If you’re looking to get to the heart of Australia and its Aboriginal heritage, look no further than the natural wonders of Australia’s Red Centre – around one-third of the population of the Northern territory are Aboriginal. It’s difficult to comprehend the enchantment and majesty to be found in its silent, serene isolation. The red and raw massif juxtaposed with the yellow and green flora, the isolated waterholes, the unique, majestic fauna are all awash with the significance of centuries of sacred aboriginal culture.
Despite the region’s remoteness and extreme desert conditions, the Red Centre attracts about a half a million visitors a year. For an arid inland zone more than 750 miles from the nearest major city, this is significant. This is a guide for visiting Australia’s Red Centre. Don’t forget to add it to your BUCKiTDREAM list!
How To Get There
The easiest way to the Red Centre is from Perth to Alice Springs. Depending on where you are, there are two other options: Darwin and Adelaide. Both have good air and rail links to Alice Springs. By road, Alice Springs is hundreds of miles north of Adelaide or a similarly daunting mileage from Darwin. The Ghan railway travels between Darwin and Adelaide stopping in Alice Springs.
Top Things To Do In the Red Centre
Alice Springs, found 200 kilometers south of Australia’s geographic center, is a hub for aboriginal art. Make sure you make time to behold the platter of Aboriginal art styles along the Tanami Track and explore the rock art, artifacts and ceremonial sites near the small Aboriginal community of St Teresa. Also available to visitors are beautiful bush walks or camel treks across the huge sand dunes of the Simpson Desert.
Old MacDonnell Had a Range
The MacDonnell Ranges are the remains of a 400-mile massif, divided today by Alice Springs into the east and west Macedonia ranges.
The West MacDonnell Ranges is a breathtaking landscape of weathered peaks, behind which rocky gorges sit – some with ancient rock art and others with waterholes. Top spots include Ellery Creek Big Hole, Redbank Gorge, and Glen Helen Gorge – the gorges’ steep cliffs light up a glorious, angry red in the midday sun. You can explore by road on the Red Centre Way, or hike it on the 140-mile-long famous Larapinta Trail – one of Australia’s most notable bushwalking experiences dotted with serene, refreshing waterholes and red river gums as well as the spectacular local wildlife.
In the east are the Emily and Jessie gaps, Corroboree Rock, Trephina Gorge and N’Dhala Gorge – which is also crossed by the Larapinta Trail.
A must see is the 12-mile wide crater formed by a huge comet crashing into Earth about 130 million years ago at Gosse Bluff (known as Tnorala to the Aboriginal people).
See Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Uluṟu, also known as Ayers Rock, is a looming red rock with a whopping circumference of 5.8 miles that rises abruptly 348 meters above the ground in stark contrast with the flat, flora-filled desert plains that surround it in every direction’s horizon – it’s considered an inselberg (meaning island mountain) for this reason. The formation’s surrounding area is home to a profusion of springs, waterholes, rock caves and ancient paintings. Walk around Uluṟu’s base with an Aṉangu guide, and learn how it was created by spirit ancestors in the Dreamtime (Dreamtime is the Aboriginal understanding of the world and the laws of existence which stem from this understanding).
Options for beholding Uluṟu include motorcycle, the back of a camel or via helicopter flight. But we recommend a bushwalk tour so that you can take it all in at your own pace. Uluru is most notable for seeming to change color depending on the time of day and season. At sunset and sunrise, it seems to glow metal red – truly unmissable.
31 miles away from Uluṟu you’ll find Kata Tjuṯa – steep, rounded, russet domes formed by over 500 million years of erosion. The highest dome, Mount Olga, is approximately 546m above ground level. If you get a guided tour you’ll hear all about the great snake king Wanambi, who is said to live on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. The tale drapes the bornhardts in an epic, spellbinding majesty.
You can experience both wonders in Uluṟu- Kata Tjuṯa National Park, which offers tours by Aboriginal guides and accommodation ranging from campsites to a luxury resort.
The Rim of King’s Canyon
No, that’s not an innuendo! Trek to the rim of Kings Canyon for breathtaking views of the jagged cliffs and gorges of Watarrka National Park. The canyon’s towering rock walls provide shelter from the sun, allowing rare green to flourish in an otherwise inhospitable desert. You’ll spot incredibly rare plants from a lone-gone wetter age and swim in the tropical pools of the Garden of Eden (sounds heavenly, right?). Explore the weathered rock domes of the Lost City (no, not Atlantis). We recommend digesting the sunset at Carmichael Crag or taking the Kathleen Springs Walk – due to the large body of water it attracts large amounts of animals to it making for quite the spectacle.
Finke Gorge National Park
The Park covers an area of 177 square miles and contains an impressive desert oasis Palm Valley – the only place in the world you’ll find the Red Cabbage Palm trees -, towering sandstone cliffs and the (mostly dried-up) Finke River. It’s also home to a diverse range of rare plant species, many of which are unique to the area. Finke Gorge provides great opportunities for bushwalking and bush camping.
Recommended walks are the Arankaia Walk or the longer Mpulungkinya Walk. If you’re looking for the best views of the rock amphitheater circled by rugged bluffs, the Kalaranga Lookout Walk is essential. Finally, be sure to check out the mountain ranges as they turn from purple to burning ochre in the setting sun.
Sounds of Silence
Of the Australian Tourism Hall of Fame, Sounds of Silence manages to squeeze much of the Red Centre’s energy and beauty into four hours so if you only have a short while this comes highly advocated. Sit atop a red desert dune as the setting sun lights up the surface of Uluru, before dining under a sky full of sparkling stars and hearing the stories of the constellations from an indigenous perspective. As the sun sets, you will feast on a gourmet BBQ buffet of authentic Australian meats – barramundi, kangaroo, and crocodile – washed down by tasty Australian wines. Then get ready for the best star-gazing experience of your life as a local takes you on a tour of the spectacular southern night sky making it all feel that much more familiar.
This guide is all you need to experience Australia’s Red Centre at its best – well this and a flight out to Alice Springs! It’s definitely a cultural and natural nucleus relatively untouched by man’s hand. We found it truly life-changing and are confident you will too. So stuff that backpack full (make sure to include sunscreen, it can get toasty out there!) and heads out to fill that brain of yours with unforgettable, mind-bending experiences. And be sure to record your favorites in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!