How to Experience the Best 6 Days of your Life Guide to Uluru, Kata Tjuta & Watarrka National Parks

Firstly, don’t put it off.

I spent 20 years dreaming of seeing Uluru.
But I kept putting it off by creating overcomplicated and convoluted potential plans until they became so complicated and so convoluted (not to mention expensive) the dream went back into the too hard basket for another day.

Because Uluru is so far from any of Australia’s populated coastal fringes its tempting to think there’s no point going unless the trip is made really worthwhile and everything is crammed into one humdinger of a visit… since you’re there!

Mistake #1.

Trying to include everything in a see-all, do-all trip to the Red Centre (unless you’re on a year long round Australia kinda trip) is not the way to go -

If you’ve yet to see Uluru (and you live in Australia) apply for that week off work now and follow my guide for how to spend the best 6 days of your life experiencing the wonderful, wild World Heritage outback in a way that will make the most of your:

  • time
  • energy
  • finances
  • create the most magic of memories and…
  • experience a trip that will make your heart sing :D

The perfect 6 day guide for visiting Uluru, Kata Tjuta & Watarrka

Image: Uluru Sunset

Day 1 – Sunset at Uluru

Fly into Yulara – arriving about lunchtime.
Pick up a hire car for the duration of your 6 day stay.
Drive to accommodation -

I wrote a guest post about budget options at Uluru on the website: Budget Travel Adventures – Check it out for details re: accommodation, transportation and food.

Cheapest option is to camp – And also has the advantage that you’re a part of the landscape for the whole experience.
Current luggage allowances on planes mean its worth the cost of an additional piece of baggage ($30 on Qantas) to pack a small 2 man tent, 2 self inflating mattresses, 2 sleeping bags and pop in a couple of melamine bowls for morning muesli, basic cutlery and a small knife for making a sandwich for lunch – Pillows can be carried on!

Set up camp.

Take your inaugural trip out to the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park -
Uluru is about 18km (11miles) from the resort and camping ground at Yulara.
Entrance to the park is $25 per person for 3 days.

Experience your first views of Uluru – Drive all the way around it and be back at the main Uluru sunset viewing area for your first light show.
It’s a good idea to click here to check out what time sunrise and sunset is for the time of year you’re visiting – and mould your schedule around that.

Kata Tjuta

Day 2 – Sunrise at Uluru & Sunset at Kata Tjuta

Be up at least half an hour before light.
Yes I know you’re on holiday, but do it!
Set out in the dark to the Park entrance, which opens a little before first light.

Hint: Take some muesli and small packs of milk (or food of your choice!) so you can enjoy breakfast at a more civilized time, after you’ve enjoyed the sunrise.

Drive out to the Uluru Sunrise viewing area - Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, which is on the far side from Yulara and watch the sun cast it’s first rays on the red Rock, with Kata Tjuta taunting you on the horizon. Breath in the beautiful smell of the bush.

After breakfast, as the sun rises higher, drive back to Uluru’s base and meander up the Kuniya Walk for a km or so, and see the Mutitjulu Waterhole – Yes, there are waterholes at Uluru!

Uluru Waterhole

Due to your early start you can comfortably be back around the other side of the Rock where, alongside the Rock Climb, which the local custodians request you not attempt the Mala Walk starts.

At 8am every morning a Ranger will take you free of charge just a couple of kilometres around the base of Uluru on the Mala Walk telling and showing you all manner of wonderful things that in just a couple of hours will enrich your visit.

As it starts to heat up head to the Cultural Centre situated just 1.6km (1mile) away from the Rock.
The Cultural Centre is built of mud bricks in a flowing organic shape and is full of everything you’d want to know about the region including information on the 400+ species of local plant life, 21 species of mammals, 73 varieties of reptiles, 170 different birds, 4 types of frog, as well as insights into local culture that includes video footage of indigenous ceremonies.

There’s also a café where you can grab some refreshments while still soaking up the view of Uluru – There are also a few shops displaying indigenous art.

After the early start, and full morning, consider slipping back to your base for a afternoon nap… so you’ll be ready for a late afternoon walk out at Kata Tjuta, which is a 50 minute drive (53km/33miles) from Yulara.

There are two walks at Kata Tjuta and the shorter of the two - The Walpa Gorge Walk being 2.6km return is a perfect early evening walk for today.

After which, retreat to the Kata Tjuta Sunset viewing area to watch this landscape transform with the sun’s evening rays.

Kata Tjuta Sunrise

Day 3 – Kata Tjuta

Another pre-light start!
Head out to the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park to be at the Sand Dune viewing platform while it’s still dark and hear the dawn chorus and watch the first rays of the sun come up behind Uluru (in the distance) and turn the sides of Kata Tjuta’s domes red. (Kata Tjuta in Pitjantjatjara means ‘many heads’)

Kata Tjuta

Move onto the carpark at Kata Tjuta (for breakfast) and prepare for the longer 7.4km (4.5miles) Valley of the Winds Walk.
Many people say they feel a greater spiritual connection in the Kata Tjuta landscape than even Uluru -
Do add in the comments below how you react :)

Stop off at the Sand Dune viewing platform again on the way back.
The atmosphere as the sun is hitting its zenith is a totally different experience in this outback landscape to the early morning light experienced just a few hours earlier.

Enjoy an afternoon nap, tea and cake at the Cultural Centre or a drive around the whole of the Rock again before heading back to the Sunrise Viewing area (where you were yesterday morning) to watch the sun set from this different angle – behind Kata Tjuta.

Kata Tjuta Sunset

Day 4 – Watarrka National Park

Sleep in (if you can) before packing up camp and pulling out before breakfast.

Start driving towards Watarrka – Kings Canyon (305km/185miles) and as the fancy takes you pull off the road – not at an official stop – for breakfast.
OK, there’ll be the ‘odd’ car going past but essentially all you’ll hear is the wind whistling through the Desert Oaks, and you’ll get to see animal tracks in the red, red sand and maybe some camel footprints and dung. Not to mention the wild-flowers hidden amongst the spinifex grass.

Desert wild flowers
Stop off at Kings Creek Station (265km/165miles) for a bite and a drink and a peek in their souvenir shop (where guess what – you’ll spy our Australia Journal Maps!) then either set up camp here or decide to go onto the campground at Kings Canyon Resort.

If you set up camp here you can later go for a sunset camel ride or even try out a dune buggy!
If you choose to go onto the Resort, go up to their viewing platform to watch the sun catch the George Gill Range and Carmichael’s Crag.

But as its still early, head on towards Kings Canyon and take the right-hand turnoff (about 10km/6miles) to Kathleen Springs.
Here there’s a 2.6km (1.6mile) return walk designed for people with limited mobility and shows another side of the region with the remains of a stock-yard, and a cool spring fed waterhole at the end to sit quietly beside and listen to the wind rustle through the long swaying grasses nearby.

Go onto the Resort to set up camp or return to the Station if you’ve chosen to stay there.

Kings Canyon

Day 5 – Kings Canyon Rim Walk

An early start is undoubtedly best when embarking upon any activities that require exertion in this arid desert landscape so you’re not out in the heat of the day -

All the information I managed to source before we did the Kings Canyon Rim Walk (click on the link to read our experience) indicated we should allow 3 – 4 hours to complete it, but we took 5 hours stopping to breath in the atmosphere, admire the views, observe the bird-life and soak up the vegetation in the Garden of Eden.

Garden of Eden, Kings Canyon

Return to accommodation to relax for the afternoon and either do the opposite activity if at the Station or, at the Resort see if there are enough people to have an Under a Desert Moon dining experience (particularly if it is near a full moon!) These are far more intimate than the Dining Under the Stars offered at Uluru as there’s a maximum of 12 guests, but they require a minimum of 6 to go ahead and sadly on the night we were there, there weren’t sufficient :(

Kings Canyon from Kings Creek

Day 6 – Kings Creek Walk

Pack up camp and head back to Kings Canyon.

The Kings Creek Walk 2km (1.25 miles) up the canyon floor I felt, was touted as the consolation prize for those not feeling up to climbing the 500 odd rugged rocky steps to complete the 6km (3.75 miles) Kings Canyon Rim walk that circumnavigates the top of the canyon – But it’s simply ‘different’ so I thoroughly enjoyed the complementary experience of seeing the Canyon from the river bed and felt it completed the trip.

Drive back to Yulara (about a 3.5hour drive) for your flight home.

Kings Canyon

Summary

Day 1Uluru Sunset

Day 2 – Uluru sunrise, The Kuniya Walk to Kapi Mutitjulu waterhole (1km/0.6miles), Mala Walk to Kantju Gorge (2km/1.2miles) and the Cultural Centre at Uluru. Late afternoon – Walpa Gorge Walk (2.6km/1.6miles) and sunset at Kata Tjuta.

Day 3 – Kata Tjuta sunrise from the Sand-dune viewing platform followed by the Valley of the Winds Walk (7.4km/4.6mile). Sunset from the sunrise viewing platform at Uluru.

Day 4 -Drive to Watarrka stopping both in the outback and Kathleen Springs

Day 5 - The Rim Walk at Kings Canyon  (6km/3.75 miles)

Day 6The Kings Creek Walk (2km/1.25 miles)

I’ve done a rough tot up and you can experience all of this for about $1,000 per person, if two of you are sharing the hire car and fuel – and you camp!

Australia is a huge country – in fact its not only the size of a continent, it is a continent – a massive island continent. So, rather like the problem of ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ – Its not by trying to jam it in all at once…

Have you been to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon?

How did you combine up the three?

Watercolouring her Way Around the World – Interview with Candace

“It’s been 12 years since my last art lesson, but recently I decided to spend less time in front of a [computer] screen when I travel” 

When I heard Candace declare this on a video a few years ago my interest was instantly piqued.

How many amongst us have also not drawn since primary school?
Yet are prepared to give it a go?

If you can’t see the video:  Click here http://youtu.be/MFE6lVpQmn8

She explained in the video how sketching… “makes me stop. As a photographer the images I want to capture are almost never-ending. With my sketchbook in hand I become the camera.”

As someone who takes way too many photographs I loved her concept of letting the places she visited adjust her aperture as she tentatively embarked upon her new way of recording global impressions… and within two years, Candace has published her first book of travel sketches – Beneath the Lantern’s Glow, which she compiled on a trip to South-East Asia last year -

So, here, as part my series of interviews with travellers who offer inspirational ways of recording travel memories, I asked her…

Candace…

1. Why keep a travel journal?

I’ve always kept a travel journal for the same reason many people do – to remember the small details that fall away so quickly after a trip ends:

  •    the names of restaurants and new foods
  •          how long a particular bus or train journey took
  •                the sounds and smells of each city.

But then about three years ago, I began doing on-location watercolour sketches in my journal. Sometimes they were of a complete scene, other times a smaller snapshot.

Dublin sketch by Candace

“What are we drawing here?” asks the barman, Joe
“This,” I say, gesturing at the pub

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with travel sketching. One thing I love about it is that it has changed the way I move through the world – sketching slows me down and helps me observe a place with more focused eyes. It helps me pay more attention.

The second reason is that people are very quick to approach you when you’re sketching. There’s something about art that transcends language and cultural barriers; it opens the door to serendipitous encounters that might never have happened had I not been sketching in one place for several hours.

Candace Sketching in Japan

Sketching opens the door to serendipitous encounters that might never have happened had I not been sketching in one place for several hours.

In a way, my sketchbook also helps create the moments I record in it. I might head to a café to draw a street-scape, start talking with the man next to me, and then jot down a line or two from our dialogue on the sketch itself. Sketching has become both my muse and medium on the road – it creates the very stories I love to tell, stories of connection and serendipity, and I now can’t imagine ever travelling without my sketchbook.

Veli Iz sketch by Candace

“Isn’t it easier to take a photo with your mobile?”asks Stan

2. What do you include in your travel journal?

As much as I can!
Besides sketches and writing, I love including

  • ticket stubs
  •    maps
  •       postcards
  •          stickers
  •             pressed flowers
  •                business cards from hotels and restaurants
  •                   brochures for companies we used, and
  •                      any other ephemera that will trigger my memory in the future –
  •                         for instance, a used sugar packet from a favourite café.

Candace Journal - Porto

3. How do you keep your journal?

When I first started sketching, I still kept everything together in the same journal (usually an A4 spiral-bound sketchbook), and I mixed in pages of writing with sketches and ephemera. But about a year after I started sketching, I began sharing my sketches with other people – be it on my blog, on other websites, or even in magazine articles. This shift necessitated a change in sketchbooks as well – so I now do the sketches in their own book, and I carry a Moleskine for the writing and ephemera-collecting.

On the drawing side of things, I try to do all of my sketches on-location. Sometimes rain or nightfall will force me indoors, but I really enjoy doing the entire process – from outlining the sketch in pencil, to filling in the details with pen, to finally adding colour with paints – right there on the spot.

Candace sketching - Vienna

I try to do all of my sketches on-location.

 

For me, sketching is all about capturing the essence of a place and telling the story of your time there, and I find that finishing the sketch where you began it gives a nice sense of completion to that particular story.

 

Vienna sketch by Candace

‘The glass of water every coffee is served with -
“For dishwashing,”
our server Rene jokes’

In addition to the actual picture I’m sketching, I also enjoy including little annotations on the sketch itself – these are usually sensory observations, snippets of dialogue from either a conversation I had during the sketch or from one I overheard, and even small haiku-like reflections on how I’m feeling that day, or how the sketch is going. I find these notes add another layer to the story the sketch is telling, and that they take it beyond a purely visual creation.

4. How often do you update your travel journal?

I update it daily.
Now that I keep two separate books – my sketchbook and my travel journal – I try to do at least one sketch a day, but the frequency of my note taking varies. Some days, I simply paste in that day’s ephemera with a couple of lines in my journal; other times I sit down over a beer or coffee at the end of the day and write out a few pages of thoughts and notes. 

5. What is your favourite piece of travel journaling equipment?

It would have to be my Winsor & Newton watercolour field kit – a wonderful gift from two friends soon after I started sketching.

Candace sketching supplies

 

Although I also bring along a sketchbook, drawing pens, watercolor pencils, squirrel-hair paintbrush, and glue sticks for pasting in ephemera, nothing compares to bringing a sketch to life with colour.

 

6. Why does this type of travel journaling work for you?

Before I began sketching, I barely remembered places – because I let my camera do all the work for me, I moved through a city quickly and my journal tended to focus on personal reflections that unfolded during the trip. The reason that keeping a travel sketchbook works for me is because I myself become the camera. Sketching opens up my mind and imprints the intricate details of a new place on it.

There’s a quote I love by Frederick Franck:

“When I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.”

I feel the same could be said of travel sketching – that even when we’re drawing an ordinary scene, it has this way of becoming alive and full of meaning. The mundane is made magical.

Candace Sketching - Mostar

I never forget the people I met while sketching.

I never forget the places I sketch, because of how present I was during the process – and more importantly, I never forget the people I met while sketching.

 

Candace


Candace Rose Rardon is a travel writer and sketch artist originally from the state of Virginia, although she has also called the UK, New Zealand, and India home.

She recently released her first book of travel sketches, “Beneath the Lantern’s Glow: Sketches and stories from Southeast Asia and Japan”.
Her blog: The Great Affair
Connect with Candace on Twitter and/or Facebook:

                                    Candace Rardon on twitter  Candace on Facebook

 

 

Do you keep any form of travel journal?

Contact me if you’d like to share how *you* recount your travel memories -
Allow us to take a peek in *your* ‘journal  :)

OR

Share a few tips in the comments below

 

Journey Jottings... highlights your holiday adventures

Exploring Kings Canyon from Down Under – The Kings Creek Walk

Looking up at the sheer canyon walls from the shady tree lined creek bed I could make out pimply protuberances sticking out along the top -
People… up on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, were leaning out over the edge admiring the view or snapping a photie of the stunning red rugged cliff face, which from my vantage point, down here on the canyon-floor required no such antics!

Kings Canyon Walls looking up at people along the top

I’ve enlarged them for you in the picture above on the left, which is clipped from the top left of the right hand photo… that gives a sense of scale!

This was our second day visiting Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
Watarrka
 (pron Wah-tah-kah), named in 1989 is the local Luritja people’s name for the Umbrella bush (Acacia ligilata), which is a common plant on the sand plains in the region.

Watarrka National Park map

Watarrka – Kings Canyon is in the red centre of Australia

Assuming bigger must be best, meaning a 6km (3.75 miles) challenging Rim walk must be better than an easy 2km (1.25 miles) Creek stroll, we’d tackled the 500 (or so) steps taking us up and around the Kings Canyon Rim Walk (click the link for the full story!) on our first day, so we’d already circumnavigated the canyon around the top getting some bird’s eye views of the sheer sides that appeared to be oh-so crisply cut right down to the canyon floor, where the Kings Creek Walk that we were doing today meandered.

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Down here on the creek bed, it was a very different place to the harsh environment up on the rim where the sun not only beats down from overhead, but also rebounds back up from the barren red hot rock underfoot.
Down here is where the Luritja people would have lived.
Sheltered from the extremes of the weather.
Down here there was a sense of protection and I could feel the life and the footsteps that had gone before me
- and I don’t mean those of tourists!

River Red Gums in Kings Creek

The River Red Gum known as Itara (pron I-tar-ah) in the local Luritja tongue were an important food source.
Ngapari (pron nah-pah-ri), a white sugary scale that forms on the River Red Gum leaves was collected by the women as they shook the branches making bits of the sweet crust fall either into a receptacle or onto a flat rock below, where it was swept together with a small branch and packed into a ball for sharing.

River Red Gums on the Kings Creek Walk

Then, there are the big white grubs - maku (pron mah-koo), which live at the bottom of long tubes leading from the surface down to the roots of the River Red Gums when they’ve been exposed by flood-waters. The women put a long piece of hooked grass down these tubes and would pull the grub out quickly to then cook on hot coals.

Kings Canyon from Kings Creek

Aboriginals appreciate their precious landscapes.

They look up to and bestow a healthy respect to the land-forms that support them.

And as the canyon walls rose up to encompass and embrace us it also signaled that we were reaching the end of our permitted trail.

In these lower reaches aboriginal families would have camped together - But the women and children, like us visitors, would not venture further into the canyon’s inner secret folds.

Beyond this point lies a hidden world where mens’ private ceremonies were performed.

The end of the Kings Creek walk

It was here, at our turning point, that we came upon a side channel of water remaining in this otherwise dry creek.
As we stood beside this pool there was a sense of sanctuary and oneness with nature when a pair of yellow and white birds came in to drink – sharing this life giving resource.

And there was evidence of years of previous occupation at the edge of the pool – small wells for storing water, which covered with a rock would have preserved this liquid gold from evaporation so when the main pool finally disappeared leaving exposed dry rock, a final vestige would be saved for survival.

Plant life in the Kings Creek river bed

Also of interest on the far side was the remains of a huge woody plant base – that looked ancient.

I have no idea what it was – Just that it resembled in shape an enormous hollowed out sea urchin shell! (if you know do tell in the comments below!)

But no matter what it was – “that thing belongs here“.

Traditional owners of Watarrka ask that you respect their trees

Trees are precious and important -
The traditional owners of Watarrka ask that you respect them

And as we prepared to leave this special place, I caught sight of this stunning reflection of the canyon walls in this precious pool of liquid life.

Kings Canyon reflected in a pool of water

Circumnavigating the Canyon around the top on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk (6km)
and then penetrating the base of the canyon walls up the creek-bed walk (2km)
offered two very different perspectives.

Is one better than the other?

Or is it a simple case of…

they’re different :)

 

Story Map of walking up Kings Creek, below Kings Canyon

My Story Map of Walking Kings Creek to view Kings Canyon from Down Under