Kings Canyon, Northern Territory © Tourism NT/Mitchell Cox 2017
Alice Springs to Uluru: a 7-day road trip
Tour the ancient landscapes of Central Australia on this iconic Aussie road trip through Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru.
Freshwater swimming holes, impressive gorges and phenomenal rock formations are all part of the unique and ancient landscape of the outback’s Red Centre. Watch the sunrise over Alice Springs’ ranges from the air, explore the lush surrounds of Kings Canyon by foot, and marvel at Uluru on a camel ride.
Day 1: Get to know Alice Springs
The 1,135km (705mi) Red Centre Way road trip is one of the Northern Territory’s most iconic journeys, beginning in Alice Springs, then making its way to Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges, Watarrka/Kings Canyon, and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Start your seven-day trip along the Red Centre Way on a high note, viewing Alice’s picture-perfect ranges at sunrise on an Outback Ballooning hot air balloon flight. Before dawn, a shuttle bus will collect you from your accommodation and transport you to Owen Springs Reserve, 15km (9mi) south of town. Sixty peaceful minutes in the air allows ample time to take in the vast, art canvas-style landscapes below. Watch for passing clouds of colourful budgerigars (native Australian parrots) or for kangaroos leaping through the desert grass below.Show more
Day 2: Alice Springs and the West Macs
Before heading deeper into the desert, indulge in a hearty breakfast at one of Alice's best casual eateries, Page 27. It's a delightful, bustling café much loved by the town’s creative crowd. Afterwards, gaze upon bright, bold and modern Aboriginal art at Papunya Tula Artists and Mbantua Gallery, both in the car-free Todd Mall precinct, before getting into your hire car (you'll need a 4WD for a later section of this trip).
In the afternoon, drive 50km (31mi) out of town and take the short, scenic walk to Standley Chasm, where you can watch the formation's steep walls blaze red in the afternoon sun.Show more
Day 3: Alice Springs to Kings Canyon
Rise early to begin your drive back into the desert. After about 1.5 hours you'll reach arrive at Ormiston Gorge, a tranquil spot known for its ghost gum trees and waterhole carpeted in white sand. Spend your morning relaxing here before exploring one of the site's stunning bushwalks. Try the five-hour Ormiston Pound Walk or for a shorter option, follow the 20-minute Ghost Gum Lookout trail, which offers stunning views over the gorge. Stock up with lunch or car snacks from the gorge's kiosk and return to your car, which you'll need to engage in 4WD mode from here.
The winding Mereenie Loop on the Red Centre Way, which runs from the West Macs to Kings Canyon, will be the slowest (and most exciting) stretch of road you’ll travel. It's only 225km (140mi) long, but the drive takes about 4.5 hours (alternatively, turn your 2WD around and follow the Lasseter Highway to Kings Canyon; note that this will take about 7.5 hours).Show more
Day 4: Walking Kings Canyon and Watarrka
Rise early to embark on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, a 6.4km (4mi) trail with awe-inspiring views of the sheer sandstone cliffs, palm-filled crevices, valley floor and desert. The walk begins with a steep ascent, then follows the canyon's cliff face before descending to the Garden of Eden waterhole and the weathered rock domes of the Lost City. For those looking for a more relaxed option, the 2.6km (1.5mi) Kings Creek Walk provides equally breathtaking views.
After lunch, explore one of the lesser-known Watarrka National Park walks, the 2.4km (1.5mi) Kathleen Springs track. Look out for fairy wrens chirping between branches on either side of the sealed path that leads you from the start of the trail to a waterhole framed by tall grass.
Day 5: Kings Canyon to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Return to the Red Centre Way and spend the morning driving 321km (200mi) south to Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Check in to Ayers Rock Resort, which offers everything from campsites and serviced apartments to luxury accommodation at Sails in the Desert and Longitude 131.
Devote the afternoon to seeing rock dome formation Kata Tjuta, meaning "many heads". The best walk at the site is the 7.4km (4.6mi) Valley of the Winds trail. This loop leads through towering rocks into a valley bedded with soft green grass. It’s challenging but rewarding; pack plenty of water and fly repellent for the journey. For a shorter stroll, choose the 2.6km (1.6mi) Walpa Gorge walk, which is especially stunning in the afternoon when sunlight fills the gorge. In the evening, have dinner under the stars at the Sounds of Silence experience, in which you'll sit at a shared, open-air table with uninterrupted views of Uluru. After dinner, a "star talker" will guide you through the astronomical stratosphere twinkling above your table.
Day 6: Explore Uluru
Watch the rising sun light up Uluru on a dawn camel trek with Uluru Camel Tours. Then contemplate the rock over a breakfast of authentically brewed bush tea, otherwise known as billy tea, and freshly baked beer bread (you guessed it, that's bread flavoured with beer).
Next, get close to Uluru by strolling the 10.6km (6.6mi) base walk around the rock’s circumference. Nothing compares to witnessing this glowing monolith up close. At almost 350 metres (1,150 feet) high, the rock is taller than France’s Eiffel Tower. Start on the Mala trail, alongside a lodge guide. The 1km (0.5mi) walk delves into the rock’s Aboriginal creation stories, focusing on a totem animal important to the hearts of the local people: the tiny mala kangaroo (which you first met in the Desert Park at Alice Springs). The guided walk also explores Uluru’s geological features and finishes at Mutitjulu Gorge, a peaceful waterhole.Show more
Day 7: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to Alice Springs
Treat yourself to the best coffee in Yulara at Kulata Academy Café, staffed by Aboriginal hospitality trainees.
Next, begin the 445km (277mi) journey back to Alice Springs, making your first stop at the Mount Conner lookout, which offers sweeping salt lake views. From a distance, this horseshoe-shaped mountain looks quite like its famous red rock neighbour, hence its nickname "Fooluru"; it’s been known to dupe many visitors.
Once back on the road, keep an eye out for native emus, the second tallest bird species in the world. When you're just 100km (60mi) from Alice Springs, pull in at the Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve. Twelve craters formed at this site when a meteor hit the Earth’s surface 4,700 years ago. Then, detour off the highway just before you reach Alice to see the scenic sandstone bluffs and cliffs of the Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, which forms part of the mountainous James Range. The valley's multi-coloured bands often sparkle in the late afternoon sun – a salute to the end of your voyage.
This article was written in partnership with Tourism Northern Territory. For more information about road trips in the Northern Territory, go to northernterritory.com.