You won’t find too many Americans in Australia’s Northern Territory, and there's a good reasons for it. Considering the high cost of air travel and the time that it takes to get there, most travelers are content on staying in Sydney or one of the country’s other southern cities. If they do venture out, it’s typically up the east coast to Queensland, one of the most popular launching pads for the Great Barrier Reef.
But the draw is that the area is very remote, putting visitors in the prime position to see the stunning formations of Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta -- known collectively as Uluru. Australia is 70 percent desert, after all, with Central Australia and the southern half of the Northern Territory receiving less than 10 inches of rain per year.
Unfortunately, Uluru’s remoteness and adventure-oriented atmosphere don’t make for the cheapest trip. In fact, it’s the most expensive destination in Australia and the third-most expensive in the world. The reason for this is largely due to the fact that the Ayers Rock Resort -- which really consists of four hotels -- has a monopoly on all the rooms, restaurants, and shops in the area. As a result, rates start at 340 AUD (297 USD) a night even at the cheapest property, the Outback Pioneer. Yikes.
So what to do? Here are a few tips to make the trip more affordable.
Make use of the Resort’s best kept secret.
The Outback Pioneer has a hostel-style lodge attached to it, listed on the website but rarely promoted. Starting rates range from 38 AUD (33 USD) per person for 20-person shared rooms to 184 AUD per room for a private room that sleeps four (all four beds must be booked). Take advantage.
Skip the hotels all together.
In addition to the hotels, Ayers Rock Resort has a campground. Cabins run for 160 AUD (140 USD) a night and fit 6 people -- an affordable and comfortable option for those traveling in a group. Regular campsites are 38 AUD a night for two. The best part? A fourth night free special for all options. Another option is a campground called Curtain Springs about 50 miles from Uluru that is free.
Buy your food at the grocery store.
Since the entire resort and town square is owned and operated by the same company, restaurants are pricey. A solid option is to visit the grocery store and buy food there -- think sandwiches or pre-made entrees. It’s not the most glamorous dining option, but it works for a trip that’s likely just two or three days. More importantly, it can save you quite a bit of money.
Pass on the organized tours, catch a shuttle or rent a car, and explore on your own.
The entry fee for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National park is 25 AUD for 3 days. Ayers Rock offers many excursions into the parks, most of which are expensive and don’t include the entrance fee. There are two other options: Hire a shuttle to drop you off in the morning and pick you up at night for $60 person, or rent a car on your own so you can come and go as you please. Car rental rates still start at 60-70 USD per day (more if you go through the resort) -- but having your own wheels at least it allows you a full day in the park on your own. Many excursions from the hotel will cost much more for only a half day anyway.