The Sounds of Silence dinner is a must-do when visiting Yulara. Picture: Anson Smart
The Sounds of Silence dinner is a must-do when visiting Yulara. Picture: Anson Smart

Ancient wonder a perfect place for travel reset

Let’s take two on 2020.

In a year in which panic buying, shutdowns, lockdowns, hand sanitiser and face masks dominated our lives, we also had to pack away our suitcases, and with it our travel dreams.

Like many of you, I had overseas trips planned and booked and spent many hours furiously reading through the next batch of cancellation emails, my heart dropping a little further each time.

While 2021 will have similar themes to the past 12 months, we can at least dust off the cobwebs and get out and explore our beautiful country again.

Pick a bestie or a loved one and start planning your take two. Where would you like to go? Where haven’t you been?

I broke free of the 2020 shackles to experience the Red Centre in December, and boy did it feel good.

Red earth between my toes, beautiful fresh air and spectacular surrounds.

Yes, Yulara was the perfect place for my sister and I to unwind on our take two, and I can’t wait to head back.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Uluru always seemed like just a big rock to me. Naive, yes and a simplistic view, I know. That giant piece of rock in the middle of Australia is so much more than a postcard picture could ever express.

Its beauty is best seen up close and looks nothing like it does from a distance. The texture of the rock appears to vary at every turn, offering something new to discover the whole way around.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t make it the whole way around. It was going to be 40 degrees that day and we dillydallied a little too long over our picnic breakfast while watching the sunrise. By the time we’d taken too many happy snaps, found the only toilet near the rock and packed what we thought were our essentials to carry for the walk, we’d lost another valuable hour and the heat was getting serious.

We compromised by embarking on a couple of kilometres at the start, before heading back to the car to drive to the other carparks around the base so we could do mini walks in each direction.

The Field of Lights display is sure to mesmerise.
The Field of Lights display is sure to mesmerise.

We were stoked with our cunning plan as the sun continued to rise and the sweat continued to pour, but felt a little sheepish as we met others near the end who started when we did.

The worn path from years of visitors trudging up Uluru can be seen from quite a way. It looks out of place, it looks daunting, it looks terribly sad, and even without any local knowledge, you can understand why it needed to stop.

Aboriginal people have been living on that land for tens of thousands of years and the stories of those who found it in the beginning are mesmerising.

BEST WAYS TO EXPLORE

Book a walking or segway tour of Uluru at sunrise to discover the history of the land in a group. You can also hire a bike and use pedal power to get around the rock. It’s faster and means you can go at your own pace.

Otherwise, do what most prefer and hit the track on your own to enjoy the beauty your way.

You can refill your water bottles at various points around the rock, so don’t feel you need to weigh yourself down too much for the trip.

There is a toilet block at the carpark at the start of the walk and that’s it, so pay it a visit before you drink five litres of water on your trek.

Parts of the walk are closed at 11am if the temperature hits 40 degrees, but you’d want to be well and truly done by then anyway.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

Uluru definitely isn’t the only drawcard to the region. We hired a car to explore, and it was one of the best moves we made. While there are plenty of hop on, hop off buses, being able to drive where you want, when you want is amazing.

A visit to Katu Juta is a must. Again, head off in the morning as late afternoon is the hottest part of the day. Or you could try your balance on a camel ride — you can do this at sunrise or sunset to see Uluru — or wander around as you please.

A visit to Yulara, the name of the tiny township near Uluru, isn’t complete without seeing the colourful Field of Lights, now on display until 2027. This field of 50,000 hand-blown glass solar-powered bulbs mesmerises you as you stroll through an area the size of four football fields full of the constantly changing orbs.

I also recommend the Sounds of Silence dinner. Watch the sun go down over Uluru while enjoying bubbles and canapes, listening to the mellow sounds of a didgeridoo and chatting with fellow diners.

The Sounds of Silence dinner is a must-do when visiting Yulara. Picture: Anson Smart
The Sounds of Silence dinner is a must-do when visiting Yulara. Picture: Anson Smart

After that you’ll be taken down to white linen tables to enjoy fine dining buffet-style, plus all you can drink.

We were lucky enough to watch a storm roll in over Uluru while enjoying our dessert. The stunning show of Mother Nature just added to my awe of the amazing place I was honoured to experience.

SET SAIL FOR A LUXURIOUS STAY

Part outback, part tropical escape, Sails in the Desert is perfect for your stay at Yulara.

The colour scheme and building design may not look like that of your usual five-star hotel, but they serve a purpose: fit in with the landscape and make the most of the shade and breeze.

The rooms are spacious, with ample areas to flop down after a long day exploring.

The balconies are generous and if you’re lucky enough to have one poolside, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember you’re in the desert.

Overlooking the pool at Sails in the Desert. Picture: Ross Williams
Overlooking the pool at Sails in the Desert. Picture: Ross Williams

I had some of the best customer service I’d ever encountered at this resort.

The staff genuinely aimed to please, something that is lost on many in the customer service industry these days.

When I visited it was the hotel’s first full weekend in some time, and they were hosting a three-day conference, yet nothing seemed too hard or take too long to organise.

There are many dining options within the resort: a hotel bar, buffet breakfast, a la carte dinners and room service available.

They also offer packed breakfasts for those on the go — perfect if you’re rushing out the door to see the sun rise over Uluru. Just remember to order them the night before then pick them up on your way out.

PLENTY MORE TO SEE, DO IN YULARA

Yulara was created to service the tourists visiting Uluru.

Not far from the rock, but far enough to ensure the national park is protected for years to come, the tiny town is designed with only your visit in mind.

The town centre is just a two-minute walk from Sails in the Desert, and a maximum
15-minute walk from other hotels in the area.

Built on a ring-road, there are five accommodation options, from a campground to five-star service and everything in between.

The town centre offers a couple of dining options, including The Kulata Academy student cafe which is wonderful for a quick bite and a cuppa.

Indigenous youth from across the nation can apply for a scholarship at the Academy, where they start on the books, then work the cafe, and then the resorts. At the end of the course the students are qualified in hospitality and offered a full-time job.

Yulara has a few clothing and souvenir shops which I spent hours in as well as a doctor, school, post office, bank and supermarket.

Various talks on the area, bush tucker and Indigenous history and artefacts are held on the grassy area out the front. These are all free and very casual, so feel free to join in even if you’ve missed the start time.

The service station just down the road well equipped and is perfect if you’ve hired a car, just remember to check what the opening hours are.

The writer was a guest of Accor, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.