You can’t leave Yulara without taking an Uluru helicopter tour. Yes, the experience can run a bit expensive, especially if you’re traveling on a budget like me. However, I can’t recommend you take your own ride enough. It’s a top 10 life experience.
One of those, “well, might as well since I’m here” kind of things that really stick with you.
And it has. For years now.
Sometimes when I’ve had a bad few days or things don’t work out, when I think about the exciting things I got to do in my life, or in Australia, the helicopter ride really stands out.
Getting to see “the beating heart of Australia” with my very own eyes is such a pinch me moment
This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series.
My first time in a helicopter was so worth it.
There are three things I promised myself I would splurge on before I even got to Australia. They were to do the following things:
1) Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge (just like Mary Kate and Ashley — the icons of my childhood)
2) Scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef (got certified and have nearly 20 dives!)
3) Take a scenic flight over Uluru ( as you can’t get a proper sense of it from just the ground)
Because I was in the rec center on a group tour, I wasn’t sure if I’d get the chance to do an Uluru helicopter tour. I figured I would maybe come back one day when I’m older and richer to do my own thing and book a slot.
However, we had a free afternoon and my tour guide helped me and my friend book in. I was so excited that my dream came true.
See the entire rock at once
Uluru is just one of those things you need to see from the sky to get the full picture. It’s hard to grasp just how magnificent (and huge!) it is from the ground.
The giant sandstone formation that is Uluru is a towering 348 meters (1,142 feet) high, and most of its mass is actually underground! It’s kind of like a giant red iceberg. With a perimeter of 9.4 kilometers (5.8 miles), this is one big rock.
Get the best photos
I credit my time on my Uluru helicopter tour with some of the best photos of me in my entire Australian outback trip. I’ve never felt such joy and excitement as when I was up in the air.
I’d also never been in a helicopter before, so I think the novelty of the experience also had something to do with it.
When I sent these photos home to my family, I had never felt so cool. I loved how close everything was in the helicopter, too. It was like sitting in the cockpit, but the cockpit was the entire vehicle.
I sat right next to the pilot (who sat on the right…I wonder if American helicopter pilots sit on the left?) and got to see everything he did to get the machine in the air. That was pretty cool for me.
Hear behind-the-scenes facts about the Yulara area
Our pilot told us a lot about the area.
He said that the local Indigenous people, the Pitjantjatjara (Aṉangu), have called the rock Uluṟu for thousands of years. It doesn’t have a specific meaning in their language, but it’s actually used as a family name by the traditional owners of the area.
However, things changed when European colonizers arrived. In 1873, a surveyor named William Gosse spotted the rock and decided to name it after the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time, Sir Henry Ayers. So, it became known as Ayers Rock.
But in 1993 (the year I was born), a new naming policy was adopted that allowed both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name to be used. So, it officially became Ayers Rock / Uluru. But then in 2002, the order was reversed to Uluru / Ayers Rock, thanks to a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.
These days, most people just know it as Uluru. Well, younger people. You can tell someone’s generation by what name they use.
Flirt with a cute pilot
I thought our pilot was super cute. But I think a guy in a uniform with a cool skill is just my type lol. My friend Paris was nice enough to let me sit up front with him, so I was swooning the entire time.
While flirting (I did a terrible job tbh), he told us some more interesting things about the area and Uluru.
Uluru also changes color throughout the day and year, especially at dawn and sunset when it glows a stunning red color. How cool is that? The secret to its reddish hue is the iron oxide in the sandstone. You can enjoy the color show from the ground, or the air.
And get this, Uluru isn’t alone in its magnificence. Just 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of it is another formation called Kata Tjuta, sometimes called the Olgas. You will be able to see them from the air as well!
Finally, you get to see the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu from the air. You don’t fly right over it, but it is pointed out. About 300 people live there and it’s near the eastern end of Uluru. However, it is a private community, one of the only of its kind in Australia. Many of the people who live there work with National Parks to run tours at Uluru. You can also purchase things made by local artists at the Maruku Arts & Crafts Centre.
Appreciate the vastness of the Australian Outback
The Australian Red Centre is simply enormous. It covers an area of around 450,000 square kilometers, which is roughly the size of Sweden or Spain. But when you’re on the ground, you can’t really get a sense of just how big it is. Sure, you can drive for hours without seeing another soul, but being in the air and seeing 100x farther than you would from the road and STILL not seeing anyone else?
That really puts you in your place.