Is a big trip to the big rock worth the expense and effort?
February 11, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Is a trip to Uluru/Ayers Rock worth it?

I'm taking my second trip to Australia this August and I have just two weeks. I'll be in Sydney for a bit, Port Douglas for a few days to see the reef, and a small town to see friends, but I could squeeze in a quick trip to the big rock if it was worth it.

So to travelers and Australians alike, is the trip to the rock worth it? Is it like a Grand Canyon style "whoa!" moment when you first see it? Or is it just a big rock?
posted by mathowie to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm glad I went. I decided not to climb it, but walking around it was pretty awesome. Especially if you can do it around sunrise or sunset.

The other rock formations around Ululru are also fantastic and beautiful, so there's more than just Uluru to see.
posted by iwhitney at 9:20 AM on February 11, 2011

This thread about rain falling on Uluru put it on my "must see" list. People seem genuinely and deeply moved by the experience, even when it's not in downpour.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:22 AM on February 11, 2011

Sorry to piggyback, but for those who have gone, could you describe how long it took to get there and what you did (transportation, how long you stayed, etc.)? I just have no concept of where it is in relation to the journey. Distance is one thing, but a long Jeep ride is pretty different from a shorter plane flight.
posted by Madamina at 9:39 AM on February 11, 2011

Yes, very worth it- when/if you go, please don't climb it and make sure to do the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) on another day there. Uluru was great but Kata Tjuta was even more stunning to me.

It's not very near anything other than Alice Springs, Madamina, which is what makes it even more spectacular to see. You have to fly into Alice from another city like Melbourne, Sydney etc. When I went, my flight got cancelled and I took a 2 day busride from Melbourne through Adelaide and up to Alice. I would NOT recommend that as an efficient use of time, though it does give you an appreciation for the scale of the desert.
I think you should have a day in Alice, a day to look at Uluru, a sunrise at Kata Tjuta and some time to walk around there. So 3 days would be the best.
posted by rmless at 9:43 AM on February 11, 2011

Madamina, it's in the middle of the continent, so it's pretty much only accessible by flying to it from the major cities along the east coast. I was planning on flying there and only staying a couple days but wondering if it's worth the cost.

Here in the US, I truly love natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Crater Lake and seeing both for the first time I was totally blown away in their presence and trips to both were worth every penny. I'm just wondering if Uluru has that same effect on people that have seen it.
posted by mathowie at 9:45 AM on February 11, 2011

It's like the distance from Washington DC to Kansas or Denver. The surrounding area is stunning in it's vastness and emptiness, too. Just stunning. It's one of my favourite places in the world. Do it. Go.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:47 AM on February 11, 2011

To piggyback, is there a good resource that summarizes What Is and Is Not OK in terms of visiting the Uluru area? I also want to see it but I want to be sure that my plans respect the wishes of the people for whom it is a sacred site.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:00 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Definitely worth it! We stayed in tents on a campground in the middle of the desert. I also loved Coober Pedy, where you can sleep in caves/former opal mines. We went to the Outback by coach from Melbourne. Maybe not "efficient", but the drive through the desert with camping experiences and the mining towns on the way was remarkable as well (we spent 2 weeks on the trip, I think).
posted by The Toad at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2011

Gah! "its" vastness..... jeepers!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:02 AM on February 11, 2011

Another vote for "worth it." It's a really stunning natural feature, especially in the context of the desert around it. Sunrise and sunsets there really are beautiful. I went out of my way, and spent a fair amount of money, to get there when I was in Australia and it was definitely worth it to me.

Like rmless, I also HIGHLY recommend making time to go to Kata Tjuta.
posted by otolith at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2011

You can fly into Yulara from Sydney or Cairns and avoid the drive from Alice Springs, but that's more expensive, and it might be better to spend a little more time to absorb the vastness of the landscape.

Sidhedevil: start here.
posted by holgate at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2011

It's worth reading "in a sunburned country" if you're headed out that direction.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally worth it.
posted by dhruva at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2011

Yes, oh, yes. It's worth it. Not just Ayers Rock, but also the Olgas nearby (where I saw real live wild kangaroos hopping about), and, if you're up for a bit of a (very fast) drive (down a blissfully deserted highway), King's Canyon (where I nearly tripped over a pair of wallabies). Really quite wonderful. August is a good time of year to go because it's the dry season, so the flies aren't bad. It's not just a big rock - at sunrise and sunset, you can watch it change with the light.

In a couple of years, you're not going to be able to climb it anymore, so if that's of any interest to you, go before it's too late. My personal opinion is that no one has any business

If you do decide to go, note that car rentals in the Northern Territory are generally a huge ripoff - the more remote you are, the more stringent the mileage limit. So if you want to drive from Ayers Rock to King's Canyon, you'll generally pay huge overage fees. The only exception I found, after much looking, was to book through Territory Discoveries (through them, Hertz and Budget both have unlimited kilometres).

What Is and Is Not OK in terms of visiting the Uluru area

It's still legal to climb Uluru; very soon it won't be. The local aboriginals ask you not to, ostensibly because if someone dies climbing it then it's a great cause for sadness (you have to be an idiot to die climbing the Rock). It's up to you whether to respect that. I didn't, because no human built that rock, and I don't think it's right for any human to tell me I can't experience nature because of their particular supersitions. I also wasn't very impressed at the naked tribalism on display by the aboriginal tour guides: "Oh, and this area here is very sacred to us, but you're not aboriginal, so we're not allowed to tell you why. And don't take a picture of it." Aboriginal superstitions tend to get respected more than Western ones these days, so a lot of people feel differently than I did. It's up to you (for now). For me, the fact that an experience will soon be made unavailable to humanity was just another reason to do it while I could.
posted by Dasein at 10:32 AM on February 11, 2011

Yeah, I read "In a Sunburned Country" when I went the first time ten years ago, but I didn't have the money/time to make this side trip.
posted by mathowie at 10:33 AM on February 11, 2011

My personal opinion is that no one has any business[...]

Er, sorry about that truncated sentence. See last paragraph for unprovoked GRAR re telling me where I can climb.
posted by Dasein at 11:02 AM on February 11, 2011

Yes, go. We took a family vacation to Australia when I was young and Uluru was one of the high points for all of us. All four of us climbed, and my sister was 5 at the time, so even if the kids are along it's worth it.

We also spent an afternoon and evening at the Olgas and I'd concur that it's also worth the visit. Sunrise and sunset are amazing at both.

If you need to be swayed further, I'll tell you about my dad. He's also a lover of natural wonders and has a passion for photography. He made sure that our vacations included Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. He recently spent a month at a cabin at Crater Lake, writing and taking pictures. After we returned from Australia, we had his favorite picture of Uluru at sunset enlarged and framed for a Christmas gift. He has kept it in a prominent place in every office he's had for 15+ years.
posted by kyleg at 11:37 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never heard anyone say that it was boring and a waste of time to see. It appears to have a profound impact on just about everyone who sees it.

Also can I just say Port Douglas/Cairns meetup in August? *w00t*
posted by gomichild at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2011

I vote yes. It really is a spectacular sight, but on top of that it's a good excuse to travel in to the deep outback, which you probably wouldn't do otherwise. I flew in from Sydney and spent a couple days there, and it was one of my favorite parts of my trip.
posted by auto-correct at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2011

Here in the US, I truly love natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Crater Lake and seeing both for the first time I was totally blown away in their presence and trips to both were worth every penny. I'm just wondering if Uluru has that same effect on people that have seen it.

It certainly did for me. I'd recommend finding a tour that will get you there in the evening so you can spend the night there and see the rock at dawn.
posted by nickmark at 12:07 PM on February 11, 2011

Absolutely go. But plan well. It is in the middle of Australia, there is not a lot else to do in that area except admire natural beauty. The climate is incredibly hot during the day, but gets cold at night.
The hotels that are there are okay, but they know they don't have much competition.

Please think really carefully about whether or not you climb or even touch the the rock. The culture of the Aboriginal people of Australia has been systematically and ruthlessly decimated in the past 200+ years. The local Aboriginal people have asked visitors to not climb the rock, so respect that. Its the least we could do. Also do not call it Ayers Rock, it has always been called Uluru, that was until a bunch of explorers 'discovered' it and called it Ayers Rock. *sigh* 99% of people call it Uluru now.

When you visit try and learn a bit about Aboriginal culture too, its a fascinating story of connection to land and in recent times, survival against the odds.
posted by MT at 12:19 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dasein, I certainly respect your wish to interact with the site as a natural site, not as a culturally bounded sacred site.

But for those of us who do think of the latter as a concern, is there something more in-depth than an Australian government website that outlines what the local indigenous cultural boundaries are about it? I appreciate that link, holgate, but I am a bit distrustful of the Australian tourism board's ability to represent those accurately (as I would be of a US tourism board's ability to represent indigenous cultural boundaries accurately, don't get me wrong).
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

To the question of climbing it or not, I'd like to respect the wishes of the people that deem it sacred but mostly I want to photograph the rock from a distance at dawn and dusk. I honestly can't see any reason to be on top of the thing, since looking at the rock seems way more profound. What do you see from the top besides miles of nothingness in the great beyond?

And if I want to photograph it in morning, do I need to book a tour to drive me out a way to a nice spot, or is it something I could just walk a safe distance away from and shoot from there?

For any photo nerds that have been there, what kinds of lenses should I take with me to shoot it? In other words, should I be half a mile away from the rock and use a wide angle or drive ten miles away and use a 70-200mm setup?
posted by mathowie at 12:45 PM on February 11, 2011

The miles of nothingness in every direction is breathtakingly beautiful. "Just miles and miles of miles and miles" is, I believe, what I said when I got there. It may be just my memory exaggerating, but it seems to me I could see the curve of the earth from the top of that rock. (And for unathletic me, just completing the climb was pretty darned impressive.)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:50 PM on February 11, 2011

What do you see from the top besides miles of nothingness in the great beyond?

Well, that description alone is enough to make me want to climb it again. But to answer your question: You see the Olgas, towering mightily in the distance. Really wonderful.

And if I want to photograph it in morning, do I need to book a tour to drive me out a way to a nice spot, or is it something I could just walk a safe distance away from and shoot from there?

There are two public viewing areas that are actually the best places to see the sun rise and set. I think that there is a shuttle from the nearby hotels, but you're best off renting a car when you're in the area, so you can come and go as you please. The distances, even from the hotels to the Rock, are definitely not walkable, which is for the best as the Rock feels uncluttered.
posted by Dasein at 1:24 PM on February 11, 2011

Two members of my family went, and loved it. They especially recommended the community-run Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre. (That website also gives a rundown on why the Anangu want people to visit, but not have the wrong knowledge passed on).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:28 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Context: I am Australian and have never been to Uluru.

1) If you only have two weeks in Australia, I'd suggest spending more time in fewer places. The first time I went to the US, I was there for a conference - I had one week at the conference then I had one week in San Francisco. The second time I went to the US, I had three weeks at a workshop - I then spent almost a week in New York and the rest of the time in the SF Bay Area. As an introduction to the country, it wasn't a bad way of absorbing myself in the act of 'drinking coffee in cafes elsewhere'. I got to know a bit about a small number of places, and ever since I've been expanding my knowledge of the US.

Personally, I'd recommend flying to Melbourne and then driving the Great Ocean Road. You'll see small towns, the coast and the Twelve Apostles (amazing rock formations - though there aren't twelve any more, some fell into the sea). Stay in a country pub for a night and eat at the bar - you'll learn more about Australia that way. Melbourne is a really wonderful city too - explore there for a while as well as Sydney.

2) You really should respect the wishes of indigenous folks as they apply to Uluru. It is an exceptionally important sacred site. By all means, go there one day, but make sure you've done some research into indigenous culture before you do. You'll appreciate the significance of it all the better if you understand why the oldest culture in the world respects it so much.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 2:14 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went in October 2009 with fellow Mefite emd3737 and my husband. We flew to Alice Springs and then did a 3 day tour with Wayoutback. It was fantastic. There are plenty of tours out of Alice that take you in a big air-conditioned bus and put you up in a hotel at night, but we were aiming for a little more adventure. We camped in swags under the open air in the middle of a cattle station with no one around for miles. We went on long hikes through the Olgas and Kings Canyon. And we had quite a bit of time at Uluru. A couple members of our group climbed it, but most of us elected to walk around it. (It's about 10km/6mi all the way around.) If you want to get an idea of the photo opportunities, check my blog for the recap.

To answer the original question - it's definitely worth doing, but I wouldn't bother if I could only spare a day. Uluru isn't the Eiffel Tower to be checked off a list; you need to spend some time out there to really appreciate the Outback.
posted by web-goddess at 2:15 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want the views without the climbing, you can do scenic flights in small planes over the area.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:44 PM on February 11, 2011

Totally worth it.

I did a drive from kakadu to Uluru, then drove back to Alice springs to fly out. Amazing. ULuru and Kata Tjuta (the olgas) are stunning, especially at dawn/dusk. I didn't climb it, and am glad, but did hike in Kata Tjuta (not a controversial thing to do, I don't thnk.). And when I say stunning, I mean it -- I have spent significant time in AZ, and so it's not like i've never seen big red rocks (sedona, monument valley, not to mention southern Utah).
posted by kestrel251 at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2011

There are designated platforms for taking photos from (see here).

I am Australian and I saw the Rock about 30 years ago, and it remains a cherished memory. I was there in an era when the indigenous culture wasn't highly valued and I climbed it and though I wouldn't do it again, I remember it as a totally alien landscape, not the view but being on a large rock within crevices and then walking across the top to sign the visitors book. I found the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) as mesmerising and fantastic.

At Port Douglas, I strongly suggest you go to the Mossman Gorge, about a half hour drive and if you still have time, a visit to the Daintree Rainforest. but that's a full day trip.
posted by b33j at 3:12 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did a "no frills" multi-day backpacking trip from Alice Springs to Uluru in the final days of 1999. It was amazing. Much of it was "off road" and the views/experiences were spectacular, as it had recently rained and the landscape was turning green in places. We did a couple Uluru sunsets and an Olgas sunrise. Also stopped by Kings Canyon and Rainbow Valley, I believe. Well worth it.

As far as taking photos, you'll need some form of transit to get to the road/area where everyone sets up to watch sunset. I remember it being really crowded in certain areas, but we found a nice spot and sat on the roof of the truck to watch in awe. The color changes truly are breathtaking.

There are also walks around the rock that are breathtaking. (vaguely similar looking to Bryce Canyon in Utah.)

Have fun!
posted by shoepal at 4:09 PM on February 11, 2011

I'm an Aussie and did it on a day trip while working in Alice Springs for a week.

It is cheaper to fly to Alice Springs as opposed to the (small) airport that is closest. Although remember that it is a LONG way from Alice Springs, even though it seems pretty close on a map - it's > 4 hours. Almost everyone is surprised at how far it is.

I took a really early bus tour from Alice Springs. I was sleeping on the bus, and when I woke up I could see Uluru from the window. It literally was a "wow" moment, I'll never forget that.

If I were you, I'd probably get to Alice Springs, and take a organised tour. Spend day 1 driving there in the morning, looking at Kata Tjuta in the middle of the day, then Uluru in the afternoon / evening (all tours go to the viewing area for sunset). Stay at on of the hotels overnight. Back to Uluru in the morning, then go to Kings Canyon in the afternoon and camp overnight, next day back to Alice Springs.
posted by trialex at 7:22 PM on February 11, 2011

Yes, absolutely! It's beautiful, and I think it's a great addition to a visit to Australia because the Red Centre is a really unique landscape. Like some others, I've taken a 3 day camping/hiking tour from Alice Springs. I think that's probably the best way to go. The one I went on visited Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Uluru. All spectacular!

That said, I wouldn't do a one or two day trip to Alice. If this isn't your last trip to Australia, you might want to consider waiting until another time, when you would have time to spend a day or two learning about the area in Alice Springs, and take a three-day tour around the region. Kata Tjuta is definitely also a highlight, not only Uluru.
posted by equivocator at 7:30 PM on February 13, 2011

I think it's definitely worth it, but I wasn't completely floored by it. I found the Olgas to be more impressive.

If you're renting a car, I'd recommend this local agency. As mentioned above, the chain car rental places have a restrictive kilometer maximum which is financially advantageous to them and not you. This place rents cars with unlimited km, and will give you camping gear as well (there's a campground in Yulara. We thought this was a way neater option that the typical organized tour. The drive was a huge part of my enjoyment of the trip.
posted by sinical at 8:25 PM on February 13, 2011

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