Skip to Content

Australian Outback Adventure: Driving the Red Centre

Australian Outback Adventure: Driving the Red Centre

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.

Australia’s Red Centre is recognized as a major attraction for travelers across the globe looking for some unforgettable geotourism experiences in the country.

Surrounded by red sand and little greenery, it is almost impossible not to be impressed by the ancient history, spiritual significance, and unmatched beauty of this place.

What is the Red Centre, Australia?

The Red Centre is one of the most extraordinary landscapes in Central Australia. It features desert plains, rocky gorges, kings canyon, and weathered mountain ranges.

The Red Centre is home to Aboriginal Australia’s most-visited sites, such as Alice Springs, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, and Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock).

Red Centre gets its name from the unique stretches of red rocks & sand and its central location within Australia.

Why is the Red Centre Red?

red centre australia

Well, the sand of this desert area is millions of years old. According to scientists, the red color results from the high level of iron oxide in the ground. This states that the excess rust causes red pigmentation in the dirt.

It also means that this iconic attraction is still developing its color even after millions of years.

See Related: Tourist-Friendly Native Indian Reservations to Visit

Why Should You Visit the Red Centre?

Red centre in Australia

Rich in beauty and ancient culture, it’s a place where the mysterious monolith Uluru dominates the horizon, and lush greenery grows around magical desert watering holes, or “billabongs” as they’re known.

This destination is famous for its iconic red desert, hidden waterholes, and towering escarpments, making it one of the most-visited locations in Australia.

The Red Centre offers various only-in-Australia experiences to its visitors, and some of them are as follows:

  • Floating in an outback waterhole with some Fosters
  • Watching the famous red rocks change colors at dawn and dusk
  • Dining below an open starry sky while being serenaded by didgeridoo!

People from all across the world land here every year to cherish the unbeaten beauty of this breathtaking place.

Overall, it’s an entirely alien landscape you can explore in an excellent 700-mile loop called the Red Centre Way.

Are You Ready for the Red Centre Driving Adventure?

Red centre driving adventure

So, are you all set to take a cherishable adventure ride around the diverse landscapes and natural beauty of the Red Center, Australia? Before making your reservations, let’s gather the basic details of this dramatic desert landscape.

This post will give you an idea of the road journey of one of the most epic icons of Australia.

However, to really enjoy the journey, give yourself at least a whole week. The more time you spend in this magnificent region, the better you will understand why it’s the spiritual center of the continent.

Read More: Best Road Trips in California

Let’s Start the Australian Outback Adventure

Since there are multiple stops throughout this road trip, you need to know exactly what you will cover in this adventurous ride. Let’s take a closer look at the essential stops!

1. Alice Springs to Glen Helen

Kata Tjuta

The city of Alice Springs is considered the heart of the Red Centre. It’s easy to reach Alice Springs via connecting flight from Darwin, or Brisbane (or most of Australia’s big cities for that matter). There are plenty of car rental agencies in Alice Springs; many 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 entering 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 are some great hiking spots in the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Also, stay aware of the extreme temperatures and drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

2. Glen Helen to Kings Canyon

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 best place to take a walking tour guided by an Aboriginal elder.

Read More: Best Tourist Destinations in the World

3. Kings Canyon to Uluru

Uluru Northern Territory

By now, you should be thoroughly immersed in the mystique and spiritual vibe of the Red Centre. The next step is to travel to Uluru. 

This is Australia’s most recognized landmark. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is known as a sacred place for Aboriginal communities.

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 is believed that there’s more of it underground than there is on the surface, like a giant red iceberg!

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 the ancient natural monolith, don’t climb Uluru. Instead, explore around its base. You can also view it from the back of a camel or overhead in a helicopter.

Uluru

Trek through the Valley of the Winds for spectacular vistas and equally great photos. Many tourists come here only to enjoy the sunrise and sunset 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. The site features 36 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.

4. Uluru to Alice Springs

Rainbow Valley at dawn
Photo: tensaibuta

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 magical Red Centre Way!

Dusk on Finke Road
Photo: tensaibuta

Overall, this is just a quick guide on this adventurous round road journey in the Northern Territory that gives a tour of Australia’s most dramatic desert landscapes. You could spend weeks exploring this incredible corner of the world.

See Related: Best Things to do in Arizona & Places to Visit

Other Important Details on The Ultimate Red Centre Adventure

As mentioned above, the Red Centre is more than just a vast desert and a collection of red rocks; it has more to offer its visitors. Now that you have an idea about the Red Centre road trip, let’s discuss other essential details of this adventurous place.

Interesting Facts About the Red Centre

Red centre

It’s no surprise that the Red Centre is the heart and soul of the Australian Outback. You will get to experience it yourself once you explore the desert, Aboriginal culture, and the ever-changing colors of Uluru.

The warmth of the red soil between the toes while cherishing the surroundings’ view gives an other-worldly feeling.

Apart from all these things, here are some interesting facts about this charming tourist destination:

  1. It’s a world-class site for unique natural and cultural heritage.
  2. The red color of the soil is due to the high levels of iron-oxidizing in the sand.
  3. Though the desert makes it look like a challenge, this place is easily accessible.
  4. It is one of the best places worldwide to enjoy the mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets.
  5. At a height of 348 meters, Uluru is taller than the Eiffel Tower.
  6. The former name of Uluru was Ayers Rock. William Gosse gave this name after the then Chief Secretary of South Australia in 1873. The name was changed to Uluru in 1993, acknowledging the Aboriginal name.
  7. The Uluru climb was banned permanently from 26th October 2019 due to the spiritual significance of the landscape and for safety & environmental reasons.
  8. Uluru is home to over 400 plant and 21 mammal species. The mammals include the spinifex hopping mouse, red kangaroos, and dingoes.
  9. Glen Helen Gorge offers incredible views of Mount Sonder (which changes colors with light), one of the highest points in Central Australia.

Read More: Tips to Travel Full Time

Natural Wonders of the Red Centre

Filled with unique flora and fauna, a trip to the Northern Territory’s Red Centre is the best way to uncover the astounding beauty of Central Australia. Though the place offers a lot to see, here are some points that you can’t miss to visit.

1. Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon, Australia

If you love hiking, Kings Canyon should be on your list. Just 3 hours from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it boasts stunning panoramic views across the Watarrka National Park. The towering sandstone walls of this attraction climb over 100 meters into the sky, making it a breathtaking adventure.

The Canyon is home to over 600 species of native plants and animals; you will get to see some while hiking. Rim Walk, a 6 km trail, is one of the favorite activities in the Canyon. 

Covering the major highlights, including ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Lost City’ domes, this hike is a perfect adventure.

2. Alice Springs Desert Park

Alice Springs Desert Park

Sited on 1,300 hectares, the Alice Springs Desert Park is a wildlife park in Australia’s Northern Territory. Taking a tour of this site is the best way to explore the desert’s animals, plants, and people.

A reflection of the Australian desert itself, this natural wonder of the Red Centre delivers a truly distinctive experience that continues to captivate.

See Related: Best Parks in Amsterdam to Visit

3. Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm

Around a 40-minute drive from Alice Springs, Standley Chasm is a spectacular gorge in West MacDonnell Ranges. This 1.2 km long trail is an easy walk for most visitors and a must-see geological and cultural icon.

This natural rock alleyway (80-meter-high sheer rock walls) is thousands of years old, formed by floodwaters carving out the mountains. Not only this, but the striking variation of rocks along the chasm floor (carried here by water) is another highlight of this attraction.

Try to visit the Standley Chasm in the afternoon to enjoy the unmatched view of the sun coming through the chasm. The sunlight entering the gorge will make it look like it’s glowing for a few minutes, turning it into a truly magical sight.

4. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Formerly called Ayers Rock – Mount Olga National Park, this attraction now belongs to the Anangu people, the Aboriginies native to the area. The unique cultural significance and natural beauty of the place have been officially acknowledged as a World Heritage Listed Area by UNESCO.

Sunrise or sunset is the best time to explore these wonders when both Uluru and Kata Tjuta seem to change their colors with sun rays.

See Related: Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit

5. MacDonnell Ranges

MacDonnell Ranges

The MacDonnell Ranges hold a historical, spiritual, and cultural significance for the local Aboriginal communities. The place is one of the best stops to explore rivers, valleys, chasms, and gorges.

Divided into West and East ranges, the enormous size and vibrant burnt orange, maroon, and purple hues make them a truly magical attraction of the Northern Territory.

The East MacDonnell Ranges feature some historic Aboriginal sites, walking trails, and the ubiquitous red river gum trees. They also offer unique opportunities for fantastic bird watching and enjoying the native wildlife.

It’s worth noting that the West MacDonnell Ranges are widely popular with tourists, so it can get busy. They feature unique scenery and multiple waterholes, including Glen Helen Gorge, Redbank Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, and Ellery Creek Big Hole.

Also, winding through the West ranges, the Larapinta Trail is the best way to discover and explore this ruggedly beautiful area.

Read More: Top Cities to Visit Across the World

Top Activities to Do in the Red Centre

There are many things to see and do in the Red Centre to make your exploration of the Australian Outback truly special.

The destination also offers authentic cultural experiences to ensure all visitors have the best time. Read on for some things to do ideas!

Things to do in Alice Springs

Hot-Air Balloon Adventure
  1. Take an open-door helicopter ride to cherish those unrestricted panoramic views.
  2. Enjoy the beautiful sunrise view from a hot-air balloon with camels and kangaroos roaming far below.
  3. Take some time from your schedule and visit the stunning Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.
  4. Camp at Rainbow Valley to enjoy the colorful sandstone bluff under a darkening sky that comes alive with stars.
  5. Explore the birthplace of Albert Namatjira, the well-known Aboriginal watercolor artist.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica & Things to Do

Things to do in Uluru

Skydiving in Uluru
  1. Visit the Field of Light to witness the spectacle of color lighting up the desert.
  2. Take a sunrise camel ride with the stunning Uluru view to wish you a good morning.
  3. Go skydiving for unrivaled views of this sacred site.
  4. Try Australian native bush foods to get an idea about the local delicacies, spices, and seasonal seeds.
  5. Plan an intimate dinner at Tali Wiru under the Outback night’s sky to witness the stillness of the desert at night.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Jamaica to Try

Along the Way from Uluru to Alice Springs

Kings Canyon Rim Walk
  1. Hike along the Kings Creek Walk or the Kings Canyon Rim Walk.
  2. Visit the Ellery Creek Big Hole; a truly epic waterhole.
  3. Camp around Glen Helen and have a starlit barbeque or billycan stew.

In addition, this neck of the Australian Outback offers various activities that adventurous people can try their hands on. Some of the best ones are:

  • Mountain-bike riding
  • Quad bike tours
  • Four-wheel driving
  • Swimming in larger billabongs
  • Bush camping
  • Trekking the Larapinta Trail

Moreover, you can visit local museums, including the Alice Springs School of the Air Experience and Old Ghan Museum, to dive deep into the history of this red-sand area. The displays there will give you a glimpse into interactive cultural activities and the lives of early settlers in the remote Alice Springs region, ensuring a completely authentic Australian Outback experience.

Overall, all of these activities, tours, and displays will help tourists understand this magical place’s history, culture, and heritage.

See Related: The Flag of Germany: Colours, Meaning & History

Events in the Red Centre

As you may well know, the Red Centre hosts multiple great festivals throughout the year. These are some of the major festivals celebrated every year in the Red Centre. If you’re planning to visit Red Centre this year, keep an eye out for these months to make your trip even more memorable.

1. FabAlice

FabAlice Event

The event is a showcase of drag, cabaret, and other family events to celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of the region. This joyful festival of love comes around every March.

2. Parrtjima

Parrtjima Festival

It is a unique Aboriginal festival of its kind. Hosted in April every year, the event connects tourists to the Red Centre with light shows, new Aboriginal artworks, live music, and other performances.

3. Wide Open Space Festival

Wide Open Space Festival

Also called WOS, it is authentic art, music, and cultural festival. It attracts national acts but primarily features local talent. The celebrations of this small, offbeat festival are held in April or May.

4. Alice Springs Beanie Festival

Alice Springs Beanie Festival

Also known simply as the Beanie Festival, Alice Springs Beanie Festival is a four-day celebration that brings people together to cherish everything beanie. It is celebrated in June every year. Bring a beanie. Buy a beanie. Wear beanies. Beanies. BEANIES.

5. Desert Song Festival

Desert Song Festival

The festival celebrates Aboriginal culture, dance, music, and song. The aim is to connect travelers to the traditional roots of the Central Australian continent. It is celebrated in September or October.

Best Time to Visit the Red Centre

The best time to embark on a trip to the Red Centre is in the dry season, i.e., between May and October. The day temperature ranges between 68°F and 86°F (20°C and 30°C in native Australian) during this time of the year.

Also, since there’s no or very little rain, it is safer and more pleasant to walk in this rocky region.

Read More: Best Places to Stay in Bryce Canyon

Where to Stay in the Red Centre

Accommodation in Red Centre

Whether it’s a family trip or a romantic getaway, booking your accommodation is the most critical part of a trip. Since there are many options, you have the choice to explore all of them and pick the right one based on your taste, budget, and required facilities.

From luxury resorts to camping and everything in between, these accommodation options make the Red Centre an ideal Australian holiday spot.

Here are a handful of options for visitors looking to make their stay comfortable.

Alice Springs Accommodation Options

If you’re looking to explore the natural & cultural attractions of the Red Centre, let’s take a look at these options.

1. Alice Motor Inn
Room with 3 beds

Situated just a 10-minute walk from the city center, this is a small, family-operated motel. It has 20 rooms of different sizes, including Budget Double, Deluxe Double, and Family Rooms.

The basic facilities are free WiFi, secure parking, non-smoking rooms, pool, laundry, and guest kitchen.

2. DoubleTree by Hilton
DoubleTree by Hilton

Just 15 minutes away from Alice Springs Airport, DoubleTree by Hilton is an exclusive accommodation option. The walking distance from the downtown area makes it a top priority for most travelers.

The property’s room options are Double and Kings rooms (with or without mountain views), Junior Suites, and King Premier Suite.

The facilities are accessible WiFi, a restaurant, pool, fitness center, and tennis court.

3. Desert Palms Resort
Desert Palms Resort

Around one kilometer from the town, Desert Palms Resort is a beautiful motel on the edge of the Todd River. The property has types of rooms, such as double, triple, quad, and family villas.

With the MacDonnell Ranges in the background, this is a stunning place to spend your time.

4. The Diplomat Motel
The Diplomat Motel

Close to the local market, this property is another perfect option for those looking to discover the beauty of the Alice Springs region while ensuring a comfortable stay. They provide varying room options, such as Budget, Standard, King, and Superior.

The facilities you will get here are free WiFi, room service, a pool, and a family restaurant.

Ayers Rock Resort Accommodation Options

Finding accommodation near Uluru has its own benefits as you get to witness the changing colors of Uluru & Kata Tjuta park at sunrise and sunset. Those looking to venture close to Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park can consider booking any of the following facilities at the Ayres Rock Resort.

1. Desert Gardens Hotel
Desert Gardens Hotel

Desert Gardens Hotel is the only accommodation option with clear Uluru views. From shady poolside rooms to deluxe rock views, this property offers different spaces to meet every taste.

Also, the facilities you will get here include free WiFi, a swimming pool, room service, a restaurant & bar, and 24-hour reception.

2. Ayers Rock Campground
Ayers Rock Campground

Only a few minutes away from Uluru-Kata Tjuta, this property is an excellent option for those who want to experience the beauty of Uluru. The facility offers a handful of options for visitors, including two-bedroom cabins, campervans, powered caravans, camper trailer sites, motorhomes, and a basic tent camping space.

It also has a gaming and laundry room. The hotel is a short walk to the Naninga Lookout, offering a picturesque view of Uluru. Overall, this place is perfect for families and backpackers.

3. Sails in the Desert
Sails in the Desert Pool

A beautiful combination of Uluru’s raw nature with modular rooms, Sails in the Desert is a luxurious option to stay near Uluru. The hotel has 228 luxury rooms, a swimming pool, a fine restaurant, an open-dining setup, and a lounge, making it a paradise in the center of a desert.

The main amenities include free WiFi, free parking, and free guest activity programs.

4. Emu Walk Apartments
Emu Walk Apartments

Around 20 km away from Uluru, Emu Walk Apartments is another luxury accommodation in the area. The property has spacious rooms, all equipped with possible accessories to ensure a comfortable stay for guests.

This facility’s amenities include free parking, free WiFi, daily housekeeping, a fully equipped kitchen, and 24-hour reception.

Also, the hotel is within walking distance of Town Square’s restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, and shops. Overall, the place is suitable for families, couples, and business people.

Things to Pack for the Red Centre Journey

No matter the time of the year, here are a few essentials that you need to pack for the Australian outback to have an amazing trip.

  • Hiking shoes and flip flops
  • Lightweight and Warm layers
  • Shorts, jeans, trousers, hiking pants, and tracksuit pants
  • T-shirts, full-sleeved thermal shirts, and tank tops
  • Waterproof jacket, swimsuit, and quick-dry towel
  • A sun hat and sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Camera and charger
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Headlamp, flashlight, and fly net
  • Medicines and toiletries
  • Waterbottles

Overall, a trip to the Red Centre is the best way to get close to the history and cultural traditions of this unique region of Australia. Treat yourself by planning a trip to this incredible place with family or friends.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many deserts are there in Australia?

Well, Australia is home to 10 deserts. The list includes the Gibson Desert, Great Victoria Desert, Simpson Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Little Sandy Desert, Strzelecki Desert, Tirari Desert, Sturt Stony Desert, Pedirka Desert, and the Tanami Desert.
 
Since 20% of the land in Australia is a desert area, it makes many people think that Australia is a desert. However, the fact is that only 3% of Australians live in the desert. 

Is Central Australia suitable for living?

The answer is no – well, sort of – but, no not really. Not unless you have the training anyway. For most people, Central Australia is not suitable for living for various reasons:
– It is a desert region. 
– This section is miles away from the ocean. 
– The nearest permanent river is around 800 miles away. 
– Climate is always dry.
– Less than 6 inches or 150 mm rainfall annually. 
– Scarcity of water.
– It’s too darn hot.
Basically, it’s largely inhospitable for humans for extended periods unless you are well versed in desert living and survival.

Why is Uluru called a sacred site?

Uluru is a sacred destination in the Red Centre because of its age and the amount of time Anangu people have lived here. This site is believed to be a resting place for spirits, giving it a religious status.
 
Also, surviving in such a barren place is not a cakewalk for both rocks and human beings. But, Uluru has been proven an exception, all thanks to its homogeneity. 

Related Resources:

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!