10 April 2013 by Alex Stewart
Uluru is an iconic monolith and one of the Australian continent's most recognisable natural wonders and landscapes. The world's largest freestanding rock is also culturally significant for the traditional landowners and sacred to the local Aboriginal people.
Yet many people give it little more than a cursory visit. Which is curious considering the 300 or so dusty, long miles they will have travelled to get here from Alice Springs. Instead of simply ticking it off, stop a little longer and explore the surrounds, staying to see how the atmosphere and colours change throughout the day. Below are several suggestions for how to see Uluru at its best.
To maximise your visit to Uluru you'll need to stay overnight. There are several options within sight of Uluru. The most luxurious of these is Longitude 131°, whose 15 tent-like cabins boast full-length windows that gaze out over the desert to the rust-coloured rock. Flowing white canvas roofs create a sense of camping but the interiors are anything but basic, featuring king-size beds, futuristic bathrooms and remotely controlled blinds and windows allowing you to invite the views in at a the push of a button.
Alternatively stay at Sails in the Desert, which focuses on Aboriginal culture and is decorated extensively with indigenous artwork. Less glamorous but great value, the Desert Gardens Hotel has a wealth of facilities and some stunning panoramas of Uluru.
Watch the sunset
Settle back and watch the spectacular show as the sun sets and the rock goes through myriad colour changes. The play of light on the surface of the rock creates such astonishing colour changes that it's easy to see how a world of mythology has been woven around it.
Best of all, enjoy the Sounds of Silence dining experience and watch the sun set from a private dining area in the desert, where you'll be treated to a glass of sparkling wine and a sumptuous gourmet BBQ buffet fullof authentic Australian delicacies. As you eat and marvel at your surrounds the sound of a didgeridoo fills the air before a storyteller shares tales from Aboriginal folklore. Once the sun has sunk below the horizon and darkness intensified, the Southern sky becomes dotted with a mass of stars. Without any light pollution to disturb the view, this is an extraordinary spectacle and the perfect culmination to a very romantic evening. A stargazing tour using telescopes, binoculars and iPads, led by a resident astronomer, will then explain what you're looking at.
A similar evening experience can be had at Tali Wiru, where an intimate four-course dinner is served on the top of a sand dune with spectacular panoramic views.
Enjoy the Sounds of Silence or Tali Wiru
Sunrise is equally dramatic. Get up early and head out into the desert for a campfire breakfast and watch as the sky lightens and bursts into colour, setting the rock ablaze.
An intimate way to discover the natural beauty and rich culture of the rock is to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors that shaped the landscape. There are several walking routes around Uluru that cater to different levels of fitness and available time.
By choosing to walk around rather than climb up Uluru, you're respecting indigenous Tjukurpa and Anangu wishes. By taking a guide from these groups you'll also get to hear stories that illustrate their history and culture and can uncover Aboriginal rock art along the way.
Take a camel trek
Swap shank's pony for a camel and trek through the desert for an hour on the back of these remarkable animals. You'll be able to cover a greater distance without having to expend any energy and will be able to get close to nature whilst revelling in the views of the landscape from your elevated vantage point.
Hover above the rock on a Helicopter flight
A bit more decadent but definitely a defining way to see Uluru, this once-in-a-lifetime flight allows you to see the rock from an entirely different perspective and enables you to marvel at its shape, folds and creases in a way that you can't from the ground. Go up in the evening and you'll also be able to watch the sunset from the air, meaning you'll catch the changing of the colours as the day ebbs away.
Go beyond Uluru
In addition to Uluru, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park here is home to the equally impressive Olgas, where monumental rock domes dating back more than 500 million years compete for your attention.
200m taller than Uluru, they are separated by deep gorges, through which you can wander; both the Valley of the Winds and Walpa Gorge provide stunning views of the surrounding desert plains. These splendidly isolated outcrops are also held to be sacred by the Aboriginal people.