When you here the term ‘red centre’ what enters your mind first? Is it the obvious – the huge natural wonder of arguably our most famous landmark, Uluru (more commonly known as Ayers Rock)? Or is your vision blurred – do you see red sand or a desert land which feels far more foreign than any other continent on this earth?
For me, the red centre was an idea I had created to visualise Ayers Rock. I knew nothing of the lands around the rock – let alone its geographical location in relation to my far away home on the east coast. I knew of Alice Springs and Darwin – only as hubs for civilisation. I guess I assumed the rock stood solo in the centre of our great country – a mammoth mecca for all Australians – with nothing but desolation for miles… Oh how dull and how wrong I could have been.
It wasn’t a ‘first taste’ we experienced… The red dirt and rugged landscape poured over us like an ocean. We ventured into the Northern Territory knowing little of what we were about to experience and were instantly bombarded with the sweeping winds and warm desert sands that would line the canvas of our next chapter in our journey.
We etched our way east to west from the south… moving towards Uluru and passing through places like Finke, Kulgera, Erldunda and eventually settled at a roadhouse called Curtin Springs to take in our first few days.
This area is a tourist wonderland. A constant stream of four-wheel drives, tour buses, and campervans greeted us as we adjusted to a surprisingly crowded place for such a desolate, deserted landscape. We had arrived at the height of tourist season and I was instantly confronted by the many thousands of people making the effort to visit this area that I knew so little about and hadn’t seriously considered visiting before. Maybe they’re simply after the same answers I was… Hungry to discover the sheer fabric of the Australian outback.
After a couple of hundred kilometres and firstly mistaking the lesser-known but arguably just as breathtaking Mt Conner as Uluru, we finally arrived at the nearby township of Yulara. This place was created for tourism. Suddenly my visualisation vanished and I was greeted with a surprisingly modern community equipped with hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, facilities, and green grass!! Full and functioning phone reception and internet. A small city in the middle of the desert. This was not the red centre I had imagined.
It cost more than $20 each to enter the nearby Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Our first glimpse of Uluru up close was even better than I had imagined and well worth the fee – which grants you a three-day pass. Uluru’s sheer size and presence stirred emotions I never knew existed in my being, and we all stared with our mouths wide open as the sun radiated off the rock’s surface and Uluru came into its own.
From the base, scores of tourists shuffled around excitedly – some took photos, many climbed, many didn’t. This place was teaming with activity – the result of a worldwide wonder standing tall and beckoning thousands to experience its beauty up close.
For me, this natural wonder was best-experienced from afar. Sitting back, watching the colours change on the surface of the rock at sunset was a highlight – and the guesswork was completely absent – there’s signage everywhere showing you the best spots to watch the rock at sunrise and at sunset. Absolutely foolproof. We took in the beauty of Uluru sharing wine and nibbles. A perfect afternoon.
We thought we’d experienced the best of the area’s natural phenomenon first – that Uluru was the pinnacle sight. How very wrong we were…
Not far from Uluru stands Katu-Tjuta (more commonly known as The Olgas). My word, these rich, red boulders completely alter the desert landscape to a land where you feel as tall as one of the individual grains of red sand beneath your feet. Another fascinating spectacle that completely threw my pre-conceived idea of this place. I would absolutely recommend the Valley of the Winds walk… Imagine the most beautiful natural painting you’ve seen… Now imagine stepping into the colour and becoming part of the picture… That’s The Olgas.
From here, it was onward to Kings Canyon. Little did we know, the best was yet to come. About a three hour drive from Yulara… Kings Canyon sits a little further north – maybe four hours from Alice Springs.
I had never heard of the Canyon before our arrival, and I was eager to see what this relatively modest landmark had in store for us…
We took the 6km rim walk which sends you up one side, around the top, down to a couple of hidden gems, and back around the other side of the Canyon. The first 100-or-so steps are practically vertical and you feel like giving up, but the effort is well worth the reward. A hidden world of rock pinnacles, bush oasis, hidden waterholes and sheer magic. This was by far our favourite natural wonder. Every way you moved, you were greeted with a new, fascinating discovery.
Watarrka National Park (the home of Kings Canyon) is free to enter and dogs are allowed to wait in the car park which suited us nicely. While the 6km/ 3hr rim walk was our choice, there were a range of journeys to take varying in length and difficulty.
You can stay in two locations near the Canyon – Kings Canyon Resort which is practically next door, and Kings Creek Station which is 38km east. Wild camels and brumbies roam this place, and each day ends with a sunset more stunning than the last.
We had the pleasure of staying at Kings Creek Station which is a privately-owned cattle station with a tourist arm. Little did we know at the time that this beautiful place would become our home… but more about that later.
Finally, if it all wasn’t enough, here emerges the West MacDonnell ranges. This is another natural wonder I had never heard of… Another hidden gem which isn’t hidden away at all. A fabulous national park which gives the first true taste of the northern part of the Northern territory… In summer, a welcoming place for a cool dip in the various water holes dotted along the ranges. In winter, an equally welcoming place for travellers and locals hungry for rock climbs, stellar views, and natural at its absolute best.
So it’s safe to say the red centre is far more than I could have ever imagined. Life is beautiful and calm out here. The natural beauty of the ancient landscape is something I never expected and in my own opinion… Uluru is just the beginning. Come see for yourself.
A lover of the written word.
Journalist by trade, writer by hobby. Writing fuels my soul and I promised myself I’d string words together more often, so here I am.
A collection of pieces that describe the inner workings of my mind.