Perhaps the finest of all outback sights is the red desert and rock formations at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Nothing can really prepare you for the mesmerising shifts of colour and shade as the sun transits over this tranquil scene, and Uluru is a must, a mystical experience that touches all that see it.
Walk around the two famous rock formations on a guided tour, perhaps seeing the landscape through the eyes of the Anangu people, the traditional owners of the land, by way of a guide. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, head off on a Harley-Davidson to get a different perspective.
One of the best times to see Uluru is at dawn, and you can escape the crowds by joining a sunrise ride atop a camel. Alternatively, take to the skies in a hot air balloon from Alice Springs. While you won’t see Uluru from here, you’ll get spectacular views of the desert landscape including the MacDonnell Ranges and Gosse Bluff.
Not far away, Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park also has sheer rock faces, and the stone is also coloured that otherworldly red, but this time it looms over palms in crevices, which play host to an incredible array of wildlife. You can do the rim walk here in around three hours. And at the Finke Gorge National Park, another excursion from Alice Springs, there’s the Finke River, said to be one of the oldest watercourses in the world.
And don’t forget the adventuresome MacDonnell Ranges, which have off-road tracks, camping and swimming.
There’s also the Larapinta Trail, a 223km track stretching west from Alice to Mount Sonder through the mountains, but you can easily do day hikes there too.
Alice Springs Adventures
You could find yourself in Alice for a while, as it’s a great base for adventure. If you’ve had your hiking fix, try quad biking at Undoolya Station, along the bush tracks and wilderness in the shadow of the McDonnell Ranges.
Heading further north, one of the best ways to see the landscape is from above, and from Darwin you can try heli-fishing. And no, you don’t fish direct from the helicopter, rather you fly between remote parts of the region, touching down in the best places to catch the famous (and delicious) barramundi.
Kakadu National Park and the Katherine River
The outback adventures of the Northern Territory are not confined to the Red Centre. From Darwin, drive the Nature’s Way to Kakadu National Park, which is World Heritage-listed for both its cultural and natural significance. And while you’re there, remember that all parts of the outback are infused with Aboriginal legend.
Summer time can be hot, and a great (and cooler) way to explore is by kayak. Gecko Canoeing offers tours along the Katherine River, and you can head off for three days, camping along the way, or opt for a shorter trip.
East of here is the Adelaide River, one of the best places in the world to see crocodiles in their natural habitat. Split level boats mean you’re guaranteed a great view of the crocs leaping vertically from the water whether you’re downstairs or up top.
The Northern Territory’s Outback Highs
- Do the base walk of Uluru and explore the caves, rock art and water holes. Or take a sunrise or sunset camel ride, or even a Harley Davidson tour around the rock
- Hike the Larapinta trail in the MacDonnell ranges, or take a section of it as a day trip • Go to see Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas), where you’ll find rock domes and a unique desert landscape
- Head to Kings Canyon, a destination featuring high sandstone cliffs, palms and awesome desert views, and do the fantastic Rim Walk
- Take a trip on The Ghan, and see the Red Centre and the famous outback towns of Alice Springs and Katherine from this iconic train