Guide to Uluru (Ayers Rock)

One of the world’s most renowned natural landmarks is Australia’s Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock. In the heart of Australia’s outback, this iconic structure has a vast history.

The monoliths unbelievable size and immense cultural significance to local Indigenous people has made it an icon of Australia, and its magnificence cannot be understated.

The unmitigated remoteness of this destination has done nothing to curb the enthusiasm of people from around the world to come and visit the rock, watching it stand magnificently above the flat, arid landscape that’s spread out around it in every direction.

More than 250,000 people visit the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park each year, despite it being hundreds of kilometres from the nearest major town and almost 1000km from the Northern Territory’s capital Darwin. Although this may seem like a setback, it does wonders to make this destination a truly special one. In an environment largely unimpacted by European settlement, Uluru and the Red Centre have mostly maintained their original beauty.

A trip to Australia is simply not complete without a visit to Uluru. Do not miss your opportunity to explore the majestic monolith and have your breath stolen by the stunning horizon in front of you.

How Was Uluru Formed?

How Was Uluru Formed

Although Uluru is famous for its size, and bright red colour, many do not know how or why this rock formed. There are two main beliefs surrounding the monoliths formation, the Indigenous Tjukurpa stories and the geological explanation.

  • The Significance of Uluru

    Uluru has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO, however it’s significance traces back well before the formation of any United Nations departments. The Anangu people have been living on, and held a strong connection to, land around Uluru for over 30,000 years. Anangu Tjukurpa (religious philosophy and stories) teach that Uluru is a living being and is the resting place for their ancestral beings. Tjukurpa stories teach the community where to find food and water, act as maps providing directions across the vast desert land, teach lessons about how to live on the land and appropriate social behaviour, as well as hold traditions and cultural customs. They are complex and contain explanations of the creation of the universe and humans place within it. Many Tjukurpa are private for the Anangu people and are memorised, never written down, to be passed to the right individuals like an inheritance. Tjukurpa is the moral compass and justice system that underpins Anangu life.

  • Stories of Uluru’s beginning

    Australia’s Indigenous or Aboriginal peoples are the oldest continuous culture on Earth. Before European settlement there were hundreds of Aboriginal languages, tribal and nation groups across the country. The Indigenous people from the Uluru area are known as the Anangu and they learn their culture through the Tjukurpa. There is a common misconception by non-Indigenous people that these stories are the ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Dreaming,’ potentially suggesting the beliefs are unreal. It is important to remember that Tjukurpa is not dreams, and the Anangu believe them to be true, in the same ways Christians believe in their bible.

    The story of Uluru’s creation is private for the Anangu people; however, they have shared that the rock was formed by their ancestral beings moving across the landscape. As each being passed, they left their mark on the rock. The Indigenous people in the area believe that Uluru is a living form that acts as a dwelling for spirits to live in. You can learn more about creation stories of Uluru at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

    Anangu lore forbids the climbing or damaging of Uluru, and reserves some of the caves and crevices around its base for private men’s or women’s business. For the Anangu, they must protect the rock and any visitors to their country, they will be punished by their ancestral beings if the rock or any person on it is harmed.

  • The Geologist’s Explanation on Uluru

    Geologists believe Uluru dates back around about 500 million years, making it around the same age as the Australian continent. Uluru started underwater and began with two fans, one made of sand, the other of conglomerate rock. The movement of tectonic plates and the pressure of the sea water over it resulted in these two fans condensing into rock. As Australia dried up and the sea floor became arid desert, Uluru was exposed to what we know it as today. The rock gets its bright red colour from iron minerals within the rock rusting as they are exposed to the outside air. Scientists believe that the inside of the rock would not be red as the iron hasn’t been exposed to oxygen.

Uluru’s Features

Uluru Close Up

  • The Southern Side of Uluru

    Uluru’s southern side features a series of sharp gorges scattered with large dips. The large holes are due to erosion on the rock, with continuous rainfall filling up the shallow holes until they become deeper and deeper. This has gone on for centuries, with the rock slowly cutting away to make this unique appearance.

  • The North-West Side of Uluru

    Similar to its south side, Uluru’s north-west is also shaped by erosion. Here you can see parallel ridges which outline the sedimentary layers of rock. Wind, as well as rainfall, has caused these parallel crests.

  • The Smooth Rock Surface

    The smoothed section of Uluru is not a natural occurrence, but due to humans. Despite constant objection from the Anangu people, thousands of non-Indigenous people have climbed to the top of Uluru. The path up Uluru was first opened in the 1930s and officially closed and made illegal in October 2019. The constant foot traffic up the surface of the rock has seen it gradually smoothed. In good news though, the climb has officially been closed and though there is no way to fix the erosion that has already occurred, it will not be made any worse.

  • Uluru’s Flaky Surface

    The entire rock of Uluru displays a flaky orange exterior. This is all due to a chemical decay of the minerals present in the Arkose rock. Arkose is typically a greyish colour, but when the oxidation of the iron mineral present is exposed, the rusty flaky residue causes the colour to change into a rust red.

How to Travel to Uluru?

Road to Uluru

Located in Australia’s southwest area of the northern territory, Uluru is within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It is around a 5-hour drive from Alice Springs, or about a half an hour drive from the town Yulara. Flights leave most Australian major cities flying to Uluru Airport which saves travellers from the 5-hour trip from Alice Springs.

Tourists from all over the world come to see this amazing landmark, either travelling alone or on organized tours. You must buy a national park ticket to enter, which lasts for 3 days. If you intend to stay longer than that, you can extend your ticket to 5 days at no additional cost.

However, once getting there, choosing the right way to see it is another challenge in itself.

Things to do in Uluru

  • Visit the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre

    Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre

    The Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre is the perfect place to begin your trip through the National Park. Here you will learn about Anangu culture, traditions and lore, as well as hear inma (ceremonial songs) and Tjukurpa (creation stories). Explore galleries of work from local artists and support the local community by purchasing paintings and jewellery.

    While here you will also learn about appropriate behaviour while within the park. The Centre is also the only place in the park you can buy food and drink. Head there after watching the sunrise over Uluru for your morning coffee or stop by for a delicious house-made lunch! Finally, browse their retail store for a beautiful souvenir for you to take home. All funds made at the Centre go directly back into the community, supporting Aboriginal artists and families.

  • Enjoy the rock at sunrise/sunset

    Uluru Sunrise

    A great time to travel to Uluru is sunrise or sunset. See the striking sunrise or fade from view over the rock in a truly unforgettable experience. Watch as the rock is set ablaze by the fiery red light of the sun, creating a sight so stunningly beautiful it will instantly become the highlight of your trip to Australia.

    Uluru is famous for its iconic rusting orange look; however, you’ll be in awe of the colours you’re yet to see. As the bright sun hits the rocks surface it appears to change colours. Sunrise sees the rust orange become a bright, burning red unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. When the sun sets however, the rock shifts from scorching red to a deep orange, on the right day it even appears purple!

    If you’re lucky enough to be visiting at sunset, plan ahead and book in for dinner with a view. Enjoy a glass of wine and enjoy the natural lightshow. There are plenty of viewing areas for you to enjoy. In contrast, watching the sunrise is the perfect start to a day of walks through the park, getting out early means you’ll beat the worst heat and avoid some of the crowds!

  • See Uluru from Above

    See Uluru from Above

    Want to see something truly spectacular? It might be worth spending a little more cash to see Uluru from a bird’s eye view. Hop on a helicopter flight and hover through the clear sky as you take in the brilliant red rock from above. The helicopter flight can help you truly understand the vast range of the Australian outback, as the desert land stretches out as far as the eye can see. For the thrill seeker, book in for a skydive past Uluru. Combine a scenic flight with an unforgettable rush as you jump from 12,000ft, soaring past the monolith.

  • Visit Kata Tjuta

    Kata Tjuta

    Formerly known as the Olgas, Kata Tjuta are a collection of soaring rounded domes just west of Uluru. Follow one of the walking trials around these impressive formations and watch as they change colour during sunset and sunrise.

  • Camp Nearby

    Uluru Swag Camping

    If you have time to spare, why not immerse yourself in the outback? As an alternative to trudging in and out in a sleek bus, only seeing the dry desert from the comfort of your window seat, set off on a multi-day camping trip!

    Here you can discover all the nearby wonders, with native animals and unique wildlife strong enough to survive the scorching sun. Camp under the stars and wake up every day ready to do more, as Uluru slowly comes into focus with every passing hour.

The rock is not only impressive from far, but the closer you get the more you will come to realise that the natural beauty of this site is unparalleled. There are several waterholes surrounding the rock that have fed animals, plants and the Anangu people for thousands of years. You will have the chance to take a stroll along some of the trails around the rock, you’ll find viewing platforms along the way that are the perfect place to stop and appreciate your surroundings.

There is no doubt that Uluru is one of the world’s most iconic sites and is a must-see attraction during your visit to Australia.

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