The Red Centre
Like so many others, COVID-19 had foiled our travel plans for an overseas trip.
And for quite a while there, the international borders weren’t the only problem – the internal Australian borders were providing just as problematic.
We booked our trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) just prior to Christmas 2020. The trip wasn’t until March, and we thought the next three months would give us enough time to be confident in travelling again.
That day, Sydney experienced what was to become known at the ‘Avalon Cluster’, where part of the city went into lockdown and the borders around NSW started slamming shut once again.
Fortunately for us, things did settle and we were able to head off to the Red Centre – albeit wearing face masks and with a copious supply of hand sanitiser.
We flew into Ayers Rock Airport, enduring a long line for COVID-19 screening and border permits, then collected our little hire car for our first stop – Kings Canyon. It’s about a two and a half hour drive from Uluru and while that may sound a little daunting in the ‘outback’, we found the roads are actually better than the highways at home!
Kings Creek Station
Our first night was spent at Kings Creek Station, about 30 minutes shy of Kings Canyon itself. The station has accomodation (sturdy tents for those stopping over), a camel farm, souvenir shop and lots of red dirt.
We followed the station’s chef in his red Toyota ute, along a rocky road to the top of the escarpment, where were staying for the night.
This was glamping! There’s only a handful of tents in this isolated part of the property, kitted out with all the modcons like air conditioning, a fully stocked fridge, a kitchen and more. And just a short walk from our room was a shipping container swimming pool with refreshing water to cool down after a hot afternoon.
You can see why this part of the country is so special – it’s like Mars, and you certainly feel a certain connection to the land.
We did the Canyon Rim Walk, which took about two-three hours with a few stops along the way.
The first part of the walk is pretty intimidating, with a walk up a rocky path to the top which is a real heartstarter. Then, as you navigate your way around the rim of the canyon, you experience some spectacular views and some beautiful little spots like the Garden of Eden where there’s a freshwater billabong (not for swimming in).
The view from the top is inredible – looking down into the vastness of the canyon and the sheer rock walls.
From there, it was back in the car to the Station for a breakfast fry-up and the drive to our next stop, Ayers Rock Resort.
UIuru almost springs up out of nowhere, whether you’re flying or driving – it just seems to appear on the horizon, jutting out from the flat red earth around it.
But when you see it, you can’t help but be amazed.
After settling into our digs at the Sails In The Desert, we did a quick drive to the Rock before getting read for the Sounds Of Silence Dinner.
This dinner is one of the ‘must do’ events when you visit. Sitting in the red dirt (complete with white tablecloths and impecable service), dining on some beautiful food as the sun sets and the stars come out.
The night was brilliant – especially as they turned off all the lights and gave us a guided tour of the stars above.
I won’t deny, it was a big night. So big in fact that we felt like we couldn’t drive to our planned sunrise spot in the morning!
The day was spent quietly, enjoying the pool and seeing the Rock again before the famous ‘Field Of Light’ that night. This art display lights up as the sun goes down – and was especially impressive with a Top End thunderstorm brewing off in the distance.
Next morning, we started the drive well before sunrise to make it to the sunrise viewing platform near Kata Tjuta, which also gives you a stunning view out across to Uluru.
The sky delivered that morning – lighting up with rich yellows and reds which popped against the red dirt spanning for kilometres.
Then, with the sun up and the flies out once again, it was a quick drive to the based of Kata Tjuta to complete the circuit walk – two hours of up and down trekking over the red gravel and rocks, with a few decent climbs included.
The walk was done by about 10am, meaning we had beat the heat once again and had time to head back to cool down with a swim and some time in the airconditioning.
That night, it was off to see the sunset at the Rock.
We took a gamble. Looking at the cloud formations, it was evident the sunset was going to be colourful but if we went to the sunset viewing area (where you see the setting run light up the face of the rock), the clouds would have been behind. So we took the punt and went to the sunrise viewing area where we were the only people.
Yes, we had the sunset to ourselves. And once again, the red centre sky delivered.
The next morning, we returned to the sunrise spot (where this time there was about 100 people) to watch the sun’s rays hit the rock and turn it a deep and rich red.
This being our last day, we were on a tight timeframe – and had an early morning bike ride around the rock booked.
It didn’t help old mate with the bikes slept in so we powered around the rock in about an hour.
Unfortunately, it was just about this time that someone broke into our rental car. They didn’t steal anything other than a face mask and a phone charger. Fortunately I had my camera gear and everything of value with me.
Our trip to Uluru was short and sweet – up on Monday, back on Friday. Most people suggest two or three days and that’s probably about right although a few extra days gave us a chance to enjoy Kings Canyon and spend some time relaxing.
This is a special part of the country and highly recommended.