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Things to Do in Ayers Rock

Smack in the middle of the Australian Outback is a truly massive hunk of rock—and one of the country’s most iconic landmarks: Uluru. Also known by its Western name, Ayers Rock, the sandstone monolith is the top draw of UNESCO World Heritage–listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in the vast, desert expanse of the Red Centre. A four-hour drive from the nearest Outback town, Alice Springs, Ulurs magnetizes travelers eager to see the ancient edifice (it’s thought to have started forming 550 million years ago) and its daily light shows: The rock appears to change color—from charcoal to purple to crimson to ochre—with every sunrise and sunset. Uluru tours enable you to experience the natural phenomenon on foot, camel back, helicopter, or scenic plane flight; or stick around after dark for an evening barbeque under the starry Outback sky. While visitors are asked not to climb “the Rock,” which is sacred to the local Anangu people, you can walk its base with an indigenous guide to get the inside scoop on its cave paintings, watering holes, wildlife, and Aboriginal folklore—or head out into the desert plains for more Aussie adventure. Multiday camping trips are great for desert enthusiasts looking to swim, hike, and cruise the Outback landscape via 4WD. Plus, you get to avoid the limited accommodation options of Ayers Rock and explore nearby attractions, such as Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Kings Canyon, with ease.
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Uluru (Ayers Rock)
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A gigantic monolith of rust-red rock looming over the desert plains of the Australian Outback, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is more than just a postcard icon—it’s the cultural, spiritual, and geographical heart of Australia, one of its most impressive natural wonders, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
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Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, the mighty Ayers Rock (Uluru), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park. This natural wonder, comprising 36 domed red rocks looming up from the desert plains, is a spectacular sight and one of the highlights of Australia’s Red Centre.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre
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The drone of a didgeridoo, the chanting of the indigenous Anangu people, and the clapping sticks that drive their chanting and dancing can be heard as you approach the Tjukurpa Tunnel. This is your welcome to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

Tjukurpa is the story and the spiritual law of the Anangu people, and the Tjukurpa Tunnel is where you are encouraged to begin building your understanding of their way of life before your visit to Uluru or Kata Tjuta. Much of Tjukurpa is considered sacred and cannot be discussed publicly, so this is a fantastic opportunity to take in those parts which can be shared.

Artefacts and informational plaques are displayed throughout the tunnel, and documentary DVD’s are screened on a loop, providing fascinating insights.

After experiencing the tunnel, visitors can check out a cafe, souvenir shop, and indigenous art galleries, which are all owned and operated by the indigenous community. An information and booking desk operates, where indigenous tours of the park can be organised. Free Cultural presentations and tours are also frequently available.

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Walpa Gorge (Olga Gorge)
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Walpa Gorge is the shortest and easiest trail in Kata Tjuta. For what it lacks in length, however, it makes up for in dramatic views looking out over sandstone domes. Far less crowded than popular Uluru, Kata Tjuta is where Aborigines still practice cultural ceremonies. There’s a certain power to Kata Tjuta that emanates out of the rocks, and the 1.5 mile trail through the gorge is a way to experience the energy. Flowers here are in greater abundance than on neighboring Valley of the Winds, and the gorge is particularly scenic in afternoon when the valley is filled with light. A viewing platform at the end of the trail provides sweeping views of the Olgas, which have stoically weathered millennia of storms to be shaped how they are today. To have the gorge trail all to yourself, consider hiking at first light when the air is nice and cool.

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Kings Canyon
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The red sandstone walls of Kings Canyon rise abruptly from tranquil pools and pockets of cycads and vegetation in the middle of the red centre desert.

The prized activity here is the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) return Kings Creek Walk around the rim of the canyon to a lookout for fabulous views of the lush Garden of Eden.

The reward for taking on the longer 4-hour walk is even better views including the rock formation known as the Lost City.

The 1-hour return Kathleen Springs Walk is wheelchair-accessible and leads to a lovely waterhole.

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Valley of the Winds
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Like a vein through the heart of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the trail through rugged “Valley of the Winds” is a scenic, mind-bending journey. Far less crowded than the trail at Uluru and in many ways more powerful, the Valley of the Winds traverses land that’s used by Aborigines for traditional cultural ceremonies. It’s a spot where the silence can often seem deafening—even in busier times of year—and the sun bathes the rocky Olgas in a deep, reddish hue. The first lookout is less than a mile from the main trailhead parking lot, and the entire loop past both lookouts is approximately 4.5 miles. Allow three hours to complete the hike—and be sure to pack plenty of water—as portions of the trail are actually closed in summer for stifling desert. As the longest hike in the Kata Tjuta, Valley of the Winds is the deepest foray you can make out into this landscape, where dreamtime stories and ancient spirits all seem to drift on the wind.

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Curtin Springs
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There’s a cattle ranch in Australia’s center that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island. An arid grassland covered in dust and 4,500 cattle, it’s also a welcome, comfortable stop on the road leading west towards Uluru. When the Severin family moved out here in 1956, they saw a total of six people in their first year out on the ranch. Gradually, however, hardy tourists heading west towards Uluru would stop for fuel and supplies, and what began as a way to help weary travelers has grown to a guesthouse, bar, and ranch that’s an Australian site to itself. Take a guided walk through grasslands that stretch towards red-earthed horizons, and learn how the grass is converted on site into natural, Curtin Springs paper. Hop aboard a 4WD and go bouncing away towards Mt. Conner—an open swath of land and hills that’s covered in kangaroos. Have a yarn at the Curtin Springs pub with a colorful outback character, or simply get some much needed sleep from the long, adventurous drive. To do as most travelers do who stay here, use Curtin Springs as a base for exploring Uluru and Kata Tjuta—thereby escaping the higher prices and crowds found near the rock.

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Mala Walk

Walk alongside the imposing form of Uluru to the Kantju Gorge and waterhole, on land held sacred by the Anangu indigenous people. The Anangu have walked this land for thousands of years, and once held religious ceremonies here. They believe that the shape and physical features on this section of the monolith represent the activities of the Mala (or rufous hare wallaby), which they see as one of their ancestral beings, during the time of the Tjukurpa (creation time).

The sheer cliffs of Uluru look amazingly different from every angle, and scroll through a vast array of colours as the sun moves across the desert sky. You will never tire of looking at this incredible figure, as it is always changing. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during heavy rain you will see quite a show, since small streams and waterfalls cover Uluru, transforming it into a completely different natural wonder.

Though the Mala walk can easily be self-guided, a free ranger-guided tour will provide much more insight into the ways of the Anangu, their rock art, and the story of the Mala. These tours can be accessed all year round, by meeting a ranger at the Mala Walk sign at either 8am from October to April, or 10am from May to September.

This is one of the shortest walks at Uluru, covering a 1km stretch of its west side.

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Sounds of Silence

A highlight of any visit to Australia’s Red Centre, the Sounds of Silence is an unforgettable way to discover Uluru (Ayers Rock). From watching a romantic sunset over this nature's made landmark to dining beneath the desert's bright stars—it’s an outback experience like no other.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

The UNESCO-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is an iconic Australian destination with two of the country’s most striking natural landmarks: Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas (Kata Tjuta). A sacred site, the park is co-managed by the Anangu and the government. Watch the sun come up, and learn about Anangu culture and traditions.

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