Getaway Guides,Northern Territory
A Guide to Road Tripping the Red Centre Way in the NT
May 2, 2022 • Bismo
15 min read
Photo Credit: Tourism NT/The Salty Travellers
CamperMate Travel Guide
Road Tripping the Red Centre Way in the NT
We have our own slice of the red planet here in the world of Oz. It’s waiting for you to explore in the heart of the Northern Territory. An outback journey, millions of years in the making!
Feel the ancient red sand between your toes as you walk in the footsteps of one of the oldest civilisations on earth. Catch red sunsets and world-famous views of Uluru, and stumble on hidden oases to swim and relax around breathtaking wildlife and scenery. You will explore one of the most unique and diverse landscapes on the planet.
What’s more, this vast and imposing landscape remains an off-the-beaten-track destination that’s hardly explored, yet accessible and always loved and enjoyed - the best kind of place in our eyes! This road trip route connects Alice Springs and Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park, the stunning Kings Canyon region and of course the jewel in the crown, the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
On the Red Centre Way, no two days are ever the same.
Below you will find our helpful travel guide for the Red Centre. It contains links straight to the CamperMate app to make it even easier to find these places and plan your ideal Red Centre road trip.
You can read the entire guide or just click on a section below to jump right to it.
- Highlights of the Red Centre
- Where to stay while travelling the Red Centre
- Secret Swimming Holes
- Best Hikes and Walks in the Red Centre
- Activities in the Red Centre
- Stunning Sunrises and Sunsets at Kata Tjuta
- Where to see Wonderful Wildlife
Highlights of the Red Centre
Photo credit: Tourism NT/Helen Orr
Known simply as “Alice” to the locals, this town is the gateway to the Red Centre and services an area the size of Texas. Aboriginal culture is a part of everyday life here thanks to the remoteness of the desert. There is an array of both paid and free attractions in and around the town providing something for everyone and every budget.
Escaping into the wilderness is easy thanks to the many experiences nearby. Whether you’re earning a relaxing break in a swimming hole along the West MacDonnell Ranges or visiting the impressive sights of Kings Canyon and Uluru, Alice is the place to be!
Tjoritja West MacDonnell National Park
West of Alice Springs and at over 160km long, this spiritual home to the Arrente people is the foundation of their cultural identity and home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the area.
This is a national park filled with natural attractions. You can swim it, cycle it, walk it or drive it!! Contained within are the always alluring swimming holes of Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. There are numerous short walking tracks along with longer half day, day and extended treks capped with the Larapinta Trail at 223 km long.
Many rare species of flora and fauna can be found here including the rock wallaby - perhaps the area's most well-known fur baby.
Kings Canyon and Watarrka National Park
Watarrka National Park encompasses an impressive 70,000 hectares and is home to amazing local wildlife and a prominent Red Centre Aboriginal centre of culture.
Both the Arrente and Luritja Aboriginal people have called this area home for more than 20,000 years making it an ideal place to learn about their mystical culture.
Home to the towering Kings Canyon, the scenic rim walk takes you hundreds of feet in the air before descending into the famed Garden of Eden.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
An area that needs no introduction, this UNESCO world heritage site is home to one of the oldest human civilisations in the world - the Anangu people.
The unique geological formations of Kata Tjuta and Uluru, are as epic in size and formation as they are in cultural significance. Known around the world as must-see destinations on an Australian road trip itinerary.
Where to Stay While Travelling the Red Centre
CamperMate is loaded with unique places to camp, with both free and paid options for traveller convenience. Here are a few favourites, recommended by our more than 1.5 million users.
Just click on the links below to be taken directly to the parks on the CamperMate App, unlock special deals, discounts and to book your stay.
Alice Springs makes an ideal place to spend a few days as a base camp for adventure in the Red Centre. It has a plethora of activities including natural swimming options, mountain and cycling trails and wildlife experiences.
It also has some of our favourite accommodation options in the area:
An oasis in the desert, the Alice Springs Tourist Park caters for all, with its beautifully shaded camping spots plus well-appointed cabins. It has all the services you need including a fully equipped kiosk, laundry, swimming pool, kids playground, amenities blocks and more for your convenience.
Located just 5 minutes from Alice Springs CBD is Discovery Parks – Alice Springs, a convenient spot to base yourself on your next adventure to the Northern Territory.
Central to many of the NT’s natural wonders and attractions like Kings Canyon (approximately 332km) and Glen Helen (133km), Discovery Parks – Alice Springs provides travellers a home away from home to rest and recharge for the next day.
Kings Canyon is perfectly located halfway between Alice Springs and Uluru,making it an ideal stop on your Red Centre Way road trip.
But it is so much more than that.
This is a landscape millions of years in the making, home to the outback's very own “Garden of Eden” - an oasis in the desert. The area also boasts an abundance of native flora and fauna, contrasting landscapes of deserts and desert gardens, and cultural experiences making this area a highlight for road trippers and travellers alike.
At Discovery Parks - Kings Canyon, the wonder of the Red Centre is always at your doorstep. Here you can relax under a canopy of stars at one of the most picturesque campgrounds in Australia.
Enjoy uninterrupted views of Kings Canyon and any of the awesome activities in the area before having a hearty meal at one of their dining outlets.
This park provides all the amenities needed after a busy day of adventuring, right in the middle of an ancient, rugged landscape.
Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges National Park
Immerse yourself in this 800 million years old landscape - home to the Western Aranda people for tens of thousands of years. There is so much to see and do here, and with a range of tracks, nature and bush walks, and a swimming hole in Glen Helen Gorge, this is the perfect place to call in for a night.
Explore Central Australia and experience the incredible beauty of one of earth’s oldest landscapes. Discovery Parks – Glen Helen is the only accommodation located within the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, just 130km west of Alice Springs.
Enjoy outback hospitality with 25 motel rooms and an expansive campground with powered and unpowered sites. Make the most of the facilities, including the restaurant, bar/bistro, swimming pool and outdoor terrace overlooking the stunning Glen Helen cliffs.
Secret Swimming Holes
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Photo credit: Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught
You would think finding a swimming hole in a desert would be more mirage than reality! Luckily CamperMate has the best insider tips to find hidden swimming oases. The perfect refresher from hiking and exploring.
This picturesque swimming hole is the perfect place to cool off after enjoying the short walks around the area. It is one of our favourite places to have a picnic. The Aboriginal name for Ellery Big Hole is Udepata and this area is an internationally recognised geological site.
Glen Helen Gorge is a great place to relax and view the West MacDonnell Ranges. You’ll also spot lots of local wildlife that have the same idea!
From towering sandstone canyons to a unique river ecosystem and wetland, Glen Helen Gorge is a must see.
Ormiston Gorge gets its name from the towering red walls that enclose this little oasis in the desert. It is a great place for a refreshing swim and to spot the unique native wildlife and plant life that this area is known for.
The gorge forms part of a 3.5 hour circuit walk which is an often overlooked, although fantastic walk. Don’t worry, the walk takes you via the main watering hole so you can have a well-earned swim along the way.
Best Hikes and Walks in the Red Centre
Photo credit: Tourism NT/Chloe Barry Hang
This area is filled with amazing walks and longer hikes, some of which are conveniently located at the swimming holes above.
This 231 kilometre trail is ranked as one of the planet's top 20 treks. It follows the rocky spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs Telegraph Station all the way to one of the highest points in Central Australia - Mount Sonder.
You can challenge yourself to the entire trail (14 days) or walk any of the 12 sections to match your comfort level and time commitments.
This is one of the most popular short walks that takes you through Kata Tjuta’s valleys and steep gorges. It is a 2.6km return track that takes around an hour to complete and is easy enough for most fitness levels and ages. This short walk will take you through the steep canyons, past rare plants and ending at a grove of spearwood trees.
If you’re going to do one longer walk during your time in the Red Centre, make it this one. At 7.6km long and moderately difficult in parts, allow roughly 3.5 - 4 hours and have a good level of fitness to complete comfortably, but the views of the unique rock formations of Kata Tjuta make it well worth it. The Mars-like landscape is stunning, and with hundreds of native wildlife and plant species to be seen, the biodiversity on offer here is amazing.
If you don’t have time for the full track, you can complete shorter sections like the Karu lookout (2.2km) or the 5.4 km track to Karingana lookout with its stunning views. It is actually easier to complete the full circuit track than doing the Karingana lookout track return, thanks to the topography.
This walk closes after 11am if temperatures pass 36 Deg C due to the intense heat, so make sure you start early in the morning.
Drinking water is available halfway along the circuit but make sure to take plenty of your own.
This walk to one of the most famous landmarks in the world is 10km and can be comfortably completed in 3.5 hours. This must-do walk is a classic to see the towering Uluru up close as you explore the entire edge of the rock formation. It has a very easy to follow trail that can be walked from either direction and is fine for all fitness levels. You will learn about the ancient landscape which is the spiritual home of the Anangu people.
This 6.5km takes around 3 hours to complete and is often thought to be the best walk in Central Australia. The most popular walk here is the Kings Canyon Rim Walk which is a stunning trail through the incredible Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park, yet another of the famous sites of the Red Centre in the Northern Territory. This loop trail is steep in places, and is best completed in a clockwise direction.
About 45 min from the trail head, you have an optional detour to a stunning panoramic lookout.
The trail continues on and offers a surprise lush oasis, the secret Garden of Eden abundant in plant life and unusual rock formations.
Serpentine Gorge is the name given to a narrow gap in the West MacDonnell Ranges, just west of Alice Springs. It has several sign-posted walking trails that take you along the shaded path of river red gums to the surreal water hole (30 minutes) or up to the lookout (45 minutes), high above the cliffs, to give you awesome views into a valley.
This watering hole is the last oasis during the dry season, making it a hub for local wildlife and is a site of special significance for the Western Arrernte people.
Close to Alice Springs, this is home to several convenient walks including one of the few permanent water holes in the area. This gives you a great opportunity to see local wildlife like the rare black-footed rock wallabies at dawn, as you take in the towering cliffs of Simpsons Range.
This area contains parts of the Mulga Woodland and other (40) rare plants - the short Ghost Gum Walk (15 min) is a perfect nature walk to see the local flora and fauna while the longer woodland trail to rocky gap will take you roughly 5 hours.
This is an important site for the local traditional owners as Eagle and Rock Wallaby dreaming trails cross this spiritual land.
Activities to do in the Red Centre
Field of Light Installation
Photo credit: Tourism NT/Salty Aura
You will find a variety of activities to do in the Red Centre. Here’s our list of recommendations while in the region.
After the incredible sunset, the real show begins. As far as you can see, Bruce Munro's art piece called The Field of Light shines its 50,000 lights upon you.
Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku meaning ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in Pitjantjatjara shines a whole new light on Uluru.
Imagine you're floating above the great outback in Australia's Red Centre, watching the sun creep up on a new morning. Check out CamperMate to learn more about Australia’s ONLY remote outback ballooning experience!
Take the ultimate camel adventure with Uluru Camel Tours. They offer a camel tour experience that can’t be beaten anywhere in Australia. Be inspired by the stunning surrounds of Uluru and Kata Tjuta as you gently coast along the sand dunes some ten feet off the ground, letting go of your fears, with not a care in the world.
Learn about native Australian ingredients, ancient food preparation techniques and a demonstration of how these ingredients can be used in modern cooking.
Local guides highlight local flora of the hotel’s garden. Learn about how Aboriginal people traditionally lived by using the bush for food and medicinal purposes.
Listen to the yarns being told by Aboriginal storytellers about the history, culture and traditional techniques being used on the land.
Stunning Sunrises and Sunsets at Kata Tjuta
While always spectacular, this iconic red landscape and its famous rock formations are at their very best at dawn. You can watch the first and last rays of sun weave across the open landscape, watching as colours change and new landscapes come alive.
The Kata Tjuta Dune viewing area at dawn and the Sunset viewing area – with Uluru 30km away in the background – at dusk are the best places to view from.
Where to see Wonderful Wildlife
A trip to the outback is filled with adventure as we uncover the unknown. A fun part of this is wildlife spotting - with nature you just never know what you are going to see. From kangaroos to rock wallabies and dingoes, donkeys, brumbies and camels, below are some of our favourite wildlife spotting areas.
Watch the Red Centre come to life at night at the Alice Springs Desert Park. The park's nocturnal tour will show you the abundance of wildlife that lives here as you spot desert animals including bilbies, echidnas and even malas.
Watarrka National Park encloses the Garden of Eden and Kings Canyon, with its 300-metre-high sandstone walls, walking trails, lush forests and permanent waterholes.
The sheer red rock face of the canyon soars above dense forests of palms, ferns and cycads, sheltering them from the harsh desert, and providing refuge for many native animals including the euro - a cross between a wallaby and a kangaroo.
The Kangaroo Sanctuary is a 188 acre wildlife sanctuary for rescued kangaroos outside of Alice Springs. Their mission is to educate and encourage people to care for kangaroos and other wildlife and animals.
No two trips to the Red Centre are ever the same. The landscape and culture may be millions of years old, yet somehow the centre of Australia always comes up with new and exciting ways to surprise those that get off the beaten path and explore the vastness that is the Northern Territory.