A photographer’s guide to exploring central Australia – Part IV – Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Written by Gary on August 8th, 2015

My 4th post in this series exploring the Red Centre of Australia which previously included the posts:

This post explores the famous Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) which is the largest monolith in the world, and what you see is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

It is over 460km by road from Alice Springs, but thankfully it is all bitumen now but Google estimates it should take you 6 hours by car (under 1hr by air), and that is not including another day or two diversion to the wonderful King’s Canyon.

Accommodation is relatively expensive at the nearby resort town of Yulara and overnight stays are NOT permitted within the Uluru park which will cost you $25 per person to enter for up to 3 days.

  • Ayers Rock Resort offers a variety of accommodation including camping
  • luxury accommodation at Longitude 131 ($2,400 per night for a luxury tent with views of Uluru)

There are direct flights to Ayers Rock Airport from most capital cities and from Alice Springs, but be aware, there is only one direct flight each day from Melbourne. There is car rental available.

As mentioned in Part I, it is usually best avoided in the very hot Australian summer months of Dec-Feb, but these months are more likely to give you storms and clouds which may offer a different experience of the rock.

Walking around the rock is quite exposed and will take some 2.5-3hrs to walk the 10.5-11.5km flat easy walking gravel circuit – you will need a sun hat, sunglasses, UV protection, drinking water, a snack, good shoes, and on chilly winter mornings, a warm jacket. – and of course, your camera!

This walk is a MUST DO for everyone once in their life as it is the only way to experience the wonderful rock formations intimately.

Please do NOT climb the rock as not only is it dangerous in wind or rain in particular, but it is disrespectful of the indigenous peoples’ wishes.

There are a number of spots at which tourists can capture sunrise or sunset, and you must exit the park by closure which in winter is at 7.30pm (winter sunset is around 6.30pm in August), and if you are really keen you can book a ride in a helicopter for a unique sunset or sunrise photo, or go for a sunset camel ride.



The last blue moon for 3 years and I managed to capture this one near Uluru, although from 30km west of Uluru, the moon was still too far south from Uluru to allow a telephoto lens to make it look larger and still capture it in the same image as Uluru. One is not allowed to just stop your car anywhere in the park so planning these shots are quite limited to certain locations. Olympus OM-D E-M5 hand held with Olympus mZD 12-40mm lens at f/5, 1/160th sec, ISO 200, 40mm focal length and Vivid picture tone.

The circuit walk around Uluru:

One generally starts at the car park where tourists used to climb the rock and the assistance chain is still in place so unfortunately some tourists still do climb it without respecting the wishes of the local peoples who view this as a significant sacred site.


The myriad variations of light and shadow depending upon the time of day and season allows the photographer to get creative no matter when they go – we started at around 10am and so no Golden Hour for us, but still awesome shooting:



Erosions in a cave

As you pass around the north side, you are asked not to photograph certain sacred areas of the features, but once past this, you are treated to a few features which you can apparently photograph:


Perhaps an image of a dinosaur at the base?


A massive humanoid skull?









And, as always, there will be tourists who disrespect the indigenous owner’s wishes and will climb the rock.

All images were shot using Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1 combined with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with a polarising filter.

The fascinating geological history of Uluru and Kata Tjuta:


900 million years ago, a depression formed in central Australia called the Amadeus Basin and this area received layer upon layer of sediment.

550 million years ago the Petermann Ranges to the west of Kata Tjuta were taller than they are now (thought to be as high as present day Himalayas at 10,000m)  as they were pushed up by movement of the southern Musgrave Province block of earth crust during the Petermann Orogeny.

Plants had not evolved this long ago, so rainwater flowing down the mountains eroded sand and rock and dropped it in big fan shapes on the surrounding plain.

One fan had mainly water-smoothed rocks (and would later form the Olgas or Kata Tjuta consisting of conglomerate rock). The other fan was mainly sand (shedding of granite feldspar crystals and dumped at the base of the ranges, and would later form grey arkose, a coarse grained sandstone rich in the mineral feldspar, to become Uluru). Both fans became kilometres thick.

500 millions years ago, the whole area became covered in sea with a tropical seaway forming through Central Australia and out through the Kimberley. Sand and mud fell to the bottom of the sea and covered the seabed, including the fans. The weight of the new seabed turned both it and the 2.5km thick fans beneath into rock.

400 million years ago, the sea disappeared and the whole of Central Australia began to be subjected to massive forces during the Alice Springs Orogeny event which raised the region above sea level. Some rocks folded and tilted. The rocky fan tilted slightly. The sand fan tilted 90 degrees so the layers of sandstone almost stood on end and became pushed down into the crust in the process, and the forces created very hard rock.

Over the last 300 million years, the softer rocks have eroded away, leaving the very hard rock parts of the old fans exposed. Kata Tjuta is a hard part of the old rocky fan which was tilted 15-20deg during the Alice Springs Orogeny. Uluru is part of the sand fan, with its beds of sandstone nearly vertical.

Uluru is the tip of a huge slab of rock that continues below the ground for possibly five to six kilometres.

The surface of Uluru is red as the iron in the arkose sandstone becomes oxidised as it becomes exposed to air.

Between Uluru and Kata Tjuta is an old valley which is filled with sediment up to 100 metres thick. The sand layers in these sediments hold water which eventually seeps into Lake Amadeus. Near the airport, the water table is only 12m underground and bores supply the water for the resort. The underground water basin forms from rains soaking through over the past 7,000 years.
The sand dunes have largely remained in their same positions for the past 30,000 years.

see also: http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/pub/fs-geology.pdf


Next… the Olgas…

PS.. I have re-visited Uluru and Kata Tjuta in March 2016 and taken a helicopter sunrise ride – see my blog post of this here.



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