INTRODUCING AUSTRALIA'S RED CENTRE
You probably know about that big red monolith in Australia's centre but there are other reasons to make the trek out to and linger in Australia's centre. Driving the red centre Way – the circular Mereenie Loop winding through Alice Springs, Kings canyon, Uluru and back – is an adventure. Gnarled ghost gums reaching for the sky, wild camels and the grandeur of ancient ochre coloured sandstone cliffs brings Australia's outback into sharp focus. It's a 1150km journey that's not for the faint hearted but there's nothing better than kicking up dust-clouds as you rumble down a remote NT road.
Ayers Rock and Alice Springs airports are around a three-hour flight from Sydney and Cairns or a two-hour flight from Darwin or Adelaide or a good ten hours plus drive in any direction. The most comfortable time to visit is the cooler winter months between May-September but whenever you come and however you get here you'll want to spend some time shaking off the road miles and taking in the scenery.
The red centre has multiple accommodation options from campsites to luxury hotels as well as a restaurants, cafes, bars and souvenir shops. It's well geared up for any style of travel.
The Sights - A round trip from Alice
Alice Springs to Glen Helen Gorge, NT
Take a day to explore the plants, animals, tranquil waterholes and sheltered gorges of the West MacDonnell Range National Park. See rock wallabies in and around the steep ridges and huge ghost gums at Simpson's Gap. Take the short, scenic walk to Standley Chasm and watch its steep walls blaze red in the midday sun. Get spectacular views of the narrow, winding Serpentine Gorge from a lookout above the cliffs. Cool off in the swimming holes at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge or picturesque Glen Helen Gorge, a great place to pitch a tent for sunset.
Alternatively, you can stop at Finke Gorge National Park, where you can four wheel drive next to towering sandstone cliffs and the mighty Finke River, one of the world’s oldest waterways. See fiery red dunes and salt pans stretch to the shimmering horizon. Watch mountain ranges turn from purple to burning ochre in the setting sun. Explore the desert oasis of Palm Valley, the only place in the world you’ll find the Red Cabbage Palm.
Glen Helen Gorge to Kings Canyon, NT
On your way west to Kings Canyon, stop to marvel at Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), a 20 kilometre wide crater produced by a comet 140 million years ago. The area is special to the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people, who believe it was formed when women dropped a baby while dancing across the Milky Way. Continue along the Mereenie Loop Road to Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park, approximately half way between Alice Springs and Uluru, where you can pitch a tent or spend the night in a resort or wilderness lodge.
Kings Canyon to Uluru
Take the 6km Kings Canyon Rim Walk which many travellers rate as a highlight of their trip to the Centre. The walk culminates in a short but steep climb up to the Canyon's Rim and sweeping views of the sheer sandstone cliffs, palm-filled crevices, valley floor and surrounding desert. Descend to the canyon floor to swim in the tropical pools of the Garden of Eden and explore the weathered rock domes of the Lost City.
Alternatives to the Kings Canyon Rim Walk include the shorter and easier Kings Creek Walk (2km return), a short stroll along the rocky creek bed to a raised platform with views of the towering canyon rim above; or the Giles Track (22km one way, overnight), a marked track that meanders along the George Gill Range between Kathleen Springs and the canyon. Register with the Overnight Walker Registration Scheme before starting out. Continue along the Red Centre Way to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and watch the changing colours of Uluru as the sun slips below the horizon.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, NT
Watch the rising sun light Uluru on a dawn camel trek, then contemplate its majesty over a breakfast of billy tea and freshly baked beer bread. Walk around Uluru on the Mala or Mutitjulu Walk or hire a guide and learn how Aboriginals believe their dreamtime ancestors forged this huge sandstone icon. Afterwards take in the steep, rounded, russet domes of nearby Kata Tjuta on the Valley of the Winds Walk. In the evening, feast on classic bush tucker and Australian wine under a star-filled desert sky.
Uluru to Alice - Return Leg
It’s a 450 kilometre schlepp back to Alice Springs, so stop and revive at the roadhouses lining the highway and the Mount Connor lookout, which offers sweeping views of the surrounding salt lakes. Stop at the Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve to see 12 craters that were formed when a meteor hit the earth’s surface four and a half thousand years ago. Before you get to Alice, you can detour off the highway to see the scenic sandstone bluffs and cliffs of the Rainbow Valley which is part of the James Range or simply hightail it back to Alice in time for an early dinner and a well earned rest.