Hiking in the Australian Outback and Uluru

Uluru is quite possibly the world’s most famous rock. The flat topped monolith stands out from the plains of the Australian Outback. A red dirt wonderland that offers many opportunities for hiking. Read on to be inspired. Or: go straight to the practical information section to plan your own Uluru and Australian Outback hiking experience.

Sleeping under a sky full of stars in the Australian Outback

The air is dry and cold, the sky full of stars. The wood that we have gathered and chopped earlier today crackles in the fire in front of us. It is time to go to bed, but tonight there will be no actual bed waiting for us. We will be sleeping right under the dark blue night skies. In the red dusty soil of the semi-arid desert of the Central – and Western Australia.

I look around the bonfire and see my fellow travellers struggling to roll out their swags. The canvas envelope has a sown-in matrass and space to place a sleeping bag inside. This will be our bed for the night. We are all excited about going back to basics, but are a bit worried at the same time. What about the cold, and what about the poisonous snakes inhabiting the Outback?

As we wake up at 4:30 the next morning most of us have slept surprisingly well. After a long day of driving yesterday, it is now time to continue our way up along the Red Road. The Red Road is a 3000 km stretch from Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South. The ultimate destination of our trip? Uluru – one of the world’s most famous rocks, also known as Ayers Rock. Along the way, we will be hiking in the Australian Outback.

Endless roads and wild flowers

The endless red soil we had expected to see along our drive on the Red Road, is surprisingly green. Semi-arid vegetation is accompanied by wild flowers that have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere. The rain that has come down in the last months has given them an opportunity to flower. Even our guide who’s been here over 100 times over the past 8 years, has never seen some of these flowers before. In addition to the fields of wild flowers, the rain brings us another gift of nature: rainbows. Beautiful as always, but purely magical in combination with the stunning landscape. As often as we can, we stop along the to take in uninterrupted views of the landscape.

Wildflowers in the golden hour
Rainbow Outback
Our guide Nicole

Hiking in the Australian Outback: King’s Canyon

Finally, it is time to go hiking in the Australian Outback. Our first hike is in King’s Canyon. As we head out into the mountains, rain is pouring down on us. The clouds are dark grey and we hear sounds of thunder in the distance. I am a bit worried to be honest, but our guide is certain that the thunder is moving away from us. Our guide is Nicole, a bright enthusiastic Australian woman in her thirties with a typical strong independent Outback girl appearance. She oozes so much nature wisdom that I trust in her, and try to forget about the thunder.

Soon, my worries move to the background as the canyon gets my full attention. The rough landscape consists of layers of eroded red stone. What was once the bottom of an inland sea, is now a wilderness of mountains and canyons. The edgy features of the canyon and the dark grey skies hovering over it, make it a threatening ambiance.

But behind the roughness, we find nature’s paradise. The canyon shelters hidden gems of lush green trees and wild flowers. Riverbeds are filled with flowing water as a result of the rainfall, and birds chirp in the lee . I wonder how one famous rock (Uluru) could beat these unique surroundings.

Layers of red rock King's Canyon
King's Canyon Australia
Valley view of King's Canyon

Exploring Uluru

The next morning skies are bright blue and the red colour of the soil is more intense. It is hot and dry. And exactly how I had imagined the weather to be like on a trip to the heart of Australia.

All of us are eager to arrive tonight at Australia’s intensely fought rock, Uluru. A sacred place for Australia’s indigenous inhabitants, the Aboriginals, and a tourist attraction for people from all over the world.

After a couple of hours driving on red dirt road, a huge flat rock looms up in the distance. Excitement buzzes through te buss. Is it possible that we are we seeing Uluru in the distance even though we would only arrive tonight?

“That my friends, is what we call Fool-uru.”

our guide Nicole enlightens us

What we see in the distance is Mount Conner. Mount Conner is in fact much bigger than Uluru itself, but lies on private land. Almost all tourists that drive in from Alice Springs mistake it for Uluru.

What’s in a name: Uluru or Ayer’s Rock?

The reason that Uluru enjoys global fame is not only because of its features. Rising 348 metres above the plain sure makes it a peculiar site, but it is history as much as geography that make the rock (in)famous. Aboriginal people, Anangu, have been living on these lands for thousands of years. The name Uluru means ‘Great Pebble’.

In 1872, British surveyor William Gosse was the first European to ‘discover’ the monolith. He named it Ayers Rock, after the former chief secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.

In the 1950’s, Uluru became a tourist destination. The government of Australia excised Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta in 1958. Six years later, a climbing chain was installed that made the climb up the rock a popular activity. It was yet another disaster for the Anangu people, who consider the rock as a sacred place.

It was only in 1985 that the Anangu were recognised as the lands traditional owners. Since then the Anangu became the owners of the National Park. Only in October 2019, the climbing chain has been removed.

Aboriginal Drawings on the walls of Uluru

Hiking around Uluru

Walking around Uluru is incredible. The bright blue skies make the red rock stand out from the plain even more. As we walk around our guide Nicole brings to live Tjukurpa stories. Tjukurpa is the law of the Anangu people. It defines the relationship between physical features of the land, plants, animals and people. Tjukurpa also describes the creation period when ancestral beings created the world. Ancestral beings did so as they travelled across the lands. Their travels were a process of formation and destruction that gave rise to the existing landscapes. The Anangu believe that these landscapes are still inhabited by the spirits of those ancestral beings.

Wildflowers near Uluru
Uluru in a field of green

Sunrise over Uluru

Watching the sun slowly appear behind Uluru the next morning, it is easy to understand how people would believe that the landscapes are still inhabited by spirits of ancestral beings. The peculiar rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta stand out in the otherwise flat plain. Above it, a mesmerizing colour display is performed by the sun and the sky. This incredible beauty seems to be something that cannot be explained through logic.

Sunrise over Uluru
Sun rising behind Uluru

Hiking through Kata Tjuta

When the sun has risen, we head out to Kata Tjuta for another hike. Kata Tjuta is yet another an imposing red rock formation, but quite different from King’s Canyon and Uluru. Tall red domes make us humans feel incredibly small. We walk through usually arid and dry lands that have transformed into fields of wild flowers. The valley is covered in dots of green. Rainfall has sprouted lush green vegetation.

The Kata Tjuta hike has one steep climb in store for us. The heat of the Australian Outback make it an exhausting climb. Luckily, the exquisite views of the valley makes more than up for it.

Camping in the Australian Outback

In the evening, we enjoy another magnificent sunset from the campsite. We make ourselves comfortable with Tim Tams (irresistible chocolate cookies) and marshmallows around the bonfire. We use our rolled up swags, that we have now all come to appreciate, as chairs.

In the coming days, we will drive the most Southern part of the Red Road. On our way to Adelaide, we will be passing underground opal mining village Coober Pedy and salt lake Hart in Woomera. But at this very moment we all enjoy still being at the dream destination of our trip.

When all the Tim Tams are finished and we all feel nauseous as a result, we lay back and watch the starry skies.

Explore the Australian Outback yourself: go hiking in red dirt and sleep under the stars

How to fit Uluru and the Outback in your itinerary

Depending on the rest of your Australia itinerary, you can choose to visit Uluru on a round trip from Alice Springs, or travel from A to B like we did.

We flew to Alice Springs from Brisbane, and chose to take a tour southwards to Adelaide so we could continue with the Great Ocean Road from there.

Of course you can also take this route the other way around, or start or finish your tour in Darwin.

Should I book an Outback Tour or rent a car?

Exploring the Outback by yourself is an incredible adventure. The area is remote though and driving at night is a seriously risky business due to the activity of kangaroos. The drives are long and petrol stations are sparse. Decent trip planning and a good insurance are required. – We chose not to rent a car in the Outback because of  time constraints and the remoteness of the area.

How to book an organized Outback Tour?

There are many tour operators that will get you from A to B. We booked our tour along with our tickets and camper hire for the rest of our Australia trip through travel organization Kilroy. The Outback tour itself was performed by Groovy Grape Getaways Australia. We thought it was crazy that our guide had to manage the entire trip on her own, but we did love her and would therefore still recommend Groovy Grape.

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