Nothing can prepare you for the majesty and mesmerising beauty of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It’s an ancient landscape with incredible tales to tell, and spending at least a few days exploring the spiritual heart of Australia promises bucket list-worthy experiences and memories of a lifetime. Natalie Bannister discovers the wonder of it all on a romance-filled escape...
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Our first morning in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park starts on a bench seat high up on a lookout point at sunrise, with Uluru in the distance. And even from this vantage point, the rock is imposing, soaring up from the red earth and spinifex plains of the Central Desert, glowing against a stark, cloudless blue sky with its striking orange-red hue, its valleys and ridges carved out over millennia. Rugged up from the crisp pre-dawn desert air in our boots and scarves, munching homemade damper with Golden Syrup, washed down with a cup of billy tea, we sit in the glow of this golden hour as the colours of the desert come alive and the rock changes hue and appearance with every passing minute.
It’s one thing to gaze upon Uluru, but to really appreciate its beauty and power, you need to get up close and intimately acquainted, which is what the Desert Awakenings tour is all about. The tour has been organised through Sails in the Desert, part of Ayers Rock Resort, and our guide Toby is eager to get us all loaded into the resort's plush ATV (all-terrain vehicle) to set off to the base of Uluru and begin the morning's exploration.
Uluru changes rapidly as you approach. From a distance, its surface seems smooth, but the closer you get you begin to notice the deep ridges and gashes, jagged crests and small canyons and caves. It looms larger, morphing, monolithic, and utterly majestic. We arrive and unload from the ATV to walk the short distance to the base of the rock, and the simple act of standing and staring up takes the breath away. Superlatives fail in this landscape – no postcard or photo I’ve ever seen has done this justice. Uluru has an energy that is palpable.
The indigenous Australians believe that Uluru and its lesser hailed (but just as spectacular) counterpart, Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), are sacred ground, and both sites are to this day protected by the Anangu people of the central desert region. Their stories, the Tjukurpa – the ancestral period of when the world was being formed – tell that Uluru and its surrounding landscape was created at the beginning of time by ancestral beings and that Anangu are their direct descendants, and the rock is one of their most dramatic and inspiring creations.
All of the tours of Uluru arranged through Ayers Rock Resort emphasise this connection with the beginnings of the local Anangu Aboriginal people while also highlighting the natural power of the rock itself. Toby points out many markings high up on the side of the rock along the way, each bearing the markings from Anangu stories, which they have shared with each other for countless generations. Our tour also includes a stop in Kuniya for a short walk to the Mutitjulu waterhole, a powerful and spiritual place for visitors and Anangu alike – the Dalai Lama reportedly requested an hour of peace and privacy to meditate right here, and the seat on which he sat remains by the waterhole today.
It's best to base your adventures around the early or later hours to beat the midday heat, so after the tour wraps up, we make a quick stop at the Uluru Camel Tours for a ride through the dunes, exploring this central Australian region just as the early pioneers did. The rest of the day is spent lazing by the pool back at Sails in the Desert before we get ready for that evening's big event, the Sounds of Silence dinner under the stars, with incredible Uluru as the backdrop. Sounds of Silence is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, with a new Bush Tucker-inspired menu, as part of Ayers Rock Resort’s Bush Tucker Journeys program, and we settle in for an evening to remember.
We begin with canapés, and chilled sparkling wine served on a viewing platform overlooking the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park at sunset, followed by a buffet dinner incorporating native bush ingredients, devoured under a canopy of stars.
There’s a magic moment when all of the lights are extinguished, and darkness descends, and for the second time in as many days, I am awestruck, as a million stars light up before our eyes. The resident star talker decodes the Southern Desert night sky, pointing out planets, galaxies, and constellations that are only visible thanks to the exceptional clarity of the outback atmosphere. And we all sit here, speechless (yet again!), silent in the wonder and joy of what we see, and the stories we are told.
An upgrade to A Night at Field of Light takes the whole experience to the next level, combining the Sounds of Silence dinner with a viewing of one of Australia’s most unique art installations, the Field of Light by artist Bruce Munro. The art installation has just had its season extended to 31st December 2020, and it’s not to be missed – walking across the desert floor covered with 50,000 frosted-glass lights, which pulse rhythmically in a rainbow of stunning colours, is an ethereal and astoundingly beautiful experience.
Sounds of Silence is just one part of the beautiful dining experiences offered in Ayers Rock Resort's Bush Tucker Journeys program, and the very next night we find ourselves back at the viewing platform from yesterday’s sunrise breakfast to savour the exceptional Tali Wiru dining experience. This open-air restaurant has a much more intimate setting, with magnificent views of Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta, and offers a world-class gastronomic adventure. The menu showcase native Australian flavours, with Kakadu plum, Sandlewood, Lemon Myrtle, Quandong (a desert peach), Dogwood (a style of wattleseed), fresh greens including Pig Face and Salt Bush, and even honey ants worked the creative dishes.
Tali Wiru is a feast of flavours, in a setting that is unlike anywhere else in the world, and we toast to the sunset and an incredible trip. This journey on sacred ground gifted us not only the raw power and beauty of Uluru but with an adventurous, luxuriously indulgent holiday experience. We promise ourselves that, next time, we'll make more time to explore Kata Tjuta as well. Much like the magic of Uluru, it's hard to ignore.
Jetstar flies direct to Uluru (Ayers Rock) from Sydney daily and from Melbourne five times a week, with newly announced direct flights between Brisbane and Uluru three times per week starting 3rd August 2018 (subject to change). Book at jetstar.com.
Where to stay:
Ayers Rock Resort lies 20 kilometres away from Uluru and offers a variety of accommodation options for all budgets, tastes, and desires, plus an array of tours and experiences that can take you from outback cycling to walking forays, native Australian bush tucker journeys and cultural experiences all in the space of a single day. We stayed at the beautiful Sails in the Desert, a five-star hotel featuring an expansive gumtree lined swimming pool and a diversity of modern dining, bar and lounge options.
The writer travelled as a guest of Voyagers Ayers Rock resort and Jetstar. Images courtesy of Natalie Bannister and Ayres Rock Resort
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