The Heart of the Outback

While looking at pictures of attractions in Australia, one place caught my eye. It was Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. Some may say it’s just a huge rock in the desert, but to me it looked so unique and majestic. This convinced me to push through with my trip to Australia. Upon doing a bit of research I discovered that getting there would cost a pretty penny. But since it’s what attracted me to the country, it wouldn’t make sense for me to skip it just because I found it expensive. So yeah, I had to get to the Red Centre where Uluru is located no matter what.

As I’ve said in a previous entry, traveling by land is really expensive in Australia. You could get to Ayers Rock by multiple bus and train rides, but you have to hire your own car eventually. It’s just too much of a hassle that practically no one goes to Ayers Rock by land using public transport. If you’re traveling on your own, renting a car and driving all the way to Ayers Rock would be really expensive due to the price of gasoline. You’re better off just flying straight there, it would be way cheaper. The most popular option with backpackers is to join a group heading there by land and just split the cost of gas. This is the only way one can get there that’s relatively cheap. If you stay in a city for several days, you’re bound to meet other travelers who plan on going there. If you don’t meet anyone in person, a lot of people search the Gumtree forums for travelers who are looking for companions who are willing to split the cost of gas. Gumtree is like the Australian version of Craigslist and it’s an incredibly helpful site for backpackers on a budget. Joining a group and traveling by land is a great way to see a lot of the Australian Outback since it’s gonna take anywhere from 2-3 days to get to Uluru. You also get to stop by several towns in the Outback like Alice Springs. I didn’t have much luck finding travel companions this way, though I was able to hitch a ride back from Ayers Rock. I didn’t meet anyone in Sydney who wanted to go to Uluru. I’ve found several folks on Gumtree, but our schedules weren’t compatible. So I was left with no choice but to fly directly to Ayers Rock Airport. Three airlines fly to Uluru, but almost every backpacker opts for Jetstar because they have the cheapest fares. A round trip ticket costs at least AUD 400. If you buy it early you can find tickets for as low as AUD 360. That’s still not cheap, and it would seem outrageous considering it’s a domestic flight. Looking at the map though, it does make sense. Uluru may be in the same country but it’s really far from any major city in Australia.

There aren’t many lodging options near Uluru. Wait, let me rephrase that. There’s only one lodging option in Uluru because the entire complex (Ayers Rock Resort) is run by a single company. They have a monopoly so you can’t really expect cheap rates. They offer several options though. For solo backpackers dorm beds at the Outback Pioneer Lodge are a good option for at least AUD 38. The 20 bed dorm was fully booked though so i had to settle for the 4 bed one which was a little more expensive. These rooms are quite bare. Each room has bunk beds, a couple of electrical sockets, and an Air Conditioner. At least the AC was really cold. This is essential since it gets crazy hot in the Outback. If you want a little bit more in terms of amenities,  other places in the complex like the Desert Gardens Hotel or the Emu Apartments have more to offer but you should be prepared to splurge. The Sails in the Desert is the fanciest place to stay. Rooms could go as high as AUD 1000 a night. For those traveling as a group the Camp Grounds are the cheapest option. Everyone can just sleep inside their van and this only costs AUD 50 per day. instead of spending a night inside a cramped van I suggest just renting an entire cabin in the camp grounds for AUD 179. That’s pretty cheap since you can split the cost among 6 people.

Even if you manage to save money on lodging, basic commodities are another matter. Even in the cheapest areas by the dorms, food served in the restaurants are noticeably expensive. You can save some cash by buying food in the grocery store inside the complex and make your own meals, but everything is still more expensive. If you thought Sydney was expensive, wait until you get to Uluru. Food, Alcohol, and even water are overpriced. I do understand the reason for this. Uluru is practically in the middle of nowhere and they have to import everything elsewhere. And to get to Uluru, it would entail many hours by land or it would take an expensive flight. i guess to save money it would be best to stock up on food and drinks before heading to the Outback. This isn’t an option if you’re flying though. At least there’s free shuttle service from the airport to Ayers Rock Resort. And there’s free shuttle service inside the complex so you don’t have to walk around in the desert heat. They also offer some free tours and activities within the complex.  Booking paid activities are a breeze too. The staff are incredibly helpful. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying in a dorm room or in one of the luxury rooms.

Getting to the rock is easy from the resort. You can take the Uluru Express. A round trip ticket from Ayers Rock Resort costs AUD 50. The entrance to the park isn’t included yet, so you have to pay an additional AUD 25. This pass is valid for 3 days so you can go back the next day if you like. I was told that sunset was the best time to visit the rock so I chose to take the shuttle that left around 1 PM. The rock looked amazing from a distance, and as it grew closer I was left in awe. I had no idea how huge it was. When we got there the guide told us that we had 3 hours to explore the rock, then he will take us to the perfect viewing area during sunset.

Some people insist on climbing the rock, saying the aborigines don’t own the rock hence they have no right not to allow anyone to climb. But with numerous signs asking people not to climb the rock, it does seem disrespectful if we do not honor their wishes. So what if they don’t own it? Obviously the site is sacred to them, is it so hard to respect their wishes? There are so many mountains and hills to climb in this world, do we really need to climb every single one? Honestly I am amazed at how callous some people can get sometimes.

Going around the rock was good enough for me. It may just look like a huge chunk of rock from afar, but up close it has so many intricacies. Just walk a certain distance around it and it’s gonna look different. There are lots of signs along the path containing myths and beliefs of the aborigines and I found them really interesting. You’ll also get to see a number of Aboriginal rock carvings and paintings. Seeing the rock up close is an incredibly cultural experience.

Around 5 PM we boarded the bus again and we were taken to the viewing area. I guess it really was the best place to view the rock since there were so many buses when we got there. Some people were served wine and snacks. I guess there’s no food for us paupers lol. Ayers Rock was a sight to behold during sunset. It changes colors right before your eyes. I’ve seen pictures taken during sunrise and i have to say it’s way better during the sunset. I honestly have no idea why people wake up real early to see the rock during sunrise when it doesn’t look as good.

There are other sights in the area aside from Uluru. If you’re staying for more than a day, lots of people check out the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) which is much farther. There are shuttle services going there as well. A round trip fare costs AUD 95. If you have more than two days a lot of people check out Kings Canyon. I’m not sure if there are shuttles going to the area. I’ve heard about private day tours from Ayers Rock Resort that start from AUD 340. That’s quite pricey, though it’s expected since Kings Canyon is about 3 1/2 hours away. Most of the travelers I’ve met who have been there rented their own cars. There are several rental options at the resort or at the airport.

This trip to Uluru really put a huge dent in my wallet. So would I recommend this trip to everyone? Well it depends on what you like to see and do during your trips. Those people who don’t really like the great outdoors might not enjoy it as much. Even if you stay in the luxury areas, heading to Uluru involves a certain amount of roughing it. There are lots of insects everywhere, and the desert heat may prove to be too much for some people. As for me? I loved every minute in the Outback. I had such an amazing and memorable experience, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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