Plastered across billboards, featured in tourism advertisements and found on postcards in souvenir shops right around the country, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how special a place like Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is.
This deeply spiritual site, located right in the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, is a must-visit for anyone, but especially those looking to connect with the land and its culture. And one of the best ways to this is by exploring the many scenic walking tracks that weave in and around the park.
But it’s not as simple as turning up and finding yourself face-to-face with the massive eponymous monolith. There are a couple of things to consider before you tackle the trails – like how you’re getting there, the best times to visit and entry requirements – to ensure your trip is as memorable as possible.
You can fly direct to Yulara (the township set just outside the park) from most Australian capital cities. Rental cars are available to hire from the airport, or you can jump aboard the Uluru Hop On Hop Off shuttle bus, which offers a scheduled transit service between the Cultural Centre and nearby accommodation.
Thinking of driving? The closest city is Adelaide, which is still 1,600 kilometres away. It’s a huge road trip, so only attempt it if you are fully prepared.
Best Times To Visit
While the park is open 365 days a year, conditions are most ideal between May and September, when the maximum temperature peaks at around 30° Celsius and there is very little rain. Nights can still be chilly though, so pack warm clothes accordingly. If you do choose to visit in summer, it’s imperative that you complete all walks before 11am and take plenty of water with you – and also understand that on extremely hot days most Uluru hiking tours will be cancelled, and some routes will close altogether.
A pass is required to enter the park, and it needs to be purchased online in advance of your arrival. The Uluru National Park entry fee is $38 per adult (children free of charge) and is valid for three days, with proceeds going towards maintaining facilities and supporting traditional owners.
Uluru Base Walk
If you’ve only got time to do one Uluru walking track, make sure it’s the Base Walk. This 10.6-kilometre loop trail comes highly recommended by both the local Indigenous people and the national park staff, and allows you to witness the sublime beauty of the rock up close and learn its stories. The walk begins at the Mala car park, and takes around 3.5 hours to complete – not that you’ll notice the time dragging, as there are plenty of signs dotted along the way sharing info on the culture, history, flora and fauna of the region. Just remember to pack water and a hat, because even though you’ll be walking through sections of shaded woodlands, it can still get very hot, very quickly.
Valley of the Winds Walk
As one of the most popular attractions in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park you know the Valley of the Winds Walk is going to be special, but nothing can quite prepare you for the unparalleled and awe-inspiring views. At 7.4 kilometres in length it’s not the longest hike on this list, but the uneven terrain and steep climbs do make it one of the hardest, so you’ll want to be confident in your fitness levels before taking off – especially if it’s hot (although the route does close if temperatures rise above 36° Celsius). At the two main lookout points – Karu and Karingana – you’ll be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the scorched, Mars-like landscape, while walking among the towering domes as the wind whips through has a very otherworldly feel about it.
The two-kilometre Mala Walk to Kantju Gorge is a wonderful track for those looking for a shorter alternative to the Uluru Base Walk. It also begins at the Mala car park, and meanders past incredible examples of ancient rock art as well as a network of caves where the Mala people first camped upon their arrival from the north. The gorge itself is a peaceful, quiet spot surrounded by the sheer, burnt orange walls of the rock. Ranger-lead tours along the track depart mid-morning every day (the fee is included in the cost of your park pass), and it’s a great opportunity to learn the stories behind the rock art. Best of all, the entire route is pram and wheelchair accessible.
Walpa Gorge Walk
Discover a true Outback oasis when you wander into Walpa Gorge. The rocky 2.6-kilometre path passes between the two tallest domes of Kata Tjuta, before rising slightly and emerging into a grove of spearwood trees. It only takes an hour or so to complete, but we recommend allowing a bit longer so you can really take the time to admire the breathtaking scenery, and look out for sun-baking reptiles and rock-hopping wallabies. This is also a hugely sensitive location for the local Anangu people, so when photographing the area you need to keep both sides of the gorge in frame, to avoid revealing any sacred sites.
Named after the brown snake, the Liru Walk connects the Uluru Cultural Centre with the Base Walk. It’s one of the flatter and less crowded routes in the park, and at just less than five kilometres in length it really doesn’t take much longer than an hour to complete. The big drawcard is that it weaves through a section of dense mulga forest, but most people flock here after a heavy downpour of rain, when the bush comes alive in an explosion of colourful wildflowers. The trail also boasts a large sandy clearing with a shelter that offers some of the best uninterrupted views of Uluru.
Hugging the western side of Uluru, the four-kilometre Lungkata Walk – which forms part of the Base Walk – is one of the park’s most visually spectacular tracks. In some sections, the ochre sides of the rock slant right down to the base of the path, allowing you to see up close the ridges and grooves that have been carved from millennia of water and wind erosion. It’s also known as the ‘teaching walk’, as you can learn all about the story of Lungkata – the blue-tongue lizard man who paid the ultimate price for stealing from others. Our advice is to visit at dusk, when the rock glows a bright red and you can feel the day’s warmth radiating from its surface.
It may be short and sweet at just one kilometre in length, but the Kuniya Walk is an absolute must-do. Beginning at the Kuniya car park, the easy route leads to Mutitjulu Waterhole, one of the only permanent water sources around Uluru. The entire area is surprisingly lush and green – a shady refuge from the harsh outback heat – and is also home to an array of birds, including finches, kestrels and black-breasted buzzards. Centuries-old rock art adorns the walls of nearby caves, and the waterhole is a particularly important part of Uluru’s cultural landscape as it is where the creation story of Kuniya (the woma python woman) and Liru (the brown snake man) took place.
Eager to lace up your walking shoes and tackle one of more of these Uluru walks? Book flights to Uluru with Webjet, or combine your cheap airfare with your accommodation to make a great-value Uluru holiday package. If you are making the drive to Uluru from Alice Springs or even Darwin, you can also book your car hire with Webjet.