With the exception of all those who live in Alice Springs, what’s known as the Australian Outback is really quite a long way away. It’s... well, out the back. You don’t just jump in your car and head off toward the horizon without some serious research and trip planning. So here are the key things not to miss when heading to the Red Centre.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer size and majesty of Uluru when you see it for the first time. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is the setting for this incredible sandstone monolith and the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) formation.
The traditional owners of this land are the Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara Aboriginal peoples, who refer to themselves as the Anangu. They have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years and have a deep connection with the land. Explore the area with a local guide and you’ll discover what’s known as Tjukurpa – the foundation of Anangu life and society. It has many complex meanings and incorporates the history, knowledge, religion, morality and law of the local Aboriginal people and their ancestors.
If you have the chance to explore the base of Uluru, you’ll find several rock shelters that house Anangu paintings dating back thousands of years.
Part of the Kata Tjuta area, Walpa Gorge is a sacred men’s site. Guarded from the hot desert sun, plant and animal life finds respite in the gorge and depending on the weather, you may find a small stream running through the landscape. Take a walk amidst the sheer rock-walls of the gorge, following the natural creek bed between two of the largest domes, and experience another wonder of the Australian Outback.
Your journey through Australia’s red centre is not just about the stunning and culturally significant natural landscape. It’s also about the people who make a living out here, like the Severin family, who run a million-acre cattle property, Curtis Springs, that they’ve called home since 1956. In the first year they lived here, just six people drove past, but today they’ve built a hub for travellers passing through. Be sure to stop in to discover more about the history of the family and cattle station, and check out the art gallery, gift store and cafe, all run by the family.
Mount Conner (aka Attila or Artilla)
Sometimes called the 'forgotten wonder' of Central Australia, Mt Conner is made of the same kind of sandstone as Uluru but is located about 100 kilometres to the east. You’ll pass by on your way to Kings Canyon.
If you think heading to the Outback is all about roughing it, but you’re more of a creature comforts kind of traveller, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Kings Canyon Resort offers everything from camping and glamping to hotel and lodge rooms. For a unique evening dining experience, Under a Desert Moon, set in the silent wilderness under a canopy of the southern night sky (weather permitting) is a must-do. Start with canapes and a glass of sparkling wine followed by a delicious four-course meal incorporating fresh produce and unique ingredients native to the Australian Outback.
If you’re a fan of the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, you’ll know all about Kings Canyon. (And if you don’t know the film, time to catch up on an Australian classic!) Kings Canyon featured in the movie as the perfectly rugged, dramatic backdrop to the triumphant climb by Mitzi, Felicia and Bernadette (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp) in full drag. It’s definitely a defining moment in Australian cinema.
The canyon itself is a deep, narrow valley cut into the Earth over millennia by running water. Its ancient red rock walls soar 100 metres above Kings Creek to a plateau of rocky domes. Wake early to explore the spectacular Canyon at sunrise, the best time for observing the changing colours of the landscape. The 6-kilometre Canyon Rim Walk, considered one of the best and most varied walks in central Australia, begins with a strenuous climb but soon evens out once you reach the rim. As you follow the path, you'll find yourself among the weathered sandstone domes known as The Lost City.
You can also descend into The Garden of Eden, a lush, sheltered valley with a permanent waterhole. A shorter, more relaxed walk takes you along the sandy creek bed and leads to a lookout point offering excellent views of the towering canyon walls.
The MacDonnell Ranges
The town of Alice Springs, the heart of the Red Centre, is located at a gap in the MacDonnell Ranges. Here, you’re not far from the West MacDonnell Ranges, an ideal place to experience the geology, flora and fauna of this fascinating region.
Simpsons Gap was created over millions of years, with the deep red sandstone walls of the Chasm contrasting dramatically with the carpet of lush green ferns and towering gum trees on the valley floor. Before you leave, make sure you take a cooling dip in Ellery Creek Big Hole.
After exploring the highlights and hidden treasures of the red centre, be sure to make time in Alice Springs to visit some of the exceptional remote services, such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, School of the Air and the historic Overland Telegraph Station.