The middle of Australia was everything I thought it would be and more. As an Australian seeing Uluru up close and personal, it was awe inspiring and surprisingly emotional. A landmark I have seen time and time again, yet never did I think I would be standing here looking up at it in person. After driving for a week from our beginnings in Sydney, and stopping along the way in Melbourne, Adelaide and the opal towns of Andamooka and Coober Pedy, to finally cross the State lines into the Northern Territory and be only hours away from our intended destination was spine tingling. Uluru and Kata Tjuta must be the magical and mystical heart of Australia, and has made me love this country even more.
The closest you’ll get to staying near Uluru is at this strange outpost in the middle of the desert. Strange for its manicured lawns and fancy hotels surrounded by red dust and low bushy scrub as far as the eye can see. Far from an oasis in the desert, Yulara was specifically created to cater to tourists visiting Uluru and is run and operated by a single company. The monopoly includes not just all the accomodation, but the petrol station, the shops and tourist information. Everything. It’s little wonder that the prices here also reflect that monopoly with very little bang for your buck. However, you wouldn’t come to Yulara to stay put in Yulara.
To be honest, Siu On and I didn’t mind it here. The campsite was clean and basic but good enough (though the shared kitchens could have done with more sinks, power outlets and kettles) as most people are only here for a night or two. We also expected the prices to be high as you have to remember where you are… literally in the middle of nowhere… and it’s expensive to transport things to this part of Australia. We could have free camped outside of Yulara, however, Siu On and I wanted to shoot Uluru and the Olgas at sunrise and sunset, and that was only a 30 minute drive to the National Park’s entrance gates. So we accepted the cost to stay at Yulara in exchange for less driving time and more exploring time.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There was no mistaking the signature shapes of Uluru once we passed through the gates early in the morning and made our way to the sunrise viewing platform. Witnessing the sunrise and casting a warm glow on Uluru moved me to tears; it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have witnessed. The sunrise over Kata Tjuta was equally as amazing, plus there is the added bonus of seeing Uluru in the distance – yes it really is that big!
You are probably also wondering whether we climbed the rocks or not, and I can happily tell you that we did not climb them. I feel that as a nation and in our day and age that we should respect the wishes of the native people to not climb the rocks, though many people chose to ignore the warnings and the cultural significance and ascend it anyway. What we found funny was hearing many people grumble that the climb wasn’t worth the risk as the most scenic thing in the entire area is the rocks themselves, which you can’t really see when you’re standing on top of them.
Instead of climbing the rocks we decided to hike around them and complete a few circuits around both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which were actually even more of a highlight than watching the sunrise and set on the rocks. Seeing the life and history in and around the stones was an experience I’ll never forget, who knew there were watering holes and so many species of birds all calling this place home.
The end of our Red Centre Journey
As we sat with the crowds, cradling a glass of red wine and watching the sun set on Uluru, I couldn’t help by smile to myself and feel proud that I had made it to the middle of Australia. The first in my own family to visit here, and one of few Australian’s who have made the trip out here too. I’m glad to have taken the time to visit this icon and see more of the dusty outback of Australia.
I cannot help but think back to our original long road trip across Australia, driving from Perth to Sydney, we were stopped at the junction in Port Augusta considering whether to take the road centre and then deciding against it. Now that we are here again, two years later, I’m grateful that we made the journey to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the magical and mystical heart of Australia. Too often we are focused on leaving our home countries to explore, when there is so much to see and do in our own backyards. This trip through three Australian states has made me love this country even more, and I want to encourage you to explore more of your own countries and discover where its heart beats.
Jelena & Siu On