Uluru holiday guide: 10 tips when travelling with kids
If you're travelling with kids to Uluru, there are plenty of dos and donts to think about.
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Uluru is breathtaking. When you start writing down your shortlist for the best holidays with kids, it deserves a place right near the top. Written in red, of course.
The excitement starts well before you're standing within its shadow, head all the way back on your shoulders as you look up, up and up at its vast red surface. It bulges out of the landscape like a pimple and you'll spot it from the car long before you arrive. It appears on the horizon between sand dunes and through the small leaves of the hardiest of hardy trees. Or you'll glance out the plane window and see the endless flat broken suddenly by its iconic shape.
Also read: Your complete guide to the red centre.
As of November 2019, you can no longer climb Uluru. There were a variety of reasons that led to that decision, with tourist safety and cultural sensitivity at the top of the list. While that decision may disappoint some, Uluru remains an incredible destination. The Australian desert alone is a place every human must experience, while the majesty of Uluru can only be understood once you stand there and see it for yourself.
Plus when it comes to holidays with kids, climbing Uluru was a stressful experience. There's not much between your kids and a bad fall than parent anxiety.
I took my family to Uluru and it was absolutely worth the significant investment to do so. And in trying to do it with a minimum of hissy fits and as affordably as possible, I learned a few key lessons. So how about I pass them on? Because holidays with kids need not be a constant stress. Here are my tips for travelling to Uluru with kids.
Uluru with kids: What's the best age?
There are three key factors to keep in mind when considering travelling to Uluru with kids.
- It's blisteringly hot.
- The walks are very long.
- Strollers don't work in red sand any better than they do in yellow.
With those three factors in mind and depending on the personalities and characteristics of your children, I'd hold fire on going with anyone under six. Eight would be better. Old enough to have the energy and the legs to explore in the heat.
10 tips for families travelling to Uluru with kids
The Pioneer Outback Lodge is fine. One of the first frustrations you'll find in researching your trip to Uluru is that there's not much comparing to do when it comes to accommodation. Each of the six accommodation options within easy driving distance of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are owned by the same mob. They're all part of the grander Ayers Rock Resort.
There's a clear difference in quality between them, ranging from the basic campground, to the backpacker-like Pioneer Outback Lodge right up to five-star luxury.
In a bid to keep prices down, I stayed in the Pioneer Outback Lodge. Accommodation is basic but private and comfortable. You're looking at four bunk beds in a room not much bigger than your family bathroom, with no amenities other than the key essential, air conditioning. And it was fine. The shared bathrooms are generous and kept mighty clean. The shared kitchen is not filled with rowdy backpackers, but a mix of families, retirees and international tourists. It has a pool. And it has the only liquor shop in town.
Don't worry about the lack of space and a TV in your room, you'll be too tired by the time you get home to even need it. However, you can step it up ever so slightly to the Pioneer Outback Hotel, which offers queen beds, TV and bathrooms for more money. They share the same grounds.
And yes, my kids were quick to make friends and roam the resort safely having the time of their lives.
Start early. For context, I travelled in September, so at the start of the Australian spring. It's a good time when travelling with kids as it's off-season, but it's still hot. When I arrived at Uluru at 6am it was 17°C By 11am, after walking around and exploring, it was 35°C. And there was plenty of heating up to go into the afternoon. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Your active exploration hours with kids should be 6am to midday – after that, get back to the pool and relax. I can't stress enough how important it is to have all your daypacks, kid lunches, water bottles (camel packs are even better), clothes and such sorted out the night before, so you can be up before dawn. You want to leave at least 30 minutes of drive, park and walk time if you want to see Uluru at sunrise, too (which is worth it every day of your stay).
- Surprise weather. It's not just the heat you need to worry about; that much you can see on a forecast. What may surprise you is that the size of Uluru (and other surrounding natural structures) is so immense it creates its own weather pattern. The rock cools down so much at night, and then when the sun rises and it begins to warm, the amount of cool air coming off the rock is so significant that it generates its own wind gusts. Be prepared for that. Don't assume because it says no wind on the forecast, that it won't be windy and cool early in the morning.
- Flies are bad. As a stinky, sweaty human walking around in the vast hot desert, you're an island paradise for local insects. There are flynets you can buy out there for your hats, at resort prices, so it's worth preparing this before you come. Trust me when I say you don't want to spend the entirety of every walk listening to your kids constantly complaining about the flies trying to find a way into their ears, nose, eyes and mouth. And fly repellent only deters these monsters partially as you sweat most of it off in a jiffy. Plus, it's a harsh chemical you don't really want on your kid's face.
Hire a car and prepare for boring drives. It should come as no surprise that distances are vast in the Australian desert. But no matter how prepared you are for that fact you'll still be shocked by how long you need to spend in the car with nothing to look at but red sand. Prepare distractions for your kids. Especially if you plan the four-hour drive out to King's Canyon (which is brilliant!), as you'll want your eyes and brain focused on the road. I saw enough dead camels and wild horses by the roadside to know I didn't want to hit one of those while swinging fists into the backseat or playing diplomat in a fight over a toy.
As for whether or not you should get a car, it's a must. If you rely on buses to get you around the resort, to and from the attractions, or to see the majestic sunrises and sunsets, you'll go insane waiting with the kids or not being able to take control of your daily destiny. You can learn more about hiring a car and getting around here.
- The IGA. No doubt you've heard about it and the rumours are true; eating out at Uluru is super expensive. The Pioneer Outback Lodge did have some decent specials on each day for buffets and meals, but in general, if you're going to eat in the resort every meal, every day, you'll be up for a lot. Holidays with kids need you to be thrifty on the food front. Thankfully, there is an IGA supermarket in the town centre where the prices aren't too hiked up on what you would expect at home. It's got everything you would expect except booze, so pack a few reusable bags and stock up there with all your basics to keep prices down. I even brought "energy food" from home. Baked beans, tuna, chocolates, lollies, muesli bars, etc.
- Don't miss the Olgas. Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, is the other giant pile of rocks you can see on the horizon. Don't miss them; they're great. There are two hike options once you arrive at the destination: Valley of the Winds and Walpa Gorge, which are about 45-minutes drive from the resort. They're both good, but if you have to choose one, choose the former as it's much more wondrous. After you make the entrance trek into the Valley of the Winds you'll hit a T-intersection where the loop begins. Go left. This is the more scenic way as you walk towards the view, rather than with your back to it. Plus, you'll reach the shaded part of the walk later in the day, when it's hotter.
- Bring booze. You're a parent, just like me. I get it. If hiking all day through red sand on a 40°C day isn't enough to tickle the back of your throat, getting tired kids processed and asleep at the end of it all will seal the deal. While nothing beats a draft beer, it's worth having something stiffer in your room as getting to the bar once the kids are asleep, and paying the super expensive prices, isn't that viable. We're talking close to $100 for a case of Coopers Green out there: you've been warned.
- Bike Hire. Near the base of Uluru you will find a huge collection of push bikes you can hire. It's certainly a fun option to do with the kids. The path around Uluru is flat and easy to ride, but it's also very long. Perhaps too long for little legs to walk, so why not pedal? There's plenty to see around the base of Uluru, and with no option to climb, it's now the best way to soak it all in. Plus, bike seats hurt marginally less than camel humps.
The Field of Light. If you choose Uluru as your holiday with kids, then there might be one marquee spend you can fit into the budget. The Field of Light is my pick. It's not only easy but breathtaking for both kids and parents alike. In the dark, out in the desert, moving through the sea of neon lights is adventure with a capital A. However, space is limited and can book out weeks in advance. So, don't dawdle and get your Field of Light space locked in as soon as you have your dates confirmed.
Assuming all your kids are five and older, I highly recommend taking the Field of Light Star Pass option. It costs quite a bit more, but it's longer and you get a stunning sunset experience with Uluru in the background. You also get a decent serving of food – in the form of canapes – as well as unlimited drinks (including booze) for about an hour or so. When you consider that such a dinner would cost you a fair bit in the resort anyway, it makes the upgrade to the Star Pass much more palatable.
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