We are mid-way into our journey around Australia when we arrive at Yulara airport in the center of the country. I’ve read from good authority in Lonely Planet (still our guidebook of choice) that this in not an overrated place to stop in Australia but I’m not yet totally sure. Our plane is packed with two tour groups and it feels like we just might be heading directly into a tourist trap. And although we spotted the majestic Uluru from the air, all I can wonder is why on earth we’ve allotted three nights of our journey to this vast and beautiful country to come and see a rock.
It turns out that renting a car here is a brilliant idea to make the trip feel more independent. As the tours line up to crowd the buses we wander to the Hertz desk and are the only ones in line. We take our time getting our luggage and finding the lay of the land. We fill up our water bottles, use the toilets and calmly head on our journey. We are not flustered or rushed and that is such an important feeling when traveling with kids. The only downside to renting a car is that after a certain mileage we have to pay about 20 cents per km but we have factored this into our cost and it still seems the most reasonable and sensible solution for our family.
It seems that everyone going to see Uluru stays somewhere on the Ayers Rock Resort property. As we wind our way back and forth to the resort over the next few days we see a lot of other tourists here but it isn’t overly crowded. Many people warn us of the roads and we see a handful of abandoned and wrecked cars as we drive from place to place. We do not drive at night.
We have a spacious apartment-style room at the Emu Walk Apartments property located in between the Desert Sands and Sails in the Deset resorts and it’s a short walk to restaurants and the IGA grocery store. We eat out at a few of the area restaurants, like the Walpa lobby bar at the Sails in the Desert and the Kulata Academy Cafe but it was also really handy to pick up groceries and eat in our own kitchen. There was no oven in this kitchen, just a stove, but we made things like burritos and pasta; cooking simply rules when we are on the road. The kids like lounging in the room after a long day of activity rather than trying to behave at a restaurant. I love when we have kid-friendly amenities like in-room laundry too.
I had planned on two hikes for this area while we visited-one around the base of Uluru and another to Katja Tjuta. When we went to the tourism booth in the village center, the people in front of us were renting bikes from Outback Cycling and we decided we would too-we ended up with the last bikes for the afternoon. The bike route and walking route around Uluru share the same path and the terrain is fairly flat, so I definitely would recommend biking if you go with kids-it’s easier to cover ground faster and we stopped and walked when we needed to take a little more time in places. If you don’t have a car to meet the bikes at the visitor center at Ularu, the bike rental company has partnered with a bus service that can take you too. It is so fun to bike here with kids and I loved the pictures I took. I wore a bug-net because the flies still bothered me so I have kept few pictures of me biking, but I was definitely there. There are also some areas where the terrain changes from packed dirt to sand that might cause a wipeout if you are going too quickly but we survived the journey with two 8-year old boys skinned-knee free.
One morning we woke up early to hike Katja Tjuta-the Olgas; about a 40 minute drive from the resort. This was one of the most spectacular hikes we’ve ever done and by traveling in late April we ensured that the weather would be a lot less hot than at other times of the year. The hike was about 5 miles and we were exhausted when we finished but there was so much diversity in the landscape that it kept us motivated to hike because there was so much to see. Little cairns piled near the end kept the kids entertained and we packed a ton of water and snacks.
We returned to Uluru for sunset. At first I thought that a sunset here would be overrated and I waited impatiently in the chilly air. As with most things in this region I soon realized that this would be the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen. The rock changed color. The sky shone red and gold as it kissed us all goodnight. I have way too many pictures of Uluru on my phone and I don’t want to delete any of them.
Our sunrise adventure to Uluru did not yield the most spectacular pictures. But we did have a lovely impromptu picnic breakfast and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We brought a kettle of hot water, some mugs and hot chocolate as well as some banana bread and had a mountain-side feast. This was the perfect send off from Ularu for our 4-ish hour travel journey to Alice Springs.
We also didn’t explore much at Alice Springs except for our hotel pool and hotel restaurant. Some travel days are like this. We were exhausted from hiking the Olgas and the long drive and we also had stayed up one night to see the Fields of Light flowers in the desert display. (We did the first viewing and came back on the first bus and I thought this was the best way to see it with kids.) Alice Springs has a gorgeous mountain range nearby and we were lucky enough to try the Pink Olive Bean Tree Cafe before we headed to the airport. There is a little hike up a hillside nearby this cafe in the botanical garden and we spotted rock kangaroos and a spectacular vista. I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect to end our trip to the Northwest Territories.
So yes, Ularu is more than”worth it.” Even with kids in tow and even with not doing all the touristy extras like sunset suppers and helicopter and camel tours, although I do think these all could be fun if we visited again. I’m glad we spent three nights getting to know this big red rock in the middle of Australia and I think we’ll remember some of these moments forever.