Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, best known as the Ayers Rock Resort; is nestled in the desert only 25km from Uluru. What attracted us to the resort other than its nearness to Uluru, was the variety of accommodation options on offer. We decided to split our 12-night stay between Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens Hotel (with Uluru views); though there are other hotel and even camping options. In this post I share with you five things we learnt from our experiences here.
1) Resort Shuttle Bus Does Not Extend To Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Here’s good news.. Complimentary airport transfers meet all scheduled commercial flights – to and from the resort. On top of that, a free shuttle bus does clockwise loops of the resort daily; at intervals of approximately one every 20 minutes from 10:30am to 12:30am. It stops at all hotels except for Longitude 131° which is out-of-town anyway. The shuttle bus does not go to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. To get to Uluru and Kata Tjuta requires booking a completely different service – more about that in #3.
What we learnt from our experience is that, you will use this service frequently if you want to move about the resort while avoiding walking in 40C heat – or in the dark. We headed out to explore the resort on foot but then, after enjoying a much needed cold beer at the Outback Pioneer Bar, we would shuttle bus back around to the other side. The bus itself? A modern, comfortable coach and most importantly, air-conditioned!
2) Forgot Something? No Worries Mate, There’s A Supermarket At The Resort Town Square
Before our trip I was concerned about what ifs.. ‘What if our sunscreen or Panadol runs out?’; ‘what if I need nail polish remover?’ Sure, I’d been caught out before in the French countryside, and this was outback Australia! Well, to tell the truth it was much to my relief when we spotted an IGA supermarket at the Resort Town Square (also a stop on the loop). And it certainly came in handy. Within our first 24 hours in the Red Centre we found ourselves picking up our favourite Kettle chilli chips, other between-meal snacks and drinks there.
Here’s my Uluru travel tip, the rumours about the flies here are true!!! So before you explore, buy a can of insect repellent and maybe a netted hat. We secured the very last Aerogard on the shelf, though unfortunately it was a little late as we had already been mobbed by flies the day before.. out at Uluru. Get in early before the stock runs out! Once we had a can of Aerogard, we didn’t go anywhere without it, it helps.
3) Don’t Drive? Not A Problem, However…
Neither Kent nor I drive.. I know – shocking! Before this trip, Kent shared with me his concern regarding the vast spaces of the outback and being able to travel around. What we wanted to do, was to create as many brilliant images in the desert as we could. Well it turns out that all the available tour operators work closely with the Resort; they pick you up and drop you off right in front of your hotel. However, photography being one of the main reasons that lured us there, we needed to have concrete plans in place for out-of-the-resort activities. We did find our lack of personal transport a little restraining.
So how easy or difficult is it to see Uluru or Kata Tjuta without doing the driving yourself? It’s pretty easy. There’s the Uluru Hop On Hop Off bus to-and-from Ayers Rock Resort and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It makes a series of stops at key points (where you would park your car anyway) leaving you to do your own thing once you alight. It takes about 30 minutes from the Resort to Uluru and around 50 minutes to Kata Tjuta.
The bus ride does not include the entry fee for the National Park which is $25, and is valid for three consecutive days. You need to show this at the resort along with your ticket to get on the coach. We chose to pass on the Uluru Sunrise’s 4:35am pick-up (November’s timetable – timetable is adjusted in line with sunrise-sunset), the next scheduled departure was at 7:20am… We had hoped there was a trip in between but there was not. For a peak season such as November, Uluru Hop On Hop Off only offers sunrise (4:30am depart) and sunset (4:15pm depart) services to Kata Tjuta. This was when I thought that hiring a car would be a great option if you were looking to explore the National Park at your own pace.
4) Are There Poison Snakes At Uluru?
To tell the truth, I wasn’t aware there was a ‘poison snake situation’ at Uluru-Kata Tjuta until I paid a visit to the Wintjiri Art & Museum while staying at Sails in the Desert. What I learnt is that there are at least two types of poison snakes in this region – Liru (King Brown or Mulga Snake) and Panakura (Desert Death Adder), and they are both potentially very dangerous. If a Mulga bites it hangs on; injecting a large amount of toxic venom. The positive headline is, Ayers Rock Resort’s own landscapers and pest control people look out for any threat during the snake season throughout the Resort area. Perhaps that explains why you don’t read about coming across venomous snakes at the Resort from travellers who have stayed here.
During our 12-day visit at Yulara, we did not see a single snake, though Kent may have seen some tracks. While on our Uluru Camel Tour, I asked our friendly camel guide about the snake situation outside of the Resort, ‘are they really around?’… This knowledgeable young lady shared with me that ‘only few days ago during our sunset camel tour, a snake slithered between one of the camel’s legs..’, but don’t worry, ‘the camel stayed calm, snakes seem pretty normal to them.’ So I asked ‘What should we do if we saw one in the wild?’ and she replied that ‘these snakes are shy and as just as scared of us as we are of them, so do not disturb them.’ Basically be snake aware, if you see one, stop, let it pass and walk away, leave it alone. Or as Kent says, make plenty of noise as you move about, and they will get out of your way well before you can spot one.
5) It’s A Dry Community Outback
When Kent and I check in to a 5-star hotel, we often swap-out the minibar replacing it with our preferred drinks. The moment we opened our fridge after settling in at Sails in the Desert, we noticed that something was a little different… Plenty of room in this fridge and NO alcoholic beverages at all. Zip, Zero, Nothing – Just soft drinks. ‘What happened to the minibar?’ Yes a big question mark. We then went to the IGA supermarket at the Resort Town Square to stock up some snacks, sarsaparilla and a bottle of tonic water and maybe a bottle of gin. Our plan was to mix our own gin and tonic later in our room.
Well we were told that the only liquor store was at the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge, on the opposite side of the resort, and despite it being over 40C, Kent and I made another trip, to explore and to get ourselves a bottle of gin. The bar and bottle shop are one and the same, it turned out that we had to show the barman our hotel key card, which would be equivalent to a photo ID… However, there was no gin, no bottle sales of spirits available here at all. Wine – yes but very limited choices and pretty expensive, same for the beer and that was it. We didn’t feel like spending over $40 for a six pack of beer or similar inflated prices for wine. So we had a cool beer each (I’m sure my ginger beer counts), before we left empty-handed. Later on, we did finally enjoy a tall glass of gin and tonic during our dinner!
From day one, we realised that the alcohol restrictions here were rather different to New South Wales. During our time here we also learnt that if you had an opened bottle of wine at a hotel restaurant, you were allowed to take the unfinished bottle with you to your hotel room; only if it’s within the same hotel. For example, on our last night at Yulara we asked if it would be possible to take wine left from dinner at the Ilkari restaurant at Sails in the Desert – back to Desert Gardens Hotel. So we could sit on the room’s verandah and look out at the night sky, stars and the Rock. Well it was not permitted. Although there’s just a short walk between the two, in the public area between them, carrying opened alcohol (even top on) is not allowed. The alcohol laws are strict in the Northern Territory.
C’est la vie! Yes in outback Australia even simple things can be a little more complicated. So instead we had our farewell drinks back at the Desert Gardens Hotel’s Mangata Bistro & Bar, which was a pleasant change of atmosphere too. Have you stayed with the Ayers Rock Resort yourself? If so, what travel tips do you have from your experience?