carpark and head around clockwise from there (although you can do it in either direction).
The trail takes you past some culturally sensitive spots where photography is restricted, but there are plenty of places for some beautiful photos. There are also some significant stops like a permanent waterhole and rock art, all of which have information boards to explain what you’re looking at.
If you’re not much of a walker, you can hire bikes from Outback Cycling at the Cultural Centre if you want to speed around the 10km track at a faster pace.
Read next: 8 of the Best Day Walks in Central Australia
5. Hike the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta
For keen hikers, the 7.5km Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta is a must do. The loop trail takes you through the middle of the sandstone domes and is the only way to truly grasp the incredible size and scale of them. The hike is graded moderate-difficult and does include a couple of steep inclines, but for anyone moderately fit it’s doable.
As you climb deeper into the middle of the valley, you’ll be completely surrounded by these giant sandstone domes on all sides. While you might be in awe as you make your way along, it’s at Karingana Lookout that you’ll truly be blown away. This stunning saddle in between two domes offers views in both directions. It’s the perfect place to sit back and relax before continuing down the steep track to the bottom.
It’s worth doing the complete loop, although it’s possible to walk to Karingana Lookout and return the same way to make it 5.5km.
If you’d prefer something a little easier, there is also the Walpa Gorge walk at Kata Tjuta, which is shorter and easier. The 2.5km return trail takes you through a beautiful gorge between the towering dome walls to a little pool of water that fills after rain. It’s just a short drive between the car parks for the Valley of the Winds and Walpa Gorge.
6. Take a scenic flight
As with many beautiful landscapes, seeing it from the air gives you a whole other perspective. Scenic flights are quite popular, with sunset being the most sought-after time. Prices start from $140 for 20 minutes or more.
Book your scenic flight here.
Suggested Uluru-Kata Tjuta itinerary
So, how long should you spend in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park? This really depends on what you want to do and how much time you have. You can realistically see Uluru and Kata Tjuta in 1-2 days, if you’re only interested in seeing it from a few of the viewpoints. However, I would recommend allowing at least three days to really enjoy the national park and do a couple of the walks.
I spent five days and I thought that was perfect if you really want to see everything and visit the viewpoints at both sunrise and sunset. But if you’re opting for the popular three days in the park, here’s my suggested Uluru itinerary.
If you’ve arrived at Yulara after a long drive, head into the national park and take a walk around the Cultural Centre to learn more about the area’s Anangu people. Then, head for the car sunset viewing area at Uluru, but make sure you arrive early to get a good spot. From there, you can enjoy one of the best views of the rock as the sky changes colour.
Get up early for sunrise and head to the famous sunrise viewing platform at Uluru. Squeeze yourself in amongst the other tourists to get the perfect photo of the sun hitting the rock.
After sunrise, head to the Mala Carpark and you can decide from two options.
You could wait for the morning departure of the free ranger guided Mala Walk. This informative tour takes about two hours, so you’ll be finished in time for lunch. After lunch, you can head out to Kata Tjuta and tackle the Valley of the Winds hike in the afternoon sun.
The second option is to tackle the Uluru Base Walk in the morning which should take you a few hours. Then, head out to Kata Tjuta in the afternoon and check out the Walpa Gorge walk before finding your sunset spot.
Whichever you choose, stay out at Kata Tjuta for sunset, and enjoy the beautiful view from either the official sunset spot or the sunrise viewing platform.
Get up for your last sunrise, and choose either to return to Kata Tjuta for a crowded sunrise view or head to the car sunset viewing area at Uluru and enjoy the sunrise almost all to yourself. Either way, it’s a great way to end your time at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Where to next?
Most people continue onto Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon for the ultimate Red Centre road trip. You can reach Kings Canyon in just over 3 hours or around 300km from Yulara. There is a resort and campground there from where you can explore another spectacular part of Central Australia. Check out my guide to Watarrka National Park and Kings Canyon!
Heading north? Alice Springs is the next major town you’ll come across on the Stuart Highway heading north. This is the main hub for exploring more of Central Australia, including the West MacDonnell Ranges. Alice Springs is 446km north of Yulara. Check out my post on the best things to do in Alice Springs.
Heading south? Check out my post on the most unique things to do in Coober Pedy, so you can plan your time in this famous opal mining town in South Australia. Coober Pedy is 734km south of Yulara.