“Ever since I was a kid, I have always wanted to see Ayres Rock” was my mortifying statement made to our Aboriginal Guide. As grown adult I was still ignorant of my offense to the traditional owners, the Anangu people. Try not to make my mistake and call the rock by it’s rightful and politically correct name – Uluru.
There’s a strong a pull to the rock’s presence and draws forth an unintentional thirst for knowledge, of it’s origins and cultural significance. Though our little family was not intending our holiday to be a full immersion into our country’s Aboriginal culture, we couldn’t help to be drawn and inspired by it.Perhaps it was due to the large amount of time admiring Uluru; from afar, up close, driving past, at sunrise, at sunset and from different angles. There was time to ponder this great landmark and think about it’s connection to the original people and the reason for its existence.
For Aussies, Uluru is a very familiar icon, popping up everywhere from stamps, biscuit tins to airline commercials. There’s a feeling that you know it intimately without ever laying eyes on it. Smack bang in the middle of nowhere, there aren’t many people that make it a priority to visit. A mentality that they will go later down the track. For those lucky to make it to the Rock, it’s a sight to behold. The red dirt, endless desert plains in every direction and the surreal feeling of seeing that huge familiar rock in the middle of nowhere.
Getting to Uluru by plane – easiest way with little people
Parents need not wait until the hair on their heads turn grey to journey to Uluru in their caravan. You can easily see Uluru with young kids by flying there.
There are direct flights from Sydney (SYD) to the politically-incorrect-named “Ayers Rock Airport” (AYQ), both Jetstar and Virgin Australia operate flights from Sydney with a flight time of 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Qantas fly direct to Uluru via Qantas and it’s a easy 55 minutes away.
How long do you need at Uluru?
It can be a surprisingly cheap escape from the city for families and you don’t need to spend a whole lot of time to cover Uluru. Apart from the rock itself and the nearby Olgas, there really isn’t a whole lot more to do with kids in this region.
Allow a minimum of 3 days, easily doable in a long weekend, but you can easily stretch it out to 4-5 days.
Where to stay in Uluru with kids
There is not allot of choice in accommodation at Uluru, all owned and operated by the same company, Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, situated 6 km from the airport and a short drive from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Voyages Ayres Rock Resort
The resort is set up as a small town with your local amenities in the main shopping area including; ATM, post office, supermarket, petrol station, the all-important liquor store, boutique shops and several restaurants. The resort offers a range of facilities such as swimming pools, art gallery, tour desk, spa and tennis courts.
A free bus is available to shuttle you between the accommodation options, which include a backpacker hostel, camping grounds, 4-star apartments, and 4- and 5-star hotels.
Then there is the luxury tents section of the resort, where, apparently, Oprah has stayed. Check out Longitude 131. Very pricey and they don’t welcome kids under 10 years of age, but a girl can dream, can’t she ? The resort also has free events such as the opportunity to watch local artists paint Aboriginal art, which you can later purchase. Also, we were there for a dancing event where they asked for volunteers to dance like a kangaroo or emu. I made sure I was busy clutching Liam.
Due to the remoteness of the region and the monopoly Voyages holds on places to stay, there’s no bargain to be found.
Prices seem pretty fixed and a bit overpriced for what you get. We chose the comfortable and clean Emu Walk Apartments, which offer a full kitchen, separate bedroom, courtyard and living area. With kiddies, I find it’s better to have these facilities than a hotel room with an extra star or two.
After a day of sightseeing, the kids were fast asleep in the bedroom and we can still have a little bit of a life and some extra privacy, relaxing with a bottle of wine on the couch. I remember being in a hotel in Chicago with Liam, who slept terribly. When he went down for the night, it was pretty much lights out for us. My husband and I would be sitting in the dark at 8pm in the hotel room waiting for Liam to fall into that really deep sleep,in hopes we could turn Letterman on at a very low volume.
Self drive in Uluru with kids is best
Although there are many tours available, with a young family, I would recommend self driving.
We hired a car from the airport and drove to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to see the sights. A standard three-day pass costs $25. This allowed us to travel at our own pace and see the things we wanted to see in our own time.
Highlights of Uluru with kids
Our top picks of the best things to do in Uluru with young kids:
The rock is the main reason for the visit and it’s a sight to see. However, there are “Please, do not climb” signs clearly visible as you enter the park and printed on the entrance tickets.
It’s a a moral decision that needs to be made; to climb it like the many people before you have done or to respect the wishes of the original people and decline the climb.
We decided not to climb. It wasn’t just out of the respect for the Anangu people, although we felt a whole lot better for it. As we had a baby in harness and a 3-year-old boy, climbing is not very practical.
It’s quite dangerous climbing the rock. The climb starts off relatively flat and it’s easy going up at first, but then it gets quite steep, requiring rails for holding on. It would also take a couple of hours to go up and down. With very young kids it’s impractical though we did see plenty of teens going up.
It’s going down where it gets precarious. We hung out at the base of the rock, near the entry to the climb and we did take a few steps, I was in thongs and Layla was asleep in the harness. Although seemingly easy to bound up a few meters, when I turned down to descend, I had to slide down on my bum in spots as it was quite steep.
From what I can gather, the rock itself is not a sacred site. However, there’s an area along the climb which is considered sacred. The Anangu people also feel it is unsafe to climb and more than 30 people have died climbing Uluru.
To get a good feel of the rock without climbing it, visit the base of the climb. It gives you a good understanding of how impressive the rock is and a sense of what the climb would be like. You can get some nice shots as well.
Watch an Uluru sunset with the kids
Uluru at sunset is the rock in all it’s glory. The sunset viewing areas along the red sand dunes are easy to reach as everything is clearly signed and mapped out. We actually decided to experience sunset at Uluru a couple of times.
The first time we arrived late, had nothing to eat, there was nowhere to sit and the kids were going a bit crazy.
Learning from our mistake, the second time around we packed a picnic and rug, had a little bit of wine, and an iPad for Liam loaded with some new games. We arrived 2 hours before sunset to get a good spot to sit and watch, then we stayed until the stars came out, which was an amazing experience.
Firstly, most people start heading out when the sun has set. If you hang around long enough, the rock fades away and the stars come out. They are so impressive as there is no disturbance from city lights. The stars are so clear and there were so many of them. Liam loved this, though Layla was starting to grizzle.
Be mindful of the park’s closing time, which varies during different times of the year. For us it closed at 8pm.
From the viewing area, it takes 10 minutes to drive out of the national park and another 20 minutes to drive back to the resort. I remember this very well as Layla was wailing during the car ride. She was in the « I will scream my little lungs out as soon as it hits nightfall and I’m in a car » phase.
Tips on a sunset at Uluru with with kids
There is a lot of waiting around for sunset. Depending on the time your arrive, it could be a good 2 hours of waiting for and watching the sun to finally set.
With kids, be prepared. There’s not allot going on for them.
Pack some things to keep them busy; toys, puzzles, games, gather some sticks to draw in the red sand, some crayons and a colouring book or for us an iPad with new games. As for things to do whilst you are there, there are ample sandy paths to wander around. Also pack some snacks or a bit of dinner for the kiddos as there are no food facilities there. Once it gets dark, it’s a little cooler so come with an extra layer, just in case.
Take a walk around Uluru
All the walking trails are clearly labelled on a visitor guide provided on entry. You can also download a visitor guide. This was a great guide for assistance in planning what you would do for the day.
The trails around Uluru are not overly difficult. Most are “All-Access” for wheel chairs, so you can take a pram along. Even the Grade 2 and Grade 3 walks aren’t all that strenuous.
The problem with young kids is the duration of the walk. My 3-year-old became pretty tired and had to be carried on some of the longer walks. The guide also notes the estimated duration of these walks, which is helpful and quite accurate if you have little kids. For two healthy young people it would realistically take less time. We did the MALA walk to Kantju Gorge, where you can see really clear Aboriginal rock art, and the Kuniya Walk to the Mutijulu Waterhole.
We also did part of the Base Walk before turning around to head back, as the full circuit is 10.6 km and we were concerned about the length. I would recommend all these walks for kids. Pack plenty of water as not all the walks have watering stations to fill up your bottle.
We packed a lunch and snacks for the day before we headed out. However, the drive to the cultural center from Uluru is not far and there is a restaurant there. On the travel forums they say the meat pies are really good. One guy said it was the best he’s ever had. I believe that on some of these walks there are guides available at specific times. We, unfortunately, missed them.
Walking Uluru tips with kids
Consult the map on which walks to take and when to take them. By the middle of the day, it’s pretty hot and dry so try to finish a walk around lunch time. Also, there are not many sheltered areas, so pack plenty of water for everyone, hats, and some snacks. There are watering stations to refill your bottle at the start of some walks, however not all of the walks have this.
Learn at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre
One disadvantage of self driving is that you can’t take advantage of the knowledge offered by a guide. However, you can gather this knowledge elsewhere. We stopped into the Cultural Centre, entry is free and there are toilets and a picnic area for lunch. It’s a nice building for kiddies to run around. Whilst it’s not the most interactive, you get a good immersion into Aboriginal art and culture.
A favorite take away for me was The Sorry Book, a compilation of letters written by tourists to the Anangu people, apologising for taking some sand or pieces of the rock. Some later returned them. (One letter was from a women whom blamed her bad luck, poor health and family illness on the fact that she had taken rocks from the sight.)
There’s also displays of the fauna and flora in the region, which you can point out to the kids on your walks. It was nice to share a little Aboriginal history with the kiddies. We didn’t stay too long as there were a some hunting tools Liam couldn’t help getting his fingers on, as he was only separated from them by a thin piece of string.
Visit The Olgas (Kata Tjuta)
The Olgas seem less impressive in appearance. Where Uluru is one whole rock. The Olgas, otherwise known as Kata Tjuta, are made up of a series of large domed rocks.
The best part about The Olgas is that you get to explore in between them, offering a more intimate experience. I really loved both the The Walpa Gorge walk and The Valley of the Winds walk. Both are very clearly sign posted and can be accomplished with small children, although, we only went to the first look out of The Valley of the Winds walk and turned back.
The entire circuit around is 7.6 km (4 hours) and turns from Grade 3 moderate to Grade 4. There are sections of the walk that we completed which did have some rocky and steep surfaces to climb up and it was also quite sunny and hot. So bare this in mind with little ones. My three-year-old really loved it, but did require a bit of carrying from dad during the walk back.
Sunset and sunrise at The Olgas is just as amazing as Uluru, with the same vibrant hues of red and oranges. Where Uluru separates the bus tours from the cars, everyone is together at Kata Tjuta. We watched the sunset with a large group of senior tourists, who kept the kiddies entertained for awhile. The Olgas are another 15 minutes further still from Uluru, so allow 45 minutes to get back to the resort.
Enjoy the Sounds of Silence (not the dinner, just the sound of silence)
One of the first things we noticed was how remote we felt we were.
There really is nothing else around you at Uluru. You don’t necessarily have to pay a hefty fee to experience the Sounds of Silence. It’s all around you. However, there is the award winning Sounds of Silence dinner, which is a silver service dining experience in the desert, complete with a sunset view of Uluru in the distance. This is not recommended for children under 10, which is understandable as other diners would prefer their sounds of silence without a side of screaming baby or whiny kid.
Have you been to Uluru with kids? Is there something you did that you would like to share? Please comment below.