Are You Ready to Rock?


Advertisement
Australia's flag
Oceania » Australia » Northern Territory » Uluru
September 12th 2020
Published: September 12th 2020
Edit Blog Post

Uluru from the air at sunsetUluru from the air at sunsetUluru from the air at sunset

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
On Wednesday morning I checked out of the hotel and had a couple of tasks to take care of before I left Coober Pedy. I needed fuel first, and then I had to visit the most useful vending machine in the outback. This may exist elsewhere, but it’s the only one I know of – a coin-operated water station. For just $1.00 you can get 30 litres of water. One of my jerry cans was nearly empty so I wanted to fill it up. Unfortunately, the station seems to just start when you put the coin in and keeps going until 30 litres is dispensed. I wasn’t ready, and the jerry can only holds 20 litres so some water was wasted. It probably could be a bit more efficient and allow you to stop and start it (or I was doing it wrong… always a possibility!)

With that done, I was on my way, heading north for the Northern Territory border. While I was confident that I would be allowed to cross, there was still a little trepidation. The drive was not terribly exciting. I was overtaken once by a fast-moving police officer but besides a couple of road trains
Kata Tjuta from the airKata Tjuta from the airKata Tjuta from the air

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
and a caravan or two, there was not much traffic at all. Some of the terrain was greener than I expected, but mostly it was the flat, arid outback I expected.

Arriving at the Northern Territory border, I stopped at the police checkpoint. I provided all the paperwork, including my quarantine documentation and Covid test results, and was allowed to proceed into the Territory. The officer did give me some stick when I asked to borrow his pen so I could sign my declaration – he said “You have a high-lift jack, but no pen?”. I told him that I had no need of a pen in the bush.

I continued but declined to use all of the 130kph speed limit because I was in no rush and didn’t need to increase my fuel usage. After turning off the Stuart Highway it was back to 110kph speed limit.

The first sight of interest appeared in the distance and my first thought was Uluru. But it was still over 100km to Uluru, so I knew it was not it. As I saw more, I could tell it was the wrong shape. A sign indicated the Mount Connor lookout
Taking sunrise photos at Kata TjutaTaking sunrise photos at Kata TjutaTaking sunrise photos at Kata Tjuta

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
coming up and I remembered my sister mentioning it once because her son is named Connor. I stopped for a photo and pushed on.

My original plan for staying in Uluru was to stay in a cabin at the campground but while I was on Goog’s Track I had the thought that I might be able to get a good deal on a hotel room due to the current situation and lack of international tourists. I rang them in Coober Pedy and found they had a 50% discount if you stay 4 or more nights. As I was staying for 4 nights, I changed my booking to the 5-star Sails in the Dessert hotel. I might as well live it up!

I arrived at the hotel and checked in. My first impression was that there were so many people, but now that I have been here a few days, I can tell that it is relatively empty. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed visiting Uluru anywhere near as much if it were full of tourists though, so I’ve been pretty lucky. Someone told me there are currently 500 people staying at the resort (across 3 hotels and
Taking sunset photos at UluruTaking sunset photos at UluruTaking sunset photos at Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
the campground) which is a lot more than I encountered in Coffin Bay or on Goog’s Track but is well short of the usual 5,500!

After the long drive, I settled for room service and an early night. I knew I had 3 days to go so I didn’t get up for the sunrise on Thursday. In fact, I probably left it a bit late to head out to the rock. I stopped along the way for a photo from the sunset lookout and arrived at the Mala carpark at about 9:30. I was planning to do the 10km base walk around Uluru and thought that would be fine.

As I prepared to set out, I saw most people were heading clockwise so I decided to go counterclockwise. At first this seemed like a great idea. I headed around the southern side of the rock and the walk was very pleasant in the shade. I passed a few people heading the other way, but mostly I was alone. It was very peaceful.

The biggest surprise was how green it was in places. I guess the rock holds some of the water below the ground so there are
Mount ConnorMount ConnorMount Connor

Northern Territory
very green trees growing near the base of the rock. The green leaves and the red of the rock provided a wealth of photo opportunities.

My favourite spot was the Mutitjulu waterhole, nestled in the folds of rock on the southern face. When I arrived, I was the only one there and I sat down in the shade and listened to the wind and birds. It was a relaxing break on the walk. Alas, the silence was eventually broken by some walkers arriving, including a fellow having a loud conversation on his mobile. I continued on.

From there I encountered less and less shade. This was less than ideal as the morning moved on and heat increased, but I had plenty of water and was able to top up at the halfway point. I found the southern side much more photogenic than the north and not just because there are fewer sensitive sites where photography is not allowed. Maybe it was because of the shadows. Maybe it was the greener flora. Maybe it was just getting too hot as I walked the second-half of the walk around the north side. But that was my impression.

The Kantju
The Hilux checking out UluruThe Hilux checking out UluruThe Hilux checking out Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Gorge waterhole was the highlight on the north side and a perfect place to relax and listen to the wind and birds again while I drank the last of my water. This was fine, because I was nearly back at the Mala carpark, and other water bottles were staying cool in my car fridge. I reached the car no problem but was knocked around a bit more than I expected. When they recommend you don’t do the long walk after 11:00am on a 36-degree day, they know what they are talking about!

I drove around the rock and stopped at the sunrise lookout for a photograph before heading back to the hotel. I headed to the town square to get some lunch from one of the cafes and had a look at the handful of shops. Some are closed, but there’s a couple of cafes, souvenir shops and a supermarket. I knew I was going to go out for the sunrise on Friday so I decided to get some bread to allow me to make my breakfast in the park and get started on the walk early so I didn’t suffer from the heat again.

I guess the
Now rightly closed, this is where you used to be able to climb UluruNow rightly closed, this is where you used to be able to climb UluruNow rightly closed, this is where you used to be able to climb Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
14-day quarantine had left me a little unused to long walks, so I had an afternoon nap. My alarm was set though, so I could head back into the park to get some sunset photos. The sunrise lookout is apparently good for sunset too, but I went to the sunset lookout that I had stopped at in the morning. I imagine it would be full early on in normal times, but I was able to get a park easily and even able to set up my camera on one of the handful of raised platforms. The sunset really changed the colours of the rock and was worth interrupting my nap for.

An early night and an early start on Friday. I left the hotel at just after 5:30am and drove towards Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), a nearby group of domed rocks. I stopped at the Kata Tjuta dune lookout and joined a handful of others as we waited for the sun to rise. While Kata Tjuta had some interesting colour changes as the sun rose, I think the highlight was actually the view of distant Uluru as the sun rose above the horizon next to it.

With the
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
sun up and the colours no longer changing greatly, I got back in my car and drove to the Valley of the Winds carpark. Once there, I took out my gas barbecue and cooked up some bacon and eggs. With my energy supplies filled, I hit the trail.

I started at just after 8am and it was amazing how much difference starting just 1.5 hours earlier made, compared to the previous day. The Valley of the Winds walk is shorter at just 7.4km, but unlike the Uluru base walk it was far from flat. The trail isn’t overly difficult though, but you have to pay attention to your footing because there are a lot of loose rocks. This time I also stuck with the same direction as everybody else, but there were fewer people on this walk and I was on my own for most of it.

The trail headed through the gorges between some of the rock formations and these were higher than Uluru and were epic. It was also nice and shady, so I didn’t feel hot at all until after the Karingana lookout, where the trail exited a gorge and continued on open ground.
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

I returned to the car just after 11 and while my legs were more tired, thanks to the hill ascents and descents on the track, I felt a lot better than I did after the Uluru walk. I also needed to drink less water, so the earlier start was definitely a good idea. I headed back to the hotel and had some lunch.

Just before lunch though, I received a phone call. Back when I was in quarantine, I decided I should make the most of my visit and organise a sightseeing flight while I was at Uluru. Ideally at sunrise or sunset. However, due to Covid restrictions, most of the places offering flights would only do so for 2 or more people because they were doing private flights only. However, one company, Professional Helicopter Services, were allowing separate groups to be put together so I had contacted them. They had nothing booked but said they would take my details and contact me if something came up. Well, something came up! They asked me if I was keen for a sunset flight that night. I said yes straight away.

So once again I headed back to the hotel
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
for an afternoon nap. I also had time to start processing my photos but at 5:30 I was outside my hotel where the pilot was picking me up. Apparently, they normally have 6 helicopters and 10 pilots but now there was just one – Austin. And he was also doing the hotel pickup and drop-off, the sanitising and flying the helicopter. It was a one man show, but Austin was up to it.

After the safety briefing and donning of face masks, we boarded the chopper. A benefit of travelling solo is that in situations like this you can get lucky, and I did as I was in the front seat. The flight was very particular about giving left and right sides the same views and the same amount of time but being in front probably gave me a few more views than the others. The front seat also had an open slot in the window that I could stick my camera lens out, allowing me to take photos without risk of window glare. Which was awesome, but to be honest the windows were pretty clean, and I didn’t get any glare when I shot through the window.
The walk on the southern side of UluruThe walk on the southern side of UluruThe walk on the southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

We took off and headed over to Kata Tjuta. The flight paths are not allowed to be over the top of the heritage sites, or to show certain protected sites that are culturally sensitive for the indigenous people of the area. But that does not diminish the view at all, and if Austin hadn’t mentioned it, I doubt we would have even noticed. We did a pass around two sides of Kata Tjuta and back again so those on the other side of the helicopter could view.

From Kata Tjuta we headed over to Uluru for two passes for each side. The sun was beginning to set at this point, so the colours of Uluru began to change, from the daytime orange to the red colour I’ve seen in all the photos. Another site were the sand dunes all around. As the sun lowered their shadows became much more pronounced, but unfortunately none of my photos did the sight justice so you’ll have to come and see for yourself! As we headed back to the Yulara airport, we had a spectacular view of the sun setting behind Kata Tjuta. We soon landed and a quick bus drive had us
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
back to the hotel. I think the total flight time was 25 minutes, but it was fantastic and worth every cent. Definitely the highlight of the trip so far!

On Saturday morning I once again got up early, this time heading to the Uluru sunrise viewing area. It was during the drive that I experienced the first problem with the car so far. The power steering has started acting a bit dicky, not working as you start turning the wheel and suddenly kicking in. It’s more annoying than anything and only happens at low speed so I’m not too concerned at the moment. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hoping that the worst-case scenario is that I lose power steering – annoying, but not trip-ending.

The final sunrise was great, better than the ground-based sunset I saw on Thursday. I had plans to return to Kata Tjuta and do the Walpa Gorge walk, but as it was only 2.6km I wasn’t desperate to get there early. So I headed back to the hotel and got some more sleep.

I got up, had some breakfast, and headed out to Kata Tjuta once more. I arrived just before
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
midday and headed into the gorge. The walk was pretty easy and much of it was in the shade due to the shape of the gorge. The surface was loose in parts, and uneven in others but not difficult at all. I returned to the car and drove back to the hotel. I finished my visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with a relaxing afternoon of food, some shopping and preparing this blog.

I’m extremely glad that I made this Northern Territory detour to in my South Australian trip. I’ve been very fortunate to experience these national icons without the crowds that would normally be here. There is much more for me to see around Alice Springs and the rest of the Territory in future trips, but for now it’s back to South Australia. Instead of heading back via the Stuart Highway, I’ll be heading off the bitumen and following the old Ghan trail down to Oodnadatta. It’s out of luxury and back into the swag!


Additional photos below
Photos: 57, Displayed: 32


Advertisement

Southern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru
Southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Mutitjulu WaterholeMutitjulu Waterhole
Mutitjulu Waterhole

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru
Southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru
Southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru
Southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Southern side of UluruSouthern side of Uluru
Southern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Northern side of UluruNorthern side of Uluru
Northern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Northern side of UluruNorthern side of Uluru
Northern side of Uluru

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory


13th September 2020
Uluru from the air at sunset

Uluru from the air at sunset
The variety of your pics of Uluru at sunset give a wonderful insight that there are many textures of Uluru that can be seen from the air, David. The striations from this angle are my favourite. Must do the helicopter run if I get the chance to return.
16th September 2020
Uluru from the air at sunset

Thanks
Yes, absolutely worthwhile doing a scenic flight, whether helicopter of fixed-wing!
13th September 2020
Northern side of Uluru

Many faces of Uluru
A fabulous collection of the many faces of Uluru that can only be discovered by walking around the rock, David. Beautiful.
13th September 2020
Southern side of Uluru

Southern side of Uluru
When we walked around Uluru years ago I was struck by the way the shape of the rock changed as we walked around it. Staggered really as the iconic view in photos is only from a viewing site by the road as one approaches. An absolute must to walk around the rock, David, and I note from your blog the walk is a warm 10 kms!!! Gives an idea how large the rock actually is.
16th September 2020
Southern side of Uluru

Spot on!
It's one of those things that can really only be appreciated by walking. Definitely worth the effort.
18th September 2020
Southern side of Uluru

Really nice photo
We loved our time at Uluru. The peace and serenity.
18th September 2020
Cave in the northern side of Uluru

Nice curl
We have an amazing world.
18th September 2020

Northern Territory
We loved our time in Australia so much and the desolate beauty is difficult to describe. Lots of great hiking and wandering. I think you should stick a pen in your car so you don't grief from police. We are really enjoying your trip. MJ

Tot: 2.493s; Tpl: 0.051s; cc: 17; qc: 29; dbt: 0.023s; 2; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb