Me and my wife are half way through our year travelling around oz and are currently in perth where we have been doing a bit of work to replenish the funds! Are next big adventure is going to be uluru, hopefully in may or june.
We have been doing a bit of reading into it and have been left pretty confused!
Few main questions really...
Is it best to fly to uluru or alice springs? and if we fly to uluru, is there any real need to see alice springs? we've heard very mixed reports!
Would four days be long enough to see all the main sights or would you recommend longer?
Is it best to hire a car and make your own way around? my wife is very sceptical about the safety of driving in the outback! but we've heard you get carted arouind like cattle on the bus tours and if you are your own boss you have a lot more freedom (obviously!)
And... places to stay if we are in uluru - dont really fancy paying through the nose for a room as we wouldnt really be in it! would be happy to camp but ar not really sure how we would get tent etc on the flight!
Any help form you people who have done this recently would be very appreciated!
I would recommend going to Alice Springs and doing a 3 day tour to see Ayres Rock, The Olgas and Kings Canyon. I did it with a company called Mulgas Tours (linked with a hostel called Annie's Place) and they were the cheapest when I did it, but it's worth checking a few companies to see who has the best deals. Mulgas Tours were excellent, though. The tour guide was a good laugh and it was a really fun trip. It follows a set route, but if you were doing it on your own you'd pretty much go to the same places anyway, so being herded around isn't really a problem.
I would feel a bit nervous about hiring a car and driving around in such a sparsely populated area.
I never made it to Alice Springs, so I can't give an objective opinion on if it's worth it, but I never made it there because from what I heard and read, it wasn't really worth it, and so I just flew straight to Ayers Rock airport.
The roads between Ayers Rock airport, Yulara (the resort town there with all the accommodation) and Uluru and Kata Tjuta itself are in perfect condition (see this photo), and I can totally recommend renting a car and driving around by yourself. You could fit seeing both into two days, and definitely won't need more than three; besides walking the trails around Uluru and Kata Tjuta and being at the various designated viewpoints for sunrise and sunset, there really isn't anything more to do there.
Now what's usually included in the trips from Alice Springs is a visit to King's Canyon, which I've heard very good things about, but unfortunately not seen myself. If that is doable with a rental car from Yulara I don't know. I would suspect so, but maybe someone else here has personal experience?
As for accommodation: You really don't have any choice but to pay through the nose for it. There's some kind of hostel-like accommodation which is YHA-affiliated (see here) and more-or-less acceptable price-wise, but it's not much.
[ Edit: Edited on 08-May-2011, at 09:16 by Sander ]
I "did" the red centre by hire car from Alice Springs in September 2006. I flew in from Darwin, which at the time (maybe also now) didn't have any direct flights to Uluru. I wanted to see Alice because I figured it would be interesting to visit such a remote town - you can kill a day there (the Desert Park, sunset from ANZAC hill, a few historic buildings) but I wouldn't say it's a must-see.
My schedule went:
Day 1 Picked up hire car in the morning in Alice. Saw Desert Park. Drove to Yulara. Saw sunset at Uluru. Stayed night at Yulara.
Day 2 Saw sunrise at Uluru. Walked around Uluru. Saw sunset at Kata Tjuta. Stayed night at Yulara.
Day 3 Saw sunrise at Kata Tjuta (which gave some of the best views onto Uluru too). Did Valley of the Winds walk. Drove to King's Canyon. Stayed night there.
Day 4 Did King's Canyon rim walk at dawn. Drove to Kathleen Springs for a short walk there. Returned to Alice.
I take a lot of photos, so was keen on the flexibility of a hire car over the convenience/cost of a tour. However this itinerary was about 1,550km of driving (albeit all on sealed roads), and petrol is much more expensive in these parts than in the cities. The landscape is fairly unchanging, apart from the famous sights. There's also no radio reception so make sure you have some CDs. The main dangers with driving are falling asleep at the wheel (the "easy" driving conditions can really lull you), or hitting a kangaroo (you can mitigate this risk by not driving between dusk and dawn). Stay well clear of road trains too.
If you're set on hiring a car, I would go for doing it at Yulara and avoiding Alice entirely. You should be able to see Uluru/Kata Tjuta/King's Canyon in 3 days. Whether you hire a car or do a tour, you should definitely do the rim walk in King's Canyon.
The hostels at Yulara and King's Canyon are both expensive. I seem to remember there being a swimming pool in one of the more upscale accommodations at Yulara that you can also use even if you're in the hostel.
There's nothing actually in Alice Springs to see, basically most people use it as a base camp to see what's around it. There are several gorges in the West Macdonell ranges (west of Alice Springs) that are quite beautiful as well as Gosse Bluff and Standley Chasm Most of the gorges and Standley Chasm can be reached in a standard car and the roads are sealed with regular tourist traffic so you don't need to worry about getting stuck. Between Alice Springs and Uluru there are some worthwhile sights like Rainbow Valley and Chambers Pillar, but you may need a 4x4 to get to these two places as once you leave the main highway the roads are quite corrugated.
The highway from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta is all sealed with regular traffic so you shouldn't have any problems if your rental car stops going. As Sander and Mohn said, if you hire a car you have the freedom to spend your time where you like and there are several sunrise/sunset vantage points around Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
So, if you just want to see is Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon then I'd say 4 days is enough, aim to spend a day at Uluru, a day at Kata Tjuta and a day at Kings Canyon and a day travelling. If you want to drop in at some of the Canyons accessable from Alice Springs you'll need an extra couple of days.