Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Planning a Self Guided Trip to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Visiting Uluru was an absolute must for me and Nick during our time in Australia but working out how to make it happen took a while. Flights were expensive, we didn't think that we had the necessary skills to drive there, and finding a tour that didn't include eating kangaroo seemed impossible. I also knew that being on a tour with people who planned to climb Uluru against the wishes of the Anangu people would irritate me so much that I probably wouldn't enjoy the trip. In the end we planned our own self guided tour of Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park and Kings Canyon.

Here's what our five day trip looked like.

Day One

We flew to Alice Springs from Sydney and spent a night at the YHA hostel there. We'd pre-booked a rental car from Central Car Rentals but to save money we weren't picking it up until they opened the next morning. The car rental was expensive but we chose a deal that included everything we'd need for camping which significantly reduced our accommodation costs. Our ride came with swag bags, sleeping bags, a table and chairs, a gas stove and gas bottle, and an Eski (that's a cool box to us Brit's!), as well as crockery and cooking equipment.

As soon as we'd checked into the hostel we walked to the closest Cole's supermarket to buy almost everything we'd need for our time in the outback. There's actually a really well stocked IGA in Yulara (where the campsite is located), just outside Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, but we didn't know that before we left. I'd still recommend getting most of your food at Cole's in Alice Springs as it's cheaper than at the IGA but you'll be able to stock up on produce and bread and stuff once you're there if you need to.

Day Two

We packed up our bags and walked to Central Car Rentals to pick up our car as soon as they opened. We then drove to Cole's for water and ice for the Eski before swinging by the hostel to grab our bags from the room and our food from the fridge. We loaded up the Eski and then got on the road. It's about a 4 1/2 hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru and it took us around 5 hours because we stopped to use rest stop bathrooms, take pictures, and eat snacks. Ideally you want to be on the road by 9 - 9:30 so that you'll make it to Uluru in time for some activities before sunset.

As soon as you arrive you'll want to visit the cultural centre before doing anything else. Here you'll learn about Anangu culture and why it isn't okay to climb Uluru. Do not skip the video, I learnt so much about the land treaty of 1985 and the treatment of the Anangu people both before and after the treaty. I'm pretty appalled that the government at the time agreed that they would stop people climbing Uluru whilst talks were happening but rescinded that part of the deal after the treaty was signed as they were worried that it would affect tourism.

After visiting the cultural centre we took the Liru walk and got our first view of Uluru up close. It's so stunning.

Our final stop of the day was watching sunset from the sunset carpark. If you drive towards the end of the parking lot you'll get the best views and it's less busy there. If you take a tour you'll be watching sunset from further away on the dunes above the road next to the tour bus carpark. Getting to see the colours changing as the sun set at Uluru was an amazing experience, don't forget to put your camera down and enjoy the magic!

After sunset we drove back to the campsite at the Yulara resort area, cooked dinner, and then rolled out our swag bags for our first night sleeping under the stars. 

Day Three

We woke up at 5:30, shoved our swag bags into the car and drove into the park for sunrise at the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing area. My main advice with this would be to get there way earlier than you think you need to. First light is really early here and whilst we didn't miss the sun rising and illuminating Uluru we were a little disappointed by just how light it already was when we arrived. 

As soon as sunset was over we hopped back into our car and headed to the Kuniya car park to do the base walk. The walk is a 10.6 km loop and it seems that most people start this walk from the Mala car park. We decided that we'd rather be on the sunny side earlier in the day before it got too hot rather than later on when the sun was higher and hotter and I definitely think we made the right decision there. Our anti-clockwise walk around Uluru was one of my favourite Aussie experiences. It's such a beautiful place.

We stopped once along the way at the Mala carpark to use the bathroom and to eat some snacks and the walk took us under three hours. I was pretty irritated that there were people climbing Uluru. There are signs everywhere telling people not to climb and explaining why in most languages. I can't understand why people think their personal "need" to climb and conquer is more important than the feelings of the Anangu people.

Our next stop was Kata-Tjuta where we planned to do two walks. The first through the valley of the winds to the Karu Lookout and the second through Walpa Gorge. I'll be honest the Karu Lookout walk wasn't that great, if you have the time and energy to continue to the Karingana Lookout then I'd include it in your itinerary but if you only have time for one walk here Walpa Gorge is where it's at. This gorgeous walk takes around an hour and goes right in-between two of the heads - Kata-Tjuta means many heads in the local language.

After all of our walking we had time to pop back to the campsite for a shower before catching a second sunset at Uluru. We took the opportunity to just chill and watch and not take any photos which was lovely. After sunset we headed back to the campsite for dinner and more stargazing. The moon was really high and full whilst we were there which meant that seeing the stars was difficult but it didn't take away from the experience of sleeping outside under an outback sky.

Day Four

We were up very early on our final day so that we could catch one last sunrise. This time we just drove as far as the bus sunset car park and then walked along the dunes to a quiet spot. Take a torch if you're planning on getting there before first light like we did! It was pretty magical watching Uluru come into view and it was a much quieter and less crowded place to watch the sunrise than Talinguru Nyakunytjaku. That said you don't see the colours changing here so much so I'd only include this spot in your itinerary if you have time for two or more sunrises.

As soon as it was light enough we drove to Kings Canyon. This is an absolute must visit, do not even think about missing this! We'd read about the rim walk and um-ed and ah-ed about whether we should / could do it as it's described as challenging and we knew that we'd be arriving around 11am and hiking through the hottest part of the day. We did do it though and the rim walk is exactly as amazing as everyone says it is. The initial climb is kind of brutal but we made it to the top and once you're up there the landscape flattens out a little. 

This really must be one of the most epic landscapes in the world, I feel like this must be what Mars looks like! The circular route is the only one that takes you through rockscapes and through the Garden of Eden which is a gorgeous section full of plants and trees, we even spotted a rock wallaby.

After our Kings Canyon hike we started driving back towards Alice Springs, we planned to drive until around an hour before dusk and then stop at the nearest road house. We made it as far as the Erlunda roadhouse which wasn't ideal as it turned out that they had some kind of dubious kangaroo enclosure there. Unfortunately all of the stops along this road have something to do with animals, whether they're on an emu farm or part of a cattle ranch there's really no way around it, and you can't drive after dark. Despite our annoyance at the animal cruelty it was a lovely evening. We cooked dinner before dark for the first time since leaving Alice Springs and the moon wasn't as bright or high in the sky which meant that we could lay out in our swags looking at the stars before falling asleep.

Day Five

We woke up around sunrise and enjoyed lying in our swags and warming up as the sun rose before packing up our things. Once we were up we had time for a leisurely breakfast before driving to Alice Springs, returning the rental car, and hopping on to a shuttle bus to the airport to catch our flight back to Sydney.

Nick and I took this trip in late winter and I would highly recommend that time of year. It was a little chilly at night but the daytime temperatures were perfect, I couldn't have handled most of the walking we did in hotter temperatures and in summer some of the trails are closed because it's just too hot.

I hope that this post helps you plan your Uluru adventure, don't be scared to go on your own, you get so much more freedom this way and you'll get to spend far more time exploring that you would on most tours.

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