If you want to experience the Red Centre of Australia, you have two main options. The first option is to join a tour group. This is a good choice if you don’t have your own vehicle, or you’re short on time. A second option is exploring the area by going on a road trip in a motorhome/campervan. Here we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip to Australia’s Red Centre, from your itinerary to your budget, with helpful travel tips and more.
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How to explore the area?
If you want to explore Australia’s Red Centre, you have several options. If you have your own vehicle or wish to rent one, driving is an easy way to see all the sights. However if you’re short on time or don’t have a vehicle, it’s best to join an organised tour.
Australia’s Red Centre is huge, but it’s still possible to see most of the highlights in just 3-4 days with an organised tour.
Here are some of the best tours on offer:
- 3 Days tours departing from Alice Springs or Ayers Rock
- 4 Days tours departing from Ayers Rock
- A helicopter flight over the Red Centre from Yulara
More information and reservations: Helicopter flight over Uluru
Road trip in a campervan / motorhome
Time and distances involved
We recommend you give yourself about 10 days of travel from Alice Springs. However, it is possible to do this road trip faster – 7 days if you don’t waste any time, and 5 days if you only visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It’s also possible to fly directly to Ayers Rock Airport (Uluru) to save time. Bear in mind, though, that it’s not possible to rent a motorhome from here, only a car. Located in the middle of the Australian desert, visiting Uluru takes on another dimension when you realise the vastness of the region! That’s why driving to get there can actually be a valuable part of the trip.
Alice Springs – Uluru: 463km
Uluru – Kings Canyon: 320km
Kings Canyon – Alice Springs: 474km
MacDonnell Ranges (AR Alice Springs): 260km
TOTAL over 10 days: 2000km
What type of vehicle do you need?
Contrary to what some may think, a 4WD is not necessary to explore this region. All major sites are accessible via a tarmac road. Also be warned that 4WD rental is quite expensive in Australia, so don’t spend extra money for no reason! The only advantage of having a 4WD in this region is that you can take the Mereenie Loop, which connects Alice Springs to Kings Canyon via a 322km track (vs 475km by road). If you have a 4WD you can also see more of the eastern part of the MacDonnell Ranges, the many sites of which are accessible by unpaved tracks.
Best time to visit the Red Centre
In summer (December to February), temperatures are between 20 and 35°C. In winter (June to August), they range from 3 to 20°C.
Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit this part of Australia. April and May are among the nicest months in Alice Springs. September and October are also pleasant months to visit the Red Centre, it is also the time of year when colourful flowers pepper the desert.
Read more: Climate zones and seasons in Australia
Recommended road trip itinerary (10 days)
Alice Springs – Uluru: 2 days
When you arrive at Alice Springs Airport you will need to pick up your vehicle (budget about $40 taxi fare between the airport and the city). We advise you to stock up on food and then leave the city to sleep in a free rest area south of it. The next day will be mainly dedicated to driving to get closer to Uluru. There’s not much to do on the road. However, you will be able to stop at Road Houses (Outback gas stations), where you can refuel, pick up snacks and souvenirs and stretch your legs. We recommend you stop for the night a few kilometres from Uluru, so you can get there early the next day. You have to pay to enter the park ($38) and your ticket is valid for three days, so if you go in the morning you can make the most of it. If you want, you can also request an extension of your pass, allowing you to stay five days.
Uluru: 2 days
To explore Uluru and the area around it, we recommend staying for 2 days. The first day will allow you to take a short walk around, go to the Cultural Centre to learn a little more about the site and the Aboriginal culture and possibly end the day by watching the sun go down. On the second day, you can (for example) start with the sunrise and then continue with a long walk around the rock (it’s always better to do this type of walk early in the morning to avoid the hot weather).
You can sleep at the only campsite available in the area – Yulara, which includes a caravan park, hotels, shops, a shopping centre etc. Be aware that you can only buy alcohol in Yulara if you are a client of one of the hotels or the caravan park.
Things to do
- Sunrise: Parking is specially provided for admiring Uluru at sunrise. We recommend you go there at least 30 minutes before sunrise in order to get a good spot. This is definitely a must during your visit to the Red Centre.
- Sunset: Another car park is also provided to admire Uluru at sunset. It is recommended to go there at least 1/2 hour before sunset in order to have a good place.
- Long walk around the rock: The “Base Walk” allows you to walk 10.6km around the rock. This is an easy walk and takes 3-4 hours.
- Short walks: There are also four short walks around the rock, from 1 to 4km.
- Cultural Centre: You will find a Cultural Centre at Uluru, which contains information about Aboriginal culture, art galleries, shops etc. A cultural/nature presentation also happens every day of the week at 10am.
All available walks can be found here.
Uluru is sacred to the Aboriginal people. Previously, it was permitted to climb Uluru, but since 2019 this is no longer allowed, following a decision to respect the requests of its traditional owners.
Kata Tjuta: 1 day
The Kata Tjuta or Monts Olgas are located 40 km from the campground or 25km from Uluru, so give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to get to the site. The highest of the 36 domes culminates at 1070m and dominates the surrounding plain.
Things to do
- We recommend doing the long Valley of the Winds walk in the morning. Allow about 4 hours to complete the 7.4 km path. The site is stunning and very few tourists do the full walk, so you might have the place to yourself! Make sure you bring water as it is very hot in the valley. Two water points are also available during the walk.
- You can also take the short Walpa Gorge walk, which takes around 30 min.
- The sunset over the Olgas can be viewed from the parking lot.
Kings Canyon: 1.5 days
Give yourself about 1.5 days for this because the drive to Kings Canyon from Uluru is over 300km. Kings Canyon is a canyon located in Warrtaka National Park. The site is accessible for free.
Things to do
The short Kings Creek Walk is a 2km round trip in the heart of the canyon. This walk runs along the bed of the river and can be done in the afternoon because it is very shaded.
Don’t miss the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, a 6km loop on the upper part of the canyon. Allow 3 to 4 hours for this walk. The walk begins with a difficult path that leads to the top of the canyon. In the middle of the walk, a detour leads to the Garden of Eden, a permanent water hole. Remember to bring enough water with you as no water point is available during the walk.
For experienced walkers, Giles Track, a 22 km route, connects Kings Canyon to Kathleen Springs.
If you want to stay 2 days in Kings Canyon, you can sleep at the resort located a few kilometres away from the site ($25 per person for sites without electricity and $30 with electricity). The caravan park is very popular with dingoes, so be careful. The sunset can be admired from an observation platform located a few meters from the caravan park.
Alice Springs return: 1.5 days
From Kings Canyon, you have around 300km to cover. Depending on how much time you have, what type of vehicle you are driving etc. the journey can take a day or a little longer. If you can, you can spend some time in Alice Springs. There is not much to visit on the way apart from the few typical roadhouses.
MacDonnell Ranges: 1.5 days
The MacDonnell Mountains form a 650km long mountain range and separate Alice Springs in two. There are two parts to discover, the East part and the West part. There are more things to see in the West part.
West of the MacDonnell Ranges
This part of the ranges is accessible via a paved road (Larapinta drive). The sites are then accessible via unpaved roads but are often short distances.
The first site to visit is the Simpson Gap, where a nice walk takes you to a water hole. From this site, the departure points for two different walks (10 and 23km) are accessible.
Ellery Creek Big Hole will be a perfect spot for a swim and picnic by the water. The Dolomite Walk (3km) will take you about an hour and a half. The site is accessible via a 2km dirt road.
A 300m walk from the car park will take you to the Ochre Pits, ochre cliffs whose colours are used during sacred ceremonies.
At 8km from the main road, Ormiston Gorge is worth a detour. You can take a short walk there to reach a permanent water hole or the Gum Ghost Walk, which is a 2.5km loop. This walk leads first of all to a viewpoint (20min walk) then makes a loop on the gorge and ends up joining the water hole where you can refresh yourself. Possibility to camp on this site ($10) or to have a drink or a snack at the visitor center.
On the western part, you can also visit the sites of Serpentine Gorge or Chandley Chasm (ticketed). This part can be done in one day, however, if you plan to do long walks, you will need two days.
East of the MacDonnell Ranges
Via a paved road, you can access the sites of Emily Gap and Jessie Gap Natural Park, where you can admire rock paintings.
Trephina Gorge and N’Dhala Gorge are also worth seeing if you visit the eastern part.
We advise you to do a few sites on the way out and others on the way back because you will be taking the same route both ways.
Alice Springs tour: 0.5 day
With 28,000 inhabitants, Alice Springs is a small isolated town in the middle of the desert. You can visit some museums, shops and many Aboriginal art galleries here.
Things to do
- Anzac Hill is one of the must-sees in Alice Springs. This viewpoint located at the top of a hill offers a 360° view of the city and its surroundings. Panels tell the story of the city and its development.
- You can also stroll through the Olive Pink Botanic Garden or visit the Reptile Centre near Alice with a wide variety of reptiles.
- Some museums can also be visited or the Royal Flying Doctor Service, still in operation today.
One day is enough to explore the city of Alice Springs, however if you want to do all the shops and art galleries, plan a little more time.
The Camel Cup which takes place in July of each year is a must if you are around at this time.
The biggest artistic and cultural event, the Alice Desert Festival, takes place in September each year.
Budget for a trip to the Red Centre
Flight from Sydney: $740pp
Flying with Qantas, your return ticket from Sydney to Alice Springs will be around 740 AUD per person (for a departure in September, booking 2 months in advance)
Motorhome rental: $500pp
Budget around $3000 for a 10 day motorhome rental, including comprehensive insurance. Which makes $750 pp for 4 adults. You can event hire a 6-seater motorhome to give yourselves a bit more space (there’s not much in the price between a 4-seater and a 6-seater anyway). If you’re on a backpacker budget, you can find cheaper vehicles (around $1500 for a 2 seater campervan).
Fuel: $125 pp
Budget about $500 worth of gas (Diesel) for the whole trip. It’s possible to reduce this budget a little by filling up at the cheapest gas stations and reducing the speed/consumption of your vehicle (allow around $2.80/litre for diesel).
Food: $165 pp
It’s a good idea to do a big grocery shop before you leave Alice Springs. If you plan to eat out (there are several steak restaurants in Alice Springs), budget around $650 for four people.
Budget at least four nights over 10 days at a campsite/caravan park. That’s 2 nights in Uluru, 1 night in Kings Canyon and 1 night in Alice Springs. Total: $348
Allow a small budget to buy souvenirs and other little miscellaneous things. It’s hard to resist a few purchases on such a beautiful trip! You’ll also need $38pp for the entry fee for Uluru/Kata Tjuta park (valid for 3 days).
Organised tours lasting 4 days/3 nights allow you to visit the same sites (fast-track!) and cost around $950pp all-inclusive (excluding your plane ticket). If you are traveling alone, this may be a good option.