While planning our sabbatical we had a short list of places we definitely wanted to visit, and the famous red rock in the center of Australia was on that list. At one point in the planning process we entertained the notion of driving across Australia and stopping at Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) on the way, but that idea quickly went by the wayside once we started checking drive times (Australia is MASSIVE). Fortunately there’s an airport in the town of Yulara, a short drive away from Uluru.

Following our visit to the Blue Mountains, we drove to Sydney and stayed one night an a hotel close to the airport. The next morning we caught a flight to Yulara.

Upon our arrival at the Ayers Rock Airport, we picked up our rental SUV and drove to our hotel. There we settled in for a few minutes then jumped back in the car again so that we could catch the sunset view near Uluru.

Sunset is a very special time to see Uluru because this is the time of day that it looks the most colorful. We parked at the viewing area and watched as the sandstone turned a deep red that slowly faded into brown tones.

Here we also got our introduction to the Outback flies. As soon as we exited the car we were absolutely swarmed with a cloud of black flies, all of which seemed to be determined to get into our mouths, eyes, and nostrils.

Apparently there had been a good rainstorm a few days before our arrival, and this really increases the fly population. The area was so completely swarmed that all of the local shops had sold out their stock of fly nets.

The next morning we returned to Uluru to take part in a guided walking tour. As we walked, our guide explained the importance of Uluru to the Aboriginal people of the area and told us some of the legends associated with various features in the rock. He also explained the meaning of some of the petroglyphs hidden in shallow caves.

We also learned about the controversy surrounding the climbing of Uluru. Many Australians (and international tourists) see the climb as a rite of passage, while the local people find it disrespectful to their beliefs. There are many signs around Uluru asking visitors not to climb the rock, but we saw quite a few people who walked right past these signs and to begin their ascent.

The climb has remained open because there were fears that closing it would sharply decrease the number of tourists. However, the percentage of tourists who undertake the climb has been falling in recent years, and in 2016 the local council voted to close the climb permanently. That change will go into effect in October 2019. Even though we visited before that deadline we decided to defer to the wishes of the locals and skip the climb.

Continuing our walk, it was very interesting to see some of the features that have been created as the rock has eroded over time. This area looked like a huge crashing wave.

We returned to Uluru a couple of days later to cycle around the base of the rock, a 10km loop. We rented some bikes from Outback Cycling and set off on the sandy track.

Along the way we made stops to see different features. There are few areas where water pools at the base of the rock, forming an oasis in the desert.

We encountered another rock “wave,” perhaps formed by the blast of desert winds over the years.

We also saw more paintings hidden under rock ledges.

The bike ride was a hit with the kids.

Most of the time we were moving fast enough to keep the flies away and that was a nice bonus.

Kata Tjuta

Before our trip to Uluru we had no idea that there was another grouping of huge domed rock formations nearby. Also known as “The Olgas,” Kata Tjuta means “many heads” in the local dialect.

On the day we drove out to Kata Tjuta we were pleased to find that some of the Yulara stores had fly nets back in stock. They would soon come in handy.

We set out on the “Valley of the Winds” hike, a 5 mile circuit through the park.

It was a long hike under the blazing sun, but we enjoyed the views!

After our valley of the winds walk it was getting to be late in the afternoon, but we decided to go on a quick walk through the Walpa Gorge.

We hoped that we might spot one of the resident rock wallabies but we didn’t see any. We did find a wild camel on the way back to our car though!

We really enjoyed our three full days touring around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Seeing Uluru was a very special experience and we learned a good deal about the local culture in the process.

As our plane ascended to cruising altitude we got one last view of Uluru. What a sight!

In our next dispatch, we check out some of what Sydney has to offer!

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