The magic of Uluru

Formerly known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is the giant red monolith in the middle of the Australian desert. Along with the Sydney Opera House, kangaroos and the Great Barrier Reef, it’s one of the icons of the country. Seeing it has always been one of my dreams, even long before I had ever planned travellig to Australia. I waited until the very end of my first year in the country before I finally went there and I absolutely loved it. Believe all the travel guides, Uluru truly is a magical place!

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery of photos of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.

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The first time I saw it was from a plane. Well, apart from the hundreds of times I saw it on tv documentaries, on the front page of my Lonely Planet, on postcards, on mugs, or on any other kind of souvenir. I was flying from Melbourne to Yulara, the village for tourists with its tiny airport built next to it. Here’s a great tip if you’re doing the same thing: book a window seat on the left side of the plane, as far as possible from the wings, and you’ll be able to stare at Uluru from the sky, with the silhouettes of the Kata Tjuta in the background.

Uluru, Kata Tjuta, plane

Once at the airport, I met some of the other people who booked the same tour as me. It was the first time that I was travelling in Australia without my van: after 11 months and thousands of kilometers, I had to sell it a few days before in Melbourne, with a lot of regrets. To be honest, the van was a wreck: the third gear was broken, so was the left mirror, the back door wasn’t opening anymore… The only person who wanted to buy it from me was a scrap merchant, but I still managed to get a good price from it, at my great surprise.

Anyway, without a van, the cheapest option to visit Uluru and its surroundings was a guided tour. I chose a company called Mulgas Adventure, which I can highly recommend to anyone exploring the area don’t recommend at all (see below why)*. After our guide picked us up from the airport, we first drove to an aboriginal centre at the foot of the rock before starting to hike around it. I was quickly way behind everyone else, too busy taking dozens of pictures!

At this point, I think I need to explain a few things about Uluru. It’s the second biggest monolith in the world, after Mount Augustus in Western Australia. It overlooks the vast, flat and empty plains around it by 348m, with an altitude at its summit of 863m. It is highly sacred for the Aboriginal people of the area, who have always asked visitors to not climb it, as a sign of respect to their beliefs. Unfortunately, every year thousands of stupid and disrespectful tourists do it anyway, not caring at all about these ancestral traditions. But great news, on the 26th of October 2019, in a few days as I’m writing this article, climbing to the top of Uluru will be definitively forbidden!

*A few days after uploading this article, Mulgas Adventure published the picture of a woman on top of Uluru on their Facebook and Instagram accounts (they deleted it since), even if our guide hipocritically told us to respect Aboriginal beliefs. I refuse to keep promoting a company with so terrible values so I’m strongly encouraging you to chose a different one with higher ethical standards if you’re visiting Uluru with a guided tour.

I even considered removing this article but I believe that it could be useful for anyone who would like to travel toUluru in a respectful way.

The full base walk of Uluru is a 10.6km loop around the monolith. On many points, signs indicate that pictures are forbidden at this particular spot because it has an even greater spiritual significance for Aboriginal people. Admiring this incredible landmark from so close was extraordinary. The surface of the rock was constantly changing, here evoking a face, there a lung; its colour was sometimes bright red, sometimes ochre, depending on the light, with black areas where the water flows during the occasional heavy rainfalls. I was also very surprised about how lush the vegetation was; ok, it wasn’t a jungle, but I didn’t expect to see so many trees here.

At some point, a short branch of the path was leading to Kantju Gorge, a crack of the rock with a little natural pool at its feet. I don’t know how to describe it, but I could physically feel something special in the atmosphere, growing gradually as I walked into the gorge; there was something in the air, a mix between thousand-years-old traditions, power and beauty of nature and an emotion impossible to explain. When I arrived at the pool, a few other people were already there and all of them seemed to feel the same thing as I did: none of them was talking and they all walked as slowly and softly as possible, trying to not make any sound. Even though it was allowed, it felt awkward to use a camera in such a magical place, so I only took a couple of pictures and simply appreciated the moment. No images or words could describe it anyway.

uluru-me

After everyone in the group finished the hike, we drove to the sunset viewing area: the place that is supposedly the best to watch the sunset over Uluru. It’s a very famous spot: other groups were there too, as well as individual tourists that came with their own vehicle. The ritual seemed to be the same for all the groups: it consisted in having a snack with a glass of champagne in front of the rock. I think I would have preferred something more “contemplative”, but I have to admit that I find this picture of me pretty cool… The sight was a little bit spoiled by clouds, and Uluru didn’t take this blazing red colour that I saw on youtube videos such as this one but the sky on the opposite direction looked gorgeous.

We spent the night in a campsite at Yulara, sleeping under the stars which was absolutely magical, but I’ll get back to this. We woke up super early the next morning to be on time at the sunrise viewing area. Once again, this spot is very popular and if you arrive a little bit late, the experience could easily get ruined because of standing behind a flood of smartphones and cameras. But as soon as the first rays of light started to appear over the horizon with the silhouette of Uluru standing out against the deep blue sky, I completely forgot about the dozens of people behind me. The sight was breathtaking.

Uluru, sunrise

Later that day, we explored the Kata Tjuta, a group of 36 monoliths 25km away from Uluru. Their aboriginal name actually means “many heads”. The highest summit is 1,066m high, 203m higher than its world-famous neighbour! The most popular way to explore it is to hike in the Valley of the Winds, walking between the gorgeous domes. Admiring such an extraordinary landscape that almost seemed to be out of this world was again very spectacular.

Mount Conner

In the afternoon, we drove to Kings Canyon, 350km further North (basically nothing compared to the size of the Australian desert). On our way, we briefly stopped to watch the “fake Uluru”, a monolith called Mount Conner that I already introduced you to with a funny story in a previous article. After a barbecue around a camp fire and a second night under the stars, we woke up early again for a sunrise hike. It was a very different sight from Uluru and the Kata Tjuta but once again of a stunning beauty, and the tall cliffs of Kings Canyon are extremely impressive. Don’t walk too close to the edge if you’re afraid of heights!

Campfire, outback

We spent our third and last night in the middle of nowhere. We left the main road between Kings Canyon and Yulara next to a roadhouse and drove a few more kilometers on an unsealed track until we reached our campsite: a simple container with a generator for electricity and the equipment we needed for the night, and enough space next to it to make a fire and sleep around it. After the emotion of finally seeing Uluru, I think that this was the highlight of the tour for me: sleeping under the stars every night. The sky was so clear that it felt unreal; it was like you could just raise your hands to touch the Milky Way. The third night on this campsite lost in the middle of the outback was the best: apart from the few people living in the roadhouse, we were dozens of kilometers away to the closest human being!

What surprised me quite a lot as well was the relative cold. I did this tour by the end of June 2017, at the beginning of the Australian winter. I naively thought that Uluru was one of these places in the world where temperatures never drop below 30°C, but I was wrong. Yes, from November to February, the average high is above 35°C with a record of 47°C, but in June and July, temperatures barely reach 20°C and it might even freeze at night! Luckily, the tour included the rental of a “swag”, a traditional portable sleeping unit which is at the same time a mattress and a sleeping bag, formerly used by shearers. With this and an extra layer of clothes, I didn’t feel the cold at all even if I was sleeping outside with temperatures at about 5°C. Actually, it’s way better to visit Uluru during winter to avoid the extreme heat of summer… but also to avoid the flies. Trust me, if you’re in the area in the warmer months of the year, they will be your worst nightmare!

Uluru

Travelling to Uluru was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s one of my best memories of Australia. Let me know how it was in the comments if you went there as well, and remember: don’t travel with Mulgas Adventure!

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