Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is a park in the Red Centre of the Northern Territory of Australia, part of the so-called Red Centre of the continent. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage area and is best known for Uluṟu (also known as Ayers Rock), a single massive rock formation, and also for Kata Tjuṯa (also known as "The Olgas"), a range of rock domes.
Yulara is the only service village nearby, built to offer supplies and accommodation for visitors to the park.
Visitors should understand that there are three locations that they need to be familiar with when visiting. Firstly, the airport – that is known as Ayers Rock airport. Secondly, the national park – that contains both the Rock (Uluṟu) and Kata Tjuṯa (The Olgas). The park closes at night, and has few services and no accommodation or camping. Thirdly, Yulara that is the resort town that contains all the services for the area. The three locations are all distinct, and you need to consider how you will travel between them.
Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa are considered sacred places by the local Aboriginal people. The land is owned by the Anangu, leased by the government and jointly managed by the Anangu and the Australian parks and management services. Visitors will notice efforts throughout the area to include and encourage respect for the Anangu perspective on the land.
Much of Kata Tjuṯa is off-limits, and climbing Uluṟu is also illegal. A few areas around the base of Uluru are also off-limits for photography, although there is no problem with it throughout most of the park. In practice, however, the daily management of the parks is handled by members of the Australian parks department.
The Anangu people have connected to the area for thousands of years. Some records suggest they may have been there for more than 10,000 years. On an expedition in 1872, the explorer Ernest Giles saw the rock formation from a considerable distance, although he did not reach the base. Giles described it as "the remarkable pebble". In 1873, the surveyor William Gosse followed his footsteps and reached the rock. He chose to name it in honour of the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Giles himself chose to name the domes nearby for Olga, the Queen of Württemberg.
The names Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa come from the local Anangu people and respectively mean "Earth Mother" and "Many Heads". In the Anangu language they are written as Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the letters with macrons indicating that they are pronounced with the tongue curled upwards and touching the upper part of the palate instead of the front part or the teeth.
Eventually, the Australian government moved to a dual-naming policy – initially "Ayers Rock / Uluru", and then "Uluru / Ayers Rock". "Uluru" is now the common-usage name amongst all but the elderly. Official material tends to begin with the dual-named "Uluru / Ayers Rock" and later use simply "Uluru".
Uluṟu is one of Australia's best known natural features, the long domed rock having achieved iconic status as one of the symbols of the continent. The rock is a so-called monolith, i.e. a single piece of rock or a giant boulder, extending about 5 km beneath the desert plain and measuring 3.6 by 2.4 km at the surface. It rises 348 metres above the plain (862.5 metres above sea level) and has a circumference of 9.4 km. Some say that Uluru is the biggest of its kind, others say that Mount Augustus in Western Australia is bigger. Whatever the case may be, standing in front of Uluru and seeing its massive bulk rise above the flat plain surrounding it, it is nothing less than impressive. The rock undergoes dramatic colour changes with its normally terracotta hue gradually changing to blue or violet at sunset to flaming red in the mornings as the sunrises behind it.
But the rock also extends some 2.4 km (1.5 mi) underground. The Anangu believe this space is actually hollow but it contains an energy source and marks the spot where their dreamtime began. They also believe that the area around Uluru is the home of their ancestors and is inhabited by many ancestral beings.
Kata Tjuṯa is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes 36 km (22 mi) to the west of Uluru. Some geologists believe that it once may have been a monolith far surpassing Uluru in size, but that it eroded to several separate bulks of rock.
Flora and fauna
- See also: Australasian wildlife
Apart from these two main features the park also protects hundreds of plant species, 24 native mammal species and 72 reptile species. To protect these, off-road access away from Uluru and Kata Tjuta is not allowed.
In December and January, the temperature can be blistering hot with temperatures exceeding 45 °C, and occasionally tipping over 50, and some areas may be closed for travellers' safety. July and August can see minimum overnight temperatures drop to as low as minus 10°, with day time maximums occasionally only reaching as high as 15°. April and September offer a more temperate climate, although still warm enough to work up a sweat at mid-day.
|Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
- From the north, in Alice Springs take the Stuart Highway (A87) South for about 200 km to Erldunda Roadhouse. Turn right onto the Lasseter Highway and 245 km further on you arrive at Yulara). It's a tarmac road - a bit of a sloping surface in places, but you can easily drive along at 120 km/h (75 mph). Far more cars on the road than you would imagine, and every driver waves hello to you (that's what you get in these far off places!) Plenty of places to stop and picnic and get water, although no toilets unless you stop at an official roadhouse (few and far between). There's lots of wildlife to see too: camels, cows, dingos and birds.
Cars can also be rented in Alice Springs. It is a 450-km drive to the resort from Alice, and should take between 4 and 5 hours. There are fuel stations along the Stuart Highway (A87) and the Lasseter Highway (A4). Be sure to top off your tank when you can. In addition, if you have an early flight from Alice Springs and plan to drive back in the morning, be sure to top off the day before, as fuel in Yulara is not open 24 hours - and they won't be open if you leave pre-dawn. Probably best to wait if you're not in a hurry.
- To the south the nearest town is Marla. Take the Stuart Highway north to Erldunda, 350 km (220 mi) away.
- From the west the Docker River Road ends near Kata Tjuta. As this road is considered part of the Gunbarrel Highway, you will find detailed information in that article.
Driving at night can be dangerous because of animals on the road, particularly kangaroos and cows (Lasseter Highway goes through cattle station land and is not fenced in all the way). Rental car agreements often prevent doing this drive outside daylight hours, mostly for your own safety.
A number of tour companies based in Alice Springs visit Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Note that the majority of the companies listed below are not based in Alice Springs but are re-sellers of the local operators. You may find it cheaper to visit Alice Springs and book a tour directly with a local operator. Tours range from basic 1-day bus tours (beware, this means at least 1,000 km of driving in 1 day) up to 5 days long, also often visiting Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell ranges on the way.
- Travelwild Ayers Rock Tours, ☏ , [email protected]. Small group 4WD tours for backpackers and active people, 3 and 5 day 4WD camping tours
- AAT Kings Tours, ☏ 1300 228546 (local rate), , [email protected]. Wide variety of tour options in and around the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park
- Emu Run Tours, ☏ , [email protected].
- Lost In Australia, ☏ , [email protected]. Adventure, small groups, 4WD safaris, locally owned and operated.
- The Rock Tour, [email protected]. One of the most popular tours chosen by the backpackers will be the 3D/2N camping tour departing from Alice Springs. $330 for 3D/2N camping + $25 for park fees.
Tour companies also provide longer tours from many of Australia's capital cities including Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.
- Longhorn YOUnique Tours, ☏ , [email protected]. Eco-certified small group and private tours depart from Melbourne traveling to outback NT. SA family-owned and -operated.
- Wayoutback Australian Safaris, 30 Kidman St, Alice Springs NT 0870, Australia, ☏ , [email protected]. Wayoutback is offers two styles of tours to Uluru -budget adventure, backpacker style trips and more comfortable 4WD style tours with permanent tents. Their 1 day / 1 night tour only visits Uluru, and the other longer trips branch out to explore other highlights in the Red Centre.
- Uluru Hop On Hop Off, 118 Kali Ccrt, Yulara, ☏ , [email protected]. Bus transfers between Yulara, Uluṟu, and Kata Tjuṯa, single trips are Uluṟu return at $49 adult/$15 child and Kata Tjuṯa return $95 adult/$40 child, single and multi-day unlimited trips to Uluṟu passes are available with a limited number of trips to Kata Tjuṯa.
- 1 Ayers Rock Airport (Connellan AYQ IATA) (is around 15 km north of the rock). Serves the resort town of Yulara. Qantas and Virgin Australia fly there. There are direct flights from Alice Springs, Cairns and Sydney, with flights announced from Adelaide and Darwin.
Some travellers also fly to Alice Springs and drive or take a tour from there, but it is well over 5 hours drive from Alice Springs to Yulara. Unlimited mileage rental cars are not common in Alice Springs if you arrive and rent a car on the spot from the majors. Travel agents and the government tourist office do have access to unlimited mileage rates.
Flights from Alice Springs cost around $120 upwards with Qantas.
The road from the Stuart Highway makes for a pleasant & relatively easy cycle tour, undertaken each year by dozens of travellers. Bicycle travellers need to be well prepared in terms of mechanical reliability, water & food, and will need to "bush camp" several nights at least.
Fees and permits
You must purchase a pass to enter the park. As of 2022, passes cost:
- Northern Territory residents annual: $109 / vehicle
- Non-residents 3 days: $38 18 year old+ / free under 18
- Non-residents annual: $50 18 year old+ / free under 18
Some tours include the fee, ask your booking agent.
You can also purchase the pass at the entrance to the park, but if taking tours, book online as the tour operators will want to check the pass when boarding the bus and not stop at the gate.
3 day passes can be extended for an additional 2 days at the entrance to the park only.
The big rocks are actually a little distance from Yulara, where the accommodation and facilities are. If you are not with a tour, or didn't bring your car, you will need to decide how best to get to these locations. Rental cars can be expensive, and have limited kilometres; however shuttles to and from the rock are also expensive, so do the maths and see what works best for you.
- Cars can be rented nearby at Ayers Rock/Connellan Airport or at Yulara. The roads around Uluru and Kata Tjuta are all sealed/paved and well-maintained so you don't require a 4WD. Vehicles drive on the left, but there isn't much in the way of traffic in the area - people accustomed to driving on the right can probably manage it. Be aware of additional charges that may apply including premium location or one way surcharge. Also ensure you book early so you are not disappointed.
- AAT Kings, ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. AAT Kings operate bus sightseeing tours of the park, including sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Tours range from $40 to $150.
- Ayers Rock Tours. Many of the longer tours of the Ayers Rock Region depart and return to Alice Springs. Some will pick up at Ayers Rock but do not drop back at Ayers Rock. If you are wanting to do a 3-day or 5-day tour and experience the entire region it is best to start and finish in Alice Springs.
- Uluru Express offers unlimited access to the Park from your choice of hotel at Yulara for 2-days or 3-days at a cost of $155 or $170, respectively. This cost does not include admission to the park. This is a great deal for those who wish to see all the attractions in the park at their own pace. Other trips are available.
- 1 Uluṟu (Ayers Rock). The sunrise viewing area Talinguru Nyakuntjaku (which means 'place to look from the sand dune') is on the Eastern side of Uluru. It gives you a raised viewing area, and you can also see Kata Tjuta to the side from the viewing point, and a sunset viewing point between the Kata Tjuta turn-off and the cultural centre. In addition, the area also has 1.6 km of walking tracks, carpark, shade shelters, toilets and an area that can be used for concerts. The previous sunrise viewing area that actually allowed you to see the sunrise over the rock is closed because it allowed viewing of a sacred site. If you only have one sunrise during your stay, you may choose to view Kata Tjuṯa.
- 2 Kata Tjuṯa (The Olgas). Also has a well-marked sunrise and sunset viewing point on the road leading to the domes. The Kata Tjuta consists of 36 domes composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of coarse sandstone. The highest dome, Mount Olga, is 1,066 metres above sea level, approximately 546 metres above the surrounding plain and 198 metres higher than Uluṟu).
- 3 The Cultural Centre (Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa Cultural Centre), Uluru Rd, Uluru, ☏ . 10AM–4PM. Built in 1995 to mark the 10th anniversary of Handover (the process by which land was given back to the traditional owners, and Ayers Rock became Uluru). It's worth a visit before walking around Uluru as it hosts a multitude of aboriginal creation stories and extensive articles about the history of the Pitjantjara. There are shops where you can buy local art and souvenirs. It's also a good place for a rest after trekking around Uluru.
- Uluru Astro Tours, ☏ , [email protected]. Hotel pickup around 8pm depending on weather and moonrise. $99 adults, $60 children.
It is no longer allowed to climb Uluru.
Uluru is sacred to the Anangu people of the area and the former climb followed the track that their ancestral Mala men took to get to the top for ceremony. In addition, there were safety and environmental concerns: more than 30 people died while climbing Uluru, the lack of toilet facilities led to pollution of the area, the erosion caused by visitors climbing Uluru damaged it.
As a result, climbing Uluru has been banned since October 2019.
- The Uluru base walk (9.8 km) will take 3–4 hours. Most people walk clockwise on the track but a few kilometres along this track the crowds thin out to just an occasional walker.
- The Mala Walk (2 km) This track begins at the Mala Walk car-park and ends at the inspiring Kantju Gorge.
- The Liru Walk is a walk between the cultural centre and the base of Uluru. Its 4 km and takes about 1 and a half hours.
- The Kuniya Walk is an easy 1 km walk to the Mutitjulu Waterhole on the Southern side of Uluru. There is some rock art here also in the rock shelter, and a good place to learn about the Tjukurpa (pronounced Chook-a-pa) of the area.
- Some tour operators, eg AAT Kings, offer a "Cultural Walk tour" which incorporates the Mala and Kuniya walks.
- 1 Outback Cycling: Uluru Bike Ride, Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, Uluru Road, ☏ , [email protected]. Ride a bike around the standard Uluru walk; 14km including the distance from the cultural centre; sometimes an easier way for younger families to complete the base track. The ride is independent rather than guided; but the walking track is very clear. Make sure to book the transfer option if you don't have your own transport from Yulara. $60/adult, $45/child, $35/tag-a-long, $30 child seat.
- 2 Uluru Segway Tours, Kuniya Carpark, Uluru, ☏ , [email protected]. Complete the base walk riding a Segway device; guided tours. Make sure to book transfer option if you don't have your own transport from Yulara. From $149/self drive.
- Uluru Camel Tours, ☏ , [email protected]. Another wonderful experience. You are taken from the resort to the camel farm where you are instructed on what you need to do. The owner is very friendly. The camel trek is through surrounding desert, giving good views all around with a talk on camel history and the area, before reaching a viewing point to watch the sun rising or setting on Uluru. The camels are well cared for animals, not at all smelly, and all very well behaved. At the camel farm there is home made beer bread with wattle seed dip, camel meat, bush fruits and a variety of drinks. There is also the opportunity to purchase from the gift shop. $80 express tours, $135 sunrise and sunset, hotel transfers included.
- The Walpa Gorge walk (2.6 km) is the shorter - and easier - of the two walks around Kata Tjuta.
- The Valley of the Winds walk (7.4 km) at Kata Tjuta is truly magnificent and should not be missed. The walk consists of a single path to the first lookout point. From this point, the walk enters further into Kata Tjuta, where a loop trail brings you to the second lookout point. The counter-clockwise (left-round) direction is recommended. The complete walk (to both lookouts) takes about 3 hours, and carrying bottled water is advised, although there are two water stations along the route. The walk beyond the first lookout may be closed during extreme weather. As with the Uluru climb, a sign at the park entrance will advise visitors whether the walk to the second lookout is open. This walk is best during the early morning hours, before the large crowds arrive, permitting you to see more wildlife. The walk beyond the first lookout will be closed at 11AM if the forecast high temperature is above 36 degrees C, which is very common in summer. The walk is also over rocky and hilly terrain. Therefore, good hiking shoes are not only recommended, but should be required.
- The Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area is a short walk off the road to Kata Tjuta. It gives you a great view to Kata Tjuta, and as the name suggests its located on the top of a sand dune. It also gives a good view of Uluru from a distance. 600 m and allow at least 1/2 hour.
Both Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa are extremely popular photography subjects and the park provides a general guide to photography. You might also look out for the rare ability to photograph rain in the park, and the possibility of astrophotography given the excellent view of the Milky Way and the lack of light pollution.
Before photographing Uluṟu close up, review the sensitive cultural sites that the Anangu people ask not be photographed. These are marked on the base walk prominently with signs asking that you not take photographs starting from the sign. These are also shown in the photography guide above. The entire north-east face, which is the side visible from the airport and Yulara, should only be photographed from a distance.
Commercial photography requires a permit and drone photography is forbidden.
Flying over the park
Two operators provide sightseeing flights over the park, both short flights over Uluṟu and longer flights taking in one or more of Kata Tjuṯa, Lake Amadeus, and Kings Canyon.
- Professional Helicopter Services (PHS), Yulara Visitor Centre, ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. From $160 for short flights.
- Fly Uluru, Yulara Visitor Centre, ☏ , [email protected]. Both helicopter and plane sightseeing offered. From $120 for short flights.
Souvenirs are available at the Cultural Centre or at several shops in Yulara. They range from standard shirts, caps and knick-knacks to authentic (and, accordingly, expensive) Anangu art. Food, drinks and photographic equipment are available in Yulara.
- 1 Ininti Cafe, Uluru Rd, Petermann, ☏ . 10AM–4PM. Near the Cultural Centre offers surprisingly good - and often vegetarian-friendly - fast food for reasonable prices. Sells pies, pastries, cakes, snacks, and hot and cold drinks.
- The Sounds of Silence Dinner is an extremely popular - albeit expensive ($159 per adult) - night under the stars. Advance bookings (e.g. 3–4 days) are essential even in low seasons. Coaches take diners from Yulara to one of a few dining areas out in the desert. Champagne (or beer, upon request) are served while the sun goes down over Uluru and the inevitable didgeridoo plays. The clean, elegant dining area is lit by table lamps. The food is served buffet-style, but it's cooked with the attention of a gourmet chef (considering the circumstances). Between the main course and dessert, a star talker guides you through the stars that are out that night, and telescopes are available afterward. There is also a camp fire in the winter. Reservations can be made at travel agents or the various tour offices around Yulara. Ostensibly, reservations can be made over the internet as well, but it's a good idea to follow-up by phone, as coordination between the resort offices and the tour company is spotty at best.
- Desert Awakenings, occasionally available, is a breakfast version of the aforementioned Sounds of Silence. It includes a guided tour around the base of Uluru and ends at the Cultural Centre.
Water! And lots of it. No alcohol is sold outside of Yulara, and tribal elders have asked visitors not to sell or give alcohol to the indigenous people.
There is no accommodation inside the park, and no camping is permitted within the park boundaries. The park closes overnight.
Accommodation from camping to 5-star hotels is available in at the resort village of Yulara, just outside the park boundary. See that article for details.
About an hour short of Yulara (coming from Alice Springs) is Curtin Springs Station, which offers free unpowered camping, and $25 per night for powered sites. They charge $2.50 for a shower. You can "bush camp", but it's not recommended.
If you are interested in Aboriginal culture, consider staying at Mt Ebenezer. It's 200 km away, so you won't see the sunrise at Uluru, but it's good for a night's stop if you are late getting away from Alice or Uluru. Whilst the accommodation is relatively basic, it is one of only a few Aboriginal-owned roadhouses in the Territory. Go out the back and you will see an art room for members of the local Imampa Community, and you can buy art directly from the artists. Don't be put off by not being served by an Aboriginal person, this is due to their culture, but rest assured it is owned by the local community.
Unless you're well-equipped with an appropriate vehicle, supplies and maps, stay on the marked roads. Keep an eye on your fuel supply before you set off anywhere.
Keep plenty of water with you at all times while you're hiking. Whether or not you're thirsty, stop for a drink at least once an hour. The temperatures can be extreme during the summer (particularly December to January). Wear a hat and don't be shy with the sunscreen. Expect to be annoyed by flies, particularly on some stretches of the Valley of the Winds walk.
Wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Some of the terrain you may be traversing will be steep and covered with loose stones. Thongs, flip-flops, boat-shoes, and loafers are not recommended for the Uluru Climb, the Valley of the Winds walk, nor the Gorge walk. Runners (sneakers) are acceptable.
Curtin Springs Station makes a good base for a trip to King's Canyon in Watarrka National Park, a similarly magnificent geological wonder. Make sure you fuel up in Yulara until Alice Springs when going that way, as fuel prices on the way are unbearable!