Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia is the iconic giant red rock in the smack middle of the country, also known as Australia’s spiritual hub. Most Australians, let alone tourists, don’t get a chance to travel to Uluru. Because it sits in such a remote location, getting to Uluru is not easy. But if you do make it there, you will be blessed in many ways – 6 actually! I was lucky to make it to Uluru on my third visit to Australia and my timing couldn’t have been better. I got to witness the first ever drone show that showcases indigenous stories under the beautiful desert sky. Aside from that, there are other must have experiences while you are Uluru, and here are my top picks.
Dine Under The Stars
I had one of the most unforgettable dinners in my life with a view of Uluru. Tali Wiru, meaning ‘beautiful dune’ in local Anangu language Pitjantjatjara, encapsulates the magic of fine dining under the Southern Desert sky. Located in the middle of the desert, this open air dining experience taps into all of your senses.
When I arrived, I was greeted by friendly staff with a glass of champagne, while a musician played the iconic Australian musical instrument – didgeridoo. I took my first view of Uluru – standing at a distance as the sun was setting. There was also the domes of Kata Tjuta towering above the flatlands.
At the deck, up to 40 guests sat at tables of 4, as we ate a 3-course menu prepared using native ingredients. The best part for me was looking up at the sky and seeing the most number of stars I have possibly seen. After dinner, we learned about the night skies and heard traditional stories while sitting by the fire and drinking hot cocoa.
Wake Up To See The Sunrise
I spent only two full days at Uluru, and each day I watched the sunrise and the sunset. You simply cannot pick one over the other timing-wise, as both are so varied. As the suns rays fall over the rock, its color changes from black, grey, to pink, yellow, red and brown. There are a few lookout points from where you can get great views of Uluru.
Go On a Guided Mala Walk
One of the best ways to learn about Uluru is by taking a walking tour with a traditional owner. Local elder Sammy Wilson pointed us to some of the important historical and cultural facts along an easy boardwalk to Kantju Gorge. We visited waterholes and rock art sites, and learned of Uluru’s cultural significance to Anangu. But most importantly, the indigenous guides tell tjukurpa (creation stories) that only they are allowed to share. One of them is called the Mala story, which is what is depicted at Wintjiri Wiru.
This experience is only offered through SEIT Outback Australia which prides itself in immersive journeys to the beautiful culture and history of Uluru and Anangu.
Watch The Drone Show
Wintjiri Wiru is the newest experience that opened at the Ayers Rock Resort in May 2023. This is the world’s-first sound and light show that combines ancient Anangu storytelling with state-of-the-art drone and laser light technology.
We traveled by bus to a stunning viewing platform located near the resort. A short boardwalk through the desert led us to an open-air deck with intricate designs created by local artist Christine Brumby. Then we had drinks overlooking the sunset. There was Uluru on one end of the horizon, and Kata Tjuta on the other. Once we took our seats at the stadium-style benches, we each had a picnic basket filled with gourmet delicacies. There was cheese, fresh baguette, fruits, salad and desserts prepared by the resort’s chef. It was magical!
As the darkness fell, around 1,100 drones took flight, while lasers, projectors and field lights filled up the amphitheater. The audio narrated Mala story is accentuated with a light spectacle. I felt like the stars were dancing above me, while the sounds of the elders echoes in the stillness of the darkness.
If you feel awkward that a high-tech experience may disturb the sanctity of a spiritual site, ask they locals. The Anangu people were consulted every step of the way to ensure that they were comfortable with the drones and were able to craft their story as they wanted to be told. Some of them were delighted that modern technology was being used to carry on their stories, which is especially important for their own kids (who are also on devices now).
Wintjiri Wiru is a must have experience on your next visit to Australia!
Shop for Indigenous Art
During your stay at Uluru, make sure to visit The Gallery of Central Australia (GoCA), which is adjacent to the Desert Gardens Hotel. Here you can see indigenous paintings made by artists living in the western and northern parts of Australia. Among these, you will find the traditional vibrant dot paintings. You can also shop for scarves, jewelry, bags, books and original artwork to take home.
The Gallery operates as a nonprofit that works with artists to set up art communities through which they can source materials and get exposure for their work.
Walk Among A Field of Lights
Another experience worth waking up before dawn for is the Field of Light Sunrise tour. Artist Bruce Munro’s open-air exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara is his largest work to date. In pitch darkness, you will see over 50,000 spindles of light covering more than seven football fields. The colors of the lights change constantly, overing a spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white.
In the morning, there was hardly anyone there, so I felt very peaceful walking through the lights. Once the sun started rising, you could see Uluru’s majestic shadows in the backdrop.
Also, nearby in Watarrka National Park, you can visit Munro’s new Light Towers installation (opened in April 2023).
Getting To Uluru
Given its geographic location, most tourists to Australia often don’t make it to Uluru. There are only a few flights that come directly into Ayers Rock Connellan Airport, which are primarily from Sydney (4 times a week). There are also flights from Alice Springs, Cairns and Darwin.
You can also fly into the nearest town of Alice Springs and then drive 460 km to get to Uluru. If you are a road tripper, plan a multi-day camping and driving trip across the outback.
Where To Stay
While there are very few hotels and campsites near Uluru, you can find something at every price point. I stayed at the Sails in the Desert luxury boutique hotel, which had large and comfortable rooms with balconies overlooking a garden and pool. The on-site restaurant offered good selection of fresh and healthy dishes using local produce. There was also a cafe, bar and gift shop in the lobby area.
Walk from the hotel to the adjacent Town Square Lawn, where you can partake at complementary guest activities. Listen to the stories of Aboriginal culture and tradition, learn about hunting weapons, didgeridoo, and the local Pitjantjatjara language.
Guidelines for Visiting Uluru
When you visit any indigenous spiritual sites, make sure to be respectful of the land and the cultural values. Stay on marked trails and don’t walk into reserved, private or ceremonial areas.
Whenever possible, be silent and allow others to focus on their meditative or spiritual journey as they go observe Uluru.
Also, do not take photographs of sacred carvings and images. When taking photos of videos of people – such as guides, elders or artists – make sure to ask for their permission first. Don’t use drones. The best way to enjoy your time at Uluru is by putting your devices away and soaking in the energy with your mind, body and spirit.