Having lived in Australia for several years now, I regretted not making a trip to the Red Centre, the heart and soul of the country earlier. So two weeks ago I booked my flights and a week later I was on a camel in the outback, and what came after was an experience of the lifetime. I think that everyone can and should travel the outback and if it is not already on your bucket list, add it in now! Here are a list of things to do to kick start your planning-
1. Start your trip from Alice Springs
You can’t say you’ve been to the outback unless you visited Alice Springs- it is after all the heart and centre of the outback. Spend at least a day to explore this little town. Click here to view my photo series and tips on Alice Springs. It is also a perfect starting base if you’re doing a road trip.
2. Embark on a road trip
Speaking of, many people make the mistake of flying in and out of Uluru, missing out on the 450km of incredible outback landscapes on the way. The route from Alice Springs to Uluru (or the other way round) is ultimate for driving along the stretches of empty roads, singing along to a 5-hour long playlist, spotting wild kangaroos/bulls/horses/camels and making many pit stops along the way. Don’t forget to wave hello to the vehicles coming your direction- it’s only common courtesy on the outback roads!
3. See Uluru/Ayers Rock
Arguably Australia’s most recognisable and fascinating natural landmark, Uluru (a.k.a. as Ayer’s Rock) was created over some 600 million years, originally sat at the bottom of a sea, but today stands 348m above ground, with its bulk still underground!) The sunrise and sunset at Uluru is one of the most spectacular ones I have witnessed, with the monolith glowing in many shades of colour from orange to red to purple as the sun sweeps across the sky. Walk the entire base (10.6km/3.5 hours), or half of it to absorb the enormity of Uluru, take in the sacred sites where Aboriginal communities hunt and prepare for ceremonies, discover amazing textures and colours of the rock, and see diverse plants, animals and ancient rock paintings.
3. Hike to Kata Tjuta/The Olgas
Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas (means ‘many heads’ given the 36 steep-sided domes), is another impressive site deeply sacred to the local Anangu people. This incredible formation of rock domes extends six kilometres into the ground and is the remains of the erosion that began more than 500 million years ago. Take the Valley of the Winds trail down into a timeless haven within the domes through trickling creed beds and reach the Karu and Karingana lookout where you’ll be in awe of the natural wonder. Shorter trails are also available for those looking for something less challenging.
4. Hike the Kings Canyon
Definitely make a trip to Watarrka National Park, where the majestic King Canyon lies. The six kilometre Rim Walk may be challenging to some as you climb up a 100 metre cliff face and hike around the rim of the canyon, but it is an amazing experience (arguable better than Uluru) as you marvel at impressive views of sandstone walls, grottos, chasms and cliffs, and discover the Garden of Eden, a natural spring waterhole. Shorter trails such as the 2 kilometre Creek Bed Walk is ideal for those after a more relaxing stroll.
5. Learn about aboriginal culture
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre is a good place to start your journey to build a quick foundation of the Anangu culture. Learn about the geology of Uluru, legends and stories of the Anangu people and meet some local artists. I highly suggest you engage a guide that will provide you with so much more information. More on tours and guides below.
6. Sleep outdoors
For those after an authentic outback experience, do yourselves a favour and not stay at the resort. Instead, bring along/hire a sleeping bag and a swag (bedroll), start a campfire and sleep under the stars. There are many campsites such as Ayers Rock Campground, Kings Creek Station and Curtin Springs Station that provide toilet and hot shower facilities. Sit around the campfire and share stories with your fellow travellers over roasted marshmallows.
The Aussie Outback night sky is one of the best places to gaze upon the galaxy of stars due to the low humidity and minimal unnatural light. Here in the Red Centre you will be able to view countless stars and the ‘milky way’. If you are interested in enhancing your knowledge in Astronomy there are a few tours that offers the opportunity to explore the night sky with telescopes and binoculars, with experts to point out different constellations.
8. Hunt and eat bush food
Rome the outback, hunt and eat bush food. Of course, I did not have any hunting experience or skills so I left it to our awesome guide to dig the shovel into the earth, carve up roots and gather some witchetty grubs for our afternoon snack. These wood eating larvae are historically a staple in the diets of Aboriginal Australians and for those who are curious about how they taste, there is a hint of sweetness in the juices and resemble the taste of almonds (though I personally think they taste like sashimi/raw fish). Of course larvae are not all there are to eat, kangaroo and camel meat are pretty tasty too.
When to go: The best time to go is in May or September when the days are warm and the nights are chilly. During Summer (Dec-Feb) the weather is scorching hot, goes up to 45 degrees with A LOT of flies. Winter nights can be freezing and some might not tolerate the cold to sleep outdoors then.
How long to stay for: Spend AT LEAST 3D2N to cover Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, and an extra day if you are coming from/going to Alice Springs. I spent 5D4N, but wished I had more time to complete more hikes and more nights to sleep under the stars.
What to bring: Refer to my packing list here.
To tour or not to tour? : As I travelled to the outback by myself, I decided to join the Rock to Rock tour with Mulga Adventures and it was one of the best decisions ever. Chris was our guide for the entire trip and he is one of the most amazing guides I have had. He was behind the wheel for the long road trips, cooked awesome meals, gave us good history, geology and cultural lessons, hunted for bush food and overall allowing us a first hand experience in the outback such as collecting our own fire wood, making our own food and so on. That being said I’d like to point out that you will need to bring along a sense of adventure and be prepared to do some rough work. If you are after a more relaxing trip, go with tour operators like AAT Kings but trust me, if you are after an authentic outback experience, you won’t go wrong with Mulga.
Need more information? TravelOutbackAustralia is a brilliant website to start with. Gary and Amanda live in Alice Springs and have done pretty much everything in the Northern Territory so if you are after driving tips and hike destination suggestions, go ahead and click on the link.