Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published June 20th 2012
Who doesn't love a break from the city? There's nothing like getting out to the country to clear the cobwebs. For a weekend with the ultimate 'wow' factor, how about a quick trip to Uluru-Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and The Olgas)? I know it seems a bit far fetched, but it's absolutely doable - in fact, I just celebrated my birthday in the Red Centre with a long weekend. Here's my hot tips for how to make it happen.
If you can skive off on a Friday, get a flight which arrives direct into Uluru airport just after lunchtime (you can do the same itinerary arriving on a Saturday, though it will be tight). You will get picked up in the complimentary shuttle and driven to your accommodation at Yulara Ayers Rock Resort. You have a choice of fabulous and expensive resort accommodation right through to camping grounds and a youth hostel (my poison of choice), for a more affordable option. It's all booked through the same helpful people at the Resort who can also suggest and organise your tours, which makes it a pretty seamless process.
Once you have arrived, head out on one of the 2pm tours - I did the Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds walk and sunset tour with AAT King, which was fantastic - awe-inspiring walking through grand canyons, plenty of animal spotting - in this case wild camels (there are over 1 million of these bothersome beasties in the Northern Territory!) and western red kangaroos, and that all-encompassing sunset over the enormous domes of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), accompanied by champagne and nibblies.
For food, there are a range of restaurants, most of which are pretty expensive, but there is also an IGA supermarket, so if you are at the hostel or Outback Lodge, you can use their guest kitchen to kick up a storm, or they also have a DIY Barbie at their pub (you choose and buy the meat, then cook it yourself, they supply all the salads etc). Plan to have a pretty dry weekend - a take away 6 pack of stubbies is $37 (no, that's not a typo!), or have a drink at the open-air pub which also has live music: when I was there, one bloke wandered in for a drink with his camel. Seriously. Another popular option is the Sounds of Silence desert dinner.
The next morning, choose one of the sunrise tours - I did the Uluru base walk, which is a flat and fascinating walk for 12km around the base of Ayers Rock, run by SEIT and fully guided by some really talented story-tellers/guides. You set out in the dark with a breakfast pack and layers and layers of warm clothing, which you gradually peel off as the sun makes an appearance. It's an incredible way to find out about the stories and lore of the Anangu people and will help you understand why you really shouldn't climb Uluru. I had not expected to find permanent waterholes, shady glades, gorges, caves and rock art all around the Rock's base - it really is so much more than a rock in the middle of nowhere!
The sunrise tours all finish up by about midday and get you back to the airport in time for a 130 or 2pm departure back to Sydney and then on to Melbourne/Brisbane. If you want to stay just an extra day - which I would highly recommend, it is worth hiring a car (in advance) from Hertz, Budget or Thrifty who operate from the Resort and the Airport - this way you can choose to travel out to spectacular Kings Canyon (a 3.5 hours drive) or head back out to Kata Tjuta for the 8km full circuit walk (for my money, the most beautiful of all the wonderful walks), the short walk into stunning Walpa Gorge, or to go back to Uluru to visit the fabulous Cultural Centre, participate in one of the free ranger guided walks, or just kick back and watch that justly renowned sunset.
Full Circuit/Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata Tjuta (c) JP Mundy
The best time of the year to go is now - in the middle of winter - but spring and autumn are okay too. If you do head up during the winter, pack every piece of warm clothing you can find, hats, beanies, gloves - take the same kit you would for a week in the snow. Seriously! The sunrise tours involve you out in the desert before dawn, and it is usually sitting around the zero degrees mark - and that's not accounting for wind chill! By mid morning though, it's a perfect 18-20C, and you'll need a hat and to drink heaps of water to avoid dehydration. While it's a big commitment for a city-break, I can guarantee that this is one weekend that will stay with you forever.