Rock bottom: The imposing wonder of Australia’s Uluru and beyond

Uluru and the footpath to the viewing platform on a clear winter’s morning at sunrise. Source: Shutterstock/FiledIMAGE

A MAP of Australia can be most misleading for the non-native. The continent is vast and, plonked in the appropriately monikered “red center”, it’s a particularly long way to Uluru from anywhere.

Two or three days in a car from Melbourne, a three and a half hour flight from Sydney and even five hours in a four-wheel drive from what looks like nearby Alice Springs.

However, it’s a magical, unmissable place. Flying in fleetingly means you miss out on a lot of what this huge area has to offer. First and foremost hire your own, preferably rugged, wheels.

The main event

When it comes to seeing Ayers Rock up close, opt for the sunrise view. There’s little chance of an intimate photo unless it’s with seventy newfound best mates on a coach tour, but just drinking in the vivid and mellifluous colors of the rock at morning break is mesmerizing.

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The early start means you can undertake at least some of the 10km walk around the base of this rocky icon before the heat becomes hellish. The Mutitjulu Waterhole is particularly atmospheric.

Take one of the ubiquitous tours to be spellbound by the fascinating stories weaved by the indigenous caretakers of this imposing wonder.

Zoom off

Take to the dusty roads and explore; just don’t go anywhere without a packed lunch, lots of water and a flare gun because if you break down, you could be waiting a long time for roadside assistance.

Drive out to The Valley of the Winds, a string of billowing boulders where the reasonably fit can walk to dazzling viewpoints. Further afield you will find Kings Canyon, arguably one of the most beautiful spots in this arid wonderland.

If you fall hopelessly in love with the outback, the Lara Pinta Trail is a fifteen-day hike of a lifetime through central Australia’s surprisingly varied terrain.

A town called Alice

If you’ve come this far, then don’t miss Alice Springs, home to some of the country’s best indigenous art. The drive from Uluru to here takes in Rainbow Valley, Mount Connor and of course the famous Stuarts Well Roadhouse – erstwhile home of now sadly departed Dinky, the world’s only documented singing dingo.

The trip from Alice to Tenant Creek gives you a good nibble at the Northern Territory. There are quirky truck stops where it’s almost rude not to stop for a meat pie and a natter.

There’s also a huge and hugely politically incorrect statue of a naked aboriginal man sporting a spear along the way and don’t linger too long at Wycliffe as you may get abducted by one of the myriad aliens allegedly sighted here.

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Don’t miss out on some of the super touristy stuff at Uluru, particularly the Sounds of Silence Dinner,  kangaroo spotting or even a camel trek across dunes – if you’re that way inclined.

But with a bit more time and an adventurous spirit, you will discover one of Earth’s most beautiful, expansive and unique terrains.