It was early March 2020, and I was attending the NT Muster, a travel industry event showcasing all things Northern Territory. I found myself fascinated by what I was seeing, and wanting to visit the NT as I have never been. At the end of the night a few trips were given away to travel agents as prizes….and I won the major prize! Then, of course, Covid did its thing, and the trip was rescheduled several times. It made finally getting to Central Australia all the more exciting and rewarding. Here is my story of that wonderful trip.
The trip started with getting on a plane. I know that sounds obvious, and for many it is something to be endured rather than enjoyed, but we were excited. That flight was symbolic of so much – new beginnings and possibilities after Covid’s pain.
There was a sense of anticipation as we got closer to Ayers Rock Airport. When would we get our first glimpse of The Rock? Actually, there was a young girl seated in front of us, and her excitement was delightfully contagious. Her voice got louder, and she became more and more animated as that moment drew closer. It was a wonderful way to see Uluru for the first time…through childlike eyes.
Actually, I should say that the trip began before we even left home with completing a Border Travel Permit for the NT. I know this will probably be a way of life for some time to come, and I fully understand the need for it, but it still feels strange to be filling out forms as if we are travelling internationally. The checking of our forms by the officials at Ayers Rock Airport meant it took a while to truly start our adventure, but they were friendly and helpful while completing this important process. Finally we were free to leave and the fun began.
Instead of staying at Yulara (the township near Uluru), we hired a car and travelled on to Kings Canyon first. It was a fascinating drive in a landscape quite different from what we are used to. The first stop was Mt Conner Lookout, where you can take the time to truly appreciate this formation.
However, there is a secret here that many people miss. If you follow the track up the sand dune on the other side of the road, you will get to see Lake Amadeus – the NT’s largest salt lake. I am so glad we had been told about it.
Top tip: check out the salt lake hiding behind the sand dune on the other side of the road.
After about 3 hours we arrived at Kings Canyon Resort, a very relaxed place to stay in the middle of the outback. The resort offers camping, glamping and hotel style rooms, along with a couple of dining options, a general store, oh and flies!
We stayed in a deluxe room, complete with spa bath overlooking the desert…a unique setting indeed! Yes, I did enjoy a spa while watching the sunset, and even saw a dingo wander by outside.
Speaking of sunsets, the resort has a sunset viewing platform where you can enjoy a drink while watching the changing colours of the landscape. Even when plenty of people choose to also enjoy this, it is still a relaxing and beautiful thing to do. It feels like you are slowing down time as the sun gently sets in this remote location.
The 6km walk (and climb) around the rim of Kings Canyon is worth every bit of effort involved. It starts with a 500 step climb up what is known as Heart Attack Hill, which I thought was never going to end. It does eventually…with a defibrillator conveniently located at the top, just in case. Fortunately we did not need it!
The reward for making it up the hill is an incredible view, and the rewards keep on coming. It is stunning, quiet and so peaceful (apart from the sound of me puffing every now and then). We could have stayed up there exploring, and simply appreciating this incredible setting all day…except it would get too hot. To try to select just a couple of photos and favourite spots from this walk is nearly impossible. It is best to do this walk in the cool and gentle lighting of the early morning.
Top tip: do this walk in the early morning to avoid the heat, and carry plenty of water
Karrke is a must-visit while staying at Kings Canyon. It is a short 30 minute drive away, and a valuable experience for any non-indigenous visitor. It offers a one hour glimpse into the ways of the Luritja and Pertame (Southern Aranda) people of Central Australia region, covers everything from bush tucker and medicine to art and culture, and is presented in an authentic and professional manner.
Peter and his family are incredibly friendly. What I especially love is their story. They were living off government welfare until they decided to start this business, and have established a wonderful experience that we thoroughly enjoyed. I highly recommend it.
Despite the remoteness of the road between Kings Canyon and Yulara, there is plenty to see and do. Our first stop was at Kathleen Springs.
It was a lovely area to explore, with plenty of flies to keep us company. The fly net is not exactly glamorous, but it certainly made the walk much more enjoyable.
Our accommodation at Yulara was Sails in the Desert, Ayers Rock Resort’s 5 star offering. The room was a great size and well equipped, and the hotel has a lovely poolside area, restaurant and bar. The only downside – which is a problem throughout all accommodation options at the resort – is the current lack of staff. Like many places at the moment, they are operating with reduced staff levels so service takes a bit longer than what we might desire. That is not the fault of the staff, they are doing the very best they can. We just need to look on it as an opportunity to enjoy a slower pace of life, which is not a bad thing anyway.
The dark skies of the Red Centre provide the perfect setting for stargazing, and we loved this tour. The guide showed us many different stars and constellations, and focussed especially on the indigenous stories about them. A highlight was being able to these amazing sights through a telescope…incredible!
Top tip: bring a coat. It gets cold in the desert at night.
I had been anticipating this segway tour ever since I won the prize. I was a bit apprehensive about it as I have some balance issues, but the guides took the time to ensure we were all confident on the segways before we started the tour around the base of Uluru. It was much easier than I expected, and a lot of fun.
We stopped at various points around the rock to hear the Tjukurpa (creation stories). They were fascinating, and I gained a new appreciation for the spiritual significance this area holds for the Anangu traditional owners.
Top tip: be mindful that Uluru has many culturally sensitive sites where photography and filming are prohibited. These locations are clearly signed.
We did not have a lot of time to visit Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), but we made the most of the bit we had and I am so glad we did. Kata Tjuta is completely different from Uluru. The rock formations here are made from a conglomerate of pebbles and boulders cemented by sand and mud, whereas Uluru is a sandstone monolith.
There are two different walks at Kata Tjuta, and we walked the 2.6km Walpa Gorge track which carves its way between the two tallest domes. Walpa means windy, and it was. I certainly had to hang onto my hat!
Kata Tjuta = a must visit
Picture this: indulging in canapes and sparkling wine on a sand dune overlooking Uluru at sunset while the didgeridoo plays. Wandering along a path to your table where you meet fellow travellers, enjoy a delicious 3-course bush tucker inspired menu and fine wines as the sky darkens. Then embracing the darkness and the sounds of silence as a guide explains the southern night sky. Lastly, a glass of port in the soft glow of the table lamps before heading back to your hotel. That is the Sounds of Silence Dinner.
This small group tour was incredible. It started in the pre-dawn darkness as we made our way to a sand dune platform where breakfast and a beautiful sunrise awaited us. Damper with golden syrup, egg and bacon rolls, a cup of tea and Uluru gradually revealing itself as the sun rose in the quietness of the desert. Is there a better way to start the day?
After breakfast our guide Toby took us to some of the key places around the base of Uluru where we learned more of the Anangu culture and admired stunning waterholes, rock art and other landmarks.
This was a great way to learn about the symbols used in indigenous art, hear stories from a local Anangu artist and interpreter, and explore your creative side as you create your own dot painting. By attending a Maruku workshop, you are also supporting a not-for-profit collective which in turn supports over 20 remote communities through their art. I love that.
This is my painting. It tells the story of travelling from our home in the green of the Yarra Valley to the red of Uluru and Kings Canyon. It also depicts the challenges that Covid brought to us making the journey, and celebrates the stunning stars in the desert sky.
While we were painting our masterpieces, our indigenous artist completed her own work. We loved it so much that we bought it.
While we were painting, our artist completed her own work. We loved it so much that we bought it.
The grand finale of our time at Uluru. We had the Star Pass, which meant we just had to enjoy another beautiful sunset and more sparkling wine and canapes while watching 50,000 glass spheres gradually light up to a soft glow in the desert night.
While we were unsure whether we would like the Field of Light, we were pleasantly surprised. Wandering amongst the lights proved to be a surreal experience that we thoroughly enjoyed.
As you can see, our short trip to Uluru and Kings Canyon was full of amazing experiences. The Red Centre of Australia is full of wonderous sights and culture and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy some of them. I am already looking forward to going back some day.