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Coueple running through water at Ellery Creek Big Hole

10 Red Centre adventures you didn’t know you needed this summer


Once your feet touch down on the red dirt of Central Australia, you'll uncover not only the renowned locations like Uluru and the West MacDonnell Ranges, but also the many hidden treasures of the Red Centre waiting to be explored.

The Red Centre has a rich connection with Aboriginal art and culture and Australia's pioneering history. From the moment you arrive in this vast landscape, an abundance of exciting fun-filled summer adventures await.

The waterholes are full and ready to plunge into for a swim, you can beat the heat with sunrise walks and summer is also the perfect time to dine under the stars and capture the changing colours at dawn and dusk.

1. Explore hidden waterholes

Surrounded by desert in all directions, the Red Centre might be one of Australia's driest landscapes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get wet. There are a bunch of secluded swimming holes just waiting for you to dive into.

Ellery Creek Big Hole and Redbank Gorge are two picture perfect plunge pools encircled by towering walls of red rock. Fringed by a beach of white sand and palm trees, Ormiston Gorge makes it hard to believe you're in the desert. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re on your own private island. 

You can also swim at Glen Helen Gorge on the Finke River. Finish your day with a beer at the Glen Helen Homestead Lodge and watch a stunning sunset.

2. Gaze at the stars & night sky

With no light pollution, star-filled nights are assured in Central Australia where you'll find some of the most vibrant night skies in the world. Make sure you add one of these stargazing experiences to your star-studded bucket list.

Enjoy a space adventure with Alice Springs-based Earth Sanctuary on their Astro Tours as you peek through telescopes up at the vibrant Milky Way. 

If you're in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, you have lots of ways to discover the stars. You won’t be disappointed as your astronomy guides take you on an unforgettable journey of stars, sound and surprise with Uluru Astro Tours. Get a photo of Uluru under the Southern Cross and create lifetime memories to treasure.

You can also dine under the stars with the Sounds of Silence or watch the desert come to life at A Night at Field of Light. For a truly unique experience, Wintjiri Wiru tells the Anangu people’s Mala story through a symphony of light displays, lasers, sound and over 1,000 drones with Uluru as a backdrop.

If you're staying near Watarrka National Park, immerse yourself in the Light-Towers at Discovery Resorts - Kings Canyon.

3. Meet the friendly wildlife

From encounters with wedge-tailed eagles to nocturnal adventures, there’s plenty of wildlife in Alice Springs to keep you entertained.

For all things that hiss and slither, visit the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Handle a python, watch lizards being fed or view Terry, the resident croc, safely behind glass.

If you're keen to make friends with wildlife of the furry variety, head out of town to the Kangaroo Sanctuary, where Chris 'Brolga' Barnes of the BBC’s Kangaroo Dundee series rescues orphaned joeys, which you can feed and cuddle!

To discover a mix of Central Australian wildlife in one place, the Alice Springs Desert Park is a great option. Spot rare and endangered animals, like the 30-cm-tall, shaggy-haired mala that’ll crush you with its cuteness, in the low light of the nocturnal house. Also out the fascinating and diverse relationships of birds in the cheeky daytime Mile High Club.


4. Be a time traveller & uncover the secrets of the past

Discover the tales of the early settlers and explore how people first came to Central Australia and the way they adapted their lives to survive at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Only 6 minutes out of Alice Springs, it has been restored with furnishings and artefacts from the early 1900s.

Continue your trip through time at the Alice Springs School of the Air's visitor centre, and watch the world’s largest classroom come to life. Next, be inspired by the Women’s Museum of Australia which celebrates the achievements of pioneer women and showcases their courage, perseverance and determination. Based in the heritage-listed Old Gaol, you can also get a hands-on experience on what life was like for inmates.

Finish your day of historical exploration by uncovering the exciting Central Australian story of megafauna from the Miocene epoch, about 8 million years ago, at Megafauna Central in the CBD. You can see the skeleton of the world’s largest bird, along with that of a colossal croc and plenty of other cool finds. It will blow your mind.

5. Hike & discover rock art in the East MacDonnell Ranges

Take time to uncover the jewels of the ‘East Macs’. Rich in Aboriginal art and incredible geological formations, these ranges boast some of the Red Centre’s most scenic spots.

Visit the impressive caterpillar rock art at Emily Gap, just 10km east of town along the Ross Highway. You can cycle to get there, but go in the cool of the morning or evening and pack your swimmers to cool off in the waterhole.

Another serene place for a cool dip is John Hayes Rockhole which is linked to the Trephina Ridgetop Walk in Trephina Gorge Nature Park. Attracting a variety of animals and birds, it’s also home to the largest Ghost Gum in the country.

Another walk is a 1.5km-long walking trail to N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park, a fascinating site that protects thousands of prehistoric rock carvings, or petroglyphs, with interpretive signs providing information about approximately 6,000 stone engravings.

If you want to base yourself somewhere for a couple of days, Ross River Resort is a tranquil point from which to roam and explore the East Macs. Relax by a campfire or “rough it” in a rustic cabin with en-suite. 

Remember to organise your NT park pass before you go.

6. Take a day trip from Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the perfect base to explore the Red Centre. Discover the best things to do by joining an all-inclusive tour or create your own DIY day trips. 

Hidden in the rugged Finke Gorge National Park, visit Palm Valley where groves of rare red cabbage palms are botanic remnants from millions of years ago when tropical rainforest covered Central Australia. Accessible only by 4WD and approximately 140km from Alice,the gorge's waterholes are lined with vertical cliffs, stately river gums and are linked by walking trails.

Alternatively, you could venture to the West MacDonnell Ranges. The 'West Macs', as they are fondly known as, inspired some of artist Albert Namatjira’s most famous watercolours. Visit the national heritage site of  Hermannsburg Historic Precinct, where you can see where the artist lived along with the Lutheran Mission which was established in the 1870s. Nearby is Hermannsburg Potters where Western Arrarnta artists create and exhibit vibrant handmade ceramic pots.

Want someone else to do the driving? Hop on an air-conditioned bus tour for the day, relax, soak in the scenery and enjoy a swim in one of the many waterholes. Visit the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre for a list of other tour operators.


7. Unleash your adventurous spirit with a thrilling escape

If you like your holidays with a dose of adrenaline, a smattering of exhilaration and a spoonful of the unknown, there’s plenty to keep you on your toes. 

Take to the skies and get the best seats in the heart of Australia with Alice Springs Helicopters. Unrestricted panoramic views are the perfect way to get picture postcard shots of the township and the startling colours of the East and West McDonald Ranges. While you’ve got your head in the clouds, make sure you see Uluru, the biggest monolith in the world, from bird’s eye with Ayers Rock Helicopters. It’s an experience in itself.

For a different view of Uluru, hop on the back of a charismatic camel, or cruise round Uluru's base at sunrise on a Segway tour, including nibbles and drinks. You can also ride into the sunset when you get back to Alice-Springs with Pyndan Camel Tracks.

Or, if you want an easy overnight adventure from Alice Springs, camp at magical Rainbow Valley. Plan for sunset and watch the colourful sandstone bluff change from blazing ochre to purple in the dying light. There are toilets, barbecues and picnic tables, but you'll need to bring your own water. You'll also need a four-wheel-drive to access the area.

8. Journey into the heart of Aboriginal art & culture

Immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture and learn about the paintings along the Territory Arts Trail. Check out the local art scene in Alice Springs where you can buy artwork at one of the many art galleries and take home a unique memento from the Red Centre.

Spend time at the Araluen Cultural Precinct, off Larapinta Drive, for museums, galleries, and a theatre where you can gain a real understanding of the Red Centre's history, art and culture.

If you're at Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park, learn how seeds of native trees are used to make striking necklaces and bracelets, and immerse yourself in an authentic Aboriginal art and cultural experience on a tour with Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience at Kings Canyon. Note that this experience is closed in January and February.

9. Unearth the mysteries of an ancient culture

If you’re after something out of this world, the unique desert wildlife and ancient landscape of the Red Centre is unlike any other.

Drive out to see the vivid colours of the mineral Ochre Pits, mined for generations by the local Aboriginal people, and get a glimpse of the Dreamtime.

You can also view petroglyphs and rock engravings made by the early Arrernte Aboriginal people at the Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve, just 39km south of Alice. The 6-hectare reserve has interpretive signage which offers a new understanding of an ancient culture.

Further south, wander through the other-worldly landscape at Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve shaped by a meteor hitting the earth. There’s 12 craters to discover, the largest of which is 180m wide and 15m deep. You will need a park pass to visit this area.

10. Take a road trip adventure

At any time of the year it's possible to hire a car to help you to explore the Red Centre in cool, air-conditioned comfort. Information is available through the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre to help start planning an epic road trip of a lifetime. 

Take a lap of Australia’s red heart along the Red Centre Way loop road from Alice Springs and explore the diverse sights of the region, including a spellbinding sunrise rim walk at Kings Canyon and a cycle around iconic Uluru

If you’re lucky enough to witness rain and storms during summer, then Uluru is the place to be. Heavy run-off creates waterfalls and transforms the rock into various shades of burgundy and silver. It only happens a couple of times a year, so do a rain dance, cross your fingers if you're visiting the Red Centre between November and March.

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