Australia is a diverse and ever-changing landscape, with remarkable geological monuments sculpted by the elements over millions of years. The Northern Territory’s Red Centre makes up the physical and spiritual heart of Australia and many people might be surprised to discover that the desert in Australia is not a vast barren wasteland, but a thriving ecosystem of native plants and unique animals. At the Top End there are majestic trees, trickling creeks, waterholes and ancient mountain gorges. Discover some of the most secluded spots in the world, have a drink with a local or swim in one of the many lush pools at the northern tip. The secret beauty of this land means that many of the magical spots long known to the Indigenous Australians are left largely unexplored. The best way to experience the outback is to take a road trip across the Northern Territory, so if you’re cruising the red land, here are a few of the highlights to look out for.
Witness one of the natural wonders of the world, Uluru (Ayers Rock)
First on the bucket list of sights to see is of course the internationally recognized symbol of Australia – Uluru, known to most as Ayers Rock. The rock is spectacular for many reasons; its sheer size (which no postcard or photograph can successfully capture!), the way it changes color during the different times of day, its geological significance and sacred spiritual importance to the Anangu people. This one is best seen up close, during sunset or sunrise when the red hue reflected off the surface is at its brightest and most marvelous. If you have the time, it is worth it to take a camel tour around Uluru, or hike through its towering cliff faces. You’ll likely spot some of the native fauna of the region, who take refuge in the rock. It is possible to camp overnight in the surrounding area of the national park, or to stay at a hotel without disturbing the land on which the rock rests.
Visit the true outback town of Alice Springs
Alice Springs lies in the heart of the Australian outback. It is the largest settlement in central Australia and a great touristic spot to shop, eat and relax. The Alice, as it is affectionately referred to by locals, offers some dramatic scenery including incredible desert gorges, landscapes and rock pools. The culture and the people are as diverse as any other city, from the country-folk in fedoras to the artistic natives who maintain a strong connection to the land. So what’s there to do in Alice? Well, you can visit the galleries in Todd Mall to learn about Australia’s Indigenous history and marvel at the local Arrernte people’s incredible artworks. Or drive down to the West MacDonnell Ranges, where you’ll have a spectacular view of the wide open gorges, waterholes and mountains. If you’re up to the challenge, take to the skies in a hot air balloon (or helicopter) for a panoramic view of the plains. There are plenty of walking trails in Alice Springs, including a walk to Kalarranga Lookout and the Mpaara Walk in Finke Gorge.
The many heads of Mount Olga
The Olgas (or Mt Kata Tjuta) are a group of rock formations located in the Kata Tjuta National Park. The name ‘Kata Tjuta’ comes from the Pitjantjatjara word meaning ‘many heads’ – referring to the 36 large red domes rising from the desert floor. Like Uluru, the monoliths are most impressive when viewed at sunrise and sunset. There are two winding walks at Mount Olga, through the wide gorges and steep valleys, there to protect the fragile environment and allow the Aboriginal owners to conduct their ancient ceremonies. The Walpa Gorge Walk will take you through the shrubbery of some rare native plants to a picturesque grove of spearwood. For a longer more moderately difficult walk, you can try the Valley of the Winds which will take you through some incredible views of the domes and trickling creek beds.
Find yourself in the Lost City
This one is strictly for the experienced four wheel drivers! The Lost City is an amazing display of rock formations sculpted in a way that is reminiscent of an ancient civilization. It is purported to be 1.4 billion years old, twice the age of Uluru, created over time as the ocean receded forming the incredible pillars, narrow passages and large arch ways beside the tall sculptures that resemble sky scrapers. This fascinating outcrop can only be accessed by 4WD, on a 10km track or by helicopter for an overhead view. Because the route to the Lost City is off-road, it is of the more isolated and remote destinations and the road is rough and jagged so great care must be taken when traveling here.
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