We head out to Ayers Rock in search of the best way to see the Australian Icon on a budget. Staying at the campground and eating from the supermarket we see Uluru the cheapest way we can! Uluru is one of the most famous landscapes in the world and any trip to Australia is not complete without a visit… but it is a little pricey due to its location, in the middle of the desert, and that the company that own the resort monopolises the whole place and hence set the prices as they like.
Why would you want to visit somewhere that is very touristy, a nightmare to get to and priced rather high? You may ask is this just a clever ruse by the Australian tourism board to con tourists in to blowing a massive amount of money to see a rock in the desert? Partly yes I guess, but there was something unique and fascinating about our visit, this rock has personality, a presence. Its the biggest single piece of rock on the surface of the planet and it is completely alone on a flat landscape, surrounded by amazing red sand and a surprising amount of flora and fauna.
Even if the rock wasn’t there, the amazing red sands of the Aussie outback are a sight in themselves. If you decide you do want to see it then as a Five Dollar Traveller you have to figure out the cheapest way to do so: factors such as how large your group is, where you will be travelling from and to afterwards, and how long you have for your visit will play a major role in which options are best value.
All in all we paid a hefty price tag for a short experience at the rock… If we’d had more time and better information on how to do things cheaper then we could have made it a much better value trip. Still, it was a good tick on the bucket list, and hopefully the information we have found out from doing it will help our readers to get better value!
Entry to the National Park is $25 per person for a 3 day pass.
The prices have been increasing very quickly in the last few years. The cost of an unpowered camping site for one tent was almost $40 per night when we stayed (Sept 2012) and this is the cheapest possible option, you have to bring your own tent though of course. If you have a larger group then the cabins at the campsite start from $150 per cabin sleeping up to 6 people. Check current prices for the Campground
The Outback Pioneer lodge offers hostel facilities. If you are a solo traveller this is a cheap option at about the same price as camping but with air con and the convenience of not having to bring camp gear. Once there are 2 or more of you the value for money becomes much worse as its still $40 per person.
NONE OF THE OTHER ACCOMMODATION AT THE RESORT IS BUDGET VALUE. If you have your own transport you could look into staying at Curtin Springs which is about one hours drive from Uluru and offers free camping for unpowered sites. However if budget is not an option then check out these great accommodation options – Click Here
Here are the cheapest options in order of cheapness:
1. Vehicle Relocation
There are a number of websites who offer vehicles at rockbottom prices ($5 per day for example) and will even pay fuel costs for most or part of your journey. People and companies who need to re-locate vehicles across Australia will give you amazing deals and the flexibility to visit attractions on the way. This is very convenient if you are a one way traveller and have plenty of time on your hands. Check out Drive Now or do a search on Google for “relocate drive Australia” or something similar.
2. Self Drive (A long way!!) or lift share
If you are lucky enough to own a vehicle and be travelling or live vaguely near (Not that Uluru is near ANYTHING!) then self drive is an option. Its 18 hours to drive from Adelaide (1,600KM), 23 hours from Melbourne (2,320KM) or 25 hours from Darwin (1,960KM). And bear in mind you will be driving through harsh and hot desert for most of the journey.
If you don’t have a car, chances are someone else travelling may be looking for someone to share fuel costs with. Take a look on google for “Lift Share Australia” Once you have 2 people in a car it works out cheaper than flying and gives you more flexibility to get around the national park without having to pay for additional transfers.
3. Fly from Sydney – Most Suitable for people who have limited time.
Its not the cheapest of domestic flights, but it is far more convenient. The bigger your group gets and the more time you have available to get to Uluru, the less economical flying gets… Once you have more than 2 people then this is certainly not the cheapest option, but is the most convenient. If you are camping you have to be able to get a tent in your luggage (which is what we did!) and you have to have a tent in the first place too! Also, once you arrive, airport and resort transfers are free but transfers to and from the Rock are not, in fact they are massively overpriced: in the region of $100 return per person.
Although there are also direct flights from Cairns they are way more expensive, its generally actually cheaper to fly to Sydney from Cairns and then to Uluru rather than direct. There are no other direct flights apart from to Alice Springs at this time.
4. Hire Drive from Alice Springs
The Nearest Major town to Uluru is Alice Springs which is 6 hours (500Km) away. Still quite a drive! Flights to Alice from major cities in Australia are of similar cost as flying direct to Ayers Rock so there is no major benefit of hiring a vehicle from here rather than just doing so direct at Ayers rock, plus you often won’t get unlimited miles on rental vehicles and will be paying extortionate rates to get to the Rock and back. The only time this might be an economical option is if you have somehow ended up in Alice by lift share or hitchhiking and still need to get to the rock.
Food & Drink
The Campground has BBQs, microwaves and basic kitchen facilities. The Ouback Pioneer Hostel also has shared kitchen facilities. The IGA Supermarket is the only way to buy food other than in restaurants (Which are mostly overpriced), it sells at inflated prices, but not insanely inflated, its reasonable for the location.
If you do feel like eating out “Ayers Wok” is a rice/noodle bar with a funny name but pretty below average food, about $15 per meal. There are other cafes in the main square that are not massively overpriced, but are still expensive compared to self-catering – we didn’t try any of them, but sandwiches, pizza, pasta etc is available.
As for beer… The outback pioneer is the cheapest pub and the only liquor store. Prices for take away beer are pretty much the same as drinking at the bar, so the only reason to take away is to go and find a sand dune somewhere to enjoy a beer at sunset. The Prices are similar to those in a major city like Sydney or Brisbane.
If you want to splurge then the Sounds of Silence Dinner is very enjoyable, a gourmet buffet in the desert watching the sunset with free beer and wine. Its a little overpriced and the food is, well, a relatively high quality buffet, nothing special. We got a deal for $113 per person, normal price is $169, it is a unique experience, hence the price tag but maybe just making some sandwiches, grabbing some beers and finding a nice spot of your own to sit would have had a similar effect for a fraction of the cost.
When to Travel
We went in late September, the pros & Cons of which were:
* Bearable Temperatures both to sight-see during the day and for sleeping in a tent at night.
* No Insects. Well, not many compared to the summer when the place is overrun apparently.
* The Rock was open for climbing. This only happens when the weather is cool and dry and not windy – about 55 days out of the year.
* School Holidays – somehow we didn’t realise when we booked. Our flights didn’t cost much different, but the campground was packed with teenagers…
* Storm Season. A blessing or a curse, for us the latter. Views of the Rock changing colour were pretty much non-existent because of the clouds blocking the sun from doing its work. The rains did not come, apparently that is more common in October, when they do come massive waterfalls form on the Rock which are apparently one of the most rare and spectacular sights of all. However, the sand turns to mud, which would not be pleasant.
Travelling in August would have been better I think, clear weather is more likely, insects are also at a minimum and the weather is pleasant. November to April I would avoid due to the epic heat and those pesky flies!
If you can’t make it to the Rock, at least make it into the red sand desert – The outback is a unique Australian experience not to be missed.
If heading out into the middle of the Australian Desert on your own doesn’t sound like your thing – we recommend Intrepid Travel. They do some fantastic group tours to this area.
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