This travel guide exploring Australia's Red Centre kicks off at Uluru and Kata Tjuta, features Kings Canyon and Palm Valley and finishes up at the MacDonnell Ranges and Alice Springs. Links to book all your accomodation, National Park passes and tips if travelling with kids will help you to plan the ultimate holiday.
We kicked off our trip by flying in to Ayers Rock Airport and picking up our 4WD. This allowed us total flexibility during our stay. While I had pre-booked all our accomodation, and had a list of the walks I hoped to do, we left the rest up to how we felt on the day and the weather forecast. It worked a dream.
For the first part of our trip we stayed at the beautiful Sails in the Desert for 4 nights, giving us ample time to explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It is a lovely hotel, conveniently located close to the National Park, the staff are warm and welcoming, and the food is amazing.
Tip: You can pre purchase your Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park pass online before you go. It saves queueing.
Our first walks were smaller ones, as it was freezing cold on this day. We did the Mala Walk at Uluru, Karu Lookout (part of the Valley of the Winds walk) and the Walpa Gorge walk at Kata Tjuta. It was a great introduction to the National Park. Even though it meant we spent a bit more time in the car this day, we didn't mind. Seeing these rock formations from the car is a stunning spectacle.
Please remember that this is sacred land. Be respectful of the Anangu people. Walk quietly, tread lightly and stay on the track. Photography is allowed in Walpa Gorge however you are asked to keep both sides of the gorge in frame when you do.
The next day we took on the Uluru base walk. This walk is absolutely incredible. It gives you a real sense of the rocks enormous scale. Uluru is 348m high, and the base walk is almost 10km. There are so many different angles to see it from, the light and shade completely change the colours of the rock and its surroundings at different times of day. There are also so many different sections to the walk, some more sheltered and green others more exposed and parched. It is an absolute must do if you visit.
The Anangu people ask that you refrain from photographing some sections of Uluru, as these areas are sacred. Please respect their wishes, it is possible to do so and also capture spectacular photographs of Uluru.
If you are travelling with kids (or even if you aren't) a trip to Uluru Camel Tours is a must. Not only can you visit and ride the Camels but they have a small collection of other animals including an emu called Jules (who has a penchant for stealing jewellry).
Next stop on our itinerary was Kings Canyon. This is an easy 3 hour drive, as it is a sealed road all the way. We made brief stops at Curtain Springs Station, Mt Conner Lookout and Kings Creek Station. All are worth a visit.
Kings Canyon Resort is a simple affair. Splurge on a spa room if you fancy a hot spa after a long walk. The new glamping tents look great as well. It is a comfortable base for a couple of nights while you explore the majestic Watarrka National Park.
Our first full day at Watarrka we did the Kings Canyon rim walk. This walk is absolutely incredible and was hands down my favourite of the trip. The scenery is breathtaking. The textures and colours of the rocks had me wondering if I was still on planet earth. The vistas are constantly changing, from the desolate domes of 'The Lost City' to the lush 'Garden of Eden'.
The next day we did the easy Kathleen Springs walk. We then went back to Kings Canyon and did the Kings Creek walk. This was a nice gentle day.
The drive from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs is a long one. As we had a 4WD we took the Mereenie Loop, which includes 160km of unsealed road. A permit is required for this trip, pick this up at the Kings Canyon Resort petrol station. Drive safely and look out for native wildlife, camels and brumbies. We had to stop a couple of times as brumbies were on the road and in no hurry to get off it. We also saw some galloping across the road, thankfully behind our car. If you see a kangaroo that has been hit by a vehicle please safely check the dead kangaroo as there may be a joey in its pouch.
We made a detour to Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park. The last leg of this trip is definitely 4WD only. It was pretty wild. By the time we arrived we were all shaken up (literally), so we quickly did the Arankaia Walk and headed back to the comfort of sealed roads.
We stayed at the Double Tree Hilton in Alice Springs for the last leg of our trip. From here we explored the West MacDonnell National Park. You can visit your choice of Simpsons Gap, Stanley Chasm, Ellery Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, or the Ochre Pits. You can grab a light snack or lunch from Glen Helen or Ormiston Gorge before heading back to Alice.
While in Alice we also visited the Kangaroo Sanctuary. This tour is run by Brolga. His passion and commitment to kangaroos is inspirational. I highly recommend this tour, book online before you go to avoid missing out. There is a wonderful documentary series about Brolga and his work called Kangaroo Dundee which is well worth a watch.
We then flew out of Alice Springs airport, dropping our Avis hire car off at the airport. It was so easy.
This is a trip, that if you bring your full heart and soul and a sense of adventure will leave you feeling in awe of this beautiful landscape and all those who call it home.
The nitty gritty at a glance.
Clockwise from top left Uluru, Camel tour, Kings Canyon, Kangaroo Sanctuary
Aboriginal Cultural Tour (runs Wednesday to Sunday only)
The National Parks:
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Watarrka National Park
Finke Gorge National Park
Tjoritja (West MacDonnell) National Park
Clockwise from top left Uluru, Walpa Gorge, Valley of Winds, Mereenie Loop road
Where to stay:
Where to eat:
Walpa Bar - Highly recommended
Ilkari Restaurant - Highly recommended
Arnguli Restaurant - Highly recommended
Ayers Wok Noodle Bar
The Thirsty Dingo Bar
Outback BBQ and Grill
Hanuman - Highly recommended
The Deck Bar
What to pack:
Sturdy and comfortable walking shoes
Mosquito/fly head nets
Warm clothes (in winter)
Arrive Ayers Rock Airport Yulara
Pick up 4WD from Avis Car Rental
Stay Sails in the Desert
Drive Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Mala Walk, Uluru 2km 1hr
Karu Lookout, Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds Walk 2.2km 1hr
Walpa Gorge, Kata Tjuta 2.6km 1hr
Drive Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru Base Walk 10.6km 3hrs
Field of Lights
Uluru Camel Tour
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Sunset
Drive to Watarrka National Park 3hrs
Stay Kings Canyon Resort
Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park
Kings Canyon Rim Walk 6km 3hrs
Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park
Kathleen Springs Walk 2.4km 1hr
Drive to Alice Springs via Mereenie Loop 6hrs+
Palm Valley Arankaia Walk 1hr
Ormiston Gorge, Alice Springs Tjoritja (West MacDonnell) National Park
Kangaroo Sanctuary tour, Alice Springs
Drive to Alice Springs Airport
A bit about us. I am Charlotte, owner and designer of Love From Shop, an online Australian gift store. My husband Mark is the owner and all round sound guru of ISM Studios and Smack Heads. We have two gorgeous girls, Asha (10) and Evie (8). We call Sydney, Australia home and we love to travel.