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Top Road Trip in Central Australia

Home > Australia > Walks | Travel | Places of Interest | Family | Escape the City
by Janice Williams (subscribe)
Janice is a Mother-Daughter Relationship Coach. Visit my blog
Published November 5th 2015
Exciting short holiday in Central Australia
Our exciting holiday had finally begun. We flew from Sydney to Alice Springs and hired a car which would transport us to some remarkable places and witness some incredible sights. It would be an extraordinary time in The Red Centre.

Uluru at sunset - Photo by Faye

There's a lot to do in Alice Springs and the surrounding area. We visited The Old Telegraph Station which was the first white settlement in Central Australia then to The Royal Flying Doctor Service which exhibits the history of the RFDS and has an informative audio visual presentation. The highlight of our visit to Alice Springs, though, was The School of the Air which offers education to children in remote areas. This unique school covers an area of 1,300,000 square kilometres. We were fortunate to observe a classroom "in action" as one of the teachers instructed her students via the internet.

School of the air
School of the Air - Photo by Faye

Afterwards we visited the Olive Pink Botanic Garden which specialises in native Australian plants in the Central Australian area. We strolled through the botanic gardens and recognized a bower bird near its nest.

bower bird northern territory
Bower bird - Photo by Faye

We were now famished and hot so the garden's Bean Tree Cafe was a nice relief for food and drink.

Bean Tree Cafe
Bean Tree Cafe - Photo by Faye

We ordered tasty roo burgers on brioche buns and had a delicious thirst-quenching mango, pineapple and orange frappe.

frappe Bean Tree Cafe
Thirst-quenching frappe - Photo by Faye

The next day we drove through the West MacDonnell Ranges towards Simpsons Gap and briefly stopped at Flynn's Grave, a memorial that contains the ashes of Rev. John Flynn who established The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Rev John Flynn
Rev John Flynn's memorial - Photo by Faye

After a short 15 minute drive, we arrived at Simpsons Gap. The Gap is stunning with its weathered red rock on either side. As we walked along a dry river bed towards a waterhole, we spotted Black-footed Rock Wallabies (which were too quick-footed for a photo). Simpsons Gap is surprisingly peaceful and undisturbed and had the aura of a sacred place.

Simpsons Gap
Simpsons Gap - Photo by Faye

After Simpsons Gap, we drove to Standley Chasm with its narrow, high, imposing red walls. We took the easy 20 minute walk to the Chasm arriving just as the sun shone on one side of the rock face. It's advisable to arrive around midday to see the full effect of the sun on both sides of this massive red rock that dwarfs its inhabitants below.

Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm - Photo by Faye

We next visited Ormiston Gorge, a spectacular place and well worth the visit to see the beautiful flora and fascinating birdlife in this oasis in the desert.

Ormiston Gorge
Ormiston Gorge - Photo by Faye
birdlife at Ormiston Gorge
Fascinating birdlife at Ormiston Gorge - Photo by Faye

Our last day in Alice Springs was marked by my determination to find the elusive sign that indicates the Todd River. I had heard of the well-known Henley-on-Todd Regatta (or the Todd River Race) and I was determined to seek a sign for this illustrious dry river bed. We drove parallel to the river bed and crossed bridges but no sign was to be found until finally my resolve (and my family's patience) paid off.

Todd River
Todd River - Photo by Faye

From Alice Springs it's a 4 – 5 hour drive to Kings Canyon via the Stuart Highway, then Luritja Highway. This route is the best for 2WD's. The roads here are flat and the earth is a deep, rich red colour. The Red Centre is an appropriate name for this expanse. The larger 4WD's can take the cross country route via the Larapinta Way but beware, mishaps occur. One man told us that he drove his 4WD along the Larapinta Way with his caravan attached. Ten kilometres into his journey, one of the caravan tyres shredded. He changed the tyre and made the decision to use sealed roads from thereon.

Oh, and did I mention flies; persistent fiends designed to irritate. It seemed like a squadron of flies were assigned to each individual in the Red Centre to sadistically annoy us and mercilessly watch us flap our arms wildly about the air. Netting over the face is a requirement in this region.

Two hours from Alice Springs, we arrived at Erldunda Roadhouse. The Roadhouse has an emu farm and is a stopover for food and fuel. Cars, vans, mini buses waited in the queue for that highly sought-after liquid gold - petrol.

Erldunda Roadhouse - Photo by Faye

Next stop was Mt. Ebenezer Roadhouse, 55 kms from Erldunda, to admire and purchase Aboriginal art. The art gallery displays works by the Imanpa Community who also own and run the Roadhouse. The interior of the roadhouse is fascinating as your eyes are drawn towards the colourful work of art on the wall. It is then that the signs become obvious. What is it about the humble restroom in outback roadhouses that people feel grateful to label them with a nom de plume?

Mt Ebenezer roadhouse
Mt Ebenezer roadhouse - Photo by Faye

Back on the road again, we spotted three eagles on the road, one of them tearing at a kangaroo carcass. It was thrilling to see these large birds of prey up close but I was not sure how aggressive eagles are when humans get too close to their prey. The eagle appeared nervous as it jumped around on the carcass and kept a close 'eagle eye' on me. I felt uneasy when another eagle landed nearby - its large curved beak, mighty talons and its piercing eyes - as though it was warning me to back off. Yet the size of this incredible creature was astonishing.

eagles outback northern territory
Eagles in the outback - Photo by Faye
eagles northern territory carcass
Photo by Faye

As we headed into the mountainous area towards Kings Canyon, brumbies suddenly raced out of the bush in front of our car and tore through the bush on the other side. It happened so quickly, we shook our heads in disbelief. Being a city inhabitant, I am not used to brumbies galloping across roads or eagles circling nearby - I need to get out more often!

brumbies outback northern territory
Brumbies - Photo by Faye
mountains kings canyon
Photo by Faye

We arrived at Kings Creek Station for our overnight stay. Kings Creek Station is a cattle and camel station, 36 kms from Kings Canyon, or 300 kms from Uluru. Due to its remoteness, there is no internet access.

outback NT Kings Creek
Kings Creek Station - Photo by Faye
Kings Creek Station NT
Accommodation - Photo by Faye

Attempting to explain a lack of internet to Mr. 15 year old, I tried to put a positive spin on it – there are helicopter rides, quad bikes, feeding the cows and camels, trying a camel burger at their café (which was very tasty), smelling the fresh air, feeling the sun on your face (as well as those dastardly flies), etc. etc. I have written a separate article on Kings Creek Station.

helicopter Kings Creek
Photo by Faye

The next day, we set off early so we could walk the Kings Canyon rim. The Rim Walk can take about four hours but there is also an easier walk down on the Canyon floor. I recommend a reasonable fitness level to do the Rim Walk and to start early in the morning. The first sector, which is the toughest part, is a 500 step uphill climb which takes 20 - 30 minutes.

Kings Canyon rim walk
Clambering up, up, up - Photo by Faye

Once at the top, though, it is truly breathtaking. To look out across this spectacular canyon and down into its ravines is unforgettable. Visitors to Central Australia place this stunning canyon on their list of top things to do.

Kings Canyon NT
Photo by Faye
Rim walk
Photo by Faye
Kings canyon walk
Photo by Faye
rim walk NT
Photo by Faye

After Kings Canyon, it was a four hour drive to our final destination, Uluru. We took the Luritja Road, then the Lasseter Highway. En route, we sighted Mt Connor in the distance. This mountain is often confused with Uluru as the size and shape of Mt Connor is similar. As we drove towards our accommodation, in the distance we could see the massive red rock, that familiar symbol that beckons visitors to its sacred ground and is the spiritual home to the indigenous Anangu people.

Uluru NT
Uluru - Photo by Faye

We stayed three nights at Ayers Rock Resort's Emu Walk Apartments. The resort has a variety of accommodation options and our apartment did not disappoint. A two bedroom spacious apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, lovely bathroom, washing machine (yay for clean, sweet smelling clothes) and a dryer. Plus a TV and free wifi – but, hey, who wants to stay indoors when there's lots to see outdoors in this great big land.

Emu Walk Apartments
Emu Walk Apartments - Photo by Faye

One night we watched the setting sun bring forth the deep red of Uluru. This is something not to be missed when visiting this area; to see the changing colour, the depth and transformation of the shadows in the crevices of this magnificent icon.

Uluru setting sun
Photo by Faye
sun setting NT
Photo by Faye

The next day, we rose early to view the sun rising over Uluru. It is astonishing as the sun rises and the deep rich red colour of Uluru is exposed.

Photo by Faye

We later joined a free 90 minute ranger-led walk around a part of the base of Uluru. The ranger was exceptional in pointing out Aboriginal art, sharing information with our group and answering questions. After the guided walk, we wandered around admiring caves, crevices and rock paintings. It was a fabulous day.

ranger walk Uluru
Photo by Faye
Photo by Faye

In the evening, we attended the Sounds of Silence dinner which included a buffet dinner, Aboriginal dancers and an astronomer who pointed out features of the glittering spectacle above us.

Sounds of Silence
Dinner in the desert - Photo by Faye

While he spoke, a shooting star unexpectedly burst through the sky. The trees were an eerie backdrop as the sun set and the sky became gradually redder. It was a full moon which is not ideal to observe the stars and the Milky Way but it was a calm evening where visitors could look through a telescope to see the wonder of Saturn and marvel at our solar system.

Sounds of Silence dinner
Photo by Faye
dinner Uluru
Photo by Faye
desert dinner silence Uluru
Photo by Faye
dinner in the desert
Photo by Faye

The next day we visited Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Kata Tjuta is impressive to see at a distance and awesome to see up close. The size of those 36 large red domes is breath-taking. We decided to do a short stroll as we couldn't bring ourselves to do another hike, like Kings Canyon, in the heat and with those persistent flies.

The Olgas
Kata Tjuta - Photo by Faye
Kata Tjuta
Photo by Faye
Snake Kata Tjuta
A snake at Kata Tjuta - Photo by Faye

On our last day, we strolled around the resort then dropped off our car at Ayers Rock Airport. We were surprised to see local artist, Heather Duff, painting a mural inside the entrance to the terminal.

Heather Duff artist Alice Springs
Heather Duff, artist - Photo by Faye

She has been commissioned to paint 'Desert Spirit Mural' to introduce visitors to a "remarkable part of the world", which sums up our remarkable visit to this fascinating and special region of Central Australia.
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Why? To enjoy the Red Centre and see how large this region is
Where: Central Australia
Your Comment
Fantastic article Faye! I had my first visit to the Red Centre in May this year and like Gayle - your article has given me itchy feet. I need to get another trip organised. What a special place it is
by Paula McManus (score: 3|3796) 2781 days ago
The outback is a surprising and wonderful place.
by Janice Williams (score: 3|1223) 2783 days ago
It is a special place. I'll need to organise another trip to another part of the outback.
by Janice Williams (score: 3|1223) 2781 days ago