Uluru is one of those iconic Australian landmarks that is often on the itinerary of international visitors. For Australians though, it is often on that “I’ll get there one day” list. There are two main, inter-twined, reasons for this – the distance and the cost. Uluru really is in the middle of nowhere in the Australian outback!
Every time I have considered planning a visit, a quick flight or accommodation search has changed my mind. It always seemed that the only way to visit Uluru was to drive there and camp. This then brings time into consideration. It’s over 1600km from Adelaide to Uluru, so that’s at least two days of driving each way (three days would be better). The very minimum time to do this trip would be a week, but it seemed pointless to drive all that way and not stop at other places along the way, which would take even more time.
Recently, though, it seemed like all the stars aligned and I was able to put together an itinerary that was reasonably priced. Now that I have come home and added up all the incidental expenses, our total trip cost was just over $1400AUD ($1008USD/€884) for two people. We did splash out a little though, and it would not be hard to knock at least $200AUD off this price to make it even cheaper. Here’s the breakdown and details to help you plan your trip to Uluru on a budget.
Flights to Uluru
To be clear, let me explain about flight options while visiting Uluru. Alice Springs has an airport (code ASP), but it is over 500km away from Uluru. Domestic flights from all over Australia land here at Alice Springs, including a direct flight from Adelaide on both Qantas and Virgin.
There is also an airport at Yulara (code AYQ), the small settlement right next to Uluru. Flights arrive here from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns and Alice Springs. To get here from Adelaide requires two flights.
We met someone on our trip who had accidentally booked a flight leaving from the wrong airport, not realising they were different. It cost him $100AUD to join one of the tour groups just for the drive back there, so I suggest checking carefully which airport you book your flights to/from.
Thanks to finding the tour below, I realised we could look at flights into ASP and not then have to worry about how to travel to Uluru. It also made a lot of sense when I looked at the prices of accommodation at Yulara.
My secret to cheap flights was fairly simple – I used my frequent flyer points. We flew Virgin on the way up for a total cost of 37500 Velocity points for two of us. Our flight home was with Qantas and cost 24000 Qantas points plus a cash payment of $105. We booked only a few days in advance when it is not unusual to see prices of more than $400/person each way, so using our points in this instance was good value.
Since Alice Springs is in the middle of Australia, costs of flights from all cities tend to be about the same.
Total cost of flights $105
Interested in learning more about frequent flyer points?
Read these posts for some more information
How to Earn Qantas Points – Without Getting on a Plane
Our Alice Springs Accommodation
Mindful that we were trying to keep our costs down, we were searching for an Alice Springs hostel to stay in on the first night. Booking.com is always my starting point when searching for accommodation. We didn’t need anything fancy, especially as we were arriving at around 5pm and were being picked up for our tour at 5:30am.
We chose to go with Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn. For $65 we got a basic private room with shared bathroom. We arrived, went out to get some dinner and incidental supplies then came home and went to bed. We barely used any of the facilities, but they did seem to have everything a good hostel needs, with a few extras such as a pool, a book swap room, great BBQ area and a separate tv room.
I loved the feel of this place, and would happily have stayed here for a few days. The only downside was that it was a little further from the centre of town than some of the other hostels, but really, it was only about 10-15 minutes walk. There was also no breakfast included, but since we were leaving at 5:30am, we would not be eating anyway, so it didn’t matter to us.
Looking for another option? The YHA Alice Springs was also popular and fellow tour participants that were staying there were happy with it. It is a little more expensive though.
On our return to Alice Springs we had one more night in town before our flight out the next day. I fully intended to stay at a hostel again, but we came across an absolute bargain price at the Doubletree by Hilton Alice Springs. For $107 we were able to book a basic room. Thanks to my husband’s gold Hilton status, we were given an upgraded room and breakfast was included. It was also going to be nice after a few days of heat and sleeping in swags.
The room at the Doubletree was a great place to stay. If I was going to be picky, there were a couple of small cleaning issues, but that is about all I can think of that wasn’t excellent. The staff were efficient and friendly, breakfast was plentiful and delicious. The bed was possibly the most comfortable I have ever slept in – but maybe that was partially a reflection on the previous nights. I would happily stay here again and I believe it represented great value for money.
Total cost of accommodation $172
Our Uluru Tour
This was what really sealed the deal for our trip. When I started searching for Uluru tours from Alice Springs I was overwhelmed! There were many choices but most of them did not suit us at all, and not just because some of the prices were incredible.
I eventually came across The Rock Tour and their three day Uluru package looked fantastic. But better yet was the price! These tours are priced at $395 per person including the Uluru National Park fee. This included all transport, accommodation and meals for 3 days/2 nights.
We got to visit Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Uluru. We camped under the stars (albeit not as was planned) and watched sunrises and sunsets. We had a fantastic guide and a great group of people on the tour. I would happily recommend this to others if they are looking for a budget visit to Uluru.
While the price I have quoted above is the usual price, I was given a discount of $20 per person when I called them direct to book. I am not sure if this is standard or I was just lucky. I chose to pay by credit card online so had to pay some credit card fees of around $12
Total cost of tour $762
Field of Light, Uluru
This was one of the reasons I really wanted to go to Uluru this year or next – the Field of Light. This is an art installation by Bruce Munro where over 50 000 individually blown light bulbs light up a huge area. It was meant to only be available until earlier this year, but has been extended a couple of times and now will stay in place until the end of 2020 – so there is plenty of time to go and visit.
We were able to fit this in on the night we were staying in Yulara, and we were the only people in our group that chose to do this – but I think that is mostly because the other people did not know about it. The Rock Tour office arranged our tickets for us and dropped us off at the Outback Pioneer Lodge where the Field of Light bus picked us up from.
The Field of Light itself was amazing. I was just astounded at how big it is. My photos don’t even come close to showing the full extent of the field. We spent around an hour wandering around mesmerised by the lights.
There are various ways to see the Field of Light, from the basic access we did, to eating a meal overlooking the field, touring it by camel or even viewing it from above in a helicopter.
While I loved visiting the Field of Light, I have to confess that I am not entirely sure it was worth the $42 per person that we paid. We were on the second departure so it was totally dark by the time we arrived. I think maybe the first departure would have been better to be able to see Uluru in the background as many of the promotional shots show.
Total cost of Field of Light $84
Alice Springs Airport Transfers
There is a shuttle bus from Alice Springs airport that meets each flight as it lands. Tickets can be booked on line in advance, or once you arrive at the baggage carousel, you will see the ticket sales desk. If it is un-manned like it was on our arrival, right outside of the airport doors will be the driver selling tickets. You will also be able to see him from the baggage carousel. Make sure you have cash if you choose this option. The shuttle bus will drop you at your accommodation.
Total cost of airport shuttle bus $33
For our return journey we had discussed sharing a taxi with some others on our tour, but this didn’t end up working out. About two hours before we needed to go I asked our hotel to arrange the shuttle bus, but when they called it was fully booked for the time we needed to go. We therefore caught a taxi to the airport. The cost was not overly different for two people. If you have three or four people, a taxi would be the cheaper way to go. We paid a small credit card fee of around $2
Total cost of taxi to airport $39
Other Incidental Costs
We had some other incidental costs that were mostly related to food and alcohol, including dinner in Alice Springs the night we arrived, breakfast and snacks to eat during the tour, alcohol bought to drink with the group each night on tour, and then dinner/drinks on the last night with other tour members at The Rock Bar in Alice Springs.
If you were on a strict budget, you could easily halve these costs to about $50 per person for two cheap dinners, snacks from the supermarket and no alcohol.
Total cost for incidental items $209
So that’s every cent we spent during our four nights away. This comes to about $700 per person, which for this kind of trip is fantastic value. We could have done it cheaper by not staying at the Doubletree, not doing the optional visit to the Field of Light, and cutting down on snacks and alcohol, but we were happy with this price.
|Field of Light||$84|
Note – I was not compensated for any of these reviews and I did pay full price as is listed above. Affiliate links have been inserted only for the accommodation.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.