As our flight approached Ayers Rock Airport, it was clear how remote we were, surrounded by a bright rusty red colour of dirt broken only by the occasional contrasting white salt lake. The landscape is flat and dry, except for two looming mounds on the horizon – Uluru and Kata Tjuta – more commonly known by their European names of Ayers Rock and the Olgas.
My biggest surprise? There was much more to see and do than I imagined. In fact, after three days I was not able to experience and see all on offer. So if you have only 72 hours to visit the Northern Territory's Red Centre, here is how to maximise your time.
Today is an early start. One of the great experiences is to see the dawn break and the sun rise over spectacular Uluru.
You need to get in early to jostle for your spot, though. It may be dark still but the crowds are out and about. As you enter the park, turn right at the roundabout and follow the signs to the sunrise viewing deck, where you can find an elevated view overlooking the rock.
Sunrise over Uluru
Once the sun has risen and the changing morning colours have given over to the rustic red, make your way to the Mala car park for a guided ranger talk, which takes place every morning at 8am at the base of Uluru. A park ranger will share stories of the Indigenous history and culture, while you explore ancient cave paintings.
Head back to Yulara and your accommodation for a well deserved lunch and rest at the Sails in the Desert lounge bar and cafe. A great selection of burgers, sandwiches and salads will fuel you for afternoon activities.
From here, make your way to the desert garden outside reception. Walk through the marked garden path and, with your free desert plant booklet, spot the different types of flora and see how they can survive the desert summer heat. Wind your way to the small mound lookout for views over Uluru.
Tonight enjoy the Sails in the Desert international buffet. The buffet has all the favourites of salads, seafood, antipasto and desserts but the interactive chef station in the middle of the buffet area has a selection of meats and seafood cooked to order. Our selection included salmon steaks, lamb cutlets, minute steak and kangaroo kebabs, which are delivered to your table with sauce, potato and garnish.
After dinner, book in for the Sky Journeys astronomy tour. Your expert astrologer will point out all the stars, planets and constellations while delivering an interesting perspective on the universe. Bookings are essential and can be made at reception.
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Bringing the family? Get Ready To Rock
Today will see another early start as you make your way 350 kilometres west to Kings Canyon. Check into Kings Canyon Resort, where accommodation options include deluxe rooms, budget accommodation and campground facilities.
Mid-afternoon (as is early morning) is the perfect time to make the trek over Kings Canyon. The walk is three kilometres and will take about four hours to complete.
The trek starts with 500 steep steps to the top of the canyon. Moderate fitness is required but there are several rest stops on the way up and the view from the top is well worth the effort to get there.
The canyon walk takes you through towering slate cliffs, walkways between canyon walls and dramatic outlooks. You will pass through the Garden of Eden, a large waterhole full of plant life.
Make your way down the canyon walls and back to the resort for sunset over Kings Canyon. A walkway takes you to a viewing platform to experience the sunset, where red and pink reflections adorn the canyon.
Dinner and drinks are served from the Thirsty Dingo Bar and Bistro located on the grounds. Live music and selections such as camel burgers, kangaroo skewers and Northern Territory barramundi will keep you fuelled.
Don't miss the classic chocolate ice-cream sundae. A pool table and fire pit is the perfect place to spin a yarn and mix with fellow travellers.
Another early rise is required for a cooked breakfast before heading back to Uluru this morning. Farewell Kings Canyon after viewing sunrise from the viewing platform or roadside.
After dropping bags back at your Yulara accommodation, grab a bite to eat from the town square, where two cafes and a Chinese fast food eatery offer all the favourites from tossed noodles to pizza, pasta, sandwich bar and a selection of teas and coffee.
From here head to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), which are about 50 kilometres from the town centre. Two walks are available – first is into Walpa Gorge, which is a moderate walk into the gorge and approximately 1.5 hours return.
Kata Tjuta, more known by its European name the Olgas, are multiple rock mounds approximately 50km from Uluru. They change shape and depth the closer you are. Officially they are 193 metres taller than Uluru. #nt #ntaustralia #australia #ausoutbacknt #flightcentre_nt #travel #traveloutbackaust #Olgas #rock #northernterritory #ayersrock #yulara #openmyworld
Here you will see towering cliff walls from the various mounds and the gorge itself is alive with plants and animals. On our journey we spotted kangaroos and several bird species. If the weather has been wet, you might even spot an echidna taking advantage of the ants post rain.
Another circuit walk can be found a little further along Kata Tjuta at the Valley of the Winds Walk. This is a longer circuit with several path options and lookouts.
After leaving Kata Tjuta, make your way back to your Yulara accommodation and prepare for the Sounds of Silence dinner. This dinner is set within a private sand dune where you dine under the open stars and moonlight.
Sounds of silence dinner
A bus will pick you up and take you to your sand dune. Start with sparkling wine and canapes of smoked crocodile, kangaroo and smoked salmon while enjoying the sunset. Then a small walk will see you at your table ready for the evening's meal.
Sounds of Silence starts with a plated entree served to your table individually – we had pumpkin ravioli with beef broth – followed by a buffet with several dishes, including bush pepper kangaroo, lemon myrtle chicken, coconut barramundi infused with lemon myrtle and salads with damper rolls.
To finish, a selection of desserts with tea, coffee and port are available. A selection of Australian wines are provided throughout the night, with beer and soft drinks all included in the price.
During the evening an astrologer will give a guided talk of the stars that are lighting up your desert dinner. A cultural dance by local Aboriginal teenage boys that has been passed down by ancestors is performed next to the open fire pit.
This special and unique evening will set you back in the region of $A200 a person, but the investment makes for a memorable experience. Where else can you watch the sunset over Uluru while enjoying a great dinner under the stars in a 5-star desert surrounding?
Don't forget: Sunscreen, comfortable shoes and hat. The desert air is dry during the cooler winter months, so lip balm and moisturiser go a long way. Nights are cold during winter, with mild sunny days. Summer can reach temperatures of more than 40C during the day, with hydration just as important in both winter and summer.