You can’t visit Uluru without being caught up in the debate over whether to climb ‘the rock’.
More on that topic later. A visit to the spectacular Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia is a definite bucket list item for many people. One of the challenges with visiting Uluru is that it is a long way from anywhere, and can also be very expensive to get to. The other issue is that while most people have heard of Uluru, they may not be aware of the many other amazing sights to be easily seen in Central Australia by conventional (non 4WD) travellers.
This article is a comprehensive guide to over 32 amazing places to visit in and around the Uluru and Alice Springs area using either a 2WD vehicle or a tour option, along with tips on how to get there. The aim of this article is to help you to plan a trip to Central Australia and to also realise that you really need more than a weekend – ideally a visit of 1-2 weeks or more will enable you to make the most of this unique area of Australia.
- Around Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory Australia
- Road Trip Options from Uluru to Alice Springs, Northern Territory Australia
- Major 2WD Route – Lasseter and Stuart Highways
- Alternative Route Option – Red Centre Way (previously known as the Mereenie Loop Road)
- Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort) to Erlunda along the Lasseter Highway, Northern Territory Australia
- Watarkka (Kings Canyon) National Park, Northern Territory Australia
- Kings Canyon Rim Walk
- Other Kings Canyon Walks
- Erldunda, Northern Territory Australia
- Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia
- Stuart Wells, Northern Territory Australia
- Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia
- Around Alice Springs, Northern Territory Australia
- Visit to the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory Australia
- Visit to the East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory Australia
- Best Time to Visit Uluru and Alice Springs
- Getting To Uluru and Alice Springs
- Getting Around Central Australia
Around Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory Australia
The centrepiece of the area is the World Heritage listed Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park which is jointly managed by the Anangu Aboriginal tribe and Parks Australia.
As the name suggest the National Park contains both Uluru (Ayers Rock) which is an amazing 348m (1437 ft) high above the surrounding flat landscape. 60km to the west is the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) amazing red rock feature.
Yulara is the gateway town for the national park for all visitors as no visitors are allowed to stay within the park boundaries at night. The Uluru airport is located close to Yulara.
Getting Around the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park
A comprehensive range of tour options are available to get around the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park so you can easily visit without having to hire a vehicle.
A diverse range of other tours are also available to make the most of the Uluru area, ranging from airplane and helicopter flights, motorcycle tours, camel tours, cultural activities, guided Uluru and Kata Tjuta viewing and walks and star gazing tours. In addition a popular option is dinner under the stars and options include the Sounds of Silence and Tali Wiru dinners. Both dinners only cater for children aged 10 or 12 and over.
You can also visit independently if you hire a vehicle. A range of hire vehicle options are available for pick up from the airport. An entry fee is payable to access the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.
Yulara Accommodation and Services
The township of Yulara is located 25 km / 16 mi north of Uluru and provides a small range of accommodation and other service options. All accommodation is managed by the Ayers Rock Resort, which also provides a range of service shops including a supermarket, dining and tourism services. A free shuttle bus connects each accommodation option and the main services area.
- Longitude 131° is the premium accommodation in the area which is located a short distance away from Yulara, and offers 15 luxurious five star tents which are located with views over Uluru from each tent for guests aged 12 and over. All meals, drinks and a comprehensive range of tours are included in the accommodation fee, which includes one night at Table 131° dining under the stars. There is a minimum stay of 2 nights.
- Sails in the Desert is a five star resort located in Yulara which offers suites and a range of rooms which accommodate up to 5 people.
- Desert Gardens Hotel is a 4 ½ star resort located in Yulara which offers hotels rooms which can accommodate up to 5 people. Some rooms offer views across Uluru.
- Emu Walk Apartments is 4 star accommodation which offers self contained one and two bedroom apartments which can accommodate up to 6 people.
- Outback Pioneer Hotel and Outback Pioneer Lodge offers both 3 ½ star hotel and 2 star lodge accommodation. The hotel provides standard rooms which can accommodate up to 4 people. The lodge provides hostel style accommodation with single sex 20 room dormitories, and 4 bedroom dormitories which have shared bathrooms.
- Ayers Rock Campground provides 2 bedroom cabins and powered and unpowered camping sites. In addition there are dedicated coach camping areas.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta Viewing
Both Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which are within the national park boundary and have specified sunrise and sunset viewing areas. The sunrise and sunset viewing areas can get very busy so ensure you allow enough time when planning your visit.[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com.au/maps?saddr=Yulara,+Northern+Territory&daddr=Uluru,+Northern+Territory+to:Kata+Tjuta+%2F+Mount+Olga,+Petermann,+Northern+Territory&hl=en&sll=-25.308257,131.008536&sspn=0.181256,0.338173&geocode=Fa_Xfv4dLKXOByk_Patqj0AjKzEAhSQqqBcCBA%3BFW4mff4d-WzPBynVqmJJLWwjKzGCjbf494sjpg%3BFZ_wff4dRuTKByljUR_hRyIjKzFadBiL7LVaig&oq=kata+tjuta&mra=ls&t=m&z=11 width=600 height=480 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
Uluru (Ayers Rock) Walks
A range of Uluru walks are available, from short sections to walking the full 11 km 6.8 mi / 3 ½ hour loop around Uluru. Here is a map which shows the different walking options from the three carparks. Be aware of the conditions and plan to avoid the worst heat of the sun. Free guided walks are also available at 8am each day where a ranger will guide visitors along the Mala walk which includes rock art. If you intend to do the full loop walk you can commence with the ranger guided tour and then keep on walking.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) Climb
It has been over 70 years since the Uluru climb was established with the installation of a chain to assist climbers to get mostly safely to the 348m high top of Uluru and back down. Note that since the climb was established over 40 people have died whilst attempting the climb.
When the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was handed back to the Anangu Aboriginal tribe in 1985 one of the conditions was that the climb was to remain open. The Anangu people request visitors to not climb Uluru based on both cultural and safety issues, but many visitors still make the climb. Hence the source of the debate which was mentioned at the start of this article.
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) Walks
Kata Tjuta means ‘many heads’ and is located 32 km / 20 mi directly west of Uluru. The road trip between Uluru and Kata Tjuta is 55km / 34 mi each way on a sealed road. There are three walk options which include the easy Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area which is a short 600 m / 0.4 mi walk. The next level walk is the Walpa Gorge walk (2.6 km / 1.6 mi return / one hour) which takes you into the centre of Kata Tjuta. The hardest walk is the Valley of the Winds walk (7.4 km / 4.6 mi circuit / 3 hour) which is a moderately difficult walk around the domes. A temperature limit has been placed on the Valley of the Winds walk so if it is too hot you will be unable to do this walk.
Be aware that if you wish to see sunset over Kata Tjuta that you have a longer drive to get back to the park entrance before it closes for the night.
Road Trip Options from Uluru to Alice Springs, Northern Territory Australia
There are two major routes which connect Yulara and Alice Springs. The major route for 2WD vehicles is the easily accessible sealed Lasseter and Stuart Highways. An alternative route exists called Red Centre Way (previously known as the Mereenie Loop Road). Here is the best map of both route options, and you can also see that there are also some other minor road options which all require a high clearance 4WD vehicle.
Both routes are through sparsely populated areas so ensure you stock your vehicle up with additional water and food and plan your refuelling stops.
Major 2WD Route – Lasseter and Stuart Highways
The direct road trip from Yulara to Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway and Lasseter Highway consists of a drive of 446 km / 277 mi / 5:54 hrs.
Along the route there are several worthwhile sidetrips so allow enough time to explore along the way. The most significant sidetrip is the sealed Luritja Road to Kings Canyon which will deserves at least an overnight stop in its own right and an additional 164 km / 102 mi / 1:54 hrs drive in each direction. If you do all of the recommended side trips your total trip will require 840 km / 522 mi / 12:30 hrs to complete.
Several tour companies offer a variety of tours between Yulara and Alice Springs.[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com.au/maps?saddr=Yulara,+Northern+Territory&daddr=Watarrka+National+Park,+Petermann,+Northern+Territory+to:Erldunda,+Northern+Territory+to:Henbury+Meteorites+Conservation+Reserve,+Ghan,+Northern+Territory+to:Stuarts+Well+Roadhouse+%26+Caravan+Park,+Hugh,+Northern+Territory+to:Rainbow+Valley+Conservation+Reserve,+Hugh,+Northern+Territory+to:Alice+Springs,+Northern+Territory&hl=en&sll=-24.528094,132.429648&sspn=2.918283,5.410767&geocode=Fa_Xfv4dLKXOByk_Patqj0AjKzEAhSQqqBcCBA%3BFWItjv4dGnfXByHABLENqRcCDymZJ73TVW07KzHABLENqRcCDw%3BFXl-f_4dJIDwBynFKOv_ARUvKzGQQiUqqBcCBA%3BFUUMif4dHbfvByFQ8bANqRcCDynH44cvm7QvKzFQ8bANqRcCDw%3BFS6ajP4dG2r0ByEKxoKwWV8U6Sl_57oXRD4uKzEKxoKwWV8U6Q%3BFduNjP4dToP3ByFA8bANqRcCDymR-BQP73IuKzFA8bANqRcCDw%3BFQ5dlv4dI9v6BykxE4–RBkyKzHQTyUqqBcCBQ&oq=alice+springs&t=m&doflg=ptm&mra=luc&z=8 width=600 height=480 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
Alternative Route Option – Red Centre Way (previously known as the Mereenie Loop Road)
Beyond Kings Canyon the road becomes an unsealed road called the Red Centre Way (previously known as the Mereenie Loop Road) which will take you to Glen Helen Gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges and then on to Alice Springs. The route from Kings Canyon to Glen Helen Gorge will require a drive of 233 km / 145 mi / 4:06 hrs depending on road conditions. A variety of camping options are available along the route.
Be aware that a permit is required to drive this route (purchase details are in the previous link) and if you are in a hire vehicle (either 2WD or 4WD) you may not be permitted to take your vehicle on this route.
If the weather and road conditions are reasonable you MAY be able to take a 2WD vehicle along the Red Centre Way, however ensure you check the road conditions and fuel options before committing to driving this route. Note that Kings Canyon and Glen Helen Gorge are both easily accessible on sealed roads by 2WD from either Uluru or Alice Springs and while the sealed road is the longer route from a distance perspective it is however the faster route.
If you decide to take the Mereenie Loop Road option there are some additional sights which can only be seen from this road which include Tnorala (Grosse Bluff) which is the remnants of a 20km wide crater from what is believed to be a 600m diameter comet hitting the earth over 140 million years ago. Tylers Pass is the next point of interest which overlooks Tnorala from a higher point. Redbank Gorge is the final point of interest before arriving at the sealed road which commences from Glen Helen Gorge. Further information about the West MacDonnell Ranges is contained later in this article.[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com.au/maps?saddr=Yulara,+Northern+Territory&daddr=Watarrka+National+Park,+Petermann,+Northern+Territory+to:Glen+Helen,+Mount+Zeil+to:Alice+Springs,+Northern+Territory&hl=en&sll=-24.805838,131.654438&sspn=1.455969,2.705383&geocode=Fa_Xfv4dLKXOByk_Patqj0AjKzEAhSQqqBcCBA%3BFWItjv4dGnfXByHABLENqRcCDymZJ73TVW07KzHABLENqRcCDw%3BFXqHlv4dqnDoBynvxYBWZ4YwKzFVpBFA_Rmxzw%3BFQ5dlv4dI9v6BykxE4–RBkyKzHQTyUqqBcCBQ&oq=alice+springs&mra=ls&t=m&z=8 width=600 height=480 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort) to Erlunda along the Lasseter Highway, Northern Territory Australia
The road trip from Yulara to Erldunda is a 246 km / 124 mi / 3:28 hr drive across a mostly barren landscape with the exception of the spectacular Mt Connor. There is only one place to stop for fuel and supplies along the way at Curtin Springs.
Curtin Springs is 80 km / 50 mi east of Yulara. Curtin Springs Station runs the Wayside Inn which offers fuel, food and a range of accommodation options which can be much cheaper than at Uluru.
The Mt Connor lookout is located 107 km / 66 mi east of Yulara or 139km / 86 mi west of Erlunda along the Lasseter Highway. Many tourists driving from Alice Springs mistake the flat hill of Mt Conner as being Uluru! Mt Connor is a 300m / 984 ft high flat topped sandstone mountain. Mt Connor is not accessible to the public as it sits within Curtin Springs Station. If you are interested in visiting Mt Connor the only option is to book a 4WD guided day tour through SEIT where you can be picked up from either Ayers Rock Resort or Curtin Springs Station.
Watarkka (Kings Canyon) National Park, Northern Territory Australia
Kings Canyon is a spectacular sandstone canyon with over 100m / 328 ft high sheer cliffs, which contains a diverse variety of landscapes including rugged ranges, waterholes and many species of plants and animals.
Watarkka (Kings Canyon) National Park.is a 302 km / 188 mi / 3:51 hr drive from Yulara as per the below map. The road is fully sealed and readily accessible by 2WD vehicles. Day trip options are on offer from Yulara, but you can also visit Kings Canyon as a stopover point along the route from Yulara to Alice Springs.
Accommodation is limited to Kings Canyon Resort, Kings Creek Station and Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge which each offer a range of accommodation options. There are also a range of other touring options including helicopter flights, quad bike and camel tours available to explore the area.
Kings Canyon Rim Walk
The walk which is most raved about is the Kings Canyon Rim Walk which is rated as difficult because there is a steep climb of approximately 500 steps near the start of the walk. Once the initial climb is completed the remainder of the walk is more gently undulating. The rim walk is a 6 km / 3.7 mi loop which must be done in a clockwise direction and can take 3-4 hours to complete. Temperature limitations apply to this walk so check out the official website before visiting to avoid disappointment.
The Kings Canyon Rim Walk provides 360 degree views of the spectacular red rock of Kings Canyon, which has sheer cliff faces over 100m / 328 ft high. Along the way you can cool down with a swim at a permanent waterhole called the Garden of Eden.
Other Kings Canyon Walks
There are two shorter walks available. The Kings Creek Walk (2.6 km / 1.6 mi return / approximately one hour) will take you along the floor of Kings Canyon where you can look up at the sheer cliffs of Kings Canyon. The Kathleen Springs Walk (2.4 km / 1.5 mi return / approximately 1.5 hours) takes you along the separate Kathleen Gorge which has stories of the local Aboriginal history and European settlement.
If you are interested in a bigger walk then the Giles Track (22 km / 14 mi / 2 days) traverses between Kathleen Gorge and Kings Canyon.
Erldunda, Northern Territory Australia
Erldunda is on the crossroads between the Stuart and Lasseter Highways. Erldunda is located 246km / 153 mi / 3:28 hrs east of Yulara and 200 km / 124 mi / 2:32 hr south of Alice Springs.
The main feature is the Erldunda Roadhouse which is a popular stopping point for travellers. A range of accommodation options are available at both the Erldunda Desert Oaks Resort and the Erldunda Station Bed and Breakfast, as this is the last cheaper accommodation within day trip distance of Uluru.
Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia
The Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve is located 80 km / 50 mi / 1:15 hrs north of Erldunda or 145 km / 90 mi south west of Alice Springs, of which the final 13 km is a gravel road which is 2WD accessible. The reserve contains 12 craters which formed when a disintegrated meteor hit the Earth 4700 years ago. So far over 500kg of metal remnants (90% iron and 10% nickel) have been found and removed from the site. Some of the meteorite pieces can be seen at the Museum of Central Australia in Alice Springs. A self guided walking track enables visitors to explore the features, of which the largest crater is 180m / 590 ft wide and 15m / 49 ft deep through to the smallest crater which is 6m / 20 ft wide and only a few centimetres deep.
If you are in a 2WD vehicle don’t be tempted to continue further west on Ernest Giles Road as it is a high clearance 4WD only road which provides an alternate route to Kings Canyon.
Stuart Wells, Northern Territory Australia
The ‘township’ of Stuart Wells is located 108 km / 68 mi / 1:20 hrs north of Erldunda or 90km / 56 mi / 1:07 hrs south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. You can visit the Stuart Wells Roadhouse (9) which is a classic Australian roadhouse, featuring Jim’s Place and Dinky the Singing Dingo.
Camels Australia is located beside the roadhouse which provides free entry to see camels, llamas, kangaroos and emus. If you feel adventurous for a fee you can ride on a camel, either in an enclosure or for half hour and one hour camel rides outside the enclosure.
Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory Australia
The Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is located 146 km / 90 mi / 2:30 hrs north of Erldunda and 97 km / 60 mi /1:56 hrs south of Alice Springs. The final road section after turning off the Stuart Highway is a 22km / 14 mi unsealed road which can have sandy patches. The formal advice is that it is a 4WD only road, however other advice suggests that in good conditions a 2WD vehicle may be able to get into the site. Check the road conditions and your vehicle hire rules before committing.
Rainbow Valley contains spectacular red rock formations and small walks to explore the area.
Around Alice Springs, Northern Territory Australia
The township of Alice Springs is the largest in Central Australia with a population of over 25,000 people out of a total Central Australian population of approximately 60,000 people. Alice Springs has an impressive range of attractions to choose from in all directions. Click here for a comprehensive list of accommodation options in Alice Springs.
The MacDonnell ranges are a spectacular mountainous feature which dominate the Alice Springs skyline. The Western and Eastern MacDonnell Ranges join at Simpsons Gap which is only a short distance from town.
Alice Springs History
Alice Springs was originally founded as part of the Overland Telegraph which was constructed over 1870 – 1872 to connect Adelaide and Darwin. The Alice Springs Telegraph Station was established beside a water source which was named Alice Springs. The town which subsequently developed close by was originally called Stuart until 1933, when it was decided to rename the town to Alice Springs to reduce confusion.
Around the Alice Springs Township
The Alice Springs town centre contains Australia’s best selection of Aboriginal art which is on display in galleries which are centred around the Todd Mall area.
Other attractions around the Alice Springs township include:
- The Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve is located 4km north of the township and marks the original site of European settlement in the Alice Springs area.
- The Alice Springs Telegraph Station also marks the start of the famous Larapinta Trail which is a spectacular 223km walk through the West MacDonnell Ranges to the west of Alice Springs. There are several tour companies who can assist you to walk the Larapinta Trail, which includes options to walk the full trail or specific sections of the trail. Services include fully guided walks or support for independent hikers. The tour companies also offer services including drop offs and pick ups from the trail heads and provision of campsites and catering.
- The Olive Pink Botanic Garden is located a short walking distance to the east of the township and contains over 350 different central Australian plants and a good variety of local birdlife. The Olive Pink Botanic Garden has a series of walking trails which have great views across Alice Springs.
- The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides an opportunity to better understand the valuable service provided to outback Australia. Many visitors do not realise that if they are travelling greater than 150km from a town that the Royal Flying Doctor Service will respond in the event of a medical emergency. The RFDS tourist centre is located at the southern end of the central Alice Springs township.
- The Alice Springs Reptile Centre is located over the road from the Royal Flying Doctor Service. On display are a variety of Australian reptiles including central Australian reptiles such as Thorny Devils.
- Kangaroo Dundee’s Kangaroo Sanctuary offers sunset tours where you can walk through the large reserve and see the kangaroos become active at sunset. The tour provides opportunities to hold and touch rescued kangaroos and also learn more about the local Aboriginal culture.
- The School of the Air provides schooling for remotely located Australian children using both radio and internet. The Visitor Centre is located 3.5km north of the town and provides an opportunity to learn more about this essential service, and live lessons may be observed on school days.
- The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame is located to the southwest of the Alice Springs township. On display are exhibitions which detail the impact women made on pioneering the settlement in central Australia.
Visit to the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory Australia
An unmissable Alice Springs side trip is the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park which is located on the western side of Alice Springs. With a 2WD vehicle you can easily visit many amazing locations in the National Park. If you are a keen hiker you should plan to walk at least one of the sections of the spectacular Larapinta Trail. There are many places along the route where you can swim, however be aware that the water is very cold even in summer and can cause hypothermia.
The sealed Namatjira Drive parallels the West MacDonnell Ranges and the Larapinta Trail as far west as Glen Helen. Driving direct Glen Helen is a 132km / 82 mi / 1:33 hrs one way drive. When you include the various attractions that route increases to become a 181 km / 112 mi / 4:07 hr one way drive. Therefore to make to most of your visit you should allow at least 2 days to explore this amazing region. If you have less time available you can choose to only go part way along the route before returning to Alice Springs. Accommodation is available at the Glen Helen Gorge Resort and there are also various camping options along the way.[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com.au/maps?saddr=Alice+Springs,+Northern+Territory&daddr=Alice+Springs+Desert+Park,+Alice+Springs,+Northern+Territory+to:Simpsons+Gap,+Burt+Plain,+Northern+Territory+to:Standley+Chasm,+Hugh,+Northern+Territory+to:Ellery+Creek+Big+Hole,+Namatjira,+Northern+Territory+to:Ochre+Pits,+Burt+Plain,+Northern+Territory+to:Ormiston+Gorge,+Mount+Zeil,+Northern+Territory+to:Glen+Helen,+Mount+Zeil&hl=en&ll=-23.727526,133.277893&spn=1.468384,2.705383&sll=-25.308257,130.869121&sspn=0.362513,0.676346&geocode=FQ5dlv4dI9v6BykxE4–RBkyKzHQTyUqqBcCBQ%3BFe1Dlv4dlSD6ByG4qsDtwrz4XympSYq2RBkyKzG4qsDtwrz4Xw%3BFU3Flv4dxl34ByGA5KlE6AtIpilBxqY7XosxKzGA5KlE6AtIpg%3BFREJlv4dyJb0ByGNDJe8OoZlxil7TJR7Eb4xKzGNDJe8OoZlxg%3BFZnxlP4dspPuByGZ49oauX3_lilV3LIaXU4wKzGZ49oauX3_lg%3BFaLMlf4ddmHrByHGh6QmnDFWFikN5YitIV4wKzHGh6QmnDFWFg%3BFZVRl_4dLD3pByHN4dJbhTVDXil1XJi3QI8wKzHN4dJbhTVDXg%3BFdCVlv4d6m3oByH1-0AFEBu0-Ck52alYeV4wKzH1-0AFEBu0-A&oq=glen+helen&mra=ls&t=m&z=9 width=600 height=480 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
West MacDonnell Ranges Attractions
For day trippers a comfortable day out with a round trip of 116km / 72 mi / 2:05 hrs is the route from Alice Springs to Standley Chasm and return.
The main attractions on the route from Alice Springs to Standley Chasm are the following:
- The Alice Springs Desert Park (7km west of Alice Springs) is located on Namatjira Drive. The Alice Springs Desert Park provides an appreciation of the unique Central Australian desert vegetation. The bird show is also worthwhile, and you can also get both self guided and guided tours of the park. A nocturnal tour is also on offer in the evenings and provides an opportunity to see local night time wildlife like bilbies and mala.
- The Simpson’s Gap section of the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park (24km west of Alice Springs) is easily accessible by 2WD vehicle. There are a range of transport options to get there from Alice Springs, including walking Section 1 of the Larapinta Trail (24km one way), riding a bike on the Simpsons Gap Bike Path (17km one way), and various bus options. Simpsons Gap itself is directly accessible from the car park and there are a number of other walks around the area.
- The spectacular narrow red rock walls of Standley Chasm (Angkerle) (50km west of Alice Springs) is privately operated so you are required to pay an entry fee. The best time of day to visit is midday to maximise the light on the cliffs, however it is also the time when the most visitors are on the site.
For those with more time who intend to stay overnight you should add the following attractions on the way to Glen Helen:
- The Ellery Creek Big Hole (89 km / 55 mi west of Alice Springs) is a welcome stop where you can have a swim in the permanent waterhole. The final 2km of the access road is unsealed.
- Serpentine Gorge (98 km / 61 mi west of Alice Springs) is a less visited attraction. The final 3km of the access road is unsealed, and from the car park there is a 1.3km walk to reach Serpentine Gorge.
- The Ochre Pits (111 km / 69 mi west of Alice Springs) are easily accessible from Namatjira Drive via an 8km sealed road. The Ochre Pits are an active sacred site and visitors are not allowed to touch the ochre. The local aboriginal tribe has utilised this site for thousands of years to collect ochre for use in ceremonies and in trade.
- Ormiston Gorge (135 km / 84 mi west of Alice Springs) is a popular almost permanent waterhole which is centrally situated amongst spectacular red rock terrain. The swimming area is located 500m from the visitor centre. There are a variety of both short and longer walks around the visitor centre.
- Glen Helen Gorge (132 km / 82 mi west of Alice Springs) used to be a cattle station however the eastern section has now been converted into a tourist resort situated beside Glen Helen Gorge. From the resort the Glen Helen Gorge is a 10 minute walk and visitors can go swimming and also undertake some local walks in the area which provide views towards Mt Sonder, the highest mountain in the region.
- From Glen Helen Gorge the road becomes the unsealed Red Centre Way which provides an alternative option to drive to Kings Canyon. This route is detailed earlier in this article.
Visit to the East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory Australia
A less travelled Alice Springs side trip is the East MacDonnell Ranges National Park which is located on the eastern side of Alice Springs. With a 2WD vehicle you can easily visit several amazing locations.
For day trippers a comfortable day out with a round trip of 152 km / 94 mi / 3:11 hrs is the route from Alice Springs to Trephina Gorge Nature Park and return along the sealed section of the Ross Highway. Here is the best map of the area to plan your visit.[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com.au/maps?saddr=Alice+Springs,+Northern+Territory&daddr=Emily+Gap,+Hale,+Northern+Territory+to:Jessie+Gap,+Hale,+Northern+Territory+to:Corroboree+Rock,+Hale,+Northern+Territory+to:Trephina+Gorge+Nature+Park,+Hart,+Northern+Territory+to:Arltunga+Historical+Reserve,+Hart,+Northern+Territory&hl=en&ll=-23.610554,134.290009&spn=0.734861,1.352692&sll=-23.590419,134.329834&sspn=0.734974,1.352692&geocode=FQ5dlv4dI9v6BykxE4–RBkyKzHQTyUqqBcCBQ%3BFaq4lf4d6zf8ByEQ8bANqRcCDymFncZA0xEyKzEQ8bANqRcCDw%3BFaq4lf4d6zf8ByEQ8bANqRcCDymFncZA0xEyKzEQ8bANqRcCDw%3BFVCmlv4d8QAACCE9hKlvUJhI8imBL4YRN3AyKzE9hKlvUJhI8g%3BFbj5mP4d82gCCCHg8LANqRcCDykntgnFiGEyKzHg8LANqRcCDw%3BFR8gmv4dPMwHCCHQ8LANqRcCDym_FAhDnb0yKzHQ8LANqRcCDw&oq=ruby&mra=ls&t=m&z=10 width=600 height=480 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
The main attractions on the route are the following:
- The Emily Gap and Jessie Gap Nature Park is located alongside the Ross Highway. Emily Gap (15km / 9 mi south then east from Alice Springs) and Jessie Gap (22km / 14 mi from Alice Springs) both contain Aboriginal rock paintings which are easily accessible. Both sites are registered sacred sites which are associated with the Aboriginal dreamtime story about the caterpillar trail.
- The distinctive dolomite column of the Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve (50km / 31 mi east of Alice Springs) is located just a few hundred meters from the Ross Highway. A walking path around the base of Corroboree Rock is a good option for visitors to explore the area.
- Trephina Gorge Nature Park (85km / 53 mi east of Alice Springs) can be accessed via a 9km access road, of which the final 5km is a gravel unsealed road which is 2WD accessible. Two gorges pass through the park, however only Trephina Gorge is 2WD accessible. John Hayes Rockhole is only 4WD and hiker accessible. Swimming is possible in both locations, however during summer the waterholes may dry out. A variety of both short and long walks are available through the park. The picturesque largest Ghost Gum tree in the East McDonnell Ranges is easily accessible from the unsealed road within the park.
- The sealed Ross Highway continues on to the close by Ross River Resort which offers a basic range of accommodation and amenities. You will need a 4WD vehicle to access the thousands of rock petroglyphs in the N’Dhala Gorge Conservation Reserve which is past the Ross River Resort.
- The Arltunga Historical Reserve can be accessed via a 2WD accessible 36km unsealed road which commences 5km past Trephina Gorge. At Arltunga you will see the ghost town of the first real settlement in Central Australia which was established when gold was found.
- You will need a 4WD vehicle to travel the 40km past Arltunga to visit the ruby-like red garnet stones of Ruby Gap Nature Park.
- For the return route you can return along the same route back to Alice Springs. A good option would be to do the long drive to Arltunga first then work your way back to Alice Springs.
Best Time to Visit Uluru and Alice Springs
Central Australia is a semi-arid region which has four seasons. Summer occurs over December to February where maximum temperatures of 20C to 35C occur (68F to 95F). Winter occurs over June to August where maximum temperatures of 3C to 20C occur (37F to 68F), and correspondingly cold nights. Spring and autumn provide the transition between the two extremes.
The best time of year to visit Central Australia is from Autumn to Spring, as Summer is brutally hot and activities will be restricted due to the heat.
Getting To Uluru and Alice Springs
Airline Options to Uluru and Alice Springs
Uluru and Alice Springs each have their own commercial airports and you can readily purchase flights from either Qantas (to Uluru and Alice Springs), Jetstar (to Uluru) and Virgin Australia (to Uluru). Be aware that the airfares are expensive when compared to other Australian destinations, however they do periodically go on sale. From the Australian Capital cities it will take approximately 2-3 hours to fly to either Uluru or Alice Springs.
Road Transport Options to Uluru and Alice Springs
The Stuart Highway which runs between Darwin and Adelaide and the Lasseter Highway provide 2WD sealed road access to both Uluru and Alice Springs. Due to the remoteness of Central Australia the Stuart Highway is the only road access route. Distances and driving times are as follows (sorted by driving time, which does not include rest stops):
|Adelaide to Alice Springs||
|Darwin to Alice Springs||
|Melbourne to Alice Springs||
|Canberra to Alice Springs||
|Sydney to Alice Springs||
|Brisbane to Alice Springs||
|Perth to Alice Springs||
The Stuart Highway consists of mostly single carriageway roads with an 130 km/hr (80 mi/hr) speed limit outside of the towns along the way in accordance with the signage. Be aware that the route is used by road trains which are trucks which haul multiple large trailers. Therefore be very careful overtaking, and it is worthwhile to ensure you have a more powerful engine in your car to reduce your overtaking time past the road trains.
The route also has large expanses of unpopulated roads between towns, so ensure you pack extra water and food in your vehicle and also pack a first aid kit. For more information about preparing for your trip see 5 Top Tips to Prepare Your Car for a Big Road Trip.
Be very careful that you do not drive at night on Central Australian roads as the major causes of road accidents are fatigue and collisions with animals which mainly occur between dusk and dawn.
Bus Transport to Uluru and Alice Springs
Bus transport options are available from both Adelaide and Darwin via Greyhound coaches. The Greyhound coaches stop at both Alice Springs and Erlunda which is the gateway township to Uluru. There are other day tour and transport options to visit Uluru and Kings Canyon from Erlunda, plus transport between Alice Springs and Uluru.
Many other tour operators offer bus tour options to visit Uluru and Alice Springs from Adelaide and Darwin, plus some tour operators may offer package options from other departure locations.
Train Transport to Uluru and Alice Springs
The Ghan train offers train travel between Adelaide and Darwin, with stops at Alice Springs and other locations. The Ghan departs twice per week and also offers a variety of tour package options.
Getting Around Central Australia
There are many tour options available to assist you to make the most of your time in Central Australia.
Alternatively hiring a vehicle is a great way to see the attractions at your own pace as long as you are aware of the long distances required. A 2WD vehicle will suffice for most visitors. If you plan to hire a 4WD vehicle ensure you carefully check the terms and conditions to clarify whether you are allowed to take the vehicle onto unsealed roads, and to understand the costs if you have any issues.
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Have you travelled to or are thinking about visiting Central Australia? Please let me know if this article has been helpful to inspire you to visit and enable you to plan your trip!