Ten Reasons you must visit Uluru now
Uluru at the heart of Australia, an iconic landmark that you know ‘one day’ you will visit. Home to the living culture of its traditional Aboriginal owners, known as Anangu.
Yet the destination has has escaped a tick off my bucket list – until now.
Confession: I haven’t been anywhere in the Outback. I haven’t travelled further west of the coastline than reaches of Sydney’s Blue Mountains. Pre trip I’m picturing the vastness of landscape I’ve only viewed from the window of an aircraft. Seemingly never ending continent of oranges and browns.
Landing at Ayers Rock airport in the midday sun does little to dispel previous experience. Seeing first hand that Australia truly is a land of nature, not a human footprint for miles and miles. Sadly I’ve chosen the ‘wrong’ side of the aircraft for our landing – it is not until we make our final swoop to the runway that I see Uluru, and it’s breathtaking.
“Pack your insect spray, warm clothes, sun hat, camera”, thus began a long list of ‘preparation’ advice from Mum, our family ‘outback expert’. She also attempts to prepare me not simply for what I will see, but how my visit will make me feel, “You will come away from the experience with more than photos.”
My first trip to Uluru – to participate in Bush Tucker Journeys an exciting new program celebrating Indigenous food experiences with Ayers Rock Resort, and thrillingly the opening of Season II of artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation.
Our itinerary runs the gamut of local gourmet experiences, combined with the traditional art that permeates, the history throughout, the contemporary Bruce Munro art and of course the overarching presence that draws us here, Uluru.
It is the shifting of light that is most spectacular, each moment of the day brings new shades.
Ochre dominates – soil blended over thousands of years. Although the vista is greener than I anticipate – it’s rained every month for the previous 14 months – a phenomenon for which I learn I should be incredibly grateful as it doesn’t happen regularly in this semi-arid desert. The result is verdant flora, of subtle olives and natural tussock spinnifax.
Then the horizon… Well that is never ending in its absolute, pure blue. Uluru is purple hued in the high midday sun when it looms almost unobtrusively as a backdrop, less about the rock and more about the surrounding landscape as it glistens with heat, as if taking a breather from being the centre of attention before it again casts its magnificence in the orange gloaming twilight.
From a distance Uluru appears smooth, yet when close black algae stains show the passage of waterfalls, porous sandstone reveal caves and ridges along the surface. At ground level you feel the majesty of the towering rock, in my opinion it’s the most glorious way to view. You don’t get the same aspect from overhead and certainly not from climbing (I am horrified when later I see some tourists ignoring respectful requests to not climb Uluru – access will gradually be phased out completely, yet until then it is at the discretion of visitors). A much better alternative is one of the guided walking tours which follow the circumference of Uluru.
It’s 6.05am and a cold May morning. Actually make that bone numbing freezing. Yet the rock seems to glow, deep red in the pre-dawn, shadowed and huge.
We collect a steaming hot coffee from the tables set up by our AAT Kings hosts, and make our way down the dusty red path to the ‘best viewing spot’- go left on the path rather than continue up to the lookout (our coach driver is fabulous, working in the region since 1979 – he brims with yarns and tips). His suggestion is spot on as we share the space with only about ten others, behind us on the ‘hill’ a crowd is silhouetted, as coral and pink skies herald sunrise.
Time seems immaterial as nature plays out the colour show, perhaps two hours pass before a toot from the coach signals departure.
You can book sunrise tours via coach, camel or of course self drive.
We are warned that as soon as the sun dips so too does the temperature, yet for now – we are bathed golden with the last of the sun’s rays. Out here the ebb of the day is dominated by the power of nature, out and about for the visual feasts of sunrise and sunset and seeking shade from the midday heat.
Sipping cocktails and enjoying hors duveures inspired by indigenous flavours is the perfect pre-cursor to an evening viewing the Field of Light art, the Sounds of Silence dinner, or if you are feeling adventurous do as some of our group do and jump on the back of a Harley Davidson tour.
Note: I am ashamed to say that my local geographical knowledge pre-trip is woeful – after canvassing colleagues it appears I am not alone, so a couple of points;
The most convenient way to arrive at Uluru is flying (Sydney to Ayers Rock airport is approx 3.5 hrs, with a time change of 30 minutes behind Sydney).
Drive from the airport to Ayers Rock Resort takes about 10 minutes.
Indigenous art takes centre stage at Ayers Rock Resort, plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal with painting classes, art galleries and art markets.
Yet it is at Wintjiri Gallery that I learn more about the art I have adorning my walls at home. Purchased because I am attracted to the colour and stories – until now I have scant appreciation for the technique and history.
Our guide brings to life the trajectory of the paintings; from stories drawn in sand by so many language groups, until ‘white fella’ handed out paper to the indigenous men so the stories could be recorded. Concern at who was going to be looking at their private stories, they began dotting around the stories to protect them. Giving us the styles we recognise today. Many of the artworks are collaborative – brought to life by telling just enough, yet savouring the secrets that should remain unspoken.
Artist Bruce Munro is delightfully unassuming for someone that has taken such a journey to get here; 25 years long to be precise.
It was back then the region captured his imagination, a few sketches in a book which he states was one of those ‘life experiences that keeps on nagging’. The resulting exhibition – aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara – is Munro’s largest work to date. Those early dreams, combined with unfailing persistence, inspired Field of Light Uluru. An art installation comprising a staggering 50,000 solar powered ‘stems’ that come to life as the sun subsides.
“The landscape dictated the vastness of the project – I dreamt of a natural illusion, so that the Field of Light goes over the horizon”, he says. “The key really, is to stand in the middle of the field, where the Milky Way drifts down to create a ring of light – an unexpected feeling, gentle, not meant to compete with nature”.
Bruce projects a sense of humbleness, a childlike wonder that the project is real. So I follow his direction and find myself a solo spot – if you opt for a ‘Field of Light Star Pass’ you are given access prior to the crowds (since the opening in April 2016 over 120,000 guests have visited) – a perfect scenario would be silence surfice for the night sounds of the desert. However a low murmur of other guests permeates, so I pop on headphones and become lost in the music and the otherworldly reality of one man’s dream.
There is no shortage of opportunity to turn an Uluru visit into an educational opportunity for all ages.
The resort runs a plethora of daily activities;
- A 45 minute hands on Bush Foods Experience – education coming to life – touch the flora, hear yarns about the various plants and berries. I learn that Quandong ‘Desert Peach’, tastes better than rhubarb in a pie (make sure you serve it with custard), “Then ladies use it as beauty therapy to restore natural oils in their skin”, says our knowledgeable guide. A fascinating lesson on food as therapy, nutrition and in its purest form. Many of the dishes at the resorts restaurants are using local native bush foods within the menu. We are shown a modern recipe for the ingredients, delicious is the verdict on the’Wattleseed Shortbread’.
- The outback night sky is the perfect place to view stars and planets. Free Astronomy Information Sessions with the resident astrophysicist in the Resort Town Square are held daily.
- One morning after breakfast we meet for a guided Garden Walk, plants are an important part of Indigenous traditions.
I’ve had friends who have returned from Uluru, gushing about dining under the ‘stars’ – and I now agree. It is one of those ‘must do’ add ons – my teens would love it.
Sounds of Silence is four hours of unparalleled natural beauty, beginning with cocktails and canapés at sunset before the traditional call of didgeridoo calls us to dinner. Three courses superb courses with accompanying wine – before our Astronomy expert brings the clear night sky to life. Our trip coincides with a full moon – the ‘light’ adds an other worldly glow to the landscape – a fitting backdrop to a surreal experience.
Within the resort Desert Gardens Hotel is celebrating the total refurbishment of premium restaurant Arnguli – incorporating many of the native ingredients we learnt about earlier in the day. The result is a faultless meal with distinct Australian flavours. Throughout the many resort food and beverage outlets I experience friendly and professional service, excellent meals and (importantly) very good coffee. Different price points from cafe to fine dining do well to offer a range for all markets – albeit a remote destination I do not ever feel ‘ripped’ off and could comfortably recommend them. Ayers Rock Resort work closely with local communities and offer an array of training opportunities.
Uluru ‘Feastival’ is a quarterly culinary event (one of many on the destination’s calendar of events – Australian Chamber Orchestra, Camel Cup, Field of Lights, Astronomer in Residence).
Our experience begins with a Feastival Master Class, lead by Bush Tucker Journeys Ambassador Indigenous Australian Chef Mark Olive – if he sounds familiar it is because you might have watched him on SBS, or browsed his cookbook. Regarded as the authority on incorporating the myriad of flavours available from indigenous ingredients that have been used for generations. I nibble enthusiastically on bush mint and lemon thyme, with reluctance on dried green ants – pleasant enough, yet it is later in the evening when I am served a desert of “Lime Petit Gateaux’ where they really shine as ‘green ant and coconut snow’!
I have never cooked with Indigenous ingredients; indeed lot of our Australian food is sent overseas (emu, wallaby, green ants – cordial, who knew), Mark is working tirelessly to get more Indigenous food on our plates. World renowned restaurant Noma launched at Sydney’s Barangaroo prescinct with Indigenous Foods , lovely if you can afford the eye-watering menu price.
Yet at Ayers Rock Resort it is made accessible to everyone at the range of ten restaurants.
AYERS ROCK RESORT
Sails in the Desert
The jewel in the Ayers Rock Resort crown, my ‘home’ for three nights. Spacious rooms surround lush green, gum tree lined gardens and a vast outdoor pool on one side – the other gives way to the red desert.
My room is extremely comfortable – and if my family was here then I would suggest two rooms would be perfect, plenty of room to spread out and my ground floor location has a lovely terrace where I enjoy a morning coffee in the sun.
A two kilometre ‘circuit’ road links the five other properties (luxury experience Longitude 131 is a drive away);
Desert Gardens Hotel
Newly refurbished it is the only property with direct views of Uluru from guest rooms.
Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge
Catering to families with quad share hotel rooms and adjoin gin ‘backpacker lodge’ (I spied a fun outdoor, cook your own BBQ restaurant).
Perfectly situated mid-resort; just a stroll from the shopping area (an IGA supermarket, cafes, post office, banking facilities) – one or two bedroom self-catering apartments.
Ayers Rock Campground
This is where my intrepid Mum stayed on her outback journey – her feedback “Great facilities, we enjoyed a break from camp food and took advantage of the resort restaurants”.
The bonus: ULURU IS UNIQUE
An overused term, yet having travelled extensively I can comfortably say I have not experienced any other place that affords the connection to the land, traditional spirituality and history. I’m going to hazard a sweeping statement – however I have a sense that if every Australian school child could visit Uluru in their formative years, it would undoubtably foster a strong sense of valuable understanding. To experience the unique destination of Uluru is truly life changing.