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Our guide to Australia’s Red Centre

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The otherworldly landscapes of Australia’s Red Centre will feel very unfamiliar to most. This outback land of deep red rock and desert crowned by unbroken blue skies is both visually striking and full of interest. Home to sacred Aboriginal sites like Uluru and Kata Tjuta, this is an ancient land of raw beauty with a powerful sense of place. 

You certainly won’t want to miss the beach towns, boardwalks and rolling surf of coastal Oz, but without a trip to the Red Centre, you won’t have gotten to the true heart of Australia. 

Come here to stargaze under the clearest of skies, listen to stories of dreamtime, trace the intricate patterns of Aboriginal dot paintings and witness the mesmerising colours of Uluru change with the setting and rising of the sun. Here’s our guide to exploring Australia’s remarkable Red Centre. 

Where is Australia’s Red Centre and how do you get there?

The Red Centre is a vast and largely uninhabited outback in the far south of the Northern Territory. Within it, you will find the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park, the town of Alice Springs, and many a mile of desert and bush. It’s about a three-hour flight from Australia’s major eastern and southern cities to either Alice Springs or Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). 

Spend time with Uluru

Spending time at the sacred Uluru rock is a revelation. This red colossus in a sea of sand has a powerful presence and the whole park has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage area, for both its natural and cultural value. 

It is easy to see at first sight why Uluru is considered a natural wonder, but the cultural importance of this great rock cannot be overstated, either. The local Aboriginal people tell of how the rock was created by their ancestral spirits as a sacred place. Down through the ages, this physical environment has been intrinsically linked with the local Anangu people and their ancestors. 

Visitors can experience Uluru from a distance or around its base, but climbing the rock isn’t permitted. Set off to explore on foot, horseback or camelback, cruise on a Segway or take a helicopter flight up and over. The best times to see Uluru are at dawn and dusk when the rock appears to glow violet and indigo under the changing light. 

Uluru or Ayers Rock

Stargaze under infinite galaxies

The big skies of Australia’s Red Centre are stellar for stargazing. There is almost zero light pollution here, and the desert landscape is illuminated by stars that seem bigger and brighter than any you’ve seen before. The Aboriginal people are sometimes said to be the first astronomers and have numerous stories woven around the constellations, as well as practical uses for them in terms of navigation and harvesting. 

Stargazing can be done solo and under the guidance of an astronomer, or enjoyed as a glittering backdrop to an al fresco dining experience. 

Roam the Kata Tjuta domes

The rolling red rock formations of Kata Tjuta are part of the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, jointly managed by the Anangu people and Parks Australia. The name translates as ‘Many Heads’ and has deep spiritual meaning for the local indigenous Anangu, most of which isn’t shared with visitors. 

What is shared is a wonderful landscape that is perfect for hiking and exploration. Alternatively, simply stand back and enjoy the views from afar on a sunset tour.

Kata Tjuta domes/ Mount Olga

Take in some Aboriginal art

Aboriginal dot paintings are instantly recognisable for their distinct (dotty) style, often depicting the natural world. There are some 100 local galleries across the Red Centre with a high concentration of them in Alice Springs. Head to Todd Street Mall to see the big names or time your visit for September’s Desert Mob arts festival. A great way to learn about the art form is to join a workshop and try your hand at it. 

Taste Anangu bush tucker

The Anangu Aboriginal people have foraged and hunted in the desert for millennia. What looks like a stark landscape has sustained people for thousands of years. Learning about the foods, tools, medicines and materials used here is endlessly interesting. 

Join a guided tour to learn all about it and experience some of these unfamiliar foodstuffs. If you don’t fancy biting into a plump witchetty grub or sweet honey ant, then bush plums or desert raisins might be more to your taste. 

Walk through the ‘Field of Light’

The Field of Light is a mesmerising art installation by Bruce Munro. Created on a grand scale, the installation illuminates at nightfall as a vast field of gently pulsating coloured lights swaying under the desert sky. With the stars overhead and the silhouette of Uluru standing tall in the distance, being there is a vivid and magical experience. 

Take to the skies on a balloon ride

Climb aboard before dawn and drift silently above the desert landscape as the sun peeps above the horizon. If there’s one thing that’s worth getting up early for on your Australia holiday, it’s this. Look out for emus in the distance or eagles soaring on thermals nearby. Getting a bird’s eye view of the desert and its wildlife is a wonderful way to experience the Red Centre.

Meet a roo, or two

Meet Australia’s most famous animal at the Alice Springs Kangaroo Sanctuary. The site encompasses over 180 acres of protected land along with a kangaroo hospital. Here you can coo over orphaned baby roos and even get involved in feeding them. 

For more animal encounters, visit the Alice Springs Desert Park, where you can commune with some of the surprising diversity of wildlife native to the Red Centre. These include the bizarre thorny devil lizard and shy black-footed rock-wallabies. 

Trek Watarrka National Park

In Australia’s Watarrka National Park, time-worn sandstone rock formations reveal a lush watering hole known as the Garden of Eden. Deep in Kings Canyon and surrounded by native eucalyptus and ferns, this is another important sacred site for the Anangu people. The views as you hike are spectacular and the 6km Kings Canyon Rim Walk takes up to four hours, depending on your pace. There is also a shorter hike of 2.5km that tracks along the canyon floor.

Make a splash in West MacDonnell National Park

Around 80km west of Alice Springs, the West MacDonnell Ranges rise up dramatically from the desert. These craggy mountaintops reveal deep, wildlife-rich valleys dotted with watering holes. The Ellery Creek Big Hole is just the place to take a dip and enjoy a shady picnic after a West Mac hike.  

The East Mac Ranges also offer classic outback hiking. If you visit, make sure to head to Emily Gap to see the intricate Aboriginal rock art. 

Make it happen

If you’re envisioning a trip of a lifetime to Australia, one of our locally-based experts can plan everything for you. Get in touch today to tell them all about your dream holiday, and they’ll work up the ideal itinerary.

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