The vast, crimson vistas of Australia’s Northern Territory are probably what you picture when you hear the word “outback.” This is the Red Centre, home of the walkabout, the aboriginal coming of age journey. It’s the place where the mysterious monolith Uluru dominates the horizon. It’s a place where lush greenery grows around magical desert watering holes — and it’s a completely alien landscape you can explore in an amazing 700-mile loop called the Red Centre Way.
To really enjoy the journey, give yourself at least a full week. The more time you spend in this magnificent region, the better you’ll understand why it’s the spiritual center of the continent.
Alice Springs to Glen Helen
The city of Alice Springs is considered to be the heart of the Red Centre. It’s easy to reach Alice Springs via connecting flight from Darwin, Brisbane, or any of Australia’s big cities. There are plenty of car rental agencies in Alice Springs; many of them provide self-guided outback tours.
Give yourself a little time to explore the town before you leave. It’s well-known in Australia as a center for indigenous art, and a great place to learn about the original Australians before heading out into their sacred spaces.
It’s an easy 80-mile drive from Alice Springs to Glen Helen, a former cattle station that’s the gateway to West MacDonnell National Park. The views around Glen Helen are nothing short of spectacular, and there’s some great hiking to be had in the West Macs — but as always on your outback adventure, stay aware of the extreme temperatures and drink lots of water.
Glen Helen to Kings Canyon
This leg of the journey is about twice as long as the first one. Leave Glen Helen early in the morning to allow some time to visit Finke Gorge National Park along the way — it’s just two hours from Glen Helen. This park is home to Palm Valley, an astonishingly lush desert oasis you shouldn’t miss. If you’re driving a Jeep, you can four-wheel alongside the Finke River and the area’s sheer sandstone cliffs.
Kings Canyon, located in Watarrka National Park, is a spot you’ll want to spend more time exploring. Hiking trails will take you deep into the lush Garden of Eden at the base of the canyon, or on a challenging 4-hour trek around the canyon rim. This is also the place to take a walking tour guided by an Aboriginal elder.
Kings Canyon to Uluru
By now you should be thoroughly immersed in the mystique and spiritual vibe of the Red Centre. This is the time to travel on to Uluru, Australia’s most recognized landmark, a World Heritage Site that’s also a sacred place for Aboriginal cultures.
It’s easy to see why this place is sacred. Its hulking shape dominates the horizon for miles — more than 1,000 feet tall, it’s believed that there’s more of it underground than there is on the surface. Depending on the time of day, Uluru might appear to be reddish-brown, orange, or deep blood-red. Pitted with half-hidden depressions and scored by shadows, Uluru has many faces.
To show your respect for ancient tradition, don’t climb Uluru. Instead, explore around its base, view it from the back of a camel or overhead in a helicopter. Trek through the Valley of the Winds for spectacular vistas and equally great photos — or simply sit down, and watch the sun rise or set over this ancient monolith.
Before you set out for Alice Springs, be sure to visit the domes of Kata Tjuta, just a quick drive (about 20 miles) from Uluru. There are 36 of these domed cliffs pressing up against each other in a formation that looks like a convention of giants. Once again, these cliffs are sacred — so look, but don’t climb.
Uluru to Alice Springs
This is the longest leg of your journey — almost 300 miles — so be prepared. Take a breather to see the gorgeous cliffs of Rainbow Valley, and another to visit the immense meteorite craters at Henbury. When you return to Alice Springs, get a good night’s rest. You’ve earned it after completing your spectacular adventure driving the Red Centre Way.