The Red Centre Way takes you to some of central Australia’s biggest icons. It makes its way from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (home to the famous Aussie icons formally known as Ayres Rock and The Olgas) to Watarrka National Park, where you’ll find the awe-inspiring Kings Canyon.
From here, you have the option to back-track along the bitumen or, if you’re up for a few corrugations, you can continue along the old Mereenie Loop Road through Aboriginal lands to the western end of the MacDonnell Ranges. From here, there’s a smorgasbord of gorges to choose from as you head east towards Alice Springs.
Things to do
We came at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park from the west, having travelled up via the Great Central Road from Perth. We were still on the gravel when we caught our first magical glimpse of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and the sunset viewing area provided the perfect spot to stop for lunch with an unbeatable view.
After settling into the Ayres Rock Campground at Yulara Resort, we headed back out to secure a good spot in the sunset viewing area to watch the magical colour change as the sun set over Uluru. Allow yourself at least two full days to really explore what this park has to offer. As well as tackling some of the walks, take time to stop by the various viewing platforms for a different perspective to the typical postcard views. Our favourite hike was the Valley of the Winds walk through Kata Tjuta, though, at 7.4km long with a bit of rock scrambling required, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
From Yulara to Kings Canyon, it is about a four-hour drive along Lasseter Highway and the sealed Luritja Road. There are two accommodation options when visiting Kings Canyon: Kings Creek Station and Kings Canyon Resort.
The Mereenie Loop
Even if you’re not planning to brave the gravel of Mereenie Loop and need to back-track to the highway, the trip out to Kings Canyon is well worth the effort.
The Mereenie Loop passes through Aboriginal land-holdings, linking Kings Canyon with the West MacDonnell Ranges. A permit is required to travel the loop and must be purchased in person prior to entering.
About 180km of the loop remains unsealed and, at an estimated cost of $100 million to upgrade it, it is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. A 4WD is recommended on the Mereenie Loop, although conventional cars have been known to survive the trip.
Gorges of the Red Centre Way
By entering the West MacDonnell Ranges at the western end, you encounter the gorges that many tourists day tripping out of Alice Springs never make it far enough to see.
Redbank Gorge is about 5km in from the road via an unsealed track.
The Larapinta Trail, a 223km hiking track which meanders through the West MacDonnell Ranges, starts or finishes at Redbank Gorge, so you may spot some hardy bushwalkers camped in the stream bed at the base of the gorge.
The next gorge you encounter is Glen Helen, with the Glen Helen Homestead Lodge nestled at its base.
We decided to push on a little further to Ormiston Gorge, my personal favourite in the West MacDonnells. The sheer gorge edges surrounding a clear pool of water with sandy banks and ancient ghostly gums is a recipe for a picture-perfect spot.
The Red Centre Way, NT, runs between Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Approaching from the west, it can be accessed via the Great Central Road, an unsealed road starting in Laverton in Western Australia.
If coming from the south-east, turn off the Stuart Highway at Erldunda to access the western end. Alternatively, the journey can be started in Alice Springs.
The journey can be completed on sealed roads by excluding the Mereenie Loop section.
- Walks at Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Valley of the Winds)
- Ride, walk or drive around ‘the rock’
- Sunset viewing
- Helicopter flights
- Outdoor fine dining
- Kings Canyon 6km Rim Walk
- Kings Creek Walk (shorter) at Kings Canyon
- Camel train tours
To enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, you are required to purchase a park pass. These are available at the entry station to the park and cost $25 per adult (16 years and over) for a three-day pass. Children under 16 years of age enter free.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #535, March 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!