Sunset Camel Tour

We were in Uluru for 3 nights and did three sunset experiences. Our last and possibly best one was the camel ride experience. I’ve been on plenty of horses, but my experience with camels is pretty much obsolete or nonexistent. I really wanted to do a camel ride while in the outback. It’s just so bizarre to think that in a country with beautiful beaches, bustling cities, excessive amount of avocado toast you can also ride a camel. My mom didn’t have the same draw to ride a camel as I did, but once a helicopter ride was out of the question the camel ride was the compromise. 

The feral camel population in Australia is apparently actually out of hand. It’s estimated that there’s around a million feral camels. Who knew? I sure didn’t and that is really not something I would have even guessed. Camels are not indigenous to Australia, but were introduced to help out and work in the outback as the sun is too brutal for horses. The first camels arrived in Australia around 1840. The camels were used for decades, but with the introduction of cars, trucks, etc. their work lessened and they became feral. According to the people who live here they are now a massive problem in the wild. 

The camel farm at Ayers Rock resort has over 80 camels. They have quite the operation there. If camels come in to the property looking for food or water they will pretty much take them in. The camels we road seemed like very happy, well fed beasts. 

If you’ve never rode a camel I’ll say it’s really not like riding a horse. Similar to a horse however they do have their own personalities and characters. At this farm you’ll probably be riding a male camel and apparently they are sexist as well. If the trainer doesn’t create a dominance they won’t respect her and the ride is likely not to go well. 

Camels are a lot bigger than horses and the way you get on them is a bit scary. Our camels were all on their knees in a rest position when we saddled up. They then get up back legs first and then the front similar to a wave motion. Once you’re up it’s very high up. I think higher than any horse I’ve been on, actually no definitely higher than any horse, but somehow you feel more stable. They aren’t known to kick so you won’t be bucked off (they can and do bite though). 

Camels can run up to 65kmh (about 40mph), but on these bush walks they are just cruising and strolling along. Another fun fact is that they actually have camel races in these parts of Oz that are a huge entertainment factor in the fall. 

Our ride was for an hour and we started before sunset. We made a couple of brief stops along the way. The hour was enough if not a little too long. When we got back to the farm we had some bush snacks and refreshments waiting for us. The experience was totally worth it and let the record show my mom did enjoy it as well. 

The camel farm also has a little “Funny Farm.” It’s just a couple of pens, but it has orphaned/injured animals. They have three younger camels there too. Two of them, Bella and Tuesday, are about 1.5 years old. And then there’s a baby camel that’s only a couple of months old named Moose. She is an absolute darling and will cuddle up to anyone. The owner of the farm saved her after her mom was shot. They’ll keep the young ones for a couple of years and eventually sell them off, but i was glad that they had this little area for the misfit animals. 

Even if riding a camel isn’t your thing going to the farm is free and one of the stops on the resort shuttle so definitely make a stop here if you’re staying on the property.

Sunset Dinner Experience – Uluru

The best way to experience the views of the dessert and Uluru is either at sunrise or sunset. Obviously, with a park pass you can enter the national park anytime throughout the day, but at sunrise and sunset the heat isn’t unbearable and the flies are asleep. This is also when you can get epic, beautiful shots. 

Our first night in the outback we booked the Sounds of Silence dinner experience through Ayers Rock Resort. It was pricey, but a once in a lifetime experience and totally worth it. The evening started with bubbles and canapés on the viewing platform overlooking Uluru. After light nibbles, taking lots of pictures, and a spectacular view we headed down the path to the main dining area.

Drinks were unlimited throughout the night. The first course was a tomato soup and bread. At first I didn’t get the point of hot soup while outside in the desert, but it was actually yummy. Next up was a full buffet while a didgeridoo was played. Everything I had was delicious and there were so many options (from salads, to pastas, to different meats, and more). I didn’t try any, but they also had outback delicacies such as kangaroo, crocodile, emu, and so on. After dinner, a dessert buffet was served with port, coffee, and tea. 

When dinner was over we had a star gazing expert speak about the sky. Unfortunately, we had a cloudy night so it took a bit of imagination. The final part of the evening was exploring the Field of Lights exhibit. Originally, this was a temporary art exhibit by Bruce Munro, however, it was just made permanent a couple of months ago. There’s 50,000 solar-powered lights that transform this section of the desert. The section covers a distance of more than seven football fields. The lights seem to be alive with the spirit of the area.

Hotel Review – The Outback

Staying at Uluru is a very special experience and although there’s only one company, Ayers Rock Resort, in the area there are different properties within the resort priced at different price points. It makes visiting accessible for anyone. 

On our trip to the Outback my mom and I stayed at Sails in the Desert. Within Ayers Rock Resort, Sails was located near the town center so it was an easy five-minute walk to shopping, food options, etc. The property was beautiful; I would describe it as a desert oasis. 

The resort has a shuttle service from the airport, which is really convenient and only about 20 minutes, but it also means that everyone else who flew in around the same time will arrive at the resort with you. Naturally, a bit of a queue formed and whilst waiting they passed out cool towels. This was the first sign that we were about to be pampered during our time here. Our room was spacious, clean, decorated with an outback-inspired color palette, and had a huge terrace. The beds were also very comfortable. 

The hotel had some other great amenities including a laundry room, pool, free buffet breakfasts, and spa. There were three different restaurants/bars in the hotel and you could also eat at any of the other hotels on property. Another highlight of the property was the exceptional staff working from reception to the restaurant staff. Everyone was very nice and professional – they knew what they were doing. The flies were really awful during our stay, but the housekeeping staff did a great job keeping the bugs out of the rooms. Coming into the room after a tour or being outside was a total relief. 

I really loved Sails in the Desert. It was the perfect stay and a bit of luxury in an unexpected part of Australia. 

Guide to the Australian Outback

The Outback is quintessential Australia, but probably one of the lesser visited areas of the country. In the states we even have the popular chain restaurant with the infamous blooming onion. That being said most people neglect to visit the Outback and stay on the East Coast of the country. During my mom’s visit we were determined to make it out to the Outback.

The Outback is also known as the Red Center. It is located in the Northern Territory, which is a massive and vast state of Australia. Looking at a map it is between Queensland and Western Australia – directly in the center of the country and north towards Darwin, and thus it is aptly named. The overall population of the state is less than a quarter of a million, but approximately 30% of this population is of Aboriginal descent. This number is significant because Australia’s other states Aboriginal population is typically under 4%. 

By land size it’s third largest state, however the entire state is pretty much desert and therefore remote. Naturally, the climate is significantly different than the other states as well. We were coming during summer and pretty much got the worst of it. This was a very dry heat too. I don’t mind the heat and would much rather be in hot than cold weather. The heat was ruthless, but the worst part was the flies by far. You can visit at any point of the year and will have temperate weather during the day. I think a good rule of thumb, if you could swing it with other travel plans, would be to avoid visiting the area between December – April. That being said this time period would be when you could get the best deals. I’ll repeat it again and then drop it – the heat did not bother me, but the pesky flies could actually drive you mad; I would avoid February in particular because it seemed like that was when the flies were at their peak. 

Things to Do

The most well known site/attraction in the Northern Territory is Uluru, or Ayers Rock. The picturesque rock formation is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The park has been deemed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and natural significance. Until October 2019, visitors were able to climb on Uluru. It is now officially banned given that it was not only extremely dangerous, disrespectful to the Aboriginal people and traditional owners of the land, and harming the surrounding landscape and animals. There are photo lookout points around the area, and you really can’t miss Uluru as it seems to have been dropped out of thin air in the middle of the flat surroundings. However, to actually get a closer look, walk around, or take a tour you have to purchase a pass. The pass is $25 and lasts for 3 days with unlimited entries to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Make sure you don’t lose you pass and it’s a good idea to write your name/where you are staying and maybe even a number just in case you misplace it. Having a car would be helpful to have more freedom to come and go at your leisure. If you’re like us and without a car there were some tour options to optimize your visit – including fully guided or more of a shuttle like service. 

Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is the other, less known rock formation in the National Park. Coming here for the sunrise and then hike is the perfect start to a day out here. There’s an hour-long hike through the Walpa Gorgeor approximately a three-hour hike through the Valley of the Winds. The early start helps you beat the heat. 

In the area there are many different types of tours and experiences based on budget and preferences. You can ride a camel or in a helicopter or scenic plane; once in a lifetime dining experiences outdoors; star gazing either on your own or guided; a spectacular light/art installation; bike/Segway/motorcycle tours; and many chances to learn about Aboriginal history and culture. 

Three hours by car from Uluru will get you to Watarrka National Park and the location of Kings Canyon. This could technically be done as day trip, but it would be an extremely long day, and better off done as a little detour on the route from Uluru to Alice Springs (or vice versa). 

As the capital of the Outback, Alice Springs is also a popular and historic stop when in the Northern Territory. It is located directly between Darwin and Adelaide, communicating between the two cities via telegraphs was the reason the town was originally established in 1871. You can visit the historic telegraph station while in Alice Springs. Another awesome activity for your stay in Alice Springs is a sunrise hot air balloon ride. 

How long do you need? 

I think a week in the Outback would be a generous amount of time. We spread our stay to three nights in Uluru (Ayers Rock) and one in Alice Springs. If I had to plan the trip again I would have done two nights in Uluru, one night in Kings Canyon, and one night in Alice Springs with a late flight – if a late flight wasn’t available then stay in Alice Springs for an additional night before traveling onward. So I think your first trip to the Outback can be done in around 5 nights. Obviously, you can pad your trip more in Uluru if you wanted a more relaxing/laid back scheduling. 

How do you get there? 

The quickest and most direct method of getting to the Outback would be via flying. Uluru does have an airport, Ayers Rock Airport, which you can fly directly into. We did this from Sydney and it was a pretty painless flight despite my prior experiences with Jetstar. Our flight price to Ayers Rock was also pretty reasonable at $222 for two people (not including luggage or seat selection). If you want to focus your holiday just in Uluru and surrounding area/day trips you can easily fly back the way you came. When we looked at flights these were a lot more expensive – think over $300 for the one way for one person. This is a pretty significant difference from the flight price to fly in. 

The other option is to fly in or out Ayers Rock one way and the other in/out of Alice Springs. This route will give you more ground to cover and see and maybe get a better deal on the flight. Keep in mind you will have to get between the two locations and this is about a 7-hour drive (with some stops) with zero reception. A bus transfer is a safe option, but will cost you around $150-$180 per person. 

A crazier way of traveling would be to drive on your own. I say this is crazy because the desert is no joke. The terrain is massive and different then what I’m sure you have driven through before. I really was serious that on the road from Uluru to Alice there was zero cell phone service (a.k.a. no way of calling for help). If you want the independence of driving at your own time just be safe and do your research. Also, printing out directions MapQuest style would be useful on your trip. 

To tour or not to tour? 

There are many multi-day and stop tours in the Outback. If I was traveling solo, I would have definitely done one of the tours. The Rock Tour is most well known, but I was also recommended WAYOUTBACK and Groovy Grape Tours.

On my trip we went more at our own relaxed pace rather than a ridged schedule. It was the perfect way for us because we had the freedom and independence to spend our days how we pleased. This is a vacation for my mom after all. 

The Ayers Rock Property 

A monopoly is the correct definition of the accommodation near Uluru/Ayers Rock. However, it is a fair, reasonable, and well-run “monopoly,” and that usually isn’t the case. Everything in the surrounding area of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is one property – Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. Within the resort you have different types of accommodation – there are campgrounds, apartments, hotel, ultra luxury, etc. 

Lots of options, but they all fall under the one Voyages umbrella. This is helpful because they make it easy to travel around the property with a resort shuttle running every 20 minutes. You aren’t confined to one resort and it’s dining options for example and can explore easily without a car. There’s also a town center on the route. The town center has a few stores, restaurants, a grocery store, and post office. The camel farm is also on the shuttle route and on property. Everything is basically in one circular route and it is convenient. The resort also offers complimentary airport transfers. 

The town center also has a visitors section with all of the tour companies represented. The main company was AATKings. They seemed like the main transport provider and we were happy with all our interactions with their staff (airport transfer, first night dinner experience, tour of Uluru, and transfer to Alice Springs).  

Full list of properties at the resort: 

My Personal Tips

Buy a fly net. Buying one beforehand will leave you looking prepared and less annoyed than everyone else upon arrival. In the town center thankfully the fly nets were a reasonable price at $10 for one or two for $15. They definitely could have charged more and people would have paid out of desperation. I haven’t checked online, but I’m sure Amazon has them. 

Water bottle. Water is the most important while you are in the Outback. They recommend a liter of water per hour. Carry a reusable water bottle around with you at all times and refill throughout the day. At any day tour they make sure to have coolers of water to refill. 

Bug spray. This will also be a lifesaver. I was reading that the Bushman products are a miracle worker so stock up on some before you head out.  

Sunscreen. Wear it. The sun is brutal and you feel it so make sure to protect your skin. In that regards I also think a hatis very useful. Not only do you get extra shade/protection you can use it as a fly swatter when they get really unruly. You can purchase an Outback looking hat in the town center as well. 

Layers. Temperatures can vary significantly from day to evening so if you are planning on staying out make sure to have something warmer. The reverse advice also goes for sunrisers. If you are taking on the three-hour hike in Kata Tjuta make sure you can easily shed some layers, which were originally necessary for the 4:30am wake up call. 

Bookings. With the recent bush fires and overalls tourism down at the moment you can find some really good flight/accommodation deals to travel here. The resort is also very timely and with it so they usually offer deals around holidays. I booked our trip during an Australia Day sale. We went during the middle of the summer and although typically a popular time to travel I don’t think this is the area’s peak tourism time. Be aware of when that is when you book. We had the luxury of being pretty relaxed with our bookings and could even call the day of/a couple of hours in advance to book. During peak season things may sell out or need more notice. 

I’m really glad that I was able to experience the Australian Outback. This was a once in a lifetime trip and I absolutely loved it! If you want something totally different and a unique experience you should really consider traveling out here yourself!

Mother-Daughter Bonding Down Under – Week 2

I can’t believe the second week with my mom has already drawn to a close. I am so thankful she extended the trip to three weeks because the original plan was just for two. We still had to cut out some major things to fit into a doable itinerary, but we are having a blast.

Our first week, we spent mostly exploring Sydney and the surrounding area. For week 2, we left New South Wales and technically stepped foot in three other states (Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia). I say “technically” because SA was only for a layover and I don’t think that counts, but in the same regard I can now say I’ve “technically” been in all of the Australia’s states. Don’t worry SA/Adelaide, I promise to visit soon. This week was a lot of firsts for both my mom and me and I’m so glad I was able to experience it with her! 

Monday/Day 8 – Early morning flight from Sydney to Ayers Rock airport. We are going to the OUTBACK, BABY!! Major bucket list item for both of us, but for different reasons. Full on blog posts coming soon, but I’ll just highlight for now. We had avocado toast at the airport before taking off. We arrived around noon and were able to check in to the resort straightaway and had a small lunch at the resort. After cool and rainy Sydney, we were shocked by the heat, sun, and flies which met us in the Outback. Our first priority was to buy fly nets and a hat for myself. We have big dinner plans tonight at the Sounds of Silence dinner. We start off the evening with sunset canapés and bubbly with a breathtaking view of Uluru. Then we had a gorgeous dinner and ended the evening with a viewing of the Field of Light exhibit.  

Day 9 – Had a chilled morning and rode around the property, saw an educational talk on aboriginal culture, and had a dip in the pool. Later in the day we actually enter the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park and do a guided tour. Concluding the night with sunset, small nibbles, and bubbles. 

Day 10 – Our last full day at the resort. I make use of the pool again and we go to a “Bush Talk” at the resort and learn about Australian and local native bush foods with a tasting of seasonal seeds, fruits, and spices. The evening brings what I was most looking forward to in the Outback – the camel ride. We leisurely ride for about an hour and watch the sun set. 

Moose the baby camel

Day 11 – We again have a chilled morning before departing via bus to Alice Springs. My mom acted very motherly here and did some laundry before we left. In the meantime I made a stop to the “Funny Farm” and spent some time with the baby camels and misfit animals. It’s a long scenic ride, but the commentary from the drivers was great. Along the way we saw wild horses, camels, dingos, and others four legged animals. I also may have gotten some shuteye. It’s already getting dark when we pull in so we explore the hotel and have dinner onsite that night. 

Day 12Valentine’s Day – I snuck in a cheeky swim in the AM before heading into the town for brunch. Then this was a full on travel day as we were heading to Perth connecting via Adelaide. We arrived in Perth in the evening and opted for dinner at our hotel. The air is so refreshing here and we take an evening walk. 

Day 13 – Vegan brunch and then my mom’s dreams came true when she held a koala. She can now leave Australia content. Her dream became a reality at a visit to Cohunu Koala Park, which we took Uber to and from. For dinner we went to the hot spot, Petition Kitchen, and had a really great meal. 

Day 14 – Tried to get an early start and headed to Fremantle in the morning. We spent some time exploring the area, had lunch, and walked around the markets. Then we took the train to Cottesloe Beach. We strolled on the beach for a bit before heading into Cottesloe Town for an early dinner. Taking the train back into Perth my mom somehow convinced me to get a pedicure, but with the store’s credit card machine not working I ended up paying for it myself…. treat yo’ self, right? We have an early morning ahead of us with more excitement ahead for my mom’s last week down under. 

Catch up on what we were up to our first week. 

Last week I had my mom rate the restaurants we had eaten at. This week I asked her to rate the accommodation we had stayed at to date. Obviously, all of the properties were very different and across the entire country (you can’t really compare a basic NYC hotel to an Arizona resort to a Chicago high-rise hotel – if you get my drift), each with their quirks, but this is her opinion from best to least favorite of the properties we have stayed at during her two week stay in Australia: 

  1. Hunter Valley Crowne Plaza 
  2. Sails in the Dessert – Uluru 
  3. Doubletree Alice Springs
  4. Fraser Suites Perth 
  5. Sydney Novotel Darling Harbour
  6. Sydney Rydges Sydney Harbour