To Uluru or not to Uluru?

Aug 19th, 2008, 12:47 PM
  #1  
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To Uluru or not to Uluru?

Hello folks,

My fiance and I are planning a September honeymoon in Australia (yes, that is September 2008 -- what can I say, we like to fly by the seats of our pants). We have about 12 days to play with and would rather not spend too much time in transit so we know the number of places we will be able to do/see will be limited. We are planning to keep our total budget under $10,000 (i.e., less than $5000/person). We are both fit, outdoorsy types and neither of us has ever been to Australia.

It looks like the classic "big three" itinerary (Sydney, Uluru, Cairns/Port Douglas/GBR) would suit us, but we are debating whether we should include the Red Centre in our trip. My concerns are the time it will take to travel to and from there (it does not seem particularly accessible), and the cost it will entail (my understanding is that prices for travel, accomodations, and activities are all relatively high because of the remote location and lack of competition among vendors). If it will take a disproportionate amount of travel time to get there and/or cost a disproportionate amount of money, I would be inclined to omit that leg of the trip and lengthen our stays in Sydney and the GBR areas instead. I know there are many exciting outdoor activities in both places (we plan to do our share of hiking, snorkeling, and diving if I can get certified in time) and that we could easily spend the entire 12 days in either alone.

Neither of us is an extravagant traveler. I have done a fair amount of traveling and my favorite trips have involved staying in single places for extended periods of time, usually on a very limited budget as 90+% of my traveling has been done for academic research purposes. I have never traveled abroad purely as a tourist. On the other hand, it might be fun to just be a tourist for a change.

I'd appreciate opinions. Will we regret it forever if we don't get to Uluru or given our time/budget limitations does it make sense to leave it until our next trip?

Thank you!

-- Melanie
SoloRiver is offline  
Aug 19th, 2008, 02:26 PM
  #2  
 
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If you use an "Aussie Pass" you may be able to include Uluru as one of your stops. (I'm a local & don't know too much about these, but they seem to be quite popular with people on this board).

You can fly Cairns-Uluru and it takes about 2 1/2 hours. To see flight times, schedules etc., visit www.qantas.com.au
www.virginblue also flies to Cairns.

As you're ok with outdoors/more basic accommodation, I think you probably could find something within your budget at Uluru, as there are some camping and modest motel options. Do a search on this thread - there was some chat about it fairly recently. And/or Google "Uluru - accommodation".

Cairns & Port Douglas are only about an hour apart by road.

Bokhara2 is offline  
Aug 19th, 2008, 02:30 PM
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Melanie: Judging from what you've said about yourself, your travel style and your budget, I would stick to just Sydney and Northern Queensland. You dont want to spread yourself too thin and spend a lot of money doing it. BTW, you might want to check out my recent trip report (Trip Report: Queensland July 08) for ideas on some adventuous things to do north of Cairns..
RalphR is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 03:38 AM
  #4  
 
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Hi,

If you had 14 days then you could do all three comfortably time-wise and have a bit of an adventure.

The Centre is expensive to get to and relatively expensive to stay in, but there are ways and means. And you could have a great adventure travelling overland from Alice to Cairns.

With 12 days I too would stick to just Sydney and Cairns and environs.
Load of stuff to do around Sydney - walks around the harbour; museums/exploring the inner suburbs; the Blue Mountains and/or a trip on the Hawkesbury River with the Postman. Up in FNQ - you might consider a trip up to Cooktown.

Is that $5000 a person inclusive or exclusive of air fares to and from home? If it's exclusive then you have $415 each a day to spend which is a considerable amount.
afterall is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 06:59 AM
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Uluru is difficult enough to get to and expensive enough to stay at that I would suggest doing it only if it's a place you really, really want to visit. (BTW, I have been there twice--once because I really, really wanted to go and a second time because my MIL really, really wanted to go.)
You'll have more than enough to see and do to keep you busy and active around PD and Sydney--explore some of those options.
longhorn55 is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 07:55 AM
  #6  
 
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We struggled with the same question, went back and forth on the answer, and finally decided to include Uluru as part of our 5 weeks in Australia. In the end I was glad we decided to go -- it's really an Australian icon and a rewarding trip. The walks are beautiful, and the memory of the place still lingers for me, almost 3 months after our visit.

However, it's expensive and takes time. Unless you can include it as one of the stops on an Aussie Pass through Qantas (not sure what the rules are, since we didn't do that), you're going to be paying around $700 per person for a roundtrip. The flights aren't that long, but getting there and back will take up a day altogether. (Awesome views of the rock, Kata Tjutu, plus a real understanding of why they call the area the RED centre, as you fly in and out!).

Then there are the on-ground options: you'll need to either rent a car or take expensive (and to me not appealing) bus tours to get out to the rock for hiking and sunset viewing, and to Kata Tjuta for beautiful hikes. Car rental will run you at least $80 a day, and watch your mileage because the cheapest rates come with limits. You'd want the car for 1-2 days, depending on how long you're staying--getting to the resort area from Ayers Rock airport (and back) is free on a shuttle bus, but doing anything beyond the resort requires a car or tour bus. Tours are pricey. (Most tours and entry fees in Australia seemed very pricey to me, though.)

For sleeping accommodations, the cabins in the campground at the resort are simple, comfortable, and relatively affordable ($150 per night--naturally much more expensive than they would be for the same accommodations elsewhere). Cooking facilities are included, but as you can imagine the choices at the resort grocery store are limited, so we ended up eating some of our meals at the resort restaurants, which were OK but nothing special.

Sydney and the Cairns/Daintree/Atherton Tablelands area are fabulous and worth spending more time than you have, even without Uluru. But you'll probably never forget Uluru...so it's indeed a tough decision.

Best wishes for a wonderful honemoon!
aprillilacs is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 06:47 AM
  #7  
 
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I agree with most posters. We had about 12 days in March and I really agonized about doing Red Center.

Although I am not sorry i went, in hindsight, i should have left it for another trip where I could have done it 'right'.

I recommend that you skip it this time. A suggestion could be to spend a few nights in Sydney when you arrive, then go to Port Douglas/ GBR for a week and then back to Sydney for the last few nights.

congratulations!
anita63 is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 11:26 AM
  #8  
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Thanks very, very much for the help, all. We've gotten a couple of estimates including Uluru from travel agents and it looks doable. They involve "Aussie Pass" fares and the hotels (after some tweaking) look pretty good. At first I was skeptical about using a travel agent, but I tried pricing out the individual components of the itinerary myself looking for the best rates online and couldn't top them. Also, at this point we are a bit short on time so the exhaustive research I might have done had we started planning earlier, we don't have time for now.

I am a bit worried about feeling rushed trying to include all three destinations in a single trip (and we may still cut Uluru) but on the other hand, I am not sure when we will get back to Australia and it's something we'd both like to see.

I am getting confused by the plethora of tours available for Uluru and Kata Tjuta, both of which I would like to see. I am not not not a canned tour person, but it seems like once we get out there we are kind of at the mercy of the local vendors for getting around unless we rent a car, and with the car rental prices it seems like once we do that we may as well have gotten a tour in the bargain. I also think we might have a better chance of making the most of the visit in two short days if we have guidance at least part of the time we are there.

My favorite itinerary that I've looked at thus far has us at the Outback Pioneer for two nights. We would arrive at the resort in the afternoon and have the Sounds of Silence Dinner that night. The next morning our itinerary has us on a sunrise tour of Uluru run by Anangu Tours, which looks interesting to me since it is owned and run by aboriginal people. Then we are scheduled on a sunset tour (with drinks, whee) of Kata Tjuta (run by Australian Pacific Day Tours) that afternoon. We fly out the next morning.

Is this a crazy plan? Is it too much to fit in? Would we be better off getting to Kata Tjuta on our own and if so how would we do that? I am mostly interested in getting out there for the scenery and hiking and could do without a canned tour unless there is one that is really worthwhile. I want to go on the sunrise tour of Uluru because I think the aboriginal perspective will make it worthwhile, and also because my understanding is that there isn't so much "hiking" there are there is an easy interpretive walk around the base, but is there something similarily worthwhile for Kata Tjuta?

Our itinerary has us scheduled for a couple other canned tours during the Sydney leg which I think I will strip out. I may ask some questions about plans for Sydney and the Blue Mountains in another post if I don't find what I need in the archives.

Our budget of $10,000 includes everything and I would really really rather come in way below this figure as long as it does not involve staying in accomodations that would make one cry. Now, I am a paleoanthropologist and am used to spending weeks at a time living in a tent, so it is not as if I expect feather beds and five star breakfasts, but it'll be my honeymoon and I know what it's like to walk into a seriously depressing hotel room on a trip that is supposed to be romantic and well, it isn't a good feeling and I'd like to avoid that if at all possible.

Thanks very much for your help. This board is a wonderful resource.

-- Melanie
SoloRiver is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 11:58 AM
  #9  
 
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SoloRiver,

You might want to rethink the Outback Pioneer -- it kind of fits into your description of a depressing hotel. I didn't look in the rooms, but the compound seemed kind of depressing (to me). (We actually congratulated ourselves on choosing the cabins over the Outback Pioneer!) Could you spring for the extra $$ for an upgrade to one of the other hotels? They all looked decent.

The highlight of Uluru to me was the 9 km walk around the base. Does your sunrise tour include a walk around the base? The rock is not right next to the resort--you have to have transportation to get there. So that's either through a tour or through a rental car.

Also, check to make sure that the Kata Tjuta tour you're thinking about includes the Valley of the Winds hike, which I think is the highlight of that area.

Sounds like you're making good progress on your planning, given your short timeframe.
aprillilacs is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 12:44 PM
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Solo, here is part of my trip report about the Sounds of Silence dinner:

"That night, we attended the Sounds of Silence Dinner. Ok, here comes the part where you will probably fan me, but hear me out. Our family absolutely hated it. In fact, we asked to be returned early (which they did). Let me start by saying that we are not a family that particularly enjoys 'large group' gatherings. We hate cruises, we hate large crowds, we hate party atmospheres...just not for us. Well, I don't know what I was expecting with the SOS Dinner, but I had it in my mind that it was going to be a quiet evening, nice dinner, enjoying the sounds of the desert, enjoying the stars. Not exactly what panned out. I felt like I was attending someone's wedding. We sat at a table with 6 other people...4 of which knew each other and gabbed among themselves and 2 who did not speak English. Not that it mattered,as we were hoping for quiet relaxed conversation as we admired the setting sun. It was loud...i mean LOUD with about 80 people or so people making the amount of noise that one would expect for 80 people eating and drinking...just not what I was thinking was going to happen. I hated every second of it, but didn't want to say anything to spoil everyone elses fun. However, DH whispered to me, "I feel like we're at someone's wedding" and I knew we had to get outa there! I asked the kids what they thought and they were very ready to leave...before dessert!! Upon speaking with the manager there, she was most gracious and allowed us a few minutes of private viewing through the telescope while we waited for our ride back. The stars and the sky were SPECTACULAR!! When we returned, we were pleased to find that SOSD discounted our package as a token of good faith. I certainly wasn't looking for a free ride, and they did provide what they marketed so I was pleased that they understood my misgivings about the whole thing and made some offer. This would be a great place for a wedding or for a corporate event...it's not a romantic kinda place."

It wasn't what I thought it was going to be and wish I was forewarned.
anita63 is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 02:03 PM
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Anita,
Apart from the Sounds of Silence dinner, what were your impressions of Uluru & the Olgas?

Bokhara2 is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 02:12 PM
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We went through the same debate, although we had 18 days--so more than you. We did include Uluru and, after a lot of research and thought, decided to rent a car to do our own thing. In hindsight, we were happy with our decisions. Here's our trip report, in case it's helpful. We covered the same destinations, plus Melbourne.

http://www.onelittleworld.com/australia_1.html
ms_go is online now  
Aug 21st, 2008, 02:37 PM
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Bokhara...I loved the Olgas and Uluru! It was one of the most interesting places I have ever seen in my life! You just don't see things like that everyday.

I just don't like crowds and there was just something rather sac-religous about being in such a spiritual place with 80 partiers. Maybe that's just me...the two didn't mesh.
anita63 is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 03:25 PM
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SoloRiver, as I mentioned before, we went to Uluru twice. On the first trip, we planned to get a car at the airport when we arrived. We did not realize that all the cars there are routinely booked out in advance, so there were no cars just sitting on the lot for rental. Thus, we were forced to do a bus tour for the sunset viewing of Uluru and for a trip out to Kata Tjuta. We have done bus tours before, but we just hated these two tours. The buses were jam-packed; the commentary was not impressive; we were at the mercy of tour director as to how long we could stay at each place, and we thought they were outrageously expensive.
On our second trip, we made sure to book a car in advance and it made all the difference in our enjoyment of the trip. We could go out to Uluru and Kata Tjuta on our schedule. We could spend as long as we wanted at each place, so we were able to do the hike around Uluru and the hike through the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta. We did the sunset viewing of Uluru on our own--(still a lot of people in the parking lot, but it was a lot cheaper than a tour!) I definitely recommend renting a car over doing organized tours at Uluru/Kata Tjuta. (Also, driving is easy there--little traffic and the road to Kata Tjuta is well-marked and is on a paved highway so you DON'T need to rent an expensive 4WD. Just get the smallest car you are comfortable driving--you won't need more than that.)
Finally, I have to agree with Aprillilacs that the Outback Pioneer is not exactly what I would call "honeymoon" accomodations. We were looking for inexpensive accomodations on our first trip and the Outback Pioneer was fine for us, but it was cinderblock walls, etc. Clean and comfortable, but not much more than that.
longhorn55 is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2008, 05:40 AM
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Again, as much as I love the Red Centre, I would still recommend sticking to Sydney and Cairns with only 12 days. In my mind the Red Centre is just too far and too expensive for only a couple of days. And there is so much more to see than Uluru and the Olgas - what you really need is at least 5 days out there.

With a 7-8 days around Cairns, you could see the area quite well and have a chance to relax. There are so many great places to see - in all directions. Also, there are opportunities to experience Outback Australia - Undara in particular - really good.
RalphR is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2008, 08:04 AM
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Having 'been there, done that' in 12 days, I think Ralph is totally on the money.
anita63 is offline  

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