To book your stay at the Outback Pioneer Hotel click here.
A dedication to mother earth and my own mother, Mary.
I’d always considered a trip to Uluru (Ayres Rock) and surrounds to be something that I would do when I was much older than what I am now. You know, it’s the kind of tourist destination that school groups, retired people or international tourists visit. Besides I still had the rest of the world to conquer didn’t I?
However, a series of really shitty life changing events over the last two years drew me closer and closer the magnetic heart of this great expansive country. I felt the deepest of yearning to just be there, to find a connection to the deep red earth, the spiritual heart of my own country.
A bit of a back story…
My darling mother was diagnosed with stage 4 (terminal) Ovarian Cancer in early December 2015. Being told that she had anywhere between a year to 5 years left of her life depending on how operations and chemotherapy went was a major blow to all of us, the utmost shittiest heartbreaking news I have ever heard.
Over two years mum underwent numerous types of chemotherapy treatment that was hideously awful in so many ways.
In this period of time there were over 20 emergency visits and hospital stays, ambulance rides and extreme sickness, but throughout all of this, never once did mum lose her ability to laugh or to fight as hard as she could. I only saw her cry twice. I cried lots! She is simply the strongest person I know and big yay to me being her daughter!!
My beautiful mother fought this terrible disease for over 2 years before passing away on Monday 19th February 2018. I can even tell you the precise time as I was there with her holding her hand.
As her primary medical carer, her life organiser, quite often her ambulance driver, nurse, cook, cleaner and emotional support person and I had a lot on my hands and often my emotional well-being and health suffered. For me it wasn’t a case of looking after myself but making sure that mum got through each day the best she could. It was my role of daughter that was and will always be the most significant and most cherished position I’ve held in my entire life. And in the capacity of daughter I got to ask my mum many things in the last months and weeks that she was alive. You name it, I asked it. And I voice recorded as much as I could. While I can’t listen to those recordings just yet (it’s too soon) the most significant thing that stood out to me was that mum really wished she had travelled more. Canada, Bali, New Zealand and Uluru being the places that captivated her interest more than anything, so in that moment she urged me to travel to those places for her. Starting with Uluru. A promise was made and I so intended on keeping it.
Always smiling and being cheeky!
I have been to Bali numerous times throughout my life and Canada was a bit too far out of reach for me this year, so with those options off the table 2 weeks after mum’s funeral I booked a solo trip to Uluru (2 weeks after that I booked flights to Queenstown, New Zealand yay).
Uluru was one of the easiest trips for me to plan. For the first time in probably 15 years I let a travel company do all the arranging and booking for me. All I had to do was book my flights (Thanks Jetstar for having a sale at the time) and choose what accommodation and activities I wanted. Trips to Uluru can be done in a few ways:
- Flying directly to Yulara (Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin fly direct)
- Flying to Alice Springs and driving the 460kms to Uluru
- Driving from wherever in Australia
Accommodation is also varied from staying in Alice springs and doing the daily drive (that’s a bloody long day in my book), or staying locally at the resort town Yulara at the Ayres Rock Resort complex. The Ayres Rock Resort owns a few properties based on affordability, including:
- Ayres Rock Camping Ground (budget – you can bring a tent or campervan)
- Outback Pioneer Lodge (Hostel style accommodation – lots of school groups here)
- Outback Pioneer Hotel (3 & half Star)
- Emu Walk Apartments (4 star)
- Desert Gardens Hotel (4 and half star)
- Sails in the Desert (5 star)
- Longitude 131 (mega fucking expensive but looks amazing)
As much as a night at Longitude 131 would have been a welcomed luxury, I unfortunately had not won tattslotto so I opted to stay at the Outback Pioneer Hotel. I’d read some favourable reviews on Trip Advisor and honestly, being out and about exploring during the day all I really needed was a place to shower and rest my head over night. Plus, and this was a big one for me, the Outback Pioneer Hotel houses the only pub in town. So really that’s a no brainer right. (Read my review of the Outback Pioneer Hotel Here).
The next thing, and this was the hardest part of organising this trip, was deciding upon which activities I wanted to do. I only had 4 days to fit in as much as I could and there are so many options from active walking tours, helicopter flights, camel rides, gourmet dinners, night sky tours, cultural experiences, aboriginal art galleries and more. For the full list of activities click here.
A tour of Uluru was number 1 on my list and I wanted to do this with a guide as I’d heard they are filled with a lot of really great and valuable information based on Aboriginal culture and stories from the dreamtime as well as geological information. You can read my review of the Uluru tour here.
Also high on my list was Kata Tjuta (otherwise known as the Olgas). I’ve had quite a few friends that had been to Kata Tjuta tell me that the place is truly special. That it has a spiritually connected feeling about it that can’t be explained. After the last few years, Kata Tjuta was exactly what I needed.
Nothing prepares you for seeing Uluru for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect and I guess didn’t put much value on how seeing the rock would affect me. I was utterly speechless!! And that takes a lot really. The moment you get your first glimpse of Uluru your breath is simply taken away. It is what you imagine it to be but so much more, and its just so much of a contrast in comparison from anywhere in Victoria (where I live). And it is HUGE. I knew it was but until you actually see Uluru you really dont get the pure scale of the rock itself. And there off into the distance stands Kata Tjuta, even taller than Uluru. I was so pleased with myself that I booked a window seat on the flight. Winning!
Everything runs like a well-oiled machine at Yulara, from the buses that transport you to and from the airport and ferry you around town, to the staff in the resorts. And relaxed! There’s no rushing about, even the flies are slow there (and let me tell you there are plenty slow ones especially in the hotter months). So I was bused from the airport straight to the Outback Pioneer Hotel, checked in with enough time to explore the complex (yes including the pub) before being bused out to ‘A night at the Field of Light’.
The night includes a really yummy dinner as you watch the sun set over the rock and then a walk along the Field of Light open-air exhibition. I managed to meet up with two sassy Melbourne ladies in their 70s (I’d met them on the plane from Melbourne & coincidently they were in the room next to me at the resort – stalkers), an awesome couple from Geralton in their late 40s and a chick from Melbourne who had brought along her French friends. Plied with an abundance of alcohol, we ate, drank, laughed, told stories and stumbled in the dark along the field of light. Was certainly a night to remember.
The next morning the alarm went off at 4am for my next tour, the Sunrise Awakening tour. And yes, I did have a slight hangover. Good one Shae!! But was not missing my chance to get up close and personal with Uluru.
The tour starts early as we were driven out to a sand dune to watch the sunrise over the rock. My oh my those colours I will not forget, nor the quiet stillness of the place. After sunrise we were driven to the base of the rock and had a chance to wonder off on our own for an hour or so. This is where I was able to have some quiet time and lay my hands on this sacred site and let mum know I was finally there. The tour included more highlights which you can read here.
That same night I was booked on the Outback Sky Journeys Astro Tour but decided to spend the night in the pub with my new friends from Geralton. The pub is actually an outdoor pub and as the sky is literally free of light pollution we were able to witness the rising of the milky way in the night sky, all whilst having a few drinks and people watching.
Sleep in on morning 3 as my helicopter ride had been cancelled. So I decided to spend the day walking into the main part of Yulara and visiting Maruku Arts Market Place and the Visitors Centre. After lunch I treated myself to an hour and half massage at the Red Ochre Spa, Sails in the Desert resort. Pretty sure I fell asleep and probably entertained the masseuse with my blissed out snoring.
My last and final tour for this trip was out to Kata Tjuta. Probably the one I had been looking forward to the most. After being bused the 40 minutes out to Kata Tjuta and after going to a viewing platform to take photos, we were able to hike through one of the many valleys as a group. It took approximately 45 minutes to walk through as the terrain is pretty rough and rocky. Me being one of the clumsiest people you’ll ever meet I really had to be careful navigating may way through Kata Tjuta but happy to say I came out unscathed!
On the way back to the bus, the guide gave us the opportunity to have some alone time so I let the rest of the group pass and found a rock to sit on and sat in silence. Listening, reflecting. Naturally thoughts turned to my mum and just when the tears started to flow from the sadness of losing her and missing her so much, the wind picked up and howled through the vastness of the valley. It really was so loud. I could feel my mum all around me and in that moment I felt that she was there with me and always will be. I couldn’t help but smile and thank her for showing up when I needed her the most and found myself feeling so fortunate to have some sort of connection to her.
Kata Tjuta is such a wonderfully connected place where you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by its beauty, it’s history and the peace it brings. It really was what I needed.
I really didn’t expect to fall in love with the Uluru/Kata Tjuta area. But I did. Four days was nowhere near enough time to truly immerse myself in learning more about Uluru, the area and its people. I most definitely will be going back, this time taking a lot more time out to take it slow and meet some of the indigenous community. As great as all the organised tours were, I feel that next time I go to Uluru there will be less of that and more of just discovering.
I will be forever grateful that in a time where I was feeling overwhelming dark and emotionally exhausted Uluru was a bit of a spiritual saviour and mood uplifter for me. The place gave me a sense of purpose, of belonging to a country that, for most parts, is magnificent and of course, a connection to my beautiful mum. With all my years of travel I don’t know if I have ever been to a place where I have felt such connection to people, land and spirit. Uluru gave me all that and so much much more!
The township of Yulara is approximately a 20-minute drive from Uluru. Kata Tjuta is about a 40-minute drive from Yulara. Both are situated inside the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park which is protected land that covers approximately 130 square kilometres (500 plus square miles). The Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town Yulara was built in the mid 70s as a way to curb the unmonitored tourism that had built up around the base of Uluru. The town itself is small but accommodates all needs and has all amenities. The tourist centre is fabulous for booking any tours and the art galleries are a must.
Uluru / Kata Tjuta
The area around Uluru was settled thousands of years ago, and although it was ‘discovered’ by the white man in the 1800s, Uluru and Aboriginal culture are very much entwined today. In fact, Uluru is Australia’s spiritual heart. Aboriginal culture dictates that Uluru was formed by ancestral beings during Dreamtime.
Anangu own all of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and lease it back to Parks Australia to be jointly managed as a national park. This arrangement first came into place in October 1985, in an historic moment known today as handback.