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Travel tips The Red Centre

Your travel plan for the Red Centre depends very much on how you are travelling.

If you choose to take a guided tour to Ayres Rock, I suggest that it should be with a firm that offers a 4WD bus. This enables you to travel the back route via the Mereenie Loop Road, so cutting out many kilometres and you can visit Finke Gorge and Palm Valley. This is not possible with a normal bus. If you decide to hire a car or a motorhome, you are restricted to paved roads but you are free to move as you wish. We did the latter and I will briefly describe our trip. The photo gallery shows a few pictures of our tour. The optimum may be to hire a 4WD camper.

For the first day or maybe two you do not require a vehicle in Alice Springs.

Most hotels provide a mini bus pick up at the airport, so it is worth while to book your hotel ahead. There is plenty to see and do in and near the town itself.

For various ideas see: Australian Tourist Commission Northern Territory Tourist Commission


The Alice Springs Desert Park a few kilometres out on the Western road is well worth seeing. Check ahead on the showing time for the Birds of Prey exhibit.   It is educational. It is not hard to spend the whole morning there, and if you start early while it is still cool, you could even rent a push bike to get there.

If you have seen every thing in Alice Springs and you are travelling by car or motorhome, depart Alice Springs and travel West towards the West Macdonald Ranges. If you have not yet visited it, the Alice Springs Desert Park is the first attraction you come to and it is on your left. Try for an early lunch so that you arrive at Stanley Chasm with the sun overhead. The chasm is so narrow that light only reaches the base around noon. See the photo in our gallery which was taken at about 15.30. We walked through the chasm and climbed the rocks behind it for a great view looking back into the chasm.

After Stanley Chasm, continue West but stay on the northern road towards Glen Helen. The next stop, if it is hot weather, is Ellery Creek Big Hole and time for a refreshing swim. A few kilometres further on the right are the Ochre Pits. These were and still are a source of pigment for the Aboriginal's Artwork.

Continuing further on the same road you will come to Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge and Lodge. If you still have enough daylight, you could visit Ormiston Gorge, otherwise leave it till to morrow morning. Overnight at Glen Helen if you prefer a powered site or a room, otherwise you could stay at Ormiston Gorge.

From here the next move depends on whether you are driving a conventional or a 4WD vehicle. If you have a 4WD you should head off fairly early to be able to view Gosse Bluff from Tylers Pass early morning. Gosse Bluff is a crater which was formed when a comet crashed into the earth about 14 million years ago. The formation, originally 25 km in diameter is best viewed early morning. The 4WD driver can then visit Finke Gorge National Park and Palm Valley before continuing on to Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop Road.

If you are driving a normal vehicle and are only allowed to drive on sealed roads as we were, you must now head back to Alice Springs and take the long way around to reach Kings Canyon. If you haven't yet seen Ormiston Gorge, it is really beautiful in the early morning. See photo.

The campground at Kings Canyon resort is well equipped and has a good store as well. We headed off in the morning and walked around the rim of the Canyon. It is really interesting with hidden oases of pools and palms and relics of a time when this was all under a great inland sea.

From Kings Canyon it is an easy drive to Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the camp grounds there are also very well equipped. Try to get your camp place or room organised and then make it to the sunset viewing area near the rock. The next day if the weather is on your side, try to make it to the sunrise viewing area for a magnificent view of the other side of the rock. There is a very informative display at the visitors centre and then the base walk is enlightening. You would never suspect so much variety in the forms of the rock and pools etc. The climb to the top is a real experience if it is possible, but don't rush it. It is steep.

The drive out to the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) or many heads, is well worth while. We walked the Valley of the Winds track in Winter and were quite cool, but apparently it can be dangerously hot in Summer. There are two access areas to the Olgas and two viewing areas as well.

You are now faced with the long drive back to Alice Springs. If you are allowed off the main road, you may wish to see the Henbury Meteorite Craters just off the main road South West of Henbury on the Ernest Giles Road.

If you still have time to spend when you get back to the Alice, you may like to take a trip to the East Macdonald Ranges to see Trephina Gorge, Arltunga Historical Reserve, N'dhala Gorge Nature Park or Ruby Gap Nature Park.

For those doing the trip North on the Stuart Highway as we did, you should try to reach the Devils Marbles before Sunset, and after an overnight at the primitive campground you can also see the Sunrise on the Marbles. See photo.

The next day is a long drive to reach the thermal springs at Mataranka. The thermal pool was great for a swim, but we overnighted at Elsey National Park on the Roper River. This is a secluded campground and not so crowded as Mataranka.

From Mataranka we continued on to Katherine and the Katherine Gorge, which is really great for exploring by canoe or by tourist boat, but if you wish to hire a canoe you should book ahead. The gorge is separated into many segments by shallow causeways over which you can easily pull your canoe, but the tourist boats have to stop. You then walk across the causeway to board another boat waiting on the other side. If you have time take a canoe for the whole day and go exploring. The campground at the gorge is first class with all facilities and really quiet. The rest of the trip North I will leave for the Top End.

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