RED CENTRE: The “spiritual heart of Australia” – covering the township of Yulara and world-famous Uluru and Kata Tjuta to Kings Canyon, the MacDonnell Ranges and the outback pioneer town of Alice Springs – was the only Australasian destination to make Lonely Planet’s hotly contested Best in Travellists of Top 10 Regions, Countries & Cities for 2019, and ranks a very respectable fourth in the world.
With direct flights from Brisbane and new flights coming online from Darwin and Adelaide direct to Yulara, there’s never been a better time to ‘centre yourself’ in Australia’s outback. Here are Lonely Planet’s top picks of the must-do experiences in and around Uluru for 2019.
Uluru and surrounds
Watch the sun rise and illuminate Uluru
Take in the unforgettable colours of Australia’s spiritual centre by watching the sun rise over what is largely considered the world’s largest monolith. With the sun painting the vivid landscape fifty shades of outback, the experience is a true bucket-list item.
Take a guided base walk around Uluru
Follow in the ancient footsteps of the world’s oldest continuous living culture with an early morning walk around World Heritage-listed Uluru. On the free Mala Walk along Uluru’s base (approx. 2km return), National Park Rangers tell the ancestral story of the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby) people and visit the painted caves and water holes of these traditional custodians. For a more in-depth experience, take in all of Uluru’s natural and cultural beauty on the 10.6km loop base walk.
Speed things up with a Segway tour around the Rock
Fancy doing the Rock a little differently? Slap on a helmet and join a knowledgeable guide on a two-wheeled eco-adventure around the base of Uluru. Get up close and personal with the picturesque landscape, all while immersing yourself in the history and culture of this ancient landscape.
Look to the skies with an Aboriginal Astronomy Tour
With low humidity and minimal artificial light, the Red Centre is not only in Lonely Planet’s Top Five regions to visit in 2019 but it is one of the best places in the world to explore the skies above. Cast your gaze upwards and hear how the Seven Sisters story is part of an Aboriginal songline that traverses the breadth of the continent, from the east to west coast of Australia.
Outback Bush Culture
If you thought the desert was a sparse landscape lacking in plant life, think again! Learn how to recognise a few of the 416 species of plants native to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on a guided garden walk or taste the ancient flavours with a dose of history at an outback bush tucker lesson with the folks at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort.
Forget five star – try million-star dining
You’d be hard pressed to fine a more spectacular dining experience than Tali Wiru, which pairs an unforgettable Australian setting with a world-class gastronomic adventure for a not-to-be-missed night under the stars. Tali Wiru, meaning ‘beautiful dune’ in local Anangu language, encapsulates the magic of fine dining under the Southern Desert sky. This feast for the senses was awarded the 2018 Restaurant of the Year, Best Tourism Restaurant and Best Contemporary Restaurant at the 2018 Golden Plate Awards. Tali Wiruoperates seasonally from March until October.
Uluru glows after dark in a Field of Light
Spend the evening exploring Field of Light, the stunning desert installation by British artist Bruce Munro. This captivating light installation spreads across red earth with Uluru in the background while the stars shine above. It is so good, the season has been extended until December 2020.
The Red Centre From Above
Witness the most spectacular views the Red Centre has to offer as you take in the incredible and majestic landscape of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park from above in a chartered helicopter tour. With cobalt blue skies stretching as far as the eye can see, the rich red of the 36 soaring domes of Kata Tjuta and Uluru standing proud, you’ll never want to come down.
Arise with the King
Lace up your boots and head out for the trek of a lifetime, exploring the 6km Kings Canyon Rim Walk with incredible views of the Canyon at Watarrka National Park, around 330km from Alice Springs. The early-morning wake up will be well worth it, as the sun rises over soaring sandstone walls.
Alice Springs and surrounds
Rise above it all
For a truly memorable experience, float above the vast expanse of the Central Australian outback in a hot air balloon. The early morning start is soon forgotten as you watch the sun peep over the edge of the earth, all the while watching the rich red rock and mountain ranges flood with colour.
Join a camel tour
Afghan cameleers came to Australia in 1860 with a shipment of 24 dromedaries for the Burke and Wills expedition. These days you can walk in the shoes of these modern pioneers atop a loping camel. Today, these gentle creatures can be found all over the Territory, taking visitors on a range of adventures. Why not climb aboard a ‘ship of the desert’ and see the landscapes of the Red Centre from a new perspective?
Take part in the weird and the wacky
Join in the fun of a few of Alice’s more quirky annual events. The Red Centre’s Alice Springs is the proud home of the world’s only land regatta and Australia’s oldest regatta and craziest event in the NT. Come August, The Henley-On-Todd Regatta is a sight to be seen, with teams racing bottomless boats along the bone-dry Todd River bed. Come July, watch as locals and visitors alike don their finest rags to cheer on the participants of the world-famous Camel Cup.
Hats off to Alice Springs for also being the Beanie Capital of the World – they have the festival to prove it. Now in its 22nd year, this eclectic Beanie Festival event brings together more than 6500 hand-made beanies from around the world, in the Weaving the Magic exhibition which encourages you to try and buy.
Pay a visit to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station
Discover the history of European colonisers by stepping back in time at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station – the birthplace of the outback township. The Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs and is the best preserved of the 12 stations along the Overland Telegraph Line.
The small, but lively, centre of Alice Springs has a big reputation for art and is home to the greatest concentration of Aboriginal art galleries anywhere in the world. Set foot in one of the town’s many diverse art galleries in town or drive to nearby Hermannsburg – the birthplace of outback water colourist Albert Namatjira – and be welcomed into one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world.
Meet the locals at Simpson’s Gap
Take an early morning trip through the West MacDonnell Ranges – arguably the most underrated attractions in the Red Centre – and you’re bound to make a few new friends. Nested amongst the landscape at dusk and dawn is a population of black-footed rock wallabies who call this beautiful spot home.
Hike the Larapinta Trail
Crossing the traditional lands of the Arrernte people and following the path of a number of Australia’s early explorers, the Larapinta Trail weaves itself amongst some of the world’s most ancient landscapes and is one of the best and most popular hiking spots in the country. From experienced walkers embarking on the full 223km trail to casual adventurers looking to stretch their legs, there’s something for everyone along this famed route.
Explore Alice on two wheels
For keen mountain bikers there’s no better way to explore the rugged landscape of Alice Springs than adventuring along its many mountain bike trails weaving through the West MacDonnell Ranges. This bicycle-friendly destination is currently undergoing a MTB trail overhaul with 21km of purpose-built single track being added to the current offering. There will be something for everyone with a new entry-level ‘green-circle’ loop being developed, in addition to intermediate ‘blue-square’ and advanced-level ‘black-diamond’ trails. The project will also open up an existing trail ‘Hell Line’, a black diamond epic that takes riders on a technical 17km journey into the West MacDonnell National Park to the northwest of Alice Springs.
To plan your Red Centre or Top End trip, visit www.northernterritory.com
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Editor’s Notes – How To Get Here
You can fly to the Red Centre via Alice Springs or Connellan (Ayers Rock) airport from major Australian cities including Brisbane. Daily flights operate between Uluru, Alice Springs and Darwin and smaller flights are run by Airnorth between the regional centres. The Ghan rail journey, which celebrates its 90th anniversary next August, takes around 21 hours from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
Lonely Planet – Best in Travel 2019
Global travel authority Lonely Planet is the world’s #1 independent guidebook company and has been an essential resource for travellers for more than 40 years. Over the past 14 years, Lonely Planet has set the travel agenda for the next 12 months with the annual release of their ‘Best in Travel’ lists highlighting the destinations that will be hot in the year ahead. A select group of travel editors, authors and selected representatives from their travelling community chose the final Top 10 Countries, Cities, Regions and Top Ten Best Value Lists.