If you’re of a certain age, you may remember hotels and other tourist facilities in the shadows of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (then known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas). In a bid to protect them but still support tourism, the decision was made to annex a new town outside the national park. That was in 1976 and the town was named Yulara, which means ‘howling dingo’ in the local Aṉangu language.
The town and its hotels, located about 20km from Uluru, became fully operational in 1984. At the same time, the park was renamed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Today, Yulara’s seven different levels of accommodation, from campground to five-star facilities, are all run by Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. And, in great news, you can easily explore the exceptional surrounding landscape in a rental car.
It’s true that the distances between hotels and attractions around the town aren’t that far apart. The issue here, however, is the heat. Winter is pleasantly mild during the day, but it’s also very popular so you’ll be dealing with crowds. Even if you decide to visit, say, at the beginning of autumn when there are fewer visitors, the temperature during the day can soar into the high 30s and even above 40ºC. Then you’ll be thankful for a rental car to get around in.
Definitely check out the Gallery of Central Australia (GoCA), where you can view and even buy work by artists from a number of Indigenous communities across this region, including the Hermannsburg Potters, Ernabella Arts and Papunya Tula Artists.
There’s also the Town Square, where there’s a supermarket, gift and souvenir shops, a tour and information centre and a few different places to eat. One of them is the Kulata Academy Cafe, which gives trainees from the town’s National Indigenous Training Academy the chance to begin their career in the hospitality industry.
It’s about a half-hour drive in your rental car from the resort at Yulara to Uluru, at 348m high, the world’s tallest monolith. During your stay, make sure you get up before dawn on at least one day and head to Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, the prime sunrise viewing spot. The colours are extraordinary and change every few minutes, so don’t forget your camera.
There’s plenty to see and do around Uluru. Perhaps start at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, where there’s tonnes of information about the park, as well as the local Aṉangu culture. There are also community-owned shops and galleries where you can watch artists at work.
A must-do activity is a walk around the base of Uluru. The flat path weaves close to the red rock and away again, into hidden gorges and through natural bush. Many animals here prefer the cooler temperatures of the morning, so arrive early, take plenty of water and wear a hat and sunscreen during the 9.4km walk. If you want to learn more about the park’s geology, natural history and cultural heritage, join one of the guided morning Mala walks to Kaṉtju Gorge. It’s a very easy 2km stroll, packed with information and Tjukurpa (creation stories).
You’ll likely have seen images of both Field of Light and Wintjiri Wiru, which tells the Aṉangu story of Mala through choreographed drones, lasers and projections in the night sky. These spectacular experiences are only accessible by tour from Ayers Rock Resort.
Don’t forget that if you’re entering Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park you’ll need to purchase a three-day park pass before you arrive.
The other big drawcard in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is Kata Tjuta (the Pitjantjatjara words mean ‘many heads’), about 50 km from Yulara. While the sight of Uluru is awesome no matter how many images you’ve seen of it, the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta are equally as impressive. This is a sacred Aṉangu men’s site, so stay on the walking trails while visiting.
The best-known walk here is the Valley of the Winds, but it is challenging, with some steep, rocky ascents, and a completion time of three to four hours. The reward is two lookouts with extraordinary views of the otherworldly landscape. An easier option is to walk to the first lookout and return the same way. There’s still some scrambling and climbing to be done, but it only takes about an hour. Plus, you’ll likely have some peace to sit and contemplate your surroundings when you’re there. Once you’ve left Karu lookout, it’s easier to make the full circuit than to turn around.
More popular with most visitors is the Walpa Gorge walk. It’s an easy, occasionally rocky path into a secluded, shaded refuge for plants and animals. Give yourself an hour to get to the gorge and back, and make sure you’ve got drinking water and a hat because it gets hot where the sheer walls of rock get farther apart.
Ready to explore Yulara and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park? Hire a rental car at the airport when you arrive.