Uluru, Northern Territory travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

The Red Centre offers awe-inspiring nature, as well as a wealth of cultural, astronomical and gastronomical experiences.

1 Ride around the Rock

In pictures, it appears monolithic, but get up close and you can see that Uluru is far from smooth. Its many surfaces are actually corrugated and scarred, studded with caves and cracks and ridges. The best way to take in its different faces is to circumnavigate it, and the best way to do that is on two wheels. You can hire a bike from Outback Cycling inside the national park. Alternatively, the less energetic can take the passenger perch on a Harley Davidson ride around the rock. Options start with a 30-minute express version, all the way up to a 90-minute tour. Bike hire starts at $30 for three hours, outbackcycles.com.au. Harley rides start at $99, ulurucycles.com.au.

2 Dine in the desert

Dinner under a canopy of stars is an experience you will never forget, and this dinner-with-a-difference comes in two versions, depending on your budget. The Sounds of Silence al fresco experience starts with sunset canapes on a sand dune before moving to a bush tucker-inspired buffet including crocodile, kangaroo and barramundi. For those who prefer something more exclusive, the Tali Wiru table d'hote dinner is limited to 20 guests at a time. French champagne by the campfire gets you in the mood for a fine-dining experience that may include dishes such as smoked duck roulade with quandong poached baby pear and organic stilton mousse, or wattle seed-rubbed kangaroo carpaccio with sour cherry jelly. Sounds of Silence, $195, Tali Wiru $325, ayersrockresort.com.au.

3 Pick up a painting

If you are into indigenous art, the Red Centre is a terrific place to buy an art work and maybe even meet the artist. Maruku Arts, inside the Cultural Centre in the national park, has a wide variety of indigenous arts and crafts available for purchase, from traditional punu (wooden) artefacts to paintings and even jewellery. There are often artists working on site. Maruku Arts also runs an art market in the Town Square at Ayers Rock Resort. The resort has a number of other galleries, including Mulgara Gallery at Sails in the Desert, which has a superb selection of paintings, glassware, textiles and pottery from right across Central Australia. Other galleries at the resort include Mingkiri Arts at the Desert Gardens Hotel (check out their range of cushion covers) and Desert Oak Studio, where you can also watch the artist in residence at work. maruku.com.auayersrockresort.com.au

4 Join the dots

If you prefer making art to looking at it, Ayers Rock Resort also hosts regular painting workshops, led by artists from Maruku Arts. After learning about the different symbols used to depict Dreamtime stories, or Tjurkupa, participants have the opportunity to create their own artwork. The classes are suitable for both children and adults, and all materials are provided. $69 adults, $35 children, $195 family, ayersrockresort.com.au.

5 Watch the sunrise


Watching dawn break is one of the must-do Uluru experiences. There are a number of tours to choose from, such as Ayers Rock Resorts' Desert Awakenings tour that includes an al fresco breakfast featuring bacon and egg rolls. Alternatively, if you have your own wheels, take a quick drive to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing area, which offers a 360-degree view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. 

6 Dance up a storm

With free performances at Ayers Rocks Resort every afternoon, the Wakagetti Dance Troupe is a great family-friendly introduction to Anungu culture. Accompanied by traditional instruments and song, the performers demonstrate dances that accurately mimic the emu, the goanna, the kangaroo and the echidna. Then the guests get to have a go.  

7 Try some bush medicine

Both Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens Hotel offer free, guided walks through their gardens. Learn about the many ways the Anungu people used plants for medicine and bush tucker. The Anungu were experts at making the most of what they had. Just one plant, the mulga tree, provided apples, biscuits, honey, firewood, weapons and shelter. Hunters would toss toxic plants into waterholes to stun the wildlife that drank there; locals also learned how to create their own energy drink by dipping grevillea blossoms in a bowl of water to capture the sweet-tasting nectar. 

8 Take a helicopter flight

The most spectacular views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta come from above. PHS uses helicopters with special bubble windows, which improve the view. The roster of flights ranges from a 13-minute express option to a 55-minute trip that takes in not only Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but also nearby Lake Amadeus. Starting from $120, phs.com.au.

9 Meet the Anungu

The local Anungu people found ways to flourish in this harsh desert environment, living according to traditional law and handing down a rich trove of stories and beliefs. The Cultural Centre, a startling building shaped like two winding snakes, is located in the national park and has extensive displays and documentaries offering insights into the culture and the local flora and fauna.  

10 Ride on a camel

With their ability to survive long periods without water, camels are perfectly suited to desert conditions. Burke and Wills and Ernest Giles used them to explore the outback; now you can too. Uluru Camel Tours offers a relaxed way to see the desert, with wonderful views along the way. Tours vary from 45 minutes to a 2½ hour sunset ride complete with snacks. Starting from $80, ulurucameltours.com.au.

11 Iron out the kinks

Harsh sun beating down on you, early starts and long days … visiting Uluru can be hard work. If you are ready for some pampering, the Red Ochre Spa at Sails in the Desert has a full selection of indulgent treatments. Its 90-minute Dreaming package incorporates an exfoliating scrub, a relaxing back massage and a rehydrating mini-facial that gets you glowing from head to toe. ayersrockresort.com.au

12 Visit a waterhole

Yes, there are waterholes at Uluru – although during the long dries, few of them will retain much water. The gentle Kuniya Walk to Mutitjulu waterhole takes you to one of the loveliest places around Uluru, a fold in the rock shaded by large river red gums where rainwater tends to linger long after it has disappeared elsewhere. There is also a teaching cave nearby, where generations of Anungu youngsters absorbed the lessons drawn in ochre on the cave walls. 

13 Catch some live music

One of the biggest surprises at Uluru is the number of live music venues in and around the township of Yulara – and best of all, all of them are free. Six nights a week at the Outback Pioneer Hotel, Mark Lawson performs an eclectic range of covers, while on Fridays and Saturday nights, the Sundown Sessions at the amphitheatre feature acclaimed indigenous country performer, Warren H Williams. If you're after something more traditional, there are daily didjeridoo performances at both Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens Hotel. $210, ayersrockresort.com.au.

14 Bang a boomerang

Think you have the makings of a natural hunter? Try your hand at free daily spear and boomerang throwing activities at Ayers Rock Resort. Your indigenous instructor will explain to you how the instruments were made and used, and give you the opportunity to test yourself. Be warned, it is harder than it looks.   

15 Gaze at the stars

Visitors are frequently dazzled by the brightness of the outback skies; those who want to learn more about the heavens high above should sign up for one of the Ayers Rock Resort's Sky Journeys. With an astronomer-in-residence program, there is always an expert to talk to, and high-powered telescopes to see help you see even more clearly. In the early evening, the Family Astro Tour teaches star lovers of all ages about the different constellations, stars and planets. A later adults-only session is for those who want to increase their knowledge about the universe, taking in anything from life cycles of a star to supernovas and string theory. $40.50 adults, children under 15 free. ayersrockresort.com.au

16 Run a marathon

It's not one we'd want to tackle ourselves, but the Outback Marathon, held every July, has a truly spectacular backdrop – if you can see it through the red dust flying. If you're not up to a full marathon, you can sign up for a half marathon or one of two fun runs. australianoutbackmarathon.com

17 Plunge into the pool

It's hot in the desert, and nothing cools you down like a dip in the pool. Sails in the Desert, Desert Gardens Hotel, Outback Pioneer Hotel and the Ayers Rock Campground each have a pool of their own, so you can get wet no matter where you are staying.  

18 Take a free tour

Every day, park rangers lead a free 2km walk from the Mala Walk car park to the beautiful Kantju Gorge and back. Along the way, they tell the story of the Mala (rufus hare-wallaby) people, as well as sharing information about rock art sites at Uluru and about contemporary Anangu life.  

19 Go retro with a milkshake

When was the last time you had a real, honest-to-goodness milkshake? The Kulata Academy Café at Ayers Rock Resort, staffed by students at the National Indigenous Training Academy, serves up a mean milkshake, in classic flavours such as vanilla and caramel, as well as quirky flavours such as lime. At just $4.50, it's a bargain. 

20 Watch the sunset

Looking for a low-key sunset option? Just five minutes' walk from Ayers Rock Resort is a secret vantage point that lets you watch the splendour without the crowds. Shhh, don't tell. 

The writer travelled courtesy of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, Baillie Lodges, Tourism NT and Jetstar.