Up Early at Uluru

From Coober Pedy we burned up the highway straight to Yulara, the resort town built for tourists visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We were staying at the campground, but the resort has various accommodation types, including luxury rooms, apartments, and backpacker dorms. There is also a number of pools and a little town centre with some restaurants and shops (including an amazingly named noodle bar called Ayers Wok). The campground was well equipped but definitely the most crowded place we’ve stayed so far; we could tell we were on the tourist track now. There were a number of school groups there, as well as a lot of Wicked Camper vehicles, i.e. cheap rentals obnoxiously painted to look flashy despite their age, generally driven by young party backpackers.

Anyways, since we were heading into summer when we arrived at Uluru, it was getting pretty hot out. In order to prevent tourists from passing out from heatstroke, you are asked to finish hikes before 11am. Since the “best” hikes can take around 3 hours, this mean you gotta get up pretty early. Not really a problem though, since most people (us included) would be trying to get up super early to watch sunrise anyways.

Sunrise rainbow from our campsite.
Sunrise rainbow from our campsite.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

We decided to see Kata Tjuta first. We started out at 7am so we could complete the longer Valley of the Winds Walk, which goes by the two viewpoints then loops around through the valley. It was fairly overcast that morning, which was excellent luck for Chris’s skin. Being shoulder season in the Outback meant that the trails weren’t too busy, and we finished in good time despite stopping to take a number of self timer photos against the dramatic rock formations.

Karingana Lookout.
Karingana Lookout.
The Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta.
The Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta.

Since we still had some time before lunch and it wasn’t too hot out yet due to the clouds, we also did the Walpa Gorge Walk, which took us through some pretty crazy cliff faces. We were able to power walk past a lot of white-haired tourists that had all been unloaded out of a bus.

Walpa Gorge.
Walpa Gorge.
High cliff walls.
High cliff walls.

By noon it was too hot to do much beside eat and go for a swim, so that’s what we did. We also checked out the Cultural Centre, where there were a number of displays depicting various Aboriginal stories related to Uluru. By the time we finished there the sun was going down, so we headed out to see the sunset.

Setting sun lighting up the trees.
Setting sun lighting up the trees.

Now, in the park they have designated platforms for viewing the sunrise and sunset, and prohibit you from parking along the road in most other areas. Most people want to watch the sunrise/sunset with the sun facing Uluru/Kata Tjuta, since this makes them light up in red. Since we had a number of chances to see the colours change, we decided to buck the trend and go to the sunrise Kata Tjuta platform for sunset instead, so we would see the rocks in more of a silhouette. The advantage of this was that we were all by ourselves on the platform, instead of in the long line of cars at the sunset platform. The disadvantage of course was that the bushflies had no one else to focus on, and drove Chris insane. Shortly after we got there, he sprinted back to the car to read a book. Anyways, despite some clouds, the tougher member of our team was able to get some nice photos.

Sunset over Kata Tjuta.
Sunset over Kata Tjuta.

Uluru (Ayers Rock)

The next morning we were up early to see the sunrise over Uluru. Again going against convention (partially because we weren’t up early enough to get to the sunrise platform, which is farther away) we went to the sunset platform for sunrise. It was nice because we got to enjoy our thermoses of tea in solitude, and also take a bunch of dorky self timer photos without other people around judging.

Uluru at sunrise.
Uluru at sunrise.

After sunrise we decided to start the Uluru Base Walk, which is about 10km. It took a couple hours and was quite interesting – turns out Uluru is more than just a big rock! There are various little sights to see along the way, including a waterhole, some caves and cave art, and various rock formations that depict Aboriginal stories, as well as a number of sections where you can’t take pictures because they are Aboriginal sacred sites.

The Uluru Base Walk.
The Uluru Base Walk.
Uluru cave.
Uluru cave.

We wiled away the heat of the afternoon hanging out in the town centre, getting some food and visiting the little museum there, before heading to the actual sunset viewing platform for Uluru. Unfortunately the clouds didn’t cooperate to light up the rock, but we got some nice pictures of the surrounding area.

Kata Tjuta in the distance.
Kata Tjuta in the distance.
Sunset trees.
Sunset trees.

Our last morning we decided to face the crowds and go to the actual sunrise platform. As expected the platform was mobbed by tour buses of people.

People lined up to watch sunrise.
People lined up to watch sunrise.

Fortunately there were a number of less conventional viewing locations, and once the sun was up the crowds dispersed pretty quickly to start their hikes so we were able to get some quiet time (we weren’t in a rush to do anything).

Sunrise shot.
Sunrise shot.
Shadow play.
Shadow play.

Once we had done all we wanted in Uluru, it was off to King’s Canyon!

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