Dreaming of a road trip from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock, Dorothy Veitch conjures up never-ending desert landscapes, mighty rock formations and big skies
Rather than flying into Ayers Rock Airport, you’re better off making Alice Springs your gateway into Australia’s awe-inspiring Northern Territory (the Red Centre). Some 460 kilometres from Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and halfway between Darwin and Adelaide, both 1,500 kilometres away, Alice Springs is one of the most remote towns
in the Australian outback. You’ll find it’s packed with history, indigenous art and opportunities for wilderness adventure.
The five-hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park opens up an extraordinary landscape of desert plains, mountain ranges, waterholes and gorges. This is Arrernte Aboriginal Land and it runs as far west as Kings Canyon, and as far east as the Simpson Desert. The iron-coated red sand is set against a deep blue sky that seems to roll on forever. Hidden in the Spinifex grasses and Mulga trees, you spot goannas, snakes, eagles, kites, budgies and, of course, kangaroos.
On the drive through the Arrernte, you catch sight of flat-topped, sandstone-capped Mount Conner, known locally as Fool-uru since tourists often mistake it for mighty Uluru (Ayers Rock). Mount Conner sits on private land, so if you want to do more than admire it from a distance you need to book a tour through Curtin Springs Station.
You can also view Lake Swanson, one of seven salt lakes within Curtin Springs. This arid salt mass stretches to the horizon – it’s not the place for a swim. Travelling on, you get your first glimpse of Uluru from almost 100 kilometres away. At that moment, as you stand in awe before the world’s largest monolith, you’ll understand why I recommend you drive into the Red Centre from Alice Springs.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Arriving at Yulara, a little village about 18 kilometres from Uluru, you’ll find multiple accommodation options, varying from camping grounds to fancy resorts. Before you head into the park, be sure to gen up on general safety information. Stop by the Cultural Centre to pick up your visitor’s guide, get a feel for how the park is managed and learn about its iconic rock formations.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
You’re here to see Uluru, one of the great wonders of the world, 348 metres high, 3.6 kilometres long and 1.9 kilometres wide. It’s best viewed at dusk and again at dawn. As the rock changes colour, mirroring the sky around it, you’ll appreciate why Uluru is a sacred part of Aboriginal Creation Mythology, or dreamtime – reality being a dream.
Kata Tjuta (The Olgars)
Kata Tjuta (The Olgars) is the second big-ticket sight in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘many heads,’ and this incredible rock formation comprises 36 sandstone domes spread over an area of more than 20 kilometres. To fully appreciate the magnificence of Kata Tjuta, there is a beautiful two-and-ahalf-hour hike through the Valley of the Winds to Karingana Lookout.
There are plenty of trails to explore in and around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and, if you’re up for it, Kings Canyon Rim Walk at first light is a must. It’s a 6-kilometre round trip, with the first part of the hike – up ‘heart attack hill’ – being the hardest. After taking in the sublime views, a series of wooden steps lead you to the shady verdant glades of
a hidden oasis – the Northern Territory’s very own ‘Garden of Eden.’