If Australia were a dartboard, hitting a bullseye would almost land you right on Uluru. Positioned smack bang in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre, it’s the cultural heart of Australia and a well-catered family-friendly destination. With Jetstar soon upping its route from Sydney to a daily service and its Melbourne one to four times weekly, it’s also becoming ever-easier to experience.
The stark red desert sand greets us as we arrive direct from Sydney. Our transfer whisks us to Sails in the Desert, just in time for us to catch the dying fiery rays of sunset from our balcony. Mia, my wife, is breastfeeding our eight-month old baby Jack as we observe in silence this magnificently unusual 863-metre lump on Australia’s red back. In our room, is our bombastic baby carrier sitting tall and erect, eager for tomorrow’s Uluru adventure. Lying across the entrance, sitting limp and folded is our well-used mountain stroller called Dusty. He’s been lugged along as the B-team; resigned to settling Jack when he refuses to go to sleep. The staff accommodates our sprawling needs by organising a large room on the ground floor, complete with a porta-cot set up on arrival.
The lavish dinner buffet at Sails ensures we are spoilt for choice and have full tummies ahead of tomorrow’s adventure. The food caters for all ages and the staff are exceptional at ensuring the picky needs of an infant are met. We tuck into our food, eager to start planning our assault for the next day. Upon hearing that the Uluru base walk is dead flat, Mia prods, "You know, I think our pram Dusty really wants to walk around Uluru tomorrow. He’ll love seeing the waterholes, caves and rock art around the base."
It is a fair call. Dusty has traditionally put up with all the menial tasks like rocking a crying baby to sleep and never getting to see any of the really fun stuff. We decide pretty quickly we’ll walk around the 10.6km base the following morning with Dusty out in front. The local inhabitants had lived around the base, and we are keen to immerse ourselves in the thick cultural heritage that blankets the rock.
We wake early, keen to avoid the heat of the day. As luck has it, we happen to be there on one of five days a month when it is raining. In fact, it isn’t raining at all – it’s pouring. Most tours for the day have been cancelled, but we try not to let this deter us. I’ve just returned from walking 2275km unsupported in Antarctica, so we think Jack might enjoy a similar challenge given his limited experience. Adventure is a relative term after all…
We are the only ones to board the usually-overbooked 8.30am bus to the rock. Windscreen wipers crank overtime on the 30-minute drive. As we approach the ever-growing red dome, the driver excitedly jabbers on how lucky we are to see Uluru in the rain! We aren’t convinced. His excited words feel more like an old wives’ tale justifying how great it is to have rain on your wedding day. The temptation of a nice warm hot chocolate back at the resort with the hordes of others ‘waiting it out’ seems more sensible.
We step off the bus into the downpour, strap Jack into Dusty and begin our wet, muddy adventure. Waterfalls effortlessly stream off Uluru’s skin, forming long silky contortions. The track is pristinely manicured and expectedly flat. Jack is mesmerised by the red mud and hardy outback shrubs. We are startled to find every bend, face and corner strikingly different. The scenery changes more in three hours around Uluru than it had in three months and across 2275km in Antarctica. The track caters well to families: resting stops, toilets and informative placards abound.
With our circumnavigation complete, we stroll over to the cultural centre. A chatty guide warmly greets us and shares intricate knowledge about the local fauna and bush tucker. He further enthrals us with mesmerising Dreamtime stories of the Aboriginal paintings that adorn the walls.
We wave goodbye to our new-found friend and jump aboard the shuttle. Although it is time to leave the red dirt, spinifex and crisp desert air, the family memories are sure to remain with us. It’s the heart of this sunburnt country; where natural beauty meets rich indigenous heritage. It’s a place that fires the senses and connects us deeply with the culture this land has nurtured for so many thousands of years. It’s a place that all Australian children should discover. Our kids learn by doing, and theres no better way for them to bond with Australia’s distant past than by being immersed in these surrounds. The walks, tours and attractions have been designed to educate us on the values of the Aboriginal people while appreciating this stunning environment.
A family visit to Uluru is so much more than a holiday; it’s an experience.