The more you travel, the more places you naturally add to your travel bucket list. But, once in a while, you stumble across a destination so singular, that you’ll be compelled to bump it to the top of the queue.
Uluru and the Red Centre are one of those places and, when you explore by road, you’ll all but lose yourself in Australia’s heartland, red dirt and all.
Slow travel might be the new rage on TV, but ssssshhhhh don’t tell the youngsters that we road trippers perfected the art years ago. Fly-in, fly-out long whirlwind visits suit those used to a frenetic pace in life, but slowing down and chewing up the miles on a road trip through Australia’s Red Centre affords you the luxury of time… time to meet new people, time to immerse yourself in the sights and smells out back, and time to explore your connection to country and stay awhile in places that take your fancy.
Plus, there are more amazing outback sunsets than you can poke a stick at and it’s a bucket list trip that won’t break your budget. But you will need to do a little prep work before you head out as towns are few and far between… and so are cars, but that’s half the fun.
The Red Centre Way links Alice Springs with the great natural icons, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon and a swag of national parks. You can spend six glorious days, if time isn’t on your side, or if you choose the outer loop, you can just meander, stopping at will, and see where the road takes you.
To be honest, you won’t blaze trails on this trip. The path ahead is well worn - but locals are generous in sharing their knowledge, leaving you time to immerse yourself in the incredible scenery and to enjoy the comradery of life on the highway. Of course, a four-wheel drive opens up a whole new world where exotic names like Tjoritja and Tnorala roll off the tongue.
Alice Springs hits you full in the face as soon as you arrive. It can’t help it. It’s outback Australia in full glory - from the dramatic scenery to the chunks of rock that separate the rich red outback carpet from the highway to the welcoming smiles of the locals who greet you in friendly fashion and immediately ask where you’re from and what you’re up to. Life runs at a slower pace here, so get ready to go with the flow.
In Alice, art (Mbantua Fine Art Gallery, Papunya Tula Artists, Yuba Napa Gallery and Studio, Ironwood Arts are some of the best) and nature (the MacDonnell Ranges with its many gorges and waterholes) vie for attention, and the pioneering spirit of the town is reflected in the many adventurous, challenging and sometimes quirky experiences found here.
Free: Take a leisurely stroll up a stepped track to the top of ANZAC Hill and watch the sun go down.
Easy: Head out to the Pyndan Camel Tracks at sunset. Trust us, your photographs of dark camel shadows on the rich red earth will become a trip highlight.
Fun: Soak up a little outback ingenuity and get amongst Alice Spring’s eclectic events calendar including: The Alice Springs Camel Cup (July 14) / Lasseters’ Easter in the Alice MTB Muster / Henley on Todd Regatta (mid-August) / Alice Springs Beanie Festival (June 29 to July 2) / or the Parrtjima Light Festival (September 28 – October 7).
Live like a local: The super scenic Simpsons Gap Bike path winds its way from Flynn’s Grave (7km from Alice town centre) to Simpson’s Gap. BYO bike or hire one from town.
From Alice, follow the path of the setting sun west to the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges. In outback Australia, Uluru tends to get the lion’s share of attention, so the lushness of the landscape popping against the red rock gorges and waterholes is surprising and stunning. The East and West Macs dominate the outback landscape – their rocky rims are home to black-footed wallabies and all manner of wildlife.
Ellery Creek, Simpsons Gap, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen offer cool respite from the warmth of the day and a variety of bush walks and tracks. Above, Black-breasted Buzzards ride the outback thermals and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a dingo ambling along in a grassy verge beside the road.
Free: Ellery Creek Big Hole and Ormiston Gorge. BYO a pool floaty and while away the hours while locals play tunes on their portable stereos.
Easy: The Araluen Cultural Precinct is your ideal first stop and is home to art and craft galleries, museums, café and more. It’s an easy intro to a town like Alice.
Fun: Grab a cool beer in an outback pub at the come-as-you-are Glen Helen Homestead. Mix with travellers from all walks of life and adopted locals behind the bar and catch a sunset over Glen Helen’s trademark sandstone cliff.
Live like a local: If you’re planning on overnighting, Two Mile – just past Glen Helen Gorge – is a great little spot where you can camp next to the oldest river system on the planet, the Finke River.