Being from Melbourne, one of the biggest and most urban cities in Australia, I sometimes feel that, despite living in Australia, I don’t get the full “Aussie experience”. Melbourne is a far cry from the Outback image that Australia is known to have throughout the world, so I wanted to have a taste of this for myself. So that’s exactly what I did as I drove up north to start my adventure in the Red Centre in the Northern Territory.
After having driven a long distance north, I finally got to my first destination in the NT, Alice Springs. While the Alice is small when compared to Australia’s major cities, it is by far the biggest city in Central Australia. If you don’t already have supplies, now’s the time to get them before you venture out further into the NT barren desert.
While the Red Centre does get stinking hot in summer, in winter the nights can get really bloody cold! So make sure you have some winter clothes as well as shorts if you’re coming here in the colder months.
If you want to see what the Alice has to offer, you can do some shopping at Todd Mall, or walk down the street onto Todd Street at night to check out the local nightlife district. If you walk past the clubs, you will see one of the quirkier sites in town – a servo with Christmas reindeer on its roof, and they stay there all year long. Both the street and the mall are named after the Todd River that’s situated next to it, although it’s dry as a bone.
Australia has some truly unique animals. Going to the Alice Springs Desert Park guarantees that you’ll see some Aussie wildlife while being only being a few K out of town. It has emus, kangaroos, dingoes, possums, bustards, and much more.
Like most Australian towns, Alice Springs has a tribute to the ANZACs in the form of ANZAC Hill. As its name suggests, it’s on a hill that’s right in the centre of town, a tribute to all the local soldiers who have fought and died overseas. ANZAC Hill provides a great view of Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges, and the rest of the area’s natural beauty. I also got a much wider view of the Alice Springs area when I went on a hot air balloon ride during sunrise where you see all the arid and barren land in all directions. I highly recommend doing this.
If you want to do the NT properly, then you will often have to get up early. I drove to Kings Canyon in the early hours of the morning, getting to see the sunrise in the process. There is a steep walkway to climb at the start of the journey that has been dubbed “Heart Attack Hill”, so people with poor health should do one of the easier walks instead. But for those who want to venture on up the hill, it’s totally worth all the huffing and puffing ahead.
On the way up, there’s a crack that you will have to pass through that was featured in the Aussie flick The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, where three drag queens do the climb in full drag. If you think the walk is hard, try doing it wearing high heels!
The vastness of the canyon is beyond mesmerising. Seeing patches of green and yellow grass blend in with the red rocks surrounding the canyon is quite a sight. This is why many Australians think of Kings Canyon as Australia’s version of the Grand Canyon.
Part of the canyon is known as the Lost City. It is called this as it is full of sandstone domes that resemble the way an ancient city would have been set up. There’s also a beautiful waterhole full of various plants called the Garden of Eden. This place really stands out among all the arid and rocky land throughout the rest of Kings Canyon.
Not too far from the canyon is Kings Creek Station, which is an outback camel and cattle station that’s also a great place to stay overnight and experience the great outdoors at the same time. Although I didn’t see any camels there, I did see a tiny frog in a toilet bowl, so I went to next cubicle to leave it alone.
When I initially got there, it was raining, making me think my plan to sleep outside in a swag was ruined. Fortunately, the rain stopped soon after arriving, and the ground dried up, so “going bush” was both fun and comfy. I got to see both ends of the rainbow that appeared as well, something I had never seen before as there were no buildings to obstruct the view. Unfortunately, there was no gold to be found on either end of the rainbow.
Another great sight I got to see that night among the stars was the Southern Cross. Despite living in Australia my whole life, this was the very first time I got to see the famous star constellation emblazoned on the Australian flag. This showed me what an impact light pollution in cities can have on one’s view of the night sky.
No Outback holiday would be complete without trying some Aussie grub. I got to try some outback tucker like damper bread that was cooked on a campfire, some kangaroo meat right off its tail, and witchetty grubs. It’s also a great place to have a campfire and have a few drinks with your family or mates.
I started driving towards the Outback’s most iconic site, Uluru. But on the way to Uluru is Mount Conner, commonly known as Fool-uru, since people often mistake it for Uluru. I admit that I made this mistake myself. From afar, Fool-uru’s shape is understandably easy to mistake for the Rock, but once you get closer, you see that the top of it is flatter and its overall shape is different from the Rock. Despite its comical nickname, Fool-uru is a majestic sight to see in its own right. By the way, Mount Conner is 700 million years old! It’s not doing too bad for an old fella.
I eventually arrived at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The general area of Central Australia is known as the Red Centre, and for good reason. These sites may be true blue Aussie landmarks, but they’re red all the way through. No wonder so many people call Australia the Sunburnt Country!
Before I start talking about the Rock, I’ll mention its nearby companion, Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas. These giant rocks have a dome-like shape that makes them stand out from their more famous neighbour. Uluru’s fame may steal some of the Olgas’ thunder, but you could argue that the various unique shapes of the rocks there, as opposed to Uluru being just one big rock, make it more impressive. In any case, it’s quite a sight.
Now onto the big fella, Uluru. Many Aussies still refer to it as Ayers Rock, as it was named after Sir Henry Ayers in 1873, who was the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time. Officially it’s now called Uluru/Ayers Rock to recognise both its Aboriginal and English names, but most people nowadays refer to it by its original Aboriginal name.
Parts of the Rock also has some odd shapes, some that are akin to the Olgas’ dome-like shape. Both these shapes and its reddish sandstone colours will put anyone in awe, making it obvious why it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes approximately two hours to walk around the Rock, so make sure you’re wearing comfy walking shoes and have some water on you. Surprisingly, there is plenty of grass surrounding the Rock. I was expecting to see endless sand, like something out of a Mad Max movie, but I was wrong.
When I wasn’t walking around the Rock, I went on a helicopter ride and got to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta from above. Seeing it from so high up not only shows the top of these landmarks, but also the rest of the area and how vast it is. On the ground, I got to see both the sunrise and sunset at the Rock where a whole array of colours appeared in the sky. Pretty grouse if you ask me.
Uluru is also the name of the town there, so there’s motels, pubs, restaurants, and other facilities available. At one restaurant, I had a kangaroo and emu pizza that was fortunately very cheesy too; yum!
Australia is a huge country and many Aussies from all corners of the Great Southern Land dream of coming here to see one of its most treasured natural landmarks. It takes a bit of hard yakka to get there due to its remoteness, but if you want to have a true Outback adventure, then I can’t recommend the Red Centre enough.