There’s a good chance you’re familiar with Australia’s Red Centre—the red dirt, the large rock formations, the unusual wildlife. Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock as it’s also known, is an Australian icon. It’s a place most people only ever dream of seeing.
But if you’re in Australia, why just stick to the cities? From hiking through the domes of Kata Tjuta and walking the base of Uluru to cooking outside with people from around the world and sleeping under the stars, you’re sure to fall under the mesmerising spell that the Outback puts on its visitors.
I’m no outdoorswoman. I’m not big on camping, and I’m not exactly the fittest when it comes to cardio. But I’ve made the trip to Alice Springs and Uluru twice in my life, and I would go for a third in a heartbeat.
There’s a tangible energy like no other in the Outback. Between the incredible stories you’ll hear and the many kilometres you’ll walk, this is a trip you need to experience during your stay in Australia. So pack your best walking shoes and get ready to be captivated by the wonders of the Australian Outback.
Planning Your Trip
Plan It yourself
If you prefer the flexibility of travel, read up and research. Look at travel message boards for recommendations and self-guided tour suggestions. Trip Advisor can be extremely helpful if you want to brave the orange dirt roads on your own. Many visitors choose to drive the Northern Territory’s famous Red Centre Way. Consider taking breaks at Kings Creek Station and Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse.
Book Through A Tour Company
There are many tour companies that have pre-planned trips with itineraries that will cover all the must-see things on your trip. Although you have less control over the activities, having everything pre-booked makes for a less stressful planning experience.
Keep an eye out for the variety of trip lengths available, whether or not the groups have designated age ranges, and how intense the walking/hiking will be. I found that booking through a group had the perk of getting to spend the trip with people from all over the world. I made friends from Germany, Sweden and Ireland in a matter of days. And I still keep in touch with some of them to this day!
What To See/Do
Fly into Alice Springs and crash at a hostel for a night (or two!)
If you stay in Alice Springs for more than a night, walk to town and explore a little. During the daytime there are lots of other travellers doing the same thing. After walking around town, I took the short walk to Anzac Hill, as it boasts a great view of Alice Springs and its surroundings. For those who want to dive into history and culture, consider visiting Alice Springs Telegraph Station and Wallace Rockhole Tourist Park.
If you haven’t broken in your walking shoes yet, Standley Chasm is a good place to do it. Here, you’ll be able to walk through the chasm and see a variety of wildlife on your way.
Mount Conner / Salt Lake Viewing
This is an easy rest stop along the way with a great view. From an uphill viewing spot, Mount Conner, dubbed “Fool-uru,” looks like a mini Uluru. If you turn around, you’ll see a massive dry salt lake.
Kings Canyon is known for its incredible sandstone walls and stunning gorge views. Check out the landscape views from above on the rim walk, or keep it simple and take the canyon base walk for more lush views.
While I didn’t get to see Kings Canyon firsthand, thanks to heavy rainfall and flooded roads, my travel group made the best of the situation. We took group photos with the roadblocks and the road-wide puddles that were keeping us from those gorgeous views.
At Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Before indulging in the endless walks and climbs, it’s important to learn the cultural significance of the land you’re walking on. The Cultural Centre has plenty of people happy to answer questions and explain the significance of every little detail of the National Park. It’s also a good place to fuel up and shop for souvenirs before exploring.
There’s nothing quite like getting up close and personal to Uluru. On the 10km walk around the base, I really enjoyed hearing the traditional stories that paired up with each detail on the rock. Every scar, stain, and nook has a story to go with it. There are so many caves, markings, plants, and waterholes along the way—and each one has cultural significance to the Anangu people. I highly recommend taking a guided tour, as you get to hear the Dreamtime stories from tour guides who are so passionate about what they’re sharing. I found it made the experience mean so much more.
Completing the climb is a highly controversial activity, as Uluru is considered sacred to the Anangu people. A sign at the base of the climb reads, “That’s a really important sacred thing that you are climbing. You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place. The real thing is listening to everything.” As a visitor, I felt that it wasn’t my place to climb. It was important to me to honour the land and the beliefs of the people who take such good care of it. I recommend visiting the Cultural Centre if you’re on the fence. Of course, depending on the day, the climb might be closed for safety reasons (i.e. wind and rain conditions).
Sunset/Sunrise Viewing of Uluru
The view of Uluru changing colours as the sun sets and rises is incredible. And speaking from experience, both make for great photo opportunities! For the sunset, pack up some wine, cheese, and Shapes before heading to a viewing spot. These fill up quickly, so plan accordingly.
I’m not a morning person, but braving the early chill of the day for the sunrise was so worth it. Viewing the silhouette of Uluru against the rising sun and watching it gradually glow to life? Yeah, that’s a perfect way to start a full day of exploring.
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
Kata Tjuta is by far my favourite place in the Outback. I first saw the domes from a distance at Talinguru Nyakunytjaku (a spot that offers distant views of both Kata Tjuta and Uluru) and they didn’t look as grand as “36 domes” sounded. But standing in between those domes? Unbelievable. And dare I say, even cooler than Uluru.
I caught myself pausing often throughout the walk just to take in the views. The “Valley Of The Winds” walk is highly recommended, although there are a few different walk options that range in levels of difficulty. On my second trip, our tour group braved the rain and as a result, we were treated to fog, thunder, and waterfalls — including a waterfall on the jabberwocky face!
Why It’s An Important Trip To Take
The Cultural Experience
Just like anywhere else in the world, Australia is packed with culture. But there’s something about the Outback that perfectly rounds out a trip to Australia. It’s the cultural backbone. A trip to the Outback provides you with a hands-on experience to understand Australia’s roots. You’ll learn about Aboriginal life and hear stories about the way they were traditionally shared.
It’s on the Road Less Travelled
While the Outback is a popular destination, you’ll find that it’s less traveled than Australia’s major cities. If you ask me, it deserves to be more traveled!
That Feeling of Being a Tiny Speck on the Planet
My favourite moment in the Outback was when I was walking through Kata Tjuta with my tour group. I remember stopping and taking in the 360-degree view. In that moment, I felt so tiny. And there was something comforting in that—in a world full of chaos, I felt nothing but calmness.
Other Tips and Tricks to Make Every Second Worth it
Don’t let the weather make or break your trip
Rain or shine, your trip will be memorable. On my first trip to Uluru, we had what I thought was the perfect weather—blue skies and mild temperatures. The dirt was glowing orange from morning to evening, and we had no trouble seeing the sunset and the sunrise overlooking Uluru. It was incredible. On my second trip, we had non-stop rain. And the coolest part about that was seeing waterfalls flowing from Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Also can you imagine hearing thunder rumble through those domes? It’s unreal! Turns out, the rain made for an even better trip than the clear skies.
Pack the basics and keep it light
Don’t bring clothes you don’t want to get dirty, even if they never leave your bag. Pack lots of layers, warm clothes for after sundown, and shoes you won’t mind getting wet and turning orange.
The night sky when you’re camping in the Outback is unreal. I still find myself daydreaming about falling asleep under the stars. I distinctly remember rolling over in my swag, looking up at the sky, and seeing the Milky Way glowing bright.
Kim Conway is a twenty-something writer from Chicago, IL who earned her BA in English Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2012. When she’s not writing and organising, you’ll probably find her fangirling about her current favorite song, baking (arguably) the world’s best soft pretzels, or daydreaming about travel. She plans to someday move to Australia. You can read her blog, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.