Deborah Dickson-Smith is a family travel expert having explored the world with her lovely children in tow. See more of her tips for travelling with kids at littlenomads.com.
Uluru is one of the most recognisable Australian landmarks. Ask anyone. Which is why, during peak season (mid-winter) thousands of people visit the Red Centre from all over the world.
As isolated as it may seem, it can actually get pretty busy here in the winter months, so if you want to experience the Rock without the Crowds, my advice would be to visit in Summer.
Lots of families do visit this time of year of course because it’s our longest school break. But of course it’s HOT. During our visit in late December it reached the late 30s daily by mid-morning and kept climbing till sunset (perfect conditions for miserable, whining kids).
Here’s our suggestions to help ensure everyone enjoys those beautiful landscapes and the surrounding rich indigenous culture without melting (down).
Acclimatize and get your bearings.
There are lots of free activities for kids at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort so it’s not a bad idea to start here with a tour of the resort (if only to locate the pools).
On our first day we learned how to throw boomerangs and spears with an indigenous guide before watching the Wakagetti cultural dancers and listening to a campfire bush yarn, all in the relative cool of the late afternoon.
The Family Astro Tour is a great way to end the day – a family friendly star gazing tour designed for kids which gives us all a great understanding of both how ancient cultures interpreted the stars and how to explore the sky with telescopes and iPads.
Get up early for a Desert Awakenings tour.
It’s actually not unbearable to get up at 430am to watch the sun rise – and it’s blissfully cool.
On arrival at our viewing point, we’re fed bacon and egg rolls, bush tea and damper – enough to keep the kids happy until the sun comes up (magnificently) just to the left of the Rock.
We’re then taken to the Cultural Centre where the kids learn the significance of Uluru’s caves, rock paintings and creation stories as told by the local Anangu people.
The tour is about five hours long, bringing us back to the hotel in time for lunch before heading off in our hire car for Kings Canyon.
Another early start for Kings Canyon
We arrive at Kings Canyon Resort in the late afternoon, in time to take the kids on the (short) Creek Walk in the Canyon’s valley before a helicopter ride over it.
Our 15-minute helicopter tour over Watarrka National Park takes us over the canyon, along Kings Creek and over to Carmichael Crag. It’s well worth the investment as it gives us (and the kids) a great overview of the amazing rock formations we’ll be walking through the following morning.
We leave the resort at 6am and start our climb shortly after (it’s a 5-minute drive to the starting point). It hits about 30 degrees halfway through the walk at 830am but thankfully there’s a breeze that makes it bearable.
You can’t properly experience Kings Canyon without doing the Rim Walk. On the scale of “moderate” to “strenuous”, the guidebooks generally call the Rim Walk “strenuous” and only suitable for fit people.
It’s not. The first part is the hardest – a steep climb/scramble to the top of the canyon which takes about 30 minutes. From there, it’s an easy 6.5km walk, with a few ups and downs that most kids over five would breeze through – provided you have enough water and you don’t attempt it in the heat of the day.
A camel ride to sunset.
After our exertions we head back to Uluru, arriving in time for a late lunch and an afternoon relaxing poolside before our next excursion, Camel to Sunset.
Uluru Camel Tours pick us up for our Sunset tour at about 630pm, roughly an hour and a half before sunset and we meander our way through the sand dunes with Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the background.
This is a big hit with the kids – camels are hilarious, each with distinct personalities making very strange noises.
The Sounds of Silence.
Our last night at Uluru is possibly the highlight of the trip: this is the night we’ve reserved for Sounds of Silence. Drinks and canap©s on a sand dune overlooking Uluru and Kata Tjuta as the sun sets, before a sumptuous barbeque buffet dinner in the desert.
The resident star talker joins us a again to give us a tour of the night sky as we gorge ourselves on barramundi and kangaroo. And I even get to see the moons of Jupiter through his very impressive telescope.
Getting There: Virgin and Qantas have daily, direct flights to Uluru from Sydney. From Melbourne there are connecting flights from Adelaide or Sydney.
Where to Stay: Voyages Ayers Rock Resort has a wide range of accommodation options, from the campsite through to the Sails in the Desert with rooms accommodating up to six people.
Kings Canyon Resort is a 5-minute drive from the canyon itself and has a range of cabin-style accommodation. I recommend the Deluxe Spa rooms include a spa bath overlooking the desert – perfect to can soak away the day’s dust.
Getting Around: Available day trips and tours can be organized by your hotel and many are run by AAT Kings. Other tour groups include:
Uluru Camel Tours – www.ulurucameltours.com.au
Professional Helicopter Services – www.phs.com.au
Uluru Express – www.uluruexpress.com.au
AAT Kings – www.aatkings.com