Experience Aboriginal culture, desert adventures and the changing colours of Uluru in Australia's Red Centre.
By Lee Atkinson
The Red Centre is an extraordinary landscape of desert plains, weathered mountain ranges, rocky gorges and some of Aboriginal Australia's most sacred sites, including Uluru and Kata Tjuṯa. Floating in an outback waterhole, dining under a starry sky while being serenaded by didgeridoo, and watching the world's most famous rock change colours at dawn and dusk are just some of the Red Centre's only-in-Australia experiences.
How to get there
Fly to Alice Springs or Ayers Rock airport (direct flights take about three hours from Sydney). Ayers Rock Resort is a drive of five to six hours from Alice Springs. By road, Alice Springs is a 1500 kilometre (932 mile) trip north from Adelaide, or about the same distance south from Darwin. The legendary Ghan railway travels between Darwin and Adelaide over the course of four days, stopping in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
- Watch Uluru change colour at sunrise and sunset
- Swim in a waterhole that's hidden deep inside a gorge
- Learn about Aboriginal culture
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Top things to do in the Red Centre
Discover Alice Springs
Spend a few days in outback Australia's most cosmopolitan town. Delve into the town's fascinating past at the historic Telegraph Station. The Araluen Arts Centre has a great collection of Aboriginal art and you can buy a handmade souvenir at one of the many Aboriginal art galleries, such as Mbantua. You can see an ancient rock art gallery at Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park. Or hire a bike and ride out to Simpsons Gap, a sacred waterhole surrounded by cliffs. You could also take a tour to Standley Chasm, another spectacular red rock gorge that’s an easy day trip from town.
Meet the local wildlife
The Alice Springs Desert Park is the outback’s best wildlife park. Pick up a free audio guide and wander through enclosures with birds and kangaroos, who have been known to nibble your shoelaces if you stand still too long. Inside the Nocturnal House you can see all the animals that normally only come out after dark and don’t miss the twice-daily free-flying bird demonstrations, where birds of prey swoop out of the sky. Alice Springs Reptile Centre offers the opportunity to check out snakes, lizards, thorny devils and even a saltwater crocodile. Take a tour to meet TV star Chris Barnes, better known as Brolga, the BBC’s Kangaroo Dundee, and cuddle one of his orphaned joeys in the Kangaroo Sanctuary, around 20 minutes drive from town.
Explore the West Macs
Many people expect the Red Centre to be flat. But the majestic West MacDonnell Ranges, west of Alice Springs, is an extraordinary landscape of weathered peaks, behind which are rocky gorges and waterholes that are great for cooling off on a hot day. Top spots include Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge and picturesque Glen Helen Gorge. You can explore by road on the Red Centre Way (self-drive or on a tour from Alice Springs), or hike it on the famous Larapinta Trail. World Expeditions offers Larapinta treks from three to 14 days.
See Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Watching Uluru change colours at sunrise or sunset is one of outback Australia's most unmissable experiences. But it’s not the only way to see the rock. Walk around the base with an Aboriginal guide, take a helicopter flight or motorcycle tour, or see it from the back of a camel on an early morning or sunset safari. The 36 rounded domes of Kata Tjuta are only 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Uluru and are just as impressive. Follow one of the many bushwalking trails or join a tour from Ayers Rock Resort.
Stay at Ayers Rock Resort
Whatever your budget you’ll love Ayers Rock Resort, which has accommodation from camp and campervan sites to five-star poolside rooms at Sails in the Desert, and glamping at Longitude 131, where you can see the sun rise and set over Uluru from your own luxury safari tent. Join one of the free cultural tours at the resort, star gaze with an astronomer and dine out in style under a canopy of stars at the famous Sounds of Silence outdoor buffet.
Walk the rim at Kings Canyon
Trek to the rim of Kings Canyon for breathtaking views across the rugged bluffs and gorges of Watarrka National Park. You can stay in nearby Kings Canyon Resort. Enjoy gourmet meals served by firelight and a range of activities including quad bike rides, camel rides and helicopter flights over Kings Canyon. It’s a three-hour drive from Ayers Rock Resort or a five-hour drive from Alice Springs Airport.
Go off road in Finke Gorge
Walk through a desert oasis full of palms in Finke Gorge National Park. Palm Valley is the only place in the world you’ll find the red cabbage palm. Afterwards, follow one of the bushwalking trails to lookouts with spectacular views of the rock amphitheatre circled by rugged cliffs. Getting there is a 4WD adventure along the sandy bed of the usually dry Finke River. You can join a 4WD tour from Alice Springs or take the two-hour drive yourself.