I’ve been holding off writing this post for quite some time as I didn’t have the words to describe what was the most EPIC tour I’ve ever done, and the impact it had on me. The Northern Territory of Australia has the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen, especially the Red Centre (aka the middle of nowhere in the Aussie desert!)
Spending 10 days travelling thousands of kilometres through the desert in a 4WD with a group of like-minded people, sleeping in swags under the stars on the red desert dirt and waking up by the fire, stopping for meals hundreds of kilometres away from civilisation, getting deep into learning about Aboriginal culture & history, and every day exploring the most astounding landscapes and iconic landmarks in the world, was truly an unforgettable experience.
People travelled across the globe to be here, and as usual I was the only Aussie on a backpacker tour of Australia (it still fascinates me how only a small percentage of us Aussies actually explore the beauty of our own backyard). So I don’t know if everyone felt this, but for me personally, I felt an overwhelmingly deep connection with Australia on this Red Centre trip. Seeing the places that I saw, learning the things that I did and having the experiences that I had in just 10 days, filled me up with so much gratitude and made me feel extremely blessed to call Australia home.
Describing what we did at the Red Centre does not give it justice in terms of how it will make you feel…that is indescribable. However I’ll do my best to take you on the journey with me, sharing the sequence of events through photos and descriptions.
It’s important to note that my Northern Territory trip was made up of 3 seperate tours put together to make a 10 day itinerary with a tour company called Way Outback, though there are many operators that do similar tours. Book your Red Centre Tour departing from Alice Springs here, or if you’re departing from Ayers Rock/Uluru see your options here.
You can book each tour separately or skip depending on your time and budget. The first tour was 3 days exploring the Red Centre of Australia (the most important part not to miss!), the second being a road trip from Alice Springs to Darwin (which can work out cheaper than flying + you see interesting things on the way), and the third tour experiencing the greenery of Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks in the Top End of the Northern Territory (near Darwin).
Tip: Although it may seem like a big expense at first glance, all inclusive backpacker tours are honestly the cheapest way (plus best value for money AND the safest way) to experience the Red Centre of Australia due to how extremely remote it is and the scarcity of supplies, which make everything very expensive to buy – that’s if you even find a small town in the area.
My German friend Miriam and I did this trip together and in this post I will share what we got up to in our first tour exploring the Red Centre of Australia. I’ll also share my tips, and what you can expect if you end up doing a Red Centre tour.
Day 1: Alice Springs To Uluru
The Way Outback 4WD Bus starts picking everyone up from their accommodation in Alice Springs very early in the morning, and then it’s a long drive (around 6 hours) to Ayers Rock airport to pick up the rest of the group. So if you’re already in Alice Springs then start here (obviously), and if you’re flying in to Alice Springs remember to arrive at least one day before and book a night’s accommodation to be able to join this tour. However, many flights from around Australia to The Red Centre are generally cheaper when flying into Ayers Rock airport, which is what we did (via Sydney). Each day a Jetstar flight from Sydney lands at Ayers Rock airport at 12.30pm, which gives the tour bus just enough time to get there. If this is the best option for you, then don’t worry about missing out on anything as the actual tour starts from the moment the rest of the group gets picked up. Book your Red Centre Tour departing from Alice Springs here, or if you’re departing from Ayers Rock/Uluru see your options here.
When we got picked up we were delighted to find out that we had been upgraded from the ‘Cockatoo’ tour (the cheapest one) to the ‘Goanna’ tour which included the $50AUD sleeping bag hire (lucky because we didn’t pack sleeping bags) and the national park fees ($25AUD), plus a couple of extra benefits like better food, dinner being made for us rather than cooking ourselves, and wine was also included for a candle lit dinner on the first night. This only happened because there were not enough people booked on the ‘better’ tour on that particular date, so don’t bank on this happening to you – but you never know 😉
The first thing we did was drive into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to experience a guided base walk around Uluru (Ayers Rock) with our very knowledgeable tour guide Jake. Note that I say around the rock – we did not climb it. Uluru is a sacred site and the ‘Anangu’ people (Aboriginal people from this particular part of the Red Centre) ask visitors to respect their law and to not climb the rock.
The rock was unbelievable. They say you can feel intense energy here, and I certainly did. Maybe it’s because there’s no radio waves from wifi or phone service in the air, so you can think clearly, and feel present and in tune with your surroundings. This area is rich with Aboriginal culture and history. We learned about the seperate sacred areas for men, women, and children. We saw Aboriginal carvings and learned about their symbols, and the many Aboriginal languages.
Fact: There were around 350 spoken (not written) Aboriginal languages until the ‘Stolen Generation’ which was when British settlers stole all the Aboriginal children from the communities and forced them to learn English and live like white people so that they would forget their native languages. Now there are around 50 ‘healthy’ Aboriginal languages left.
We learned about what materials the Anangu people used for paint and how their symbols were more simpler that those of Aboriginal people from the North, due to water shortage in the desert.
Then we went to a popular lookout to see Uluru at sunset and had champagne with dips and crackers whilst taking unreal photos of the rock. It really does look so much redder at sunset time.
Next we went to our private camp site for a candlelight dinner with wine. We had pasta with kangaroo meat sauce and salad which was prepared for us (there are other options depending on your dietary requirements). We learned how to used a swag and prepared our camp by the fire.
For those of you who have never heard of a swag before, it is like a rolled up portable bed and the most common way to camp in the Australian Outback. There’s a mattress inside so all you need is a sleeping bag, pillow and blankets and when you’re comfortable you just zip yourself up and fall asleep on the ground, or literally anywhere. There’s even a head flap incase it rains!
My initial though when I found out we were going to be sleeping on the ground in the middle of nowhere was what about snakes, spiders, bugs or god knows what other dangerous Australian animals might get us. And you’re probably thinking the same. But trust me it was not that bad at all…I didn’t actually see any snakes or spiders! In fact, sleeping under the stars in the wilderness was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had during my travels.
The Australian Red Centre has got to be the best place in the world to see thousands of stars at night. It is one of those moments you can’t describe well enough to express how spectacular it really is. You’ve literally got to see it to believe it.
Tip: It wasn’t cold at all falling asleep but trust me when the fire burns out it gets freezing in the desert so make sure to bring warm clothes! And if you don’t feel comfortable you can sleep in one of the cabins, although I found that most people preferred to experience the true Australian Outback by sleeping in a swag under the stars. I highly recommend doing it for at least one night.
Day 2: Uluru To Kings Creek Station
We woke up to ‘Follow The Sun by Xavier Rudd‘ playing in the background which was such a nice way to wake up. It was 5.45am, still dark and freezing but for some reason I felt so happy. We had to pack up camp, have a quick continental breakfast and drive up to a new lookout in time for sunrise. Watching the sun rise at the Red Centre was mesmerising. You can distinctly see the orange and blue in the sky as though you’re looking a painting.
After sunrise we started to make our way to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) – another stunning part of the Red Centre that’s a must-see. We don’t know much about the Aboriginal significance of this place because it was a men’s sacred place that they want to keep a secret. So our guide taught us all about the geology of the Olgas and Uluru, as well as interesting facts about the Australian plants, bush tucker and animals that live in the outback, as we hiked the Valley of The Wings Walk.
There are two hiking trails at Kata Tjuta, one is 5.4km and if you’re up for it there’s a longer trail that’s 7km. The Olgas looks a bit like a choc chip cookie, so we had those as a snack at the look out there.
As you can imagine after such a workout we were hungry so our next stop was a BBQ lunch at a nearby campsite. After lunch we started the long drive to the campsite where we were going to sleep that night to be close to the Kings Canyon for the morning. On the way we stopped at a servo (service station) which was super expensive (like most places in the Red Centre), and also at a resting area that overlooked a dried out salt lake on one side and Mount Connor on the other, which often gets mistaken for Ayer’s Rock from a distance.
Just near our campsite we stopped at Kings Station and wow the caramel banana milkshakes there are sooo good. It’s a pretty expensive shop due to it being in the middle of nowhere but it’s convenient if you need something.
Tip: At King’s Station you can organise an optional helicopter ride. $245 for 1 hour or $60 for a 5 minute flight over the campsite.
When we got to the campsite we walked up a nearby hill to watch the sunset. At this private campsite we had a super cool ‘loo with a view’ which was a nice toilet and shower without doors, so you’d look out into nothing but beautiful wilderness while doing your business.
That night we had a delicious stir fry dinner as we listened to Aboriginal Dream Time Stories around the fire, where we learned a lot about the Aboriginal culture – this was probably my favourite part of the tour. We also had the opportunity to play the didgeridoo (which is a lot harder than it looks!)
Interesting Myth: Apparently, some people believe that it if a women plays the didgeridoo she will become cursed. However there are many that say this is definitely a myth, and there are some interesting stories online of how this false rumour came about. Google it if you’re interested in learning more.
Day 3: Kings Creek Station To Alice Springs
On Day 3 we woke up super early at 4.20am to another Xavier Rudd playlist. We had breakfast and got straight on the bus to get to Kings Canyon before any other group. The hike started when it was still dark so we had our torches lighting the whole way up ‘Heart Attack Hill.’ And yes people have actually had heart attacks climbing the steep hill (Aussies like to get creative when naming things!) We got to the natural lookout at the top just in time to watch the stunning sunrise. The silence was unbelievable, you could breathe in and feel the peace.
Fact: The difference between a Gorge and a Canyon is that a Gorge has water in it. So technically the ‘Grand Canyon’ in the US should be called the Grand Gorge but that wouldn’t sound as good. Kings Canyon in Australia’s Red Centre is in fact a Canyon.
The 6km Rim Walk continued to the tranquil Garden of Eden (which has nothing to do with religion) where we ate some red apples as a snack.
We then made our way to this post-card-photo lookout below. On the way saw wallaroos (hill kangaroos) jumping in the distance which are quite common in the Red Centre. We also learned about different kinds of plants and bush medicine that Aboriginal communities would use here.
Random Fact: There are many kinds of kangaroos, and most commonly you’ll hear about kangaroos and wallabies – wallabies being smaller than kangaroos. But there is also a cross between the two called wallaroos – they have characteristics of both kangaroos and wallabies.
After the 3-4hour round hike we made our way back to camp for lunch and to packed up since we didn’t have the time before sun rise. We started driving towards Alice Springs and took a short cut via Mereenie Loop Road (a dirt road only suitable for 4WD) to cut the journey time by a lot, and we eventually made it to a Camel Farm. Camels were the earliest form of transport at the Red Centre and it was only $9 to ride a camel yourself. (You’ve got to do it, it’s soooooo funny!)
At Alice Springs we checked in to Haven Hostel where most of the group was staying and went out for dinner and drinks at an Alice Springs Pub, before getting a good nights sleep in a hostel bed. Oh the luxuries.
A few backpackers we met in the hostel said that there was nothing to do in Alice Springs and we weren’t missing out on anything by continuing the journey up North the following day. However if there’s availability, I’d probably recommend to have a free day in Alice Springs rather than in Darwin in the itinerary because you’ll have time in Darwin at the end of the 10 day trip anyway. Plus it would have been nice to stay out at the pub a bit later with the friends we’d made on tour knowing we’d be able to have a proper rest the following day, and relax our muscles after a full 3 days of physical activity.
I hope this article has inspired you to visit the incredible Red Centre of Australia and I recommend to book your Red Centre Tour departing from Alice Springs here, or if you’re departing from Ayers Rock/Uluru book it here.
For details and photos from the next part of the 10 day itinerary read my article: Alice Springs to Darwin Road Trip, and the last part: Chasing Waterfalls At Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks.
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