The Red Center is one of those areas that everyone plans on going to before they arrive in Australia, but usually gets pushed aside once you fall in love with the beaches and the nightlife of the coast. In my year in Australia I talked to countless other travellers who would say, “yeah, I wanted to do that but I just ran out of time,” or, “it’s just so far away from everything!” These a perfectly good reasons to skip the Center, and certainly there are plenty of other amazing sites in the country but, here’s my five reasons to make the Red Center a priority stop in Australia:
- Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru, formerly known as Ayer’s Rock, is the reason that the Red Centee makes it on most people’s to do list in the first place. The majestic monolith is one of the rare things in this world that really lives up Tok the hype. Also in the park is uluru’s less-known Kata Juta, which many visitors actually find even more inspiring. Here you can do the fantastic Valley of the Winds walk which takes you through the rock formations that make up Kata Juta. For me it was the best part of the park.
You can’t camp in the actual park but the town of Yulara is only a 15-20 minute drive. You will find accommodation, shopping, and restaurants. Some of the hotels here can be quite pricey but the campground has some budget rooms as well as a buy-two-nights- get-one-free deal on campsites. Three nights should be enough time to catch a sunrise and sunset at Uluru and do a few good walks without feeling too pressed for time.
You can walk around the entire base of Uluru or, if you’re not feeling quite that energetic there are a few shorter walks where you can still take in some of the sacred aboriginal site and get up close to the rock. It is possible to climb the rock but I strongly urge you not to. Not only is it extremely dangerous, but the rock is very culturally important to the local aboriginal tribes. Furthermore, because of the geological nature of the rock, it has started to wear away in the area that you can climb up from so many people going up it.
- Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of Australia. It is spectacular and often gets overlooked in favour of Uluru. The full Rim Walk begins with a long climb up a staircase, fondly refered to as Heart Attack Hill. It takes you all he way up to the top of the canyon wall, then you make your way all the way around the horseshoe shaped canyon. Halfway through you descend slightly into the middle of the canyon where there is a pool surrounded by lush vegetation called the Garden of Eden. It is a great spot to eat lunch and gaze up in wonder while listening to the birds chirp away.
The shorter Kings Creek walk will take you into the center of the canyon. It is nice and not as physically demanding as the Rim Walk, if you are not up for the staircase to the top. Be sure, whichever walk you chose, to read the information signs along the way which explain how the canyon was formed and why there are water ripples fossilised into the rocks in the middle of the desert.
- Alice Springs
To me, one of the most underrated cities in Australia, Alice Springs usually gets a bit of a bad rap. People tend to think of it as a scary or dangerous town. I won’t lie to you, you will probably see a fair amount of drunk people after a certain time of night and you probably shouldn’t leave your bags laying around unattended, but honestly is what city is that not true? I never felt unsafe walking in Alice.
During the day, take a walk up Anzac Hill to get a great view of the town nuzzled in between the Macdonell Ranges, walk around to see some of the fantastic art galleries, and check out some of the local eateries on Todd street. For nightlife head to the Rock Bar and the carnival-themed Monte’s.
- East and West Macdonnell ranges
The Macdonell ranges surround Alice Springs. The best way to see them is with a 4 x 4 vehicle so that you can drive from Kings a Canyon to the West Macs via the Mureenie Loop track. It is a very easy track, so long as it’s not raining. I recommend staying at a free camp just at the very start of the track that is on top of a small hill so that you can overlook the landscape. It is a beautiful view to wake up to. Get up early to start your adventure into the mountains from there. The West Macs can be done in three days, depending on what pace you prefer. In three days you can make all of the stops, but you will be on the road quite a bit and sometimes it detracts from the beauty of the range if you are seeing too many gorges, pools, and chasms in one day. Take an extra couple days and really appreciate how amazing the mountains are in the vast expanse of flat desert that is the Red Center.
The East Macs are equally as beautiful, if a bit smaller. You can do them easily in a weekend. Here enjoy some peace and quiet and do some fantastic trekking. They are not as popular as the West Macs so in a weekday you will have campsites pretty much to yourself. A great way to get away.
- Devil’s Marbles
When you start driving north from Alice up the Stuart highway you’ll come across a very strange site. Virtually right next to the highway there are rock formations that appear to be giant, nearly perfect spheres of red rock perched on top of one another. Definitely plan a stop to take some fun photos of trying to lift the massive orbs. If you want to stay there is a campsite literally right next to the formations but get there early because it does get quite busy and be warned, it was one of the windiest places I slept in Australia. The wind here is actually what created the marbles. Years and years of it wore down the soft rock into what they look like today.