6 tips for visiting Uluru in Australia when the climb closes
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In one week, the climb up Australia's striking sandstone rock formation Uluru — also known as Ayers Rock — will officially close.
After several years of controversy regarding respect for Australia's indigenous culture; the site's fragile desert ecosystem; and the safety of those attempting to reach the 1,142-foot summit (37 people have died since the 1950s, mostly due to heart attacks, though countless others have been injured) the public will be barred from attempting the popular Uluru climb on Oct. 26, 2019.
While many travelers were quick to honor the wishes of the park's Aboriginal caretakers, others — insisting the climb should remain open — have not. According to The Telegraph, more than 1,000 people per day were lining up earlier this month in a final push to make the ascent before it's closed. The issue of safety resurfaced when a 12-year-old girl was hospitalized last weekend with serious injuries after she lost her balance and plunged 20 to 30 meters (between 65 and 98 feet).
Originally announced in November 2017, former board chair Sammy Wilson made it clear the idea was not to curb tourism or simply deny access to recreational rock climbers. In his closing statement, he stressed that a lot of thought had been put into preserving the rock formation since it's such a sacred place for the Anangu people, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park's traditional owners long before the land was handed back by the Australian government 34 years ago.
"If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don’t enter or climb it, I respect it," said Wilson. "It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity."
Luckily for those still wishing to visit this beautiful part of Australia, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this incredible site from above, below or just around the corner. Here's a look at what else you can do on your next trip to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Circle around Uluru
Admission to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park costs about $17 per person for a pass that lets you enter for up to five days. Once you're in, you'll follow the signs for Uluru — the other section of the park, Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas) is about a 45-minute drive — and take your pick of scenic walks around the base of the impressive monolith. The entire base walk is 10 kilometers, or roughly 6.2 miles, or you can opt for shorter paths past ancient rock art, watering holes, caves and gorges cut deep into the rock's surface. Each trail is accompanied by signs that indicate important sections and tell visitors about Aboriginal legends related to the different parts of the rock as you pass them. A free 90-minute ranger-guided walk is also available from the Mala parking lot. For a faster pace, Outback Cycling rents out bikes for $34 per person, or you can try a Segway tour (from $95). A Harley motorcycle tour also exists (from $157).
See Uluru from above
If you're not satisfied with the view from the plane as you fly into Ayers Rock Airport (AYQ), several helicopter, fixed-wing plane and sky diving tours are available to book through the Ayers Rock Resort's visitor center. For another interesting vantage point, try SkyShip Uluru, a tethered blimp-meets-hot-air-balloon located right next door (rides from $40).
Learn about this sacred place
Of course, one of your first stops within the park should really be the Cultural Centre, a celebration of local legends and history built in 1995 in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta land being returned to the traditional indigenous owners. Learn about the land you're visiting and have a chat with one of the local artists at the Maruku or Walkatjara Art galleries.
Treat yourself to a fancy dinner
For a truly exceptional culinary experience next to Uluru (think: canapés, cocktails and a three-course meal under the stars) plan to attend the Sounds of Silence dinner, available from $145 per person. Transfers from Ayers Rock Resort and a conversation led by a professional stargazer are also included. Tali Wiru, an even more intimate dinner from $257 per person, includes Champagne, canapés, an al fresco four-course meal featuring locally-sourced ingredients and Australian wines, transfers and a cultural presentation by an indigenous storyteller.
Visit the Field of Light art exhibit
If you're looking for a fun way to make all your friends back home even more jealous on Instagram, this is it: Bruce Munro's stunning 50,000-piece Field of Light display, set against the darkened silhouette of Uluru at night, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2020. Book your 90-minute tour through Ayers Rock Resort for $30 per person — it's the only way to get there.
Watch Uluru transform at sunrise and sunset
As they say, the best things in life are free, and the same is true here — well, once you've got your entry ticket to the national park anyway. For a real treat, park yourself by the Uluru car sunset viewing area (admittedly, alongside more than a few tourists from all over the world and elsewhere in Australia). Bring a bottle of wine, bubbly or a picnic to enjoy as sunset hits the rock and turns it from deep red to a dramatic purple. The same vantage point works for sunrise as well.
Getting to Uluru
Fly nonstop to Ayers Rock Airport (AYQ) from Sydney (SYD) on Virgin Australia and Jetstar; from Melbourne (MEL) and Brisbane (BNE) on Jetstar; from Adelaide (ADL) and Darwin (DRW) on Qantas; or from Cairns (CNS) and Alice Springs (ASP) on QantasLink.
Alternatively, you can fly into Alice Springs (ASP) nonstop from Sydney or Melbourne on Qantas; Adelaide and Darwin on Virgin Australia and Qantas; Brisbane on Virgin Australia; or Ayers Rock and Perth (PER) on QantasLink. Many visitors choose to do a road trip through the Outback from Alice Springs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park — or the other way around — and bus and tour options are also available if you'd rather not make the five-and-a-half-hour drive yourself. Either way, remember that you can book earn 5xx points by using The Platinum Card® from American Express to book your flights directly with the airline or through Amex Travel.
Where to Stay
Due to its remote location, the only accommodation options close to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are those in the nearby town of Yulara at Ayers Rock Resort, home to a variety of lodges, apartment rentals and luxury hotels. Check out Desert Gardens Hotel, Sails in the Desert and Longitude 131° — the ultimate Outback glamping experience just a few minutes away. There’s also a campground so there are options for any budget. Best of all, the properties are all connected to Accor Hotels and its Le Club loyalty program, which is due for an update later this year. As always, you can earn 3x points on travel by paying for your stay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or 2x points on travel if you use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
For those planning to spend time in Alice Springs before or after your trip to Uluru, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alice Springs offers rooms from $78 or 20,000 Hilton Honors points per night and has several onsite restaurants and a lovely outdoor pool. If it's a stunning Olympic-sized swimming pool, casino atmosphere and top-notch dining and entertainment options you're after, try the Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters, a large property with rooms from $77 or 25,000 IHG Rewards points per night. Fun fact: This hotel was the final destination for the traveling trio in the classic Australian film, "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."