DIY Uluru Tour: How to See Ayers Rock Cheaply
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In Australia, we like things BIG. Big rocks, big spaces between literally everywhere and unfortunately big, expensive prices. Did you know Sydney has surpassed London as one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world? Well, I’m here to help you save some of your dosh because I know you’re going to need it. Here’s how to do a self-guided Uluru tour, without the huge prices.
Because what’s better than cheap Uluru tours? FREE Uluru Tours, that’s what.
Uluru is probably Australia’s most identifiable landmark. Aren’t we lucky? It’s so pretty (tear). Uluru is actually the world’s SECOND largest monolith. I thought it was the largest but there you go! The largest is also in Australia (yay!) and is lesser-known Mount Augustus in Western Australia. Anyways, most of the actual rock is buried deep underground (2.5 km underground, WHAT?). Uluru was originally under the sea. But now, its surface is made up of gulleys, valleys, ridges, waterfalls and other weird shapes (official term) that were created by erosion over time.
Wait, is it called Uluru or Ayers Rock?
First up, I’m just going to clear something up real quick. Should we be calling it Uluru or Ayres Rock? Whats with the different names? Our giant red rock was originally named ‘Ayers Rock’ by William Gosse in 1873. He named it this after Sir Henry Ayers, a Premier of South Australia. However, Uluru is the rocks’ Aboriginal and official name, now that the land has been given back to its traditional owners.
So, which should you use? Places like the airport and car rental companies use Ayers Rock in their searches, so you must search that otherwise, you won’t find anything! But I personally prefer to call it Uluru out of respect for our Aboriginal people who were the first to inhabit this Aussie icon.
DIY Tours of Uluru
This is a step-by-step informative guide on how to do an Uluru Tour without paying for an expensive tour guide! Not only can it be done, but also I highly recommend doing it this way. I have done the road trip from Alice Springs to Uluru TWICE and had a blast. It’s the quintessential Aussie road trip. Packing up the car, grabbing some friends and driving off on an adventure. This area of Australia has so much to offer that you’ll want to enjoy it for as long as possible! Or get FOMO like I did and come back less than a year later…
Pros of doing an Uluru self-guided tour
- It’s usually cheaper than a tour!
- It’s A LOT cheaper if you have more than 2 other people with you
- You can do what you want in your own time
- If you do the tour from Alice Springs you have the option of visiting Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell Ranges as well
Cons of doing an Uluru self-guided tour
- If hiring a car in Uluru there are hidden charges and you MUST book well in advance
- It’s a bit more stressful because you will have to organise everything yourself
- If you are alone it could be more expensive than doing a tour (depending on the season or situation)
Is there a park entry fee to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park?
Yes, there is an entry fee into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. For adults 16 and up the price is $25 AUD. Children under 4 are free and a family pass (2 adults, 2 children) is $65
Prices are quoted as of 1st May 2018. Check here for the latest prices.
Should I start my Uluru tour in Alice Springs or Ayers Rock?
I have done both and there are slight differences in price between the two. For me, I like to spend as much time as possible at a destination like this so I would opt for the Alice Springs option if it’s possible. Here are the pros and cons of starting in each destination.
Pros of Flying into Alice Springs
- Car hire is cheaper than Uluru
- You will have the option of checking out the beautiful surrounding areas of Alice like the MacDonnell Ranges and Kings Canyon
- The road between Alice Springs and Uluru is of good quality and is easy to drive (no you DO NOT have to hire a 4WD!)
Cons of Flying into Alice Springs
- You will have to bring the car back to Alice Springs or pay extortionate fees for a “one-way surcharge” (these fees can sometimes be avoided for longer hire durations with some companies; read this for more info)
- This is not a viable option if you are short on time
- The road between Alice Springs and Uluru is long and boring in between sights
Pros of Flying into Uluru
- This is the best option for people who only have a 1-2 days
- The distance between the airport and your hotel is only a ten-minute drive
- Often, the flights to Uluru are cheaper than to Alice Springs, especially when you find a sale!
- You’ll get AH-MAZING views of the famous rock as you come into land. Who needs helicopter rides?
Cons of Flying into Uluru
- Car hire is much more expensive and there are a number of restrictions on your vehicle hire (such as limited miles and premium location fees). Be sure to read the fine print before booking
- Car hire is so competitive you must book months in advance
- You will miss out on seeing the spectacular surrounding areas of Alice Springs
How to do an Uluru self-guided tour if you don’t drive?
It’s a good 20 km from the closest point of accommodation at Yulara and the actual base of Uluru. This is a bit too much to do in one day. Then to get to Kata Tjuta (and trust me you’ll want to check the Olgas out) it’s another 58 km. It’s not feasible to try and trek the entire distance.
In case you are wondering, no you can’t just camp out in the desert and trek around as you please. The park is closed at night, no one except the people who live there is allowed to stay inside.
If you really have no access to a vehicle and still don’t want to do a guided tour there is one option. A VERY expensive shuttle bus runs between Yulara and Uluru/Kata Tjuta. This shuttle only runs at certain times throughout the day. During the summer off-peak seasons, they do not run for sunrise at Uluru. During peak season they run for both sunrise and sunset. Check their timetables for more information on exact times. They can also shuttle you between Uluru and Kata Tjuta for extra $.
How to Hire a Car at Uluru
There are three major hire car companies around Uluru. They are conveniently located at either Ayers Rock Airport (officially Connellan Airport) or in the town centre of Yulara. At these locations, you can hire cars, 4-Wheeled-Drives (4WD) and campervans.
You MUST book well in advance if you want to hire a car at Uluru.
I’m talking at least a month early in the high season (winter). The market here is seriously competitive. If you miss out, there are no other options.
Bookings can be made beforehand through the following company:
How to hire a car at Alice Springs
The experience of hiring a car in Alice Springs is similar to hiring a car at Ayers Rock. There are hidden charges, you have to book in advance and most hire companies have limited mileage which won’t get you very far. Read the section above about hiring a car at Uluru for more information.
Also, I just want to let you know, in case you hadn’t been told. You do not need a 4WD to drive between Alice Springs and Uluru. The road is sealed and lovely.
In my opinion, it’s best to hire a campervan if you are driving the long distance between Alice Springs and Uluru. Here’s why.
Hire a Campervan for Alice Springs to Uluru
Most campervans have unlimited mileage (Yay). Other awesome reasons are you can save on accommodation by parking for free all along the roads between Uluru and Alice Springs and it will be nice and comfortable. Sometimes you can find daily campervan costs for lower than car hire costs, as long as you rent for extended periods. Think a week minimum. But usually motorhomes only have room for two people so if you are travelling with more, a car may be a cheaper option for you.
Good places for free Uluru Camping
So you’ve decided to hire a campervan (or you have a tent) and now you want to save some money on accommodation? This is the section for you. There are free campsites near Uluru, but they are not as close as the paid campsites in Yulara.
Uluru by Sunrise
This campsite can be found by searching for “Uluru by sunrise” in the Wikicamps App. It is located another 20 km away from Yulara and 40 km from Uluru, but is by far the BEST place to camp for free and legally at Uluru. The site is basic with only tables and chairs, a BBQ and a water tank. There is nothing else. Some people have trouble finding this site, so if you need more information check out this article.
Curtain Springs Roadhouse
Curtain Springs is about 100 km from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. If you decide to stay here after visiting Uluru, be sure to factor in about 1.5 hours of daylight travel time. Do not travel at night, there are animals all over the roads. Unpowered campsites at Curtain Springs are FREE. Powered sites are $3. They are equipped with bathrooms and showers (though a shower will cost you $3). There is also a pub, meals and a snack shop.
Not interested in camping or just want some facilities? Unfortunately, there aren’t many budget options at Yulara. However, here are a couple of cheaper options to stay keeping you nice and close to Uluru.
Ayres Rock Campground
This is the cheapest option closest to the rock for Ayers Rock camping. Unpowered campsites start at $43 while a cabin with a few friends is pretty cheap, starting at $179.
Outback Pioneer Lodge
Outback Pioneer Lodge have mixed dormitories starting at $41 each sharing with 3 other people to a room. If you like your privacy you have the option of booking all four beds for $180 making it the cheapest private room in Yulara. They also offer a budget room with a private bathroom and a fridge starting at $230.
What to bring on an Uluru Day Tour
Uluru day tourists are encouraged to dress appropriately; lightweight, light-coloured, loose and long-sleeved outfit. Wide brim hats as protection from the unforgiving sun, adequate 50+ sunscreen for layered UV rays protection and as much water as possible are must-haves for this tour. Moreover, tourists are encouraged to put on durable comfortable footwear to absorb the impact of trekking for hours, while minimising blister formation and ankle soreness during the hike. Below is the sort of equipment and clothing I brought with me to on my Uluru tours.
This pack has a Hydration Capacity of 3 litres and a system so you can drink it right from the bag. You can also fit 9 litres of gear inside this backpack making it the perfect daypack for hiking in hot places.
Comfortable walking shoes
For hikes around the base of Uluru, boots aren’t necessary. You just need good supportive walking shoes that are closed. Sandals = dusty feet, plus ants and spiders can get in, sticks and sunburn, URGH! It’s best to do these walks with well-ventilated walking shoes like these ones!
Hat with a fly net
If you HATE flies being around your face, you will need this for any sort of sanity. It’s a hat (not a bad looking one at that) with a fly/mosquito net hidden inside, ready to be pulled out at any needed time. I think it’s pretty nifty TBH.
You don’t just want any old sunnies kicking around in Central Australia. The UV rays in Australia are STRONG and it can get super bright out there. Don’t risk your eyes. Get polarised sunglasses.
Different hikes you can do on your DIY Uluru tour
You can take part in hiking to the Uluru from either the Cultural Centre or from the base of the rock (there are several carparks). When starting from the Cultural Centre, it is estimated that the distance is about 10 km around the rock and the average trek time spent is about 2.5 to 3.5 hours.
Please note: I am not going to recommend climbing to the top of Uluru. Details as to why not can be read below.
The Free Ranger Mala Walk
Every day, various enthusiastic tourists gather together at the Mala Walk Sign to meet a ranger that would guide their 2 km walk around the National Park and various park attractions. The take-off point is situated in the Mala Walk Car Park by 8 am (October to April) and 10 am (May to September). During this walk, tourists learn a great deal about the rocks history, the parks history, and the Anangu tribe’s culture. I did this walk and found it very insightful, our ranger even told us a few stories about various serious accidents that have happened to people climbing the rock. This, along with cultural sensitivities, it why I don’t recommend climbing to the top of Uluru.
Uluru Base Walk
Stories surrounding Aboriginal culture become readily accessible and appreciated when you take the time to walk around the base of the monolith in all its native essence. On average, it measures about 10.6 km across and takes approximately 3.5 hours to walk the circumference. This activity is in line with the cultural beliefs of the Angura tribe who not only hallow the monolith as sacred but also discourage people from climbing the mount. Walking around the diameter enables you to walk in their (lack of) shoes and learn from the various information plaques along the way. Spot some native plants and animals and discover ancient Aboriginal art. The Base Walk is the best way to fully appreciate the natural and cultural beauty of Uluru.
This is an educational 4 km walk that enlightens people of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta management principle and the dynamic relationship that has been fostered between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal people through history. Also, learn about how one of Uluru’s first visitors learn a lesson about climbing safety.
Interested in shorter walks? From the base of the Uluru to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, this walk passes gently through the Mulga woodlands. At only 4.5 km it takes only 1.5 hours on average.
How to DIY Kata Tjuta hikes
Valley of the Winds Walk
This relatively easy walk passes by two spectacular lookout points. Less popular of the walks, this is the one to do to get away from the crowds! The views are amazing and the walk only takes about 3 hours to complete.
Walpa Gorge Walk
This is the most popular walk in Uluru and it is basically commenced when you leave the Kata Tjuta parking zone. This 2.6 km walk is an easy stroll through native wildlife and plants and terminates at the heart of the towering domes.
How to DIY Uluru sunrise and sunset tour
There are a number of lookout points along the roads in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The map they will provide to you when you enter the park is good, but I found it didn’t have that much information about what types of shots you can get. Depending on how close you want to get or how many days you have you might like to try a few different lookout points for sunrise. Considering I had two sunsets and two sunrises at Uluru in total, I’m going to name the best of each.
The Best Sunset Spot at Uluru
Even though it’s very popular, the best sunset spot for photos is at Car Sunset #1. Make sure you get there early so you can nab a place against the fence with a clear view. But even if you arrive late you can consider walking a small way up the road and hanging out there. That was how I got my amazing GIF timelapse.
The Best Sunrise Spot at Uluru
This one could be debatable, but I talk purely from a photography perspective. The sun rises from the opposite side to sunset. All those pretty photos you see of the rocks outer surface smooth, with little crevices are taken from the opposite side. However, for the sunrise, the rock is lit up on the surface that has many crevices and doesn’t even really look like Uluru at all.
For me, it’s all about perspective. I think the best Uluru sunrise spot is if you go further away to Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area #4. From this spot, you will be far enough away to get gorgeous shots of the sky as it lights up the rock from afar, as well as see the Olgas light up right in front of you.
Consider Cycling around Uluru
As opposed to trekking, tourists can rent bikes from the mobile bike shop situated at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre for their preferred days. Bike in hand, you can cycle across a 15 km adventure map, while taking your time to enjoy viewing the monolith and the diverse geological features. The bike shop contains various type of bikes such as toddler compatible bikes to diverse configurations to various tourist’s needs.
How DIY Uluru to Kings Canyon Tour
Kings Canyon is an absolutely spectacular natural canyon inside Watarrka National Park and is only 300 km (a 4-hour drive) from Uluru. If you have an extra day in the area I HIGHLY recommend visiting this place. The sheer red canyon walls jutting up into the sky, a gorgeous ‘Garden of Eden’ plonked right in the middle and views as far as the eye can see. I could even go as far as to say I liked this place more than Uluru.
Doing the Kings Canyon rim walk
The 6km Kings Canyon rim walk boasts some of the most gorgeous Central Australian scenery you’re likely to come across! Once you have climbed all the stairs to the top it’s easy going from there. The flat rim goes through several changes of scenery from desert views to tree-filled natural Edens. It will take you around 3 hours to complete, including lots of stops for photography. Word of warning, this is a walk in the fully-exposed sun.
Where to stay near Kings Canyon
Because this is quite a substantial drive from both Alice Springs (4.5 hours) or Uluru (4-hours) you may want to stay the night nearby.
If you are camping, you’re in luck as there are a multitude of awesome campsites nearby. My favourite was Salt Creek RA, complete with a resident dingo. But you can find a few others on your Wikicamps App.
For those of you who have done this trip in a car, you have a couple of options.
How to DIY Uluru Tour from Alice Springs
I have a huge wealth of information about road tripping between Alice Springs and Uluru. I highly recommend it as some of the places you can visit along the way are just incredibly beautiful. In particular, I loved the beauty of the MacDonnell Ranges so much that I returned a year later to trek the Larapinta Trail, a multi-day hike through the Central Australian desert.
There is far too much information about driving from Alice Springs to Uluru for this post. How about you read my other article about travelling from Alice Springs to Uluru by campervan for more in-depth information?
Can I climb Uluru?
Yes, you can climb Uluru at this current time, but PLEASE DO NOT do it. This is a sensitive issue, especially for local Aboriginal people who have strong spiritual beliefs against climbing their sacred rock. As of October 2019, the rock will be permanently closed to climbers. Until then, climbing Ayers Rock is allowed, but out of respect for the Aboriginal people who believe the rock is sacred and have lived in Central Australia for 30, 000 years, I highly suggest that you do not climb the rock.
Aside from the cultural issues, climbing the rock is seriously dangerous. Many people faint due to heat exhaustion or fall or trip. Around 2-3 people die each year because they do the walk and are simply not fit enough. There really isn’t that much to see from the top anyway since the area is flat and boring. Instead, why not take the free guided tour, called Mala Walk, around the base and find out about Aboriginal culture and why some areas of the rock are off-limits to certain sexes.
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What are your favourite ways to save money when you travel to expensive places? Tell me in the comments below!