Jul 5, 2024 5 min read

The Big Red

How to experience Uluru, Alice Springs and all it's famous delights

“PUT YOUR BALLS in the tank,” isn't something said to me often, but I like it. 

Buzzing around the Outback on a quad bike, dodging lethal spinifex, low lying branches, buffalo, wild brumbies and the odd stray camel at Kings Creek Station — an 1,800-square-metre working cattle and camel ranch outside the Northern Territory's Watarrka National Park — is not for the faint-hearted. 

Whether you're a petrol-head or not, the stunning 360-degree panoramic scenery of the George Gill Range, rolling sand dunes, desert oaks and wildlife is breathtaking. Guide Steve is knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna in the region and reveals that curious dingoes and kangaroos often pitch up for the overnight tours.

Steve insists the best way to remain stable on the quads is by sitting up high towards the front near the handlebars, literally with your "balls" — for the men, generally — "in the tank". Who knew?

Some people are cut out for camping. But glamping in a motorhome with air-con, shower and toilet? Now you're talking! 

If you have always wanted to travel the Red Centre Way — from Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Kings Canyon and the rest of the Outback — it's the only way to do it.

DAY 1 

Daily flights to Alice Springs land you deep in the heart of the Outback, an area rich with Aboriginal culture.

The Arrernte people are the traditional owners of the region incorporating Alice Springs and East MacDonnell Ranges and have lived here for thousands of years.

On landing, we get a shuttle bus to motorhome company Apollo to collect our ride for the next few days. Forget your clapped-out utes, this six-berth Mercedes Euro Deluxe model has been accessorised to the max. With three large double-bed sleeping areas, it's the perfect tourer for large families.

Supplies are hard to find on the 4.5-hour drive to Uluru so a visit to the well-stocked Woolworths and Coles in Alice Springs' Yeperenye Shopping Centre is imperative. 

Travelling to Uluru through Rainbow Valley and along the Stuart and Lasseter highways at dusk is stunning, and not just for the silhouettes of kangaroos, camels, wild horses and buffalos that can be seen on the horizon.

Ayers Rock Campground boasts a range of facilities, including art galleries, a swimming pool, playground, restaurants and a supermarket, It's located a handy 15 kilometres from Uluru.

DAY 2 

At 5.15am we meet the SEIT Uluru Highlights bus for our sunrise tour. It's still dark as we present our passes at the halfway entrance and our well-informed guides teach us about the Anangu people who are the traditional owners. Anangu means 'We, the people' and the culture of the Anangu, which dates back more than 40,000 years, is considered to be one of the oldest in the world. 

In 1985, Anangu agreed to lease the national park to Parks Australia for 99 years as long as it, and all visitors, abide by the Anangu's Tjukurpa laws (relating to the Creation period), which encompass their way of life, religion, beliefs and moral systems.

Our guides regale us with some of the Anangu laws and Creation stories involving the poisonous snake Liru and the python Kuniya. We also learn how Anangu live off the land and control bushfires.

The magnificent monolith looms in front of us and we fall silent as the sun rises. Wow. No wonder Uluru can lay a significant claim to being one of the seven wonders of the natural world. At 860 metres above sea level and with a nine-kilometre circumference, it's not just beautiful, it's ginormous.

Surprisingly, it houses a fertile oasis of watering holes, caves, wildlife and vegetation, but is so dry that only one per cent of visitors have ever seen rain fall On it. 

When it does, water cascades down its sides and into watering holes. We explore caves where ancient Aboriginal art illustrating the Tjukurpa adorns the walls. Further around Uluru, our guides point out a walking trail with a small chain leading up to the top.

The person who made it was only five feet tall and so low that many climbers have lost their balance — and their lives. The boulders halfway up are dubbed 'chicken rock' because many people get as far as them and decide they don't want to continue!

The same afternoon, I embark upon the famous sunset camel tour and am surprised to learn Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world.

Introduced to the Outback in the 1880s, they're regarded as pests but are docile and easy to catch. Surprisingly, they're not bred in captivity because the hand-reared ones apparently have delusions of grandeur and are especially hard to train.

My friends for the evening are Randy, a record-holding ex-racer, and his mate, lead camel Ned Kelly, who made his acting debut in the film Australia.

The One-hour trip is extremely informative and I'm in awe as the scenic backdrop of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, 30 kilometres away to the west, becomes a rainbow of bronze and gold. Uluru is sandstone whereas Kata Tjuta has a chemical composition similar to granite. 

Both are coated with iron oxide, giving them their rusty appearance. Incidentally, from a certain angle Kata Tjuta looks like a side profile of Homer Simpson's head! We return at twilight to enjoy locally produced wine, beer and freshly baked beer damper.

DAY 3 

We embark upon AAT Kings' Kata Tjuta and Uluru Sacred Sites & Sunset Tour with BBQ dinner. A 2.6-kilometre walk bursting with greenery takes you to Walpa (meaning windy) Gorge, the first lookout point at Kata Tjuta, from which you can see both Western and South Australia. 

Geologists believe this area was under sea level between 600 and 900 million years ago. It may even have once been the start of the Himalayas. It's now 1,066 metres above sea level.

At the Uluru sunset viewing area, we enjoy refreshments and have the chance to buy original Anangu art from local sellers.

The BBQ Under the Stars is a treat both for the tastebuds and the stargazing geek in you — while tucking into fine cuts of kangaroo, beef, lamb and fish in the shadow of Uluru, our guide pinpoints all the planets and constellations in the night sky with a laser.

DAY 4 

There's plenty to keep visitors occupied at Kings Creek Station, with helicopter rides and camel tours to take part in, as well as the aforementioned quad biking. Our journey on four wheels was six kilometres as the crow flies, but more like 10 kilometres when one considers the bends and bumpy terrain. Note to the ladies: wear a bra!

For steak-lovers, the nearby Kings Canyon Caravan & Holiday Park is the place to devour one. With live music on every night, the atmosphere is buzzing and dingos-a-plenty, and close to the famous Rim and Kings Creek walks. 

Day 5

The six kilometre Kings Creek Walk is the easier of the two walks available and suitable for all ages. Although it kicks off with 500 steps, the ‘Garden of Eden’ are worth every step.

Day 6

For dining like kinds, head toDesert Oaks Bistro for breakfast. We have a large feast to prepare ourselves for the 4.5-hour drive to Alice Springs, checking into the Big4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park happier, browner (although that could be the red dust?) and more informed about this wonderful country we call home.

ROUND-UP

GO

  • There are daily flights to Alice Springs and Uluru.
  • Rental of a six-berth Euro Deluxe motorhome from Apollo starts from $230 a day.
  • National park entry tickets are required for entry into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and are $25 for visitors 16 years and over. They’re valid from three consecutive days.

EAT

In Alice Springs, visit The Overlanders Steakhouse Barra, Todd Restaurant and Bar, Red Ochre Grill Restaurant, The Red Sands Cafe and The Juicy Rump.

DO

Recommended tours are Quad Safaris at Kings Creek Station, SEIT Uluru Sunset tour, Camel Tours, and AAT Kings’ Kata Tjuta & Uluru Sunset & Aussie BBQ Under The Stars.

More info: tourismnt.com


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