Situated within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Central Australia, Uluru (or Ayers Rock as it was formerly known) is one of the country’s most outstanding and recognisable landmarks.
As such, it’s also a key bucket list ranker for many global travellers, renowned for both its geological and indigenous importance.
Not usually one for visiting the most touristy and iconic attractions in a country, I didn’t think I would ever visit Uluru during my time here in Australia – 1. because it had been widely downplayed to me as “just a big rock” and 2. because I thought it would be too expensive.
Who, after all, wants to spend hundreds of dollars going to see a lump of stone in the desert?!
Nothing however, could have been further from the truth; a fact I gladly got to discover for myself when a fortunate encounter provided me with an opportunity to take a budget road trip though Central Australia to this incredibly significant cultural and natural wonder.
The sheer magnitude and awe-inspiring quality of the whole Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park cannot be downplayed.
It truly is a world wonder, an epic visual spectacle and a vivid colour display by nature, which has to be seen to be believed.
I really do count my time at Uluru as one of the most prominent highlights of my travels in Australia and I would therefore strongly urge anyone visiting this country to try and make the pilgrimage there too.
For a trip to Uluru really is something of a pilgrimage, not least because it’s thousands of km from anything!
Not only does this mean it takes time to get there, but it CAN also mean it is very costly (both the act of getting there and the actual being there too.)
If however, like me, you’re putting off visiting Uluru partly because of finances, please don’t let this hold you back.
My trip there absolutely highlighted that visiting this remote and special site does not have to cost the earth.
As such, here is my complete guide on how to visit Uluru as cheaply as possible.
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So Where is Uluru?!
Uluru is at the heart of Australia’s Red Centre in the Northern Territory.
The rock itself is situated within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This park is massive at 1,325 square km and houses both the famous Uluru rock, as well as the less famous, but equally beautiful Kata Tjuta rock formations, formerly known as the Olgas.
The nearest major settlement to Uluru is the town of Alice Springs, which is around 450km away.
You can get to Alice via the Greyhound bus (not cheap), the Ghan train (not cheap) flying or driving and then stay there too.
Most people visit Uluru from Alice Springs via an organised tour or a day-long self-drive excursion.
The other option is to fly or drive to Yulara and stay there instead.
Yulara is a purpose-built tourist settlement only 8km from the entrance to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. From Yulara you can also take tours or drive to Uluru.
BUDGET TIP: You cannot stay within the park itself and there are no legal free camps within 100km.
The Cheapest Time of Year to Visit Uluru
High tourism season for visiting Uluru, like most of the Northern Territory, is between May and September.
During this time the price of accommodation and other services may be slightly higher.
The reason for this is the weather; it’s cooler from May – September and less humid.
During the low tourist season of November – March it can be unbearably hot at Uluru, with temperatures often reaching over 40 degrees.
Due to the uncomfortable climate, prices for accommodation etc are slightly cheaper during these months.
However, visiting Uluru can be an exhausting business in this heat.
BUDGET TIP: Visit Uluru during the shoulder months of Apr/May or Sept/Oct – often you won’t pay high season prices during this time, but the weather will still allow you to see and do everything you need. Do still be aware of cold morning and nights at this time however and pack suitable clothing.
How to Fly Cheaply to Uluru
As I’ve said, you can visit Uluru from either the town of Alice Springs or the tourist settlement of Yulara.
Flights to Alice Springs (ASP) depart directly from Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney.
The cheapest company to fly with is probably budget airline Jetstar. Qantas and Virgin also fly the route.
Sydney and Melbourne are likely to be the cheapest points of departure.
As well as flying to Alice Springs, you can also fly directly to Yulara, a purpose-built tourist settlement only 8km from the entrance to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Flights to Yulara (AYQ) depart directly from Melbourne and Sydney only – if you’re flying from other Australian cities, like Brisbane or Adelaide, you’ll likely go via Sydney or Melbourne anyway, which makes things more expensive.
BUDGET TIP: Keep flight costs as low as possible by only taking carry-on luggage, not reserving seats and using a flight search website like Skyscanner to check prices across a range of dates and airlines. If you’re flexible, prices can be as low as $116 one way from Sydney (3.5 hrs) and $106 from Melbourne (3 hrs).
How to Drive Cheaply to Uluru
Apart from flying, the other cheap way to visit Uluru is via a road trip!
You can hire cars to self-drive to Uluru in any Australian city and they needn’t be 4wd, which can save you money.
I recommend checking out Hertz Australia, who often run good promotions on shorter rentals and have offices in most of the major towns you’re likely to be setting off from.
BUDGET TIP: Grab a free road map from a tourism office in South Australia or the Northern Territory, rather than buying one or paying for a GPS system.
Even cheaper than hiring is relocating and you might be able to score one of these deals from either Darwin, Adelaide or Alice Springs which will allow you to visit Uluru.
Check out my post on relocation deals for more info on how to do this.
Cheaper than relocating even is finding someone else with a car!
Many backpackers and Australians will be driving to visit Uluru all year round, but particularly during high season.
Use websites like gumtree, couchsurfing or coseats to find other people going that way and looking for passengers to share fuel costs. This is more common than you think, so it’s definitely possible!
BUDGET TIP: Finding somebody with a vehicle already will save you any vehicle hire costs and there are plenty of roadside camps along the Stuart Highway (the main road between Adelaide and Darwin) where you can easily camp for free.
Taking a road trip with others will also help you save on fuel.
Like all commodities in the Outback, petrol is expensive due to lack of competition and the costs of transporting anything there.
Save yourself more money on fuel by filling up as much as you can in big towns like Darwin, Adelaide or Alice Springs.
BUDGET TIP: If possible, also carry jerry cans full of cheaper fuel and just add these to your tank instead of stopping at gas stations once you hit the Outback.
This is especially true the nearer you get to Uluru, where fuel prices rocket (normally to over $2.20 p/litre – eek!)
Driving to Uluru will give you more independence and will also save you money once you start exploring the park.
Ridesharing with other travellers going there is the way to keep things uber-cheap.
I really recommend a road trip to Alice Springs, not least because I’ve done it myself and loved it!
Basing Yourself at Yulara Vs Alice Springs
So having either flown or driven into the Red Cente, the question is now where to base yourself for your budget visit to Uluru.
From Alice Springs you can either take an organised tour, a coach transfer (here’s one of the best-priced options that includes a stop at a camel farm and a guide to explain about the natural and geological features of the area) or do a self-drive excursion to Uluru.
Hiring a car is easy from Alice, but you’ll likely just visit Uluru as part of an extended day trip. Fuel for this will make it a pricey 24 hrs.
From Yulara you can also explore Uluru in a number of ways.
First up, there are a number of tours that run from Yulara, like this Uluru sunrise & Kata Tjuta morning tour.
In addition, there is a regular shuttle service that can ferry you to Uluru for a walk and /or sunrise.
Priced at around $70 however, this is hardly an option for budget travellers. Much better is to drive yourself in and around the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
If you’ve flown to Yulara, then hiring your own car is an option.
Hertz Australia rentals are available at Yulara airport, so you can pick one up on arrival. It’s likely to cost you around $300 for 3 days.
BUDGET TIP: Book a hire car from Yulara airport in advance. This way you will guarantee yourself a better deal. Remember a 4wd is not necessary, so get the cheapest model available and try to team up with others to keep prices low.
If you’ve road tripped to Yulara however, then this is where the real money-saving comes in, because you already have a set of wheels with which to go and see Uluru itself.
Just drive to the park entrance, buy your tickets and away you go.
BUDGET TIP: Base yourself at Yulara, rather than Alice Springs – you’ll have more independent, budget options of seeing Uluru from there.
In addition, basing yourself at Yulara will more easily allow you to easily spend a few days seeing the park properly rather than trying to do it all in a long day from Alice.
This means you will get better value for money from your 3 day park pass.
How to Find Cheaply Accommodation at Uluru
As I said before, you cannot stay within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park itself.
The nearest free camp to Uluru is at Curtis Springs Station, 100km away.
You can stay here, but you’ll probably spend more fuel driving to Uluru and back than you would staying at Yulara.
Also, if you only visit Uluru for one day, you’re likely to miss sunrise and sunset – the 2 best times to be there.
At Yulara, the cheapest place to stay is Ayers Rock Campground.
Here there are cabins for rent as well as places to pitch tents and park campervans that are both powered and unpowered.
There is also a camp kitchen, laundry facility, shower block, swimming pool and wifi service.
I really enjoyed the pleasant grounds and relaxed, clean vibe of the place.
The non-powered sites are fairly cheap at $36 in low season for 1-2 people.
That’s a bargain for the most popular tourist site in the whole country!
In Alice Springs, I really recommend staying at Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn.
You can’t camp here, but it is a gorgeous little hostel, near the centre of town with free parking and some reasonably priced dorms and doubles.
There is a nice pool, garden, kitchen, BBQ area and wifi.
How to Eat Cheaply at Uluru
Like all commodities, food in the Outback is more expensive than elsewhere in Australia.
As such, try to bring as much food into Central Australia as you can.
Packing picnic food into an esky (cool box) or if you’re lucky, a fridge, and bringing it in a vehicle will be a great way to save money.
It’s the old adage of picnic and cook for yourself!
In saying that however, do be mindful of crossing state borders – there are restrictions in place regarding fresh food.
BUDGET TIP: Bringing cooked food across state borders is no problem, so cook up one side and then carry it across!
If you run out of supplies there is an IGA supermarket at Yulara.
There are also 2 IGA supermarkets and a Coles Supermarket at Alice Springs, so stock up here if you’re passing!
ATMs are available in both destinations if you need cash.
Cheap Activities to Enjoy at Uluru
Passes to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park cost $25 for anyone over the age of 16.
They are valid for 3 consecutive days. You cannot enter the park without them, so this is an unavoidable cost.
However, after you’ve bought your pass, there is a ton of free stuff to do.
For starters, there are plenty of walks within the park, all free.
The best 2 are the Base Walk around Uluru itself and the Valley of the Winds Walk around Kata-Tjuta.
Check out my post about the best day walks in Central Australia for more ideas and information.
The Cultural Centre within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is also free to enter and an excellent insight into the natural and cultural significance of this giant monolith. You can easily spend a good few hours here.
Sunset watching is also free!
There are at least 4 designated sunset/sunrise viewing spots within the park too, with specially raised platforms for better angles.
Make sure you get up early at least one day to see the colours of the day coming to life over Uluru and don’t forget your camera.
BUDGET TIP: There are also a number of free talks and guided walks available daily within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
For more details ask the reception staff at the Ayers Rock Campground – they have all the info!
Inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park there are enough free activities to keep you amused for days.
Keep costs low and don’t pay for anything, as you really don’t have to enjoy Uluru.
Just remember to take water, natural sunscreen and a hat wherever you go!
Therefore the Answer to How to Visit Uluru as Cheaply as Possible is…
1. Drive to the Red Centre, base yourself at Yulara and stay at the Ayers Rock Campground.
2. Spend 3 days at Uluru, seeing as much as possible, enjoying all the FREE activities and getting the best value from your park pass.
3. Aim to visit during the shoulder season of April/May or September/October and try to share a car with others.
4. Load up on cheap fuel where you can, camp and picnic along the way and don’t take tours!
How Long to Spend Visiting Uluru
Much as Uluru is an amazing thing to see and experience, being in and around it is not super cheap, so your time here will have to be limited if you don’t want to spend too much.
On top of this, it’s important to remember that your Park Pass is only valid for 3 days.
As such I recommend spending 3 days and 2 nights at Uluru, this will give you plenty of time to see most things the park has to offer at a reasonable pace.
5 Essential Packing Items for Uluru
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national park! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strollling, I love mine
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together
#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!
#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
I hope you found my guide on how to visit Uluru as cheaply as possible, useful.
Have you visited Uluru? What did you do there?
If you have any more budget tips for visiting this great rock, please get in touch!