Did you know that the Red Centre in the Northern Territory has been named 4th on Lonely Planet’s top ten regions for 2019? To me the red centre really does feels like the beating heart of the country and when there I feel an energy that is perceptible. The big must see places include the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) and of course Alice Springs. But don’t stop there. The MacDonnell Ranges, East and West are full of breathtaking gorges, unique wildlife and scenic walks and Palm Valley and the Finke Gorge National Park.
Speaking of walks, as of next year, visitors will no longer be able to climb Uluru. Good! It is a World Heritage site but more than that it has a reverence and presence about it that deserves to be admired, and can be without traipsing all over it. No big deal, there are plenty of other ways to appreciate ‘the Rock’. It is massive, awesome and breathtaking and can be appreciated just as much by walking tracks around it or taking the scenic drive. Plus there are plenty of other places in the centre to walk, climb, scramble over and admire.
I’ve visited Uluru twice now and each time it does leave you full of wonder and to watch the changing colours at sunset is a must. You will probably be joined by a few hundred other people but it’s something that everyone should see at least once in their lives.
One thing that people may not realise is that the Uluru-Kata Tjuta is a four and a half hours drive from Alice Springs so it’s definitely not a day trip. On one visit we stayed at the Ayers Rock Campground and found it less than perfect, but they have a bit of a monopoly on closest accommodation for caravan and campers.
Admittedly we had a horrible, badly behaved school group near us that we complained about and asked to be shifted away from and our request was seen to, but it did leave a sour taste especially as it costs a premium to stay there. Another time we splurged and stayed at ‘Sails in the desert’ at Ayers Rock resort and although very expensive it was a welcome oasis and something different for a treat.
Kata Tjuta may be less known about but worth the drive, around 32 kilometres west of Uluru. The Walpa Gorge walk is not too hard and really gives you an appreciation of the sheer size of these rock domes. Another good sunset spot is the dome viewing area.
What is a bloody hard climb is the rim walk at Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park. This is a 6 kilometre walk, as it suggests around the rim of the canyon. To get to the rim obviously means going up and trust me it’s steep, it’s hard, it leaves you breathless but it’s the only way to get to see the magnificent sight of the sheer cliff walls. Believe the information when it tells you it will take 3-4 hours, it will. We did this walk with our kids when they were quite young and it was incredible, but would I do it again, probably not. Next time I will look at the landscape from another angle and try the much gentler Kings Creek walk which only takes an hour at around 2 and a half kilometres in total.
The East Macs and West Macs (MacDonnell Ranges) are both worth visiting with amazing gorges to visit in both directions. I don’t know how many times you can say wow, when you visit these amazing landscapes but that sums it up – so beautiful and they make you feel very small.
The good thing is that these ranges are easily accessible if you are staying in Alice Springs. You can camp at some of the campgrounds and I really suggest you do if you get the chance, it’s absolutely thrilling to hear the dingoes howling during the night. Or spend an afternoon watching and waiting for black footed wallabies to come out for food.
Alice Springs does have a few caravan parks but we can’t go past the Big 4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park for facilities and how well they cater for visitors. In Alice don’t miss visiting Todd Mall especially when the markets are on. A hive of activity and a great place to buy authentic aboriginal art, from the artists themselves.
All of this and I have barely scratched the surface of the Red Centre of Australia. If I could recommend one more stop though it would have to be Palm Valley. Its 138 kilometres west of Alice Springs and the final stretch is 4wd territory only as you have to drive 16 kilometres along the sandy river bed of the Finke River. We had a camper trailer when we did it and stayed at the Palm Valley campground but when we got there we did see an off-road caravan as well.
This has to be one of the most peaceful places to stay ever! If you are doing it midyear though be warned, the desert nights are freezing. Check details with Parks and Wildlife before you go but at certain times of the year you can have a campfire if you take your own firewood in. The beauty of this park is that it does take more effort to get there so it’s not as populated with visitors as other places. It is such a unique place too with over 3,000 palms springing up in the desert landscape and water behind the campground makes it a real unexpected oasis.
Only problem is that all this talk of the magnificent red centre makes me want to go there now!