Passing through Australia’s Red Centre is rite of passage for travellers and locals alike. This is home to the iconic Uluru and the extraordinary landscape that is outback Australia. Think ancient rock formations, sacred water holes, red rock gorges and distinct wildlife.
For those who want the full experience, you’ll start in Adelaide and head north to Darwin, or vice versa. Alice Springs is the halfway point in terms of this distance and the centre of Australia. However, if you’re shorter on time, you can fly into Ayers Rock Airport or Alice Springs to get you started so you won’t have to rush once you get on the road.
Today we outline where to stop and what to see when you head from the Top End, Darwin to the very centre of Australia. We begin in the North and head south – but of course this journey can be done in reverse depending on your plans.
Before you Go
If you’re travelling to Australia from overseas and want to have accommodation with you on the road, consider campervan hire. This assures a vehicle that is roadworthy, clean and ready to go the distance. Many hire companies provide roadside assistance which is essential if you’re going to the outback. Many small towns will only be equipped for very basic car repairs – if the mechanic is around that is! The other aspect of Australian road tripping is dealing with the utter remoteness of some of the locations you’ll pass through. Although mobile coverage is much better than even a few years ago, expect some black spots. Data and wifi can also be very unreliable – even in a wireless hotspot. Therefore, depending on your route, items such as radios, satellite phones and the good old fashioned paper map can be lifesaving. Ample food, shelter and water supplies is just common sense! Mosquito spray and nets will be useful as they also keep flies at bay.
Three hours drive south of Darwin, Katherine is an essential stop to make and truly tropical destination. Although you won’t find it on the coast, you will find crystal clear, natural waterholes that are suitable (and highly recommended) to swim in. Mataranka Thermal Pool has a unqiue sandy-bottom and Bitter Springs in Elsey National Park is beautiful for swimming and birdwatching. They are both naturally filled with 33-34 degree water. Make an early start and witness a sunrise at Mitimiluk Gorge or hire canoes and paddle past the many waterfalls and ancient First Peoples rock art.
After the bathing around Mataranka, head down to Daly Waters. The famous Daly Waters Pub is where you can book a room to stay, or pop in for a meal or drink and leave a behind a souvenir to add to the pub’s colourful décor. Then it’s onto Tennant Creek which is another former gold rush town rich in Indigenous history. It is nearby the well-known site Karlu Karlu, aka the Devil’s Marbles.
After this, you’re almost at the halfway mark of Alice Springs which many people spend a longer time in to recharge and site see. As the ‘headquarters’ of the outback, there are countless activities and facilities. This is the place to coordinate activities such as hot air ballooning, quad biking, camel rides in the desert, or wildlife encounters at the Reptile Centre or Kangaroo Sanctuary. While here, you’ll probably want to tour the like of the West MacDonnell Ranges, Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm. For water lovers, there are more natural swimming holes to be found alongside Alice Springs’ vibrant cultural scene: arts, festivals and music.
Once you leave Alice Springs you’re almost there! Uluru is only a 5 and half hours drive away and an impressive finishing point to culminate your central Australia road trip. Uluru is a sacred landmark and the most famous rock in the world. As a massive, natural sandstone formation, it is impressive enough in itself. But as a cultural icon, it is also currently the site of the breathtaking field of Lights art installation by Bruce Munro. You might book a sunset dinner, a scenic helicopter tour or cultural and historical tour from local Indigenous guides such as the Cave Hill Tour.
See you in the Red Centre!
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