Touring The Red Centre

Learn all you need to know about touring Australia’s Red Centre

Australian destinations don’t come more iconic than Uluru and the Red Centre. Touring the red sand dominated landscapes of southern Northern Territory is a great way to experience the beauty of the outback and the wonders of Australia’s indigenous culture. So, what do your need to know about touring The Red Centre?

The Red Centre is a name given to Central Australia, an area in the south of the Northern Territory. It is roughly — and not surprisingly — in the centre of the continent and characterised by red sand dominated landscape. Hence: The Red Centre.

The Red Centre of Australia showing tour route

Rough area of The Red Centre showing the key points of the Outback Contrasts tour.

Its most recognisable landmark, Uluru is a 348 metre tall 550 million year old red sandstone monolith. Sometimes called Ayers Rock, Uluru will be recognisable to most as an iconic symbol of Australia and its “Outback”. It is sacred to the local Arrernte/Aranda people who have lived in the area for 10000 years. And a great place to learn about Aboriginal culture.

While 85% of Australians live within 50km (30miles) of the coast, getting away from the coast is a must for visitors. Distances might be vast — Alice Springs, the Red Centre’s biggest town, is 1300km (800m) from its nearest cities — but the trip will be rich in iconic views and cultural experiences.

It is no surprise then that multiple tours include time in the Red Centre. If you are only going to venture in the Outback once during your time in Australia, this is a top contender for your destination.

A Very Brief History

Uluru Ayers Rock from nearby

Uluru (Ayers Rock)

The first Europeans arrived in the Uluru area in the 1860s & 70s. Surveying the route of and establishing Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin, and the discovery of gold in the 1880s led to a limited European presence. The route South to North was determined by the availability of water and Alice Springs (Stuart until 1933) was a rough half way point on the telegram and later railway lines,

Seeing Uluru in 1872, surveyor Ernest Giles named it Ayers Rock, after South Australian politician Henry Ayers. But it is now most commonly known by its original name Uluru. The sacred rock has been “owned” by local people since 1985 and jointly managed with the National Parks & Wildlife agency.

The development of tourism to Ulara from the 1930s and related infrastructure put pressure on the environment. So, the National Parks boundaries were extended in the 1970s and accommodation and airport was established at nearby Yulara. And it  is no longer possible to climb the monolith out of respect for the wishes of the area’s “owners” the Pitjantjatjara people.

Why visit the Red Centre?

The main drawcard for travellers considering a visit to the Red Centre is Uluru. The great orange rock is an iconic symbol of Australia and recognisable to many people around the world. But it also sacred to the indigenous peoples of the area and a place to learn about Aboriginal culture.

This combination of stunning natural wonders and cultural experiences has been drawing people to Uluru and the Red Centre for nearly 100 years.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the desert of the area is barren and devoid of life. The place is teeming with life. Indeed, simply walking around the base of Uluru is a chance to see a wealth of flora and fauna, according to Northern “415 species of native plants, 21 species of mammals, 178 species of birds, 73 species of reptiles and thousands more species of ants, spiders and bugs found here.”

A Magical Place

Spending time here is truly magical with spectacular sunrises and sunsets enhancing the natural beauty all around you. And many local tours and, in particular, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre offering an opportunity to experience the area through the eyes of the world’s oldest living culture.

Many people will tell you that all Australians should tour the Red Centre. And we’d say that goes for any visitor wanting to experience the Outback. Even New Zealand’s most popular news site was able to come up with 20 reasons to visit Uluru and the TV’s travel guides all rated their visit highly.

When should you visit Uluru & The Red Centre?

The Red Centre is not necessarily the place to be in the spring and summer. Temperatures are much hotter and the rainy season means a wetter environment and, crucially, more flies. (You’ll understand what the hats with corks hanging off them are all about!)  That said, the wetter season means more water in waterholes and flowing over local waterfalls.

The best time to visit is generally agreed to be the cooler months. From May to September temperatures range from 20-30 degrees centigrade (68-86 fahrenheit), which makes exploring the area and doing things like the Kings Canyon walk much more comfortable. There’s much less chance you’ll get rained on in these months. And toward the end of that period, in early spring, you will see the wildflowers in bloom adding extra colour to the spectacular views that will surround you.

Parks Australia & Northern Territory tourism offer more detail on when to to visit central Australia but its also important to understand that the winters months are with “the dry” in The Top End, if your tour includes travel to the north of The Red Centre.

Getting to The Red Centre

the Ghan train in the OutbackNot surprisingly, we recommend taking one of the many tours we offer that include time in Uluru & Alice Springs and their surrounds. You won’t find an easier way to experience this amazing destination. Many longer tours through the Outback and central Australia include the area. But we also offer a tour from Alice Springs that takes in all of the key attractions.

There are, though, a number of ways to get to the Red Centre:

  • Drive yourself to the area — 1300 km from either Darwin or Adelaide.
  • Jump on the famous Ghan train from either of its two coastal terminuses in those two cities.
  • Fly into Alice Springs or Uluru/Ayers Rock airports from coastal cities — approximately three hours.

Ways to tour The Red Centre

There are many ways to tour the Red Centre, including in your own vehicle or a hire car, if you make your own way to Alice Springs. But not surprisingly again we recommend a tour as  a way to create an itinerary for yourself in one easy booking. Lots of options:

  • Fly/Train in & Tour — for anyone short of time and not combining the Red Centre with The Top End or South Australia. Hop on a plane or the Ghan and then join a local tour like the Outback Contrasts tour when you reach Alice. This 6 day tour takes in Uluru, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs.
  • Tour from Adelaide — depart from South Australia’s capital and see the Flinders Ranges and Coober Pedy. Join your tour coach for the journey to the Red Centre on a tour like the Outback Explorer with AAT Kings First Choice over 10 days.
  • Tour from Darwin combine the arid Red Centre & the lush tropical Top End for a full Northern Territory experience. Join your group in Darwin and see  Kakadu & Nimiluk (Katherine) Gorge on your way south to Uluru on AAT Kings’ Northern Territory Explorer over 11 days.
  • Travel from North to South— see it all with a tour that takes in the entire Northern Territory and South Australia. Travelling from Adelaide to Darwin an escorted tour like The Outback Adventure, over 15 days, is a great way to fully experience The Outback and all the Red Centre has to offer.

The distances aren’t small in the Outback. So, all but flying to Alice Springs requires a time commitment. But its a commitment you won’t regret because there is so much to see and do along the way and once you reach central Australia.

Standing on the side of Kings Canyon

The spectacular Kings Canyon rim walk in Watarrka National Park ascends to the top of the canyon and follows the rim around before descending to the car park.
About halfway along is the Garden of Eden, a beautiful rockhole surrounded by rare plants.

Things to do in Central Australia

Hopefully, by now you are starting to understand why the Red Centre is a bucket-list destination featuring one of the natural wonders of the world. It has been sensitively developed over the last 50 years after the sometimes problematic early days of tourism in the region. So, it combines great facilities with unique cultural and natural attractions to qualify as a “must-see”. And there are many things you must do while you are there.

We’ve offered six things to see in the Red Centre in support of adding the Red Centre to your travel wish list. Destinations like Alice Springs, Uluru, Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas) Watarrka National Park and Lake Amadeus need t0 be seen by anyone interested in natural wonders. But they are only some of the attractions of touring the Red Centre. Indeed, we think the Field of Light is so spectacular that we wrote about it at length to make sure you understood just how wonderful it is.

And we came up with ten must-do attractions offered on tours we offer when we put our minds to it recently. We’ve already mentioned lists of 20 attractions close to Uluru others have put together.  And many more unmissable outback attractions are available on tours that include time in the Red Centre.

Convenient Accommodation Options

One of the things that has been developed over the years in the Red Centre is a range of accommodation options. There is something to suit just about any budget and accommodation preference, as described by & listed by Trip Advisor.

Doubletree by Hilton Alice Springs

Doubletree by Hilton Alice Springs

For example, accommodation offered through our tours includes:

  • The Desert Gardens Hotel in Uluru — boasting the only rooms with a view of Uluru in Ayers Rock Resort in a beautiful setting and a full range of resort facilities.
  • The Kings Canyon Resort — near its namesake attraction, accommodation here is in another beautiful setting, but including backpacker options and a campground, the resort caters to all types of travellers
  • Doubletree by Hilton, Alice Springs — two km from central Alice Springs on the banks of the Todd River, this Hilton hotel offers an accommodation experience reflect that brand.
  • The Crowne Plaza Lasseters, Alice Springs — is another hotel reflecting a recognisable brand, and offers 205 rooms and numerous facilities near the MacDonnell Ranges but close to Alice Springs’ CBD and Airport

Visiting the Red Centre

Touring the Red Centre is a holiday experience you won’t forget in a hurry and something that you need to add to you travel wish list. It offers a truly compelling mixture of natural and cultural wonders that will touch you deeply. There is so much to do in this iconic destination and we think touring it by coach is a great way to experience it.

Need further evidence of the attractions of the Red Centre?, and Wikitravel offer more information you may find useful. Meantime we encourage you to contact one of our tour specialists and discuss your Red Centre tour options.