What to Do in the Australian Outback
The Red Center
When the word "outback" is mentioned, images of red sand and deadly animals pop into peoples' minds. It is the fear of the unknown. Many people refuse even the idea of visiting the Outback with a shudder and present me with a quick terrified list of all the deadly animals they can think of.
By taking the trip of a lifetime to the Outback, you'll discover that yourself. Whether you choose to go shopping for beautiful, fiery opals mined in Coober Pedy, or sip world-class Australian wines during cocktail hour in the desert, you will be stunned by the natural beauty that is found in the center of Australia called the Outback.
Of course one of the most important things to plan for in any vacation is lodging. What is awesome about Uluru (main attraction/city in the Outback, also referred to as Ayers Rock) is the variety of places to stay. There is everything from camping to 5-star resorts, and whatever you choose, you won't be disappointed.
Ayers Rock Campground offers multiple options to truly enjoy the great outdoors and those looking for a good deal. You can pitch your own tent under the stars, stay in an air conditioned lodge or hostel, or park your caravan in a designated site. The Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge offer an authentic feel of the Australian Outback, along with the Emu Walk Apartments.
Uluru also offers several stunning resorts. Sails in the Desert is a beautiful, 5-star resort that houses a fantastic art gallery and gift shop where you can buy opals and Aboriginal art for all your friends who couldn't come on the trip! The Red Ochre Spa is also housed in this resort (you'll need this if you choose to do more extensive hiking). What is unique about this resort is its architecture-- sails are used as sun protection outside in the gardens and on the pool. The Desert Gardens Hotel is a beautiful 4.5 star resort with great views of Uluru and the winner of the Australian Tourism Award.
Whatever your travel style may be, Voyages Resorts at Uluru has a great variety of accommodations to offer.
Discovering the Desert
The best ways to truly see the Outback are by hiking and exploring the area. The two rock formations -- Uluru and The Olgas -- are easily accessible and offer stunning views, remarkable experiences, and wild stories. Bikes can be rented and rode around Uluru (although a bus service does operate around the village and any tour you sign up for should provide transportation).Camel rides are offered as sunrise/sunset tours around Uluru herself, or short camel rides are offered closer to the village.
Uluru, the mammoth red rock which lies in the flat and desolate desert, is considered to be one of the main attractions, if not the main attraction of the Australian Outback. It is an iconic landmark and a World Heritage Site. Apart from making the treacherous climb to the top, there are many things to do at the base: tours in and around the caves -- that have awesome cave markings, ancient burial sites, waterfalls (if it has rained recently), and another village with more in-depth information about the Aboriginal people and culture.
The climb is not as easy as it looks or sounds -- if it even looks easy.The first part, which appears to be the only part, is very steep. It does, however, offer a chain to hold onto, which makes it possible. After the chain ends, you'll ask people how far until the top and they'll probably respond with, "Oh, not more than five minutes! It's not bad!". This is a lie. And you'll watch them continue, care-free on their way down as you're about to cross into the unknown. But before you call it quits and say, "This is all I need to do", because really let's face it, your legs are numb and lungs are burning from the dry air, think about how you're almost halfway there! And really, the view is 100x better from the top, especially if it's been raining. The top is more challenging because there are a lot of steep hills and no rails.It feels like there is no end and the other climbers on their way down don't offer any sort of accurate "how-far-away-am-I" time. But once you've reached the top, and look out across the horizon in every direction, you will see that the climb was worth it. The colors are stunning, as are The Olgas.
Tip 1: Take lots of bottled water in some sort of hands-free bag. The desert air is VERY dry, and there is no way to get water until back at the village inside the National Park. You will be miserable if you don't have it. Same goes for sunscreen. (But keep in mind there are also no restrooms at the base of the rock).
Tip 2: The winds are very strong against the side of the rock. Be prepared to get close to the sides and hold on.
Tip 3: The first 10 or so yards up Uluru is called "Chicken Rock". This is a steep part of the rock with no chain that you almost have to crawl up. Many people turn around here, hence the name, but keep in mind there is almost no part of the rock like that without a chain.
Shopping and Fine Dining
Many of the gift shops include beautiful and exotic jewelry, Aboriginal art, and fun souvenirs. The hotel gift shops sell the expensive jewelry and art, but the village shops usually sell prints and postcard versions of Aboriginal art. Shops in the village sell T-shirts, less-expensive boomerangs and didgeridoos, magazines, snacks, art supplies, post cards, sunscreen, etc.
In the Sails in the Desert resort, stunning jewelry featuring Australia's own opals, pearls, and crystals are sold. Fine Aborigine hand-painted canvases, boomerangs, didgeridoos are displayed for sale as well. There are two exquisite restaurants and one bar & lounge inside the Sails in the Desert.
In the village, there is a grocery store, a few convenience stores/gift shops, several small cafes, and a post office.
A fine dining excursion that offers an experience more than delicious Australian cuisine is the Sounds of Silence Tour. A bus stops at all the lodging destinations to pick up guests before heading out deep into the desert on dirt roads to the cocktail hour location. A lovely staff will greet you and offer drinks as the sun begins to set and casts shadows on Uluru while it begins to infamously change colors. A man plays the didgeridoo in the background, setting the ambiance while you and your new friends sip on a wide range of drinks offered at the bar. When dinnertime approaches and the sun comes close to setting, you will be guided to your table and offered the buffet. This buffet is absolutely beautiful. It features crocodile, barramundi, kangaroo, camel, all kinds of salads with local meat, fantastic sides, and dessert with wine. There isn't much lighting at all in this setting. There is one lantern per table, so it gives almost a creepy feeling, but it allows guests to fully see the stars and appreciate the quietness of the desert. After guests are finished eating, astronomers begin to tell ancient Aboriginal stories while pointing out the stars. It is a unique and beautiful experience that you will always remember.